Friday, February 24, 2006

Deb & Emmet Featured in the Local Press

The following appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

Nonverbal Baby Talk a Sign of the Times
by Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Contributing Writer

While other infants and young toddlers let out a howl when they are hungry, 14-month-old Emmet Weisz simply brings his hands together at the heel and rotates the right hand over the left, making the hand-sign for his favorite food: cheese.
“He has a great love for dairy,” laughed Emmet’s mother, Rabbi Debra Orenstein, who lives in the Pico-Robertson area. “If I say it’s time for lunch or let’s go to the kitchen, he’ll sign ‘cheese.’”

For the rest of the article, which doesn't feature Deb and Emmett, and hence is of limited interest to our dedicated readers, go to:

Monday, February 20, 2006

We'll Always Have Paris

Ben and I just returned from a four day trip to Paris, where we toured, ate well, and sought out every available internet joint on the left bank of the Seine. At night Ben watched French TV -- either MTV or Olympics coverage. Each day began around 11:00 am for Ben when I would bring up a tray of juice and croissants. We hit the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay and the Rodin Museum. We would have also gone to see modern art Pompidou Centre, but I neglected to notice that it was closed on Tuesdays. Mostly, we sought out highlights of the collections and would spend serious time looking at the designated works of art. Ben was truly impressed by Rodin's The Thinker and The Kiss. He also took his time gazing at the inscrutable Mona Lisa. When we weren't being culture vultures, we (that is Ben) climbed great heights, going up to the tippy top of the Eiffel Tower and ascending the roof of Notre Dam. While Ben tootled on the internet, I took long walks and made myself well enough understood to get a haircut. I finally refused a treatment once the woman in the salon explained in very dumbed down French: "It is for the hair to eat." Meals were great, but expensive. We made frequent stops at various Boulangeries. Even the rattiest hole in the wall in the urine-stenched metro served better food than the English are capable of making. At times, the conversation grew tense -- heated talks about privatization of Social Security and the prisoners' dilemma (Ben could not accept that I wouldn't press the button, and I began to feel like a prisoner myself) -- but mostly, it was a wonderful time in a great city.

Message from Ben
Hello! Paris was great. The Eiffel tower:amazing. Well, school is going pretty well-- getting back into the swing of things. Mom is constantly critiquing my writing, and acting as a human grammatik. Stay tuned for the adventures of Benjamin and Aviva, as we go around the globe!

A New Pic of Emmett and A Link to Being Organised (British spelling)

The kid can use a fork! He's a genius and he has good manners! To learn about how well- organized Emmett's life is, go to The Organizing Maniac, a webpage and business sponsored by a pal of Debby's, who featured Deb and Emmett.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

British Democracy Up Close and Personal: The PM’s Question Hour

Live, from London! No, not Saturday night satire, but the Prime Minister's question hour in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, February 15, as shown on BBC-TV -- great stuff from by far the world's oldest parliamentary democracy. There are some real challenges to the PM on a host of security issues (Tony Blair is sarcastically confronted by the "shadow" [Conservative Party-designated] foreign secretary on why the government took so long to arrest Abdul Hamza, a just convicted Muslim terrorist) and on a new pending security bill; he responds equally forcefully and wittily to the right honourable gentleman. But there are also questions from MP's, of the PM's own Labour Party among others, on a wide variety of domestic issues, including sharply rising electricity and gas prices, cutbacks in health care, and the difficulty of many middle-class families in obtaining affordable housing (sound familiar?). Of course, a few of the inquiries are "lobs," but far more often, the PM is assaulted on a host of issues. Whatever else one thinks of Blair -- he is widely regarded here as Bush's lapdog on the Iraq War -- he is quick on his feet and often quite elegant in his speech, in a way one couldn't begin to imagine from his often smirking, verbally bumbling counterpart in Washington.

In the U.S., of course, the executive and legislative branches are separate, and the President rarely visits Capitol Hill, except for the annual, very staged State of the Union Address and on the occasion of a national emergency. But in the British system (as mostly replicated in Israel), the executive branch is embedded in the legislative one, thus allowing constituency-based legislators to raise their own and their constituents' concerns to the most powerful figure in the land. Watching the BBC, I tried to imagine Bush answering some well-informed, tough questions, especially inquiries whose purpose was not only to score partisan points, but also to derive some needed information and to forge public policy. How would he function unscripted? I can't see W doing well at all.

