|BlogHUC - Beni Wajnberg's Blog|
Year in Israel
Painting (for the soul)
Cooking (for the body)
and sleeping (for the in-between)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Blog #4: January Blog
So, the finals have finished. After a good weekend of sleep, my mother arrived here and we spent our time traveling around from the North to the South. I have to admit that I was a bit scared of driving a car in Israel, but now I can proudly say that I survived. I did a pretty good job of it. Of course, this doesn't mean that there were no crazy drivers on the roads. Being bound to Cincinnati next year, I can also say that driving up and down the hills of Haifa and Safed were good proof that I am ready for the hills in Cincy.
The other exciting thing that happened these days is that I was hired to work at a Reform camp over the summer. I'll be going straight to the US, and after the summer I'll hopefully have a couple of weeks off to settle down before classes start stateside.
Slowly, school life is starting to get back to its normal rhythm. Not as crazy as it was during finals, and not as relaxed as vacation. We are all divided into 5 Hebrew sessions and 4 different sessions for our other classes. My session will have an extra Bible class this semester, and I'm really excited for it. Our teacher is awesome, and we get to have him for both Bible and Biblical Grammar. His name is Iossi Leshem, and he was also my rabbi's teacher back in the 90s. My Hebrew teacher is also the same one he had back then.
Posted by at 5:22 pm
For my whole life, I didn't think that biblical grammar would be something exciting. What do I care if it's a kamatz or a patach (two different vowels that sound the same, but that we now know there is a difference)? What about the tashlum dagesh? How thrilling can it be? One of the various surprises of last semester was that it is, indeed, exciting, fascinating and astonishing, and all of this because of a simple patach ganuv. Rabbinical school will cause you to have a lot of insights, a lot of moments of awe. The most surprising thing is that these feelings rise for the simplest things. Just like Jacob said after he awoke from his dream (the famous dream of the stairs in which angels go up and down): There is for sure God in here, only I didn't notice it before. Heschel also points out that the feeling of awesomeness for things that are already there is what shows us the power of contemplating God's creation and our role as human, and therefore, getting closer to Her/Him.
This is why there are feelings that arise from the simplest experiences. Perhaps this is proof that our lives are nothing but a sum of simple and small experiences, that together they become our memory, our contemplation of the present, and our construction of the future.
I'm looking forward to more of Bible, Biblical Grammar, Jewish Thought, Hebrew, History, Liturgy, Israel Seminar and all of the other experiences I had last semester that I'm sure will continue to this next one. As my North American colleagues say, “Bring it on!”
Blog #3: December Blog
After what seemed to be only a flash, December surprisingly arrived, bringing with it the finals. Everybody looks stressed. People are always walking on a very quick pass, most of the times to the library. I went to return a book in the library and the librarian told me: “Do you know you have another 13 books out?” Yes, I know. That’s what happens when you’re allowed to choose the topic for a paper. You get excited and before you know it the pile of books is just as high as the Tower of Babel. And just as the Tower, you seem to be looking to achieve ultimate and absolute knowledge. The difference, however, is that we all know (or we should) that ultimate knowledge doesn’t exist. And every single thing we study is a proof of the multitude of other topics that we have still to discover. That’s what keeps our Tower of Books up, without any risks of falling. Knowing that more books will be added to the pile, but this pile will never reach its peak.
Right before the end of semester load hit us, we had a couple of days off for Chanukkah. I went to Dahab, Southern Sinai, in Egypt. For the first time in my life, I rode a Camel. It was then that I really realized even more how good it is to drive cars. But there was a magical moment on the 45 minute Camel ride, in which, looking at my shadow in the grandiosity and majesty of the desert, I felt really small. Traveling between the big mountains of the desert that by then seemed to have no limit and the almighty sun, my existence did not change the way the wind blew, the sound that the silence evoked, nor the slow movement of the waters of the Red Sea. I remembered the legend of the Exodus, and how important the desert was to the formation of the Jewish people. There, as Leibowitz writes, the land of no man, a lot of “nothings”, i.e. simple humans, whose shadows also demonstrated their own fragility and littleness, continued to get together. And by being together, the sum of those present made a whole people.
