Blog #9: Final Blog
Me and my best friends at songleading camp...we made t-shirts!
I'm on top of the world right now. I just got back from Hava Nashira, the Jewish music conference that I go to every spring that recharges me musically, spiritually, and emotionally. I spent 5 days at URJ camp OSRUI in Wisconsin singing with old and new friends, thinking about where I am in my life, and getting ready to go back to camp this summer. I got to share some of my Jewish music with the professional staff like Craig Taubman and Dan Nichols, who have really helped me to grow in this area. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was being invited to accompany a faculty member at their final concert! I ended the week there as I have for the past five years, staying up all night and singing at sunrise on the lake with old and new friends.
This was a very good year for me in general. I started out with a list of projects, and I got to almost all of them! I started playing out more in NYC, playing keys in my friend Shwas band, and joining Naomi Less for a monthly series of Saturday morning Shabbat band services at SAJ on the Upper West Side. It was nice to take a step away from my own music and add something to other people's projects.
At Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York, I continued to grow in my 4th year there as the Youth Educator, and I'm very excited about the work I'm doing to improve and expand our 7th-12th grade programs. At the Reach High conference in late April, which I plugged in to through HUC and one of my professors, I connected with other teen educators to think about the future of Reform Jewish education. As soon as school ended, we started thinking about next year, and we're currently doing a survey of our Religious School community, one of my major projects this spring, to see how we can better serve students and parents with our programs and communication.
Singing at sunrise the last night of Hava Nashira
At Camp Rodef Shalom, I'm gearing up for another fun summer in Virginia. Many of my longtime staff have sadly moved on, though I'm grateful to have many others returning, and I'm looking forward to more shaving cream fights, color war cheers, songs, and staff jokes to carry us through the summer months. As I prepare the daunting task of making bunk lists, the calendar, and the daily schedule, every step just gets me more excited for the start of a great camp season!
At HUC, I was able to finally do something I've been talking about for years--go back to school and be more thoughtful about what I'm doing as an educator. The classes and community have added a new dimension to my Jewish work, the professors have been friendly and helped me to gain perspective on where I am in my life, and I'm excited to continue in the fall. Blogging this year has been a great way for me to mark my time during my first year at HUC, and also make space for another of my passions, writing stories. To anyone who's thinking about HUC, I hope this blog has been at least a little interesting and maybe even helpful.
And of course (I've been writing about it all year), I'm getting married this fall! Wedding season officially kicked off in May with an auf-ruf at Rodeph Sholom in New York, where we celebrated with friends, family, and community and it all started to become real. With invitations printed and the guest list finalized, and the big day only 3 months away, we're both so excited for the amazing moments that lay ahead. This weekend she had a shower in her hometown, and with an auf-ruf (and another shower) in Virginia in July, and our bachelor/bachelorette parties in August, we're going to be very busy celebrating the big day all summer long! (And we can't wait to go to Greece for our honeymoon in September.) By the time it's all over, we'll be back with our families, celebrating Rosh Hashanah again and another amazing year to come.
Posted by Jay at 9:36 AM
Blog #8: April Blog
I've been thinking about journeys a lot lately, and not just because it's all they talk about on American Idol. April for me was a non-stop month. In addition to seders in two states (New York and Connecticut), I did a college music tour over my breaks from work that took me to upstate New York, over the Canadian border to Montreal, up through several New England states to New Hampshire, and even away from the East Coast briefly in Illinois. I also went to a conference in New Jersey this week, the last of a near-constant set of trips in and out of the city over the past few weeks. There was a 12-day stretch where I was traveling every single day! Although it was hectic at times, I really enjoyed the time on the road, hanging around with my tour-mates in the Midwest, driving alone through the Northeast, and really giving time and energy to my music for the first time in a busy year. It was invigorating, but also exhausting, and I'm happy to be home now and enjoying the warm weather, inspired to write some more music and continue to put it out into the world. I was reminded of how good it feels to sing my songs for people, and the rush of a performance for an enthusiastic crowd.