--David Szonyi

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Some Serious Cuteness

From the kid who can say "I have a poopy" in three languages. Proud to know you, Emmett Alfred, here seen in the expanding lap of his adoring mother, Debby O.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Difficult Daughters

Not me, not Debby, and certainly not Sue. Difficult Daughters is the title of the novel that the international book group (sponsored by Ben's school) read. Written by Manju Kapur it is the story of three generations of women who struggled within the tight limits of their family's expectations, while the country struggled for Independence. It highlights the tension between mothers and daughters, though also features tension between Western and Indian, and men and women. The action takes place in the Punjab region that undergoes civil war and separation between Hindus and Muslims. The discussion was led by the Indian group -- a bunch of women who explained the meaning of the characters' names, shed light on the social and religious status of various characters, and offered rich personal insights. The group of all women was very animated. We disagreed over whether the Professor (love interest) was a cad or a victim of circumstance and whether the heroine was strong-willed or merely duped. We talked generally about mothers and daughters, husbands and wives. When the discussion turned to arranged marriages and I got to impress/horrify folks with the fact that I have cousins who still follow such traditions. I arrived at Ben's school at 10:30 and still beat Ben to school because he has two free morning periods back to back once every eight days. Don't ask. The novel wasn't great, but it was good and immersed the reader thoroughly into the daily life of Indian culture. And, unlike many of you, when the food described in the book sounded tasty, there were authentic versions of the same savory delights just blocks away. Okay, sorry to brag, but remember I haven't seen the sun since my parents left, I need something (good conversation, delicious food) to hold me over till it is bright again around here.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Some Movie Reviews from Raf

My wonderful brother Rafy suggested that the blog might be a good place for everyone to post their favorite movies, or at least a few movies we can easily remember enjoying. That way no one can hold us to it and we don't have to undergo the painful task of trying to remember more than just what pops up.

He would like to hear from others about his collection, which was assembled quickly becuase, as Rafy explains, "I have been using a lot of fiber lately." Raf would be curious to know if something on his fav list is on someone's suckiest list, so that he can challenge you to a duel. Please use the comments section to make scathing remarks about his low brow taste in movies, something all the Orensteins seem to share.

He wrote the follwoing while waiting patiently for the results of a CT scan of the head (not his own) before going to sleep on a Saturday night.


Gods Must Be Crazy
I've been told it is politically incorrect, but I remember laughing my ___ off.

Strictly Ballroom
One of the few movies I have seen more than 3 times as it was always on when I was on call at Jefferson during my residency. The more I watched it, the better it became. It was zany and poignant, particularly if you are sleep deprived.

School of Rock
I saw this one just a few months ago, so I remember it.

Breaking Away
My first introduction to Bloomington and bicycle racing.

Drama (or sensitive guy) Category:

Terms of Endearment
Good for a good cry.

Dirty Dancing
It's always on TNT and my remote drifts to it somehow.

East of Eden
I saw this in Paris when I was trying to speak French to Parisians and Hebrew to the Evenchiks. Thank God it wasn't dubbed. What a welcome relief!


Hunt for Red October
Even people who like the drama category would like this. It's just too exciting.

The Vanishing
Sue and I were freaked out by this one. Not the English version: I heard that stunk. The French, mais bien sur!

Passenger 57
My all time favorite "kick butt" movie.

Dead Again
I have no idea what this is about, but remember thinking it was well put together and lots o' fun.

Raiders/Lost Ark
I'm putting this down so when my kids can watch a movie that involves kissing, I'll remember to watch this with them.


Total Recall
It's very clever, even though it starred a governor of California.

Star Wars #5
Everyone has a favorite number. I'm partial to Yoda.

The Matrix


Jean de Floret
I think this is my favorite movie of all time. I hope I spelled it right.

The Postman
The Italian one with Pablo Neruda. I think that's what it's called. I loved it. It's funny how you remember where you saw the good ones for the first time. This was in the Bourse building in Phila.


Wizard of Oz
It scared the bejesus out of me. I had to spell-check bejesus. It's kind of an offensive epithet. I always thought it was begeezus. I had to look it up in the Merriam Webster site. Still, the move is so great.

It's a Wonderful Life
We saw the one in which George Bush the first described the action for the blind. We could not figure out that voice and thought for a while it might be Paul Lynn. Then we figured it out and it was hilarious.

On the Riverfront
Beware of sexist scenes.

That's all for now. Time to check on that guy's CT scan.

Dr. To The Stars -- and Aviva

If you have been reading the blog with any care you have noted that every single entry makes reference to my ever-present cough. I live with it; you have to read about it. The turning point, where my ailment went from pathetic and feverish to merely annoying and disgusting occurred after seeing Dr. Court, a doctor who is not part of the National Health Care establishment, and has the fees to prove it. Cutting to the chase, Dr. Chase charged £90 for a consultation -- about $170 and rising (depending on when one performs the pounds to dollars conversion). What did I get for this 20 minute, $510/hr consultation? I arrived at a gorgeous apartment building, breezed by the doorman, and was buzzed in my the receptionist. The waiting room was absolutely empty -- no pesky sick people reading tabloids or looking infectious. Two nanoseconds after arriving I gave my address to the receptionist and she offered to hang up my coat. This was a little embarrassing in that my zipper was broken and I had to sort of climb out of it, but I did so with as much dignity as my hacking cough would allow. Immediately thereafter -- no waiting -- I was ushered into a room with a large class table. I met Dr. Court who shook my hand (sort of risky under the circumstances, I thought) and then sat across the table from me to take a very thorough history. He actually seemed to listen to what I was saying. Dr. Court then ushered me into the adjacent examining room and took my temperature, looked in my ears, and listened with his stethoscope, and had me blow into a tube. He pronounced: "You have stuff in your chest." My attempts to clarify indicated that I did not have pneumonia -- I would have been feeling much worse if I did -- but that I did need antibiotics, which he prescribed, and had to continue with asthma inhalers. Dr. Court was attentive, caring and, true to his name, courtly. In retrospect, I realized that this is the treatment famous people get -- no waiting, total privacy, good care, and outrageous prices. I bet I am his only patient in recent memory to have traveled by tube to see him.