In the middle of finals, there is still the necessity of stopping for a second. How many things I’ve already experienced in this year! How many more are waiting for me in the next semester and throughout my rabbinic career! Each and every moment and experience seems so little, but when I stop to think of everything I’ve already accomplished, it is not difficult to realize how the whole process is so important.
NIne classes is a lot. And yes, there are days when the day tired me in such a way that I have no strength for anything else than taking a hot shower and going to bed. But it is so good to feel the “mission accomplished” feeling, or even better, the “mission being accomplished little by little.” This first semester of grad school has been really intense. I feel as though many of us future rabbis are all still trying to figure out a lot of personal internal issues. What is my relationship with Israel? With God? With the Jewish People? With myself? With others? But one thing is clear, at least for me: I’m in the right place. There is no better place to start my rabbinical education than Jerusalem, and there is no better place to study than HUC.
At the end of the month, my mom will be visiting me. She will be in Israel for the first time since she and my dad left the country, after getting married. Israel has probably changed a lot in these almost 30 years. I probably changed a lot in these last almost 23 years that I lived so far. A song sung by the Argentinean singer Mercedes Sosa, who passed away last year, says that everything changes. The superficial, the deep, the path of the walker, and us. There is no such thing as a static existence. But, at the end of the day, even the most tiring one of them, it is fundamental to appreciate the path that lead us to this point. May the finals pass, so that my way in the desert that is called life can continue, grain of sand after grain of sand.
Posted by at 3:31 pm
Blog #2: November Blog
Living in Israel has proven to be a real challenge, in all of the possible senses of the term. The whole class has visited many archaeological sites in Israel. For instance, reading the bible and being in places quoted by the text. This is a really interesting experience. Dr. David Ilan, our Biblical History teacher says, “As usual, it could be David’s Palace, but the truth is that it could also not be it.” As we hear these words from one of the world’s most prominent archeology experts, we can hear a group of Japanese tourists whose tourist guide says, “This place has proven to be the Palace of King David.” This anachronism happens a lot in Israel. The Last Supper room in the Old City was constructed in the 12th century C.E; still, many Christian tourists still visit it as the actual place where Jesus had his final supper. Right above it, King David’s tomb is also historically unproven to be the final resting place of the king. Many actually argue that the David referenced by this place is connected to the Crusades, and therefore, posterior to the Jewish Monarch. This happens a lot in Israel. Many places are taken as holy, and the truth is closer to what Ahad Ha’am said. It does not matter if these events are historical, but what the impact of these events has on us today. Faith is based on beliefs in truth, and not truth for itself. Faith in God, for me, follows the same path: Her/His existence is not what really counts theologically. Our belief in God’s existence is what really counts, because this is the way we express our own existential questions and relationships toward the Divine, and as a consequence, toward our fellow human beings, and toward our inner Self.
Heschel wrote in his book The Schabat, that our routine is based on places, and that the seventh day is an opportunity of living the material world and achieving transcendence. The Schabat, for him, is a Palace of Time. Freud also writes the same thing, by stating that the reason for Jewish survival in the midst of powerful empires that vanished later is precisely that our Palaces are in Time, and therefore, cannot be destructed. Places can be destroyed, for their existence is only connected to space. But whatever it is that exists on a spiritual level, cannot be burned, or destroyed or disappear.
Being in Israel has been proving to help me develop my relationship with our people and with the Land of Israel. However, relationships are also an example of something that exists in time, in transcendence; this is why I’m sure all I’m learning this year will stay inside me, and will be crucial to the way I’ll see my rabbinate in the future.