I spent the early part of the month as a tour guide to visiting Israeli teens who were living with some of my high school students for ten days as part of the UJA Federation's Partnership 2000 program. This is my fourth year working with the program, and I love getting to know the teens and sharing my city with them. As with many things this year, I felt an extra layer of meaning added from my studies as I approached this annual experience. I felt able to see both the city and the program with fresh eyes. I'm excited for my next opportunity to visit their home at Kol Haneshema in Jerusalem.
I'm still on the journey to my wedding, now just over four months away. It's hard to believe it's so close! Recently we looked at Ketubah texts, picked out our rings, visited the caterer for a tasting, and this past weekend, had an engagement photo session all over our neighborhood with our wedding photographers. It was so much fun to be followed around by cameras! This whole process is another level of Jewish exploration, as we discuss and discover how we and our families value certain ideas and traditions. We planned a lot of the big pieces far in advance, and now we are down to the details-planning the ceremony, proofing the invitations, and picking the menu. We scheduled two uf-rufs, one in Virginia during camp, and one in New York where we both work, so that we may celebrate in all of our Jewish communities.
This week in my Religious School we ended a three-month "Color War," which was so much fun! Over the last few weeks we've had a Hebrew marathon (where older kids helped younger ones work on their packets), a giant Four Questions sing-along, and many other fun team-building activities incorporating our holiday and regular content. We ended the program with a set of competitions with all of our 2nd-6th graders in one room, and it was really amazing to see how these groups of 80 kids could work together on tasks as a team, just like we've seen at camp. The crowning achievement by the winning team was a human Israeli flag, waving and singing Hatikvah, and we ended the whole day doing the Cha-Cha slide and the chicken dance as an entire school. I was pleased to see that we could do a large camp-style community-building project over a longer period of time in a 2-hour, twice-a-week program and really see the students start to build new relationships.
Now, school is almost over, my morning classes are done, and camp is right around the corner. As I reflect over all the exciting moments of the past year, my mind is already making lists for summer, and getting ready for the next amazing chapter!
Posted by Jay at 3:17 PM
Blog #7: Purim started early for me this year
Jay - Wax Lips
Purim started early for me this year. As a chaperone for an 8th grade youth group trip to Boston in late February, I expected shenanigans going in, but we had a pretty mild group. We rode the Bolt Bus up on Friday without disturbing the other passengers, the kids were polite through a rather unusual evening service, and there was no protesting about bedtimes. Saturday afternoon, we were enjoying some shopping time on Newbury Street when I suggested to my small group of boys that we check out Newbury Comics, a favorite of mine at that age for music, movies, and novelty items. The boys purchased the usual combination of DVDs and T-shirts and we were on our way. As we were walking, one of the boys asked another chaperone to help him peel off a label from something, and we were both surprised a moment later to see this 13-year-old sporting a thick grey moustache, a la Albert Einstein. By the time we met up with the rest of the group, several sets of sideburns, eyebrows, and other facial hair had made their way onto the other boys' faces. The girls soon joined in, several of them boldly sporting moustaches as well. When we attended a play that evening, almost everyone in our group, including the youth director, seemed to be in disguise. Over the course of the day, our group bonded together into a tightly knit unit, with none of the dividing lines that had been initially present on Friday.
Prior to the weekend, we had tried in vain to find a social action project to do in Boston, so that we might leave it a better place than we found it. However, none of the potential activities materialized, and we were challenged as chaperones how to present this to the group. Having given my first-ever D'var (really!) that morning during our Shabbat service, I was feeling inspired, and decided to talk with the group about it that evening. I told them that our goal was to make a positive difference during our trip, and that I felt we had, despite the lack of a formal project. I mentioned the generous spirit of the boy who had shared his facial hair with the other kids, and how in turn that kindness was passed along to all the people who smiled, laughed, or interacted with our group as they walked around the streets of Boston looking ridiculous. In the program for the play we saw, there was a page of memories from the cast, and one story mentioned that after the show one night, a Holocaust survivor came up to the stage and told the cast that their work was so important. She said that it was laughter that kept them human during their time of suffering, and as I related this story to the students, we reflected on the reactions they had gotten and how it made them feel. We talked about how it felt to be judged, or laughed at, and I was so pleased that the children had generated such a nice moment in our trip. On the last day before we left, my fiance, who was also a chaperone on the trip, bought us wax lips so we could join in on the fun.
Boston kids with Moustaches
When we got back to New York, we shared the story of the moustaches with anyone who asked about our trip. As we celebrated Purim at Religious School this past week, I noticed so many moments where I was laughing, either at someone's costume or their reaction to my own. I saw how everyone was reaching out to each other with humor, and it was such a contrast to last month, when as a community we were mourning the loss of a teenager and trying so hard to reach out with comfort. At the time, I struggled with the message on our new bulletin board, "Be Happy - It's Adar." There are so many moments in Jewish life and education when we shift dramatically from sorrow to joy, and this past month certainly epitomized that experience. Sometimes, when we don't realize we need it, an Adar lifts us up and reminds us to enjoy the people around us, and be happy that they are in our lives.
Posted by Jay at 11:17 PM
Blog #6: I went to HUC
I went to HUC's Tefillah service for the first time recently. The main reason I hadn't been sooner was that, as a part-time student, I head off to my full-time job right after my classes, which is when the services are held. When I received notice that a friend and colleague was giving his senior sermon, however, I took it as a good "push" to attend.
As an educator, I spend most of my time at temple on days other than Shabbat. After a full week of work, my Sabbath is about going home, playing music, and taking a break. In my youth work, generally our events are scheduled around Shabbat, starting Saturday evening at the earliest, with Havdalah. The services I attend are usually special occasions: holidays, high school events like confirmation or graduation, or youth services. At our weekend retreats and shul-ins, I really enjoy the non-traditional services with the children. This year, I have spent most of my synagogue Shabbat services providing musical accompaniment, which is an interesting mixture of work and worship.
Of course, I attend and run Tefillah services multiple times a week as an educator. I lead a creative teen service, manage our Tefillah band in our elementary school service, and handle logistics for a 7th grade service. At one point last year, I was also playing piano for 3-4 Friday morning services at our Day School, making it my highest weekly total (though I have a colleague who may have the record, doing music for up to nine Shabbat services alone in a normal week!).
Today I attended a different kind of service. This week, a teenager died unexpectedly and tragically. Though no longer in our program, he used to help out as a madrich in our office, and I see his family regularly. Several years ago, I heard of a former student of mine who had died in his sleep, and it really struck me, but this was my first funeral for a child. I've had a hard time processing this event over the course of the week, while as an educator I have been focused on planning for how to help our students process this when they return next week. I'm not sure the funeral helped me personally, as it was so difficult for me to see so many of our children so sad; certainly not what I'm used to in my youth work. I was amazed to see how the clergy were able to comfort people, and how simple gestures and words take on great meaning during such a time.
When I attended the HUC service, I entered awkwardly. I didn't know where they kept the prayerbooks; I initially picked up a Torah by mistake and had to get up and return it. I didn't see anyone I knew when I walked in, so I sat alone. Many of the tunes were new to me, and it was interesting to experience the chapel in a different way than I had when I was a visitor or guest in the past; now it is a community of which I am a part.
My classes this semester are both very exciting thus far, as they are both areas I am very interested in exploring. I'm taking Philosophy of Jewish Education, which focuses me on questioning the many aspects of why I do what I do, and why I am present in this graduate program. The class is also my first to have a real mixture of education, Rabbinic, and Cantorial students, and I like the cross-section nature of the conversations that take place as a result. My other class, Human Development, is interesting because it forces me to take a step back from all that we try to do, and remember to think about where people are in their lives (especially children) as we encounter then.
When it came time for my friend's sermon, I was excited to hear what he might say. I found myself surprised to feel as though he was speaking directly to me, regarding matters we had personally discussed in the past. Even though I knew he was discussing the Torah portion through his own lens of interpretation, I couldn't help but think of how I could benefit from the wisdom he shared. It connects to my favorite thing about attending HUC; I am constantly reflecting, questioning, and learning from others, as I continue to work and grow as an educator.
Posted by Jay at 1:22 PM
Blog #5: My Winter Camp was a smashing success
After a nervous couple of months trying to get enough kids signed up, we ended up having an amazing week of Hannukah fun in Virginia, and managed to be profitable our first time around. We had many new families try out the camp, and they have already applied for spots in camp for summer 2009!
It was really interesting to lead a camp of 45 children after years of expanding the summer program to its 2008 size of 267 campers. It was nice to have lot of time for individuals, and our office was certainly much less hectic. We also had our first camp "family day" on December 25th, where parents came in to help with the Temple's Winter Mitzvah Day and then joined us for a latke luncheon and a day of camp activities. My fiance came with me to lead the art program, and I even had time to lead daily music sessions with each group campers, which I haven't done since 2001, when I was the camp songleader.
I think the most amazing thing was expanding our successful summer program! I always had faith that we could make a great winter program; the question was, would we get enough campers to participate, and would we get enough high school and college staff to work on their break? I was so pleased with my great group of staff who bravely got up for 8:30 a.m. staff meetings (much harder to do in the winter!) and helped make this program work. Decorating the camp office with snowflakes, blinking menorahs and driedels was surprisingly fun, and I found that we really achieved our goal of making a memorable Hannukah experience for the children and the staff as well.
Winter Camp Makes a Menorah
Even as we were cleaning up our winter decorations, we were starting to get in applications for summer, and believe it or not, camp is already almost full. Now, as I'm just starting to attend classes again, summer planning is in full swing. I have a new appreciation for our program as I did a research paper for my "History of Jewish Education in America" class in which I read up on the history of the camp and the temple, as well as the Jewish (and general) population of Northern Virginia, and how it has grown over the past 50 years. As I interviewed previous directors and compiled quotes from happy parents, I was able to look back on my own involvement in the camp, and how it has changed and grown since I became director in 2002. It made me proud of the work I have done and the community I am a part of.
After the excitement of Winter Camp, a week relaxing in the Berkshires was the perfect way to spend the rest of my vacation. I rang in 2009 officially last weekend with my first rock show of the year, performing to a packed house upstairs at the Living Room on the Lower East Side, my neighborhood of almost 3 years. I've been trying to focus on writing new material this fall, but as usual, I've gotten busy with other things, and it was good to dust off some of my favorite old songs for a room of good friends.
Winter Camp Candles
I have declared on Facebook that I am hibernating until Obama takes office. It is SO cold in NYC this weekend, and I have left the apartment as little as possible since Friday morning, when my glorious 4-day weekend began. I'm hoping to get started on my new album (finally), as well as catch up on movies, email, TV, reading, and most of all, sleeping over these next few days. Once the weekend is over, I can't wait to celebrate the inauguration of our new President, very fittingly the day after we remember Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr–a personal hero of mine. I am excited for what I believe is a time of amazing possibility and change! With Obama in charge, I'll be ready to wake up on Tuesday (before noon...) and face a brand new day.
Posted by Jay at 10:22 AM
Blog #4: December Blog
Camp office sign
This fall has not been what I expected. I thought I would be so busy with school, work, and music, that I neglected to anticipate what would define the latter half of 2008 for me-weddings! It's not even our own wedding planning that has consumed me though, it's wedding attending. I attended five weddings this fall, an all-time seasonal high. (At least I had a date!) Some wedding experiences were just a day; others lasted an entire weekend. Ceremonies ranged from Reform to Conservative, Catholic to non-religious. On the plus side, we got to sample many things for our own wedding, including the band, photographer, hairstylist, cantor, and rehearsal dinner restaurant. (Everyone passed with flying colors, except the hairstylist.) I think we're kind of wedding-ed out now, so we're on to planning the honeymoon.
My first semester at HUC has been great. I had thought for a long time about attending, but didn't seriously consider it until this time last year. I think the final push to apply came from not wanting to wait another whole year to get started. This was a year of new projects; in addition to wedding planning, I'm working on writing a Jewish album, and I'm about to hold the first winter session of my camp.
Winter Camp T-Shirt
I've been running my synagogue day camp since 2002, and we've been slowly expanding the programs every year or so. Since I started, we added a travel/training program for 6th & 7th graders, an extended day program for both mornings and afternoons, a 6th week of camp, a swim lesson program, a drama program, and a camp education program with a full-time educator. For the last two years, my inner camp circle and I have been throwing around the idea of a winter break camp.
The interesting thing about starting this winter camp this particular year is that it's my first major undertaking influenced by what I learned this semester. I studied Lifelong Learning, and the History of Jewish Education, and I find myself reflecting on classroom discussions and readings as I prepare my new program. I also found my gears turning during the semester whenever I was thinking about how I could apply a new concept for Winter Camp.
My Wedding Face
We just finished decorating the camp office and unpacking all the summer camp stuff. Our long-sleeve winter camp shirts look great, and some college students made a really cool, icy sign for our office. Over lunch, we chatted about the concept of making a memorable Chanukah experience for the kids, and how we don't really have any amazing "Chanukah memories," but we're about to create some. For me, Chanukah has always been about trying to find time each night for the family to be together with our busy winter schedules of parties, travel, and work. Both of my sisters run camp with me, so in addition to having fun at camp, I get lots of family (or at least sibling) bonding time this year.
Right now, I'm just really excited to get camp started! Over the past few weeks, amid final papers, Chanukah festivities, and gigs, as each task ends, I've been happy knowing I was a little bit closer to camp. Though I've taken very little personal time these pasts few months, as all my spare weekends seemed to belong to weddings, this last piece makes all the hard work worth it. And then, next week, I'm taking five days off in the Berkshires-no work permitted. Just in time for a new year!
Playing the Piano at a Friend's Wedding
Posted by Jay at 10:22 AM
Blog #3: For nearly two hours in class this week...
Singing at hillel house in peoria
For nearly two hours in class this week, I listened to a very interesting guest professor via teleconference. Our class gathered around a table so he could see us and address us individually as we watched him on TV, and I marveled at the technology that allows us to connect over great distances. But I also spent most of the class wondering how or if I could politely mention to him that, due to the fact that he was too close to his microphone, there was an unpleasant noise every time he spoke.
Today's advances connect us in ways that seemed impossible just a few years ago, and have changed the way we interact. But sometimes I feel like our technological ambitions just make things more complicated, rather than easier, and it's hard to know when to draw the line and just do things the old-fashioned way (even as we strive to be cutting-edge with our educational programming).
This Shabbat I played keyboard in a band in the B'nai Jeshrun mode for our first monthly gig at a Reconstructionist congregation, and as we were setting up, the cantor realized that the Rabbi's microphone wasn't working, even though it had been fine the day before. They both sing as they lead the service, so they had to scramble to configure another mike in time to be ready for the service.
The most exciting new experience I had this month with technology was riding a Segue in Hartford, Connecticut last weekend. Although I was nervous at first, soon I was ready to zoom around the room. At the same time, I had to wonder, what is the point of a segue for people who can walk? It seems extremely impractical for sidewalk transportation, and counterproductive to walking as exercise. Still, it was pretty cool to ride on!
Tiding on a segue
I'm generally not an early adopter of new innovations, and I have to say that the website we use for HUC classes, Sakai, sort of baffles me. You can send messages to a list, post assignments and articles, but any of that could be accomplished by standard emailing with attachments, so I'm not sure what the point is. (I'm only a part-time student, so maybe I'll find out soon...)
On the other hand, I'm an avid Facebook user, and I believe it has a lot of features that are either unique, or just done better than anywhere else. I especially like the ability to comment on people's pictures, post information publicly, and reconnect with old friends. I think it's an amazing tool for a new level of interaction and community-building. Recently, I saw Facebook used to bring people together in a whole new way.
I noticed an event posted called "Memorial Service" with a friend's name, and after some investigation, came to the chilling realization that a member of my college choir had committed suicide the previous week. I went to his facebook page, and read through his wall, which was covered with tributes and heartfelt goodbyes, and I realized that Facebook had made it possible for his friends to remember him collectively, even if they were not able to attend the memorial service, and that the tribute would be a lasting one people could continue to build upon for support and comfort. It was surreal to read his final status, saying that he was sorry. It was interesting to me that this website, which was really designed to have fun, was able to offer people comfort in a difficult time.
While modern inventions offer all kinds of potential improvements, sometimes old-fashioned connections are still the most meaningful. When I was traveling recently in the Midwest with several other Jewish singer-songwriters, we met a college student whose Rabbi growing up was my good friend's sister, and he worked at the same camp as another friend of mine. He invited us over to his Hillel house that Sunday morning for a bagel brunch, and in turn we performed some tunes for the students hanging out there. As we loaded up our car to return to the airport, the students ran out of the house, asking us to sign guitars and CDs. In just a short time, we made a real connection – who knew there were Jews in Peoria, Illinois? Now, of course, we're all Facebook friends.
Posted by Jay at 1:45 PM
Blog #2: "The Torah is so heavy," I thought last Wednesday, "and Kol Nidre is so long!"
Apple picking kids
I looked around in front of me as I tried to adjust my grip under the scrolls. To my right at the past president calmly holding the smaller Torah like a pro and smiling. In front of me, the burning candles were the most immediate danger should I lose my hold. I smiled at my family in the 10th row (where they always sit), beaming at my presence on the bemah. I shifted to my left, peering over my bundle at the Rabbi, and saw her lips mouth the words, "Are you ok?"
School is going well so far. I've enjoyed getting up early and going to classes before work twice a week. While it's partially due to the warm weather that accompanies my 10-minute walks through the West Village before and after class, I also feel enriched as I approach the challenges, both new and familiar, that accompany a new year of Religious School and Youth Group. One of my biggest fears when I applied to HUC was how I would find time for school outside of working full-time and traveling for my music. Actually, it has fit quite nicely into my schedule, and it's a welcome addition. I read for class on my subway rides to and from work; I didn't feel so conscious of reading "Parenting Jewish Teens" once I clued in to how many Orthodox Jews were riding my trains. And I have to say, having a month off in October for the holidays is not only very nice, but it also allowed me to be a little less stressed during this very tumultuous time at work.
With all my extra time these past few weeks, I've done quite the East Coast High Holiday tour with my fiance and our families. We did Rosh Hashanah with her family in New Jersey, at the temple where we'll be married next September, and I attended what I believe to be my first second-day service. Then we were off to Virginia for Yom Kippur with my family, where I was a bemah guest for Kol Nidre, and my little sister, who is also my assistant director at camp, was invited for an Aliyah the next morning. We made a full day of it, attending the early service (a regrettable family tradition), teaching kindergarten during the late service, sitting in the packed social hall for a political debate between two congregants who work for opposing political parties addressing Jewish issues, and finally attending break fast with a close family friend before taking a late train back to NYC.
Pickles at Katz'
In between holidays, her parents hosted an engagement party for our families and friends at Katz's deli on the Lower East Side, where we had lunch on our first date. Katz's has long been a favorite of mine, having attended and chaperoned confirmation trips there. It was on those various confirmation trips that I first explored HUC, working in the soup kitchen, musing over future enrollment that has now become reality.
Part of the reason that I was holding the Torah so precariously was that I had hurt my shoulder somehow in my busy holiday season, probably related to my lack of sleep and various Bolt Bus trips. But when the Rabbi warned me before the Kol Nidre service that I would be holding "the heavy Torah," I enthusiastically accepted without hesitation.
Normally when Kol Nidre is played, I marvel at the music, and then get lost in thought. This time, I could only focus on not dropping the Torah. Why did I get the heavy one? Why didn't I know the secret to holding it right? Why did my shoulder have to hurt this week? I thought about my Bar Mitzvah speech on the same bemah with the same rabbi, where I spoke of achieving your goals in the face of fear, like Moses. I thought about how nothing significant comes easily. I thought about the journey ahead as a student, and an educator, and how good it feels to be putting in the work toward something that's important to me.
Then we put the Torahs away and sat back down, and I smiled again at my family.
Posted by Jay at 12:30 PM
Blog #1: The summer our camp got lice
Shaving cream kills lice, who knew?
I've been the director of Camp Rodef Shalom, a Reform day camp at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia, since the summer of 2001, and we've never had lice before. Every summer has its share of calamities, but this summer was something else. In addition to being our bloodiest summer ever, we had a snake on the playground, fifth's disease, strep throat, kindergarten virus (when all the kindergarten counselors got sick on the same day), and on the night before the last day of camp, our beloved drama teacher fell off his bike and scraped himself so badly he couldn't come to work for fear of scaring the children.
Our tragedies seemed downright biblical, and my colleagues and I couldn't help but search for meaning in all of this. We felt proud of our work and our love for the camp–what could we have done to incur such a variety of unusual ailments?
A possible answer: our sanctuary was under construction.
While camp raged below, the room in which I grew up pondering ceiling patterns and marking prayerbooks arbitrarily with red tassels was being torn apart. The traditional benches were removed, to be replaced with removable ones; the bimah was expanded for handicapped access; copies of Gates of Prayer were replaced with Mishkan Tefilah. Change was afoot, and while exiled from our sacred space for celebrating the end of each week with Shabbat, camp was being assailed.
I don't think we realized how much the space meant to us before we lost it, but our relocation to latticed sections of the social hall was not a seamless transition. Still, we were strong together. A bigger camp than we'd ever been, we tried new programs and new approaches to our Shabbat celebrations. Not everything worked, but there was an excitement in the unknown, and a tremendous feeling of accomplishment surrounded our successes. Tradition is a powerful thing, but change is an equally formidable force.
Rafting fun at Camp
Change in my own life can be challenging as well. Just last year I caught myself thinking that I liked things just the way they were–a certain invitation to shake it up. So I applied to HUC's New York School of Education (after contemplating it for years), recorded my first Jewish song (after years of making secular music as a professional singer-songwriter-pianist), and proposed to my girlfriend.
She said yes, as did HUC, my Jewish song was recently featured in a URJ.com blog, and I was invited to play with Craig Taubman at his Friday Night Live service in NYC. So now I'm planning a wedding, taking classes for the first time in a long time, and rehearsing for my first gig with Craig this Shabbat. For good measure, I went white water rafting for the first time over Labor Day weekend, and at my school year job as Youth Educator at Rodeph Sholom Religious School on the Upper West Side, I took on a new role coordinating our 7th-12th grade program. Change can be scary, but it feels good to take on new adventures.
Though the changes at camp at times seemed fraught with peril, in the end they were for the best. We pushed to new places, braved new experiences together, and learned how we can continue to grow stronger as a community. And the lice epidemic, which broke out during color war of all times, was contained to less than thirty people, and all of our older campers going on to URJ overnight camps in August passed their head inspections. (