Friday, February 03, 2006

January in London...

...ain't Paris in the Springtime, but has nevertheless been wonderful. Szonyi and I have both been sick, Ben suspiciously healthy. The weather (which even I talk about with a certain obsessive fervor) has been cold and damp. The sun has only made an appearance when my parents came to visit, something my Dad says happens every time he visits London. Here, in no particular order are the highlights of a great month:

* Visit of Sylvia and Jehiel Orenstein on their way back from Israel where they celebrated the birthday of Cousin Riku (from the Rumanian side of the family).
  • They brought, in addition to literal sunshine (see above) the figurative sunshine of news of Mike and Beth. Mike is studying in Haifa at the Technion and Beth is visiting Mike. The trip in Israel involved a lot of wining and dining of the young couple. I was heartened to hear from Mike that even he had trouble keeping up with Savta (my Mom, Sylvia). 8 am breakfasts were de rigor.
  • In London, the pace for the Orenstein Srs. was no less ambitious. We dined well (Italian, Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, everything except English "cuisine"). We saw two plays, A Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare and Shaw's You Never Can Tell, and one movie, Woodie Allen's creepy movie Matchpoint, which was set in London. We also visited the glorious British Museum, where one can see treasures stolen from around the world.
  • Szonyi and my folks attended my Evidence class, where Abba and Szonyi participated avidly, and Ema gave a brief summary of her legal victory (see previous post). Only my mother had the energy to come back for more, attending the family law class as well.
  • For Shabbes, Ema and I went via tube to Golder's Green and schlepped back prepared kosher food to our side of town. We almost didn't make it given the gusty winds and weight of the chicken soup.
  • On Saturday morning, Szonyi and Abba went to a bar mitzvah where the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, spoke, and where there were lycee nuts, cholent, and other exotica at the kiddish.
  • Finally, Saba and Ben went on what was deemed "the greatest rip off in the world," the London Eye, a gigantic, slow moving ferris wheel.

A great time was had by all despite the cramped quarters and the fact that my Mom could not get a hot shower. She did, however, start cleaning the apartment whenever my back was turned.

*Visit of David Greenberg from Heidelberg
As many of you know David will soon be starting a PhD program in neurobiology at the Max Planck Institute. He came to London where we had a great time with him watching esoteric art films by French Communists, tracking through the British Museum, and going to a fabulous exhibit of the Tate Modern on the jungle motifs of Henri Rousseau (think nude on couch with tiger in the middle of a Jungle). Rousseau was an autodidat who wanted nothing more than to be part of the Paris academic art scene, but actually was more bold and primitive than technically correct in his pictures, Interestingly, he never left Paris. He painted the animals from zoos and the flora from various hothouses. David also managed to spend some time with some college friends, and to help Ben out with math and trips to the pub. I hope he returns soon.

* Attendance at the Commitment Ceremony of Lorraine and Karen
The UK has enacted civil partnerships open to gay couples that replicate the legal benefits and obligations of marriage. Szonyi's cousin, Lorraine, was civilly united with her partner Karen on January 13, and we were very privileged to be part of the ceremony and celebration that followed. The ceremony itself, conducted by a magistrate was beautiful, involving an exchange of rings, recitation of poetry, affirmation of commitments, and signature of the legal document. The venue was a lovely country inn that used to be Beatrice Potter's estate, located in the town of Hatfield about 20 miles north of London. After the ceremony we had dinner and then fireworks. The brides looked radiant. The only negative note was sounded by yours truly in the form of a hacking cough during the ceremony, which my attempts to suppress only made worse. One of the brides (Karen) actually handed me a glass of water, proving that even on her most special day, she was still generous and looking out for others. At the dinner, we were the only Americans and enjoyed talking to the very interesting and welcoming assembly of friends and family.

*What is Ben up to?

Ben still hasn't taken his Japanese final from last semester (an omission caused by multiple transmission errors over email, and one that will finally be corrected tomorrow). Otherwise, he has his hands full with Human Geography and US History. The level and amount of work at the American School exceeds anything Ben saw in Bloomington, but he is rising to the challenge. He's also taking Japanese, maths, and creative writing. Slowly he's making friend with kids from school and from the neighborhood -- two very different sites of human geography. I am very proud of his openness to new ideas and experiences. Ben spends a lot of time on wikepeidia writing and editing. He also is reading a lot about music and literary criticism. Although no one could accuse him of studying too hard, Ben's intellectual curiosity is vast and even his recreation time is spent learning new things (not, Japanese things that would help him on his final from last semester, but nevertheless interesting and challenging pursuits).