Hence, the importance of studying Hebrew so intensely, as we’ve been doing in HUC; it’s not only the language in which most rabbinic Jewish texts are written (of course also in Aramaic) but it’s also the language of the modern State of Israel. Getting expertise in Hebrew means to connect with the past, present, and helps to construct the future. Even studying Biblical Grammar, which is something I’d always say that I’d dislike to study, has proven to be really magical. I know it’s hard to understand the beauty in figuring out if a word has a Shvah Nach or Nah, or which kind of Dagesh we’re facing, but if you start to study it, you’ll get the feeling.
Being exposed to Rabbinic Literature and Jewish Thought has also been an important part of the growth I’ve been experiencing these last months. Even in the moments that midterm exams and papers seem to stress me the most; I can say with a huge smile on my face, “Happy are those who can be tired and exhausted by something they love. Happy are those who can do whatever it is that makes them happy. And finally, happy are those whose studies are and will be applied into actions.”
Posted by at 4:41 pm
Blog #1: First Blog
Hey y’all! First things first: you have probably noticed in my info that I’m Brazilian, so forgive me for any typos and English Grammar issues, ‘kay?
So… what are rabbis made of?
In The History of Animals, Aristotle described what was probably the first step on the Scientific approach of Creation, with the Spontaneous Generation Theory. A sum of factors and materia, added up, resulted, for him, on a Being. Could we say then that if your sum commitment to Judaism and to people, love for study and will to have a career based on religious service the result would be a rabbi/educator/cantor (of course, on the latest, we would have to add a lot of passion for music too)? Interesting enough, with Pasteur, Science discredited Spontaneous Generation: generation depends on the existence of some materials, that don’t result necessarily of a sum of once non-related physical corps. Applying to the rabbinate (oy!), it’s not enough to sum all of the things listed before. It takes a path, a journey; transcendence and not only practical and physical elements. And each one of us attending don’t necessarily share paths. Paths are individual, but the place where our personal paths lead us is what we have in common. Paths might seem sometimes not clear, complicated and impossible. They involve both metaphysical and practical nuances.
When I told my Grandma, on a cold morning in Porto Alegre, South of Brazil, that I made a decision for my life, and that I wanted to be a rabbi (following my degree in Psychology), to my surprise, she asked me: “Don’t you think being a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer are better options for a nice Jewish boy” (or girl, of course)? She ended up accepting it, and nowadays she is really proud of me and always says that she thinks it is, after all, a great job for a nice Jewish boy. My point being: it happened to me, and if you decide this is the amazing and challenging career you want to have for your whole life, it might happen to you as well. People might ask you why you chose it, and from my personal experience, it might be a bit complicated to describe a path. Paths can be felt, but not described necessarily. So why am I here?
One of my favorite songs is Nature Boy, by Eden Ahbez. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Living is interacting with people, communities and the world. And in all of these interactions, we find ourselves; in all of this “living experiences”, we shape our Being. And who we are also changes with time (which is OK!). Choosing to be a rabbi, particularly studying at HUC, is for me choosing to pursue a career out of love. Love for the Jewish people, for humankind and for God; willing to give love, and opening space and time to receive love back.
But besides that, there is also the practical stuff. The very first time I entered HUC was in 2007, when I was in Jerusalem. The head of Admissions then gave me a tour and I said to him: “This is like a dream!” To which he answered, “My job is to show you that dreams can come true.” I have to say that this is how I’ve been feeling these last few months.
The path of applying had 3 steps for me: a) deciding I wanted to be a rabbi, b) deciding that HUC would be the best and only place in which I would become the rabbi I want to be, c) trusting HUC (since, after all, they are pros and know what they’re doing) to decide if they also think I would be a good HUC ordained rabbi in 5 years. Here I am, a proud member of the HUC family, where I also hope to see you! I’d like to finish this first post by blessing the important moments I’ve been living. So here it goes: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam, sh’hechianu, ve’kiyemanu vehig-ianu la’zman ha’zeh. Looking forward to share my adventures on the Holy Land in the next post!
Posted by at 11:07 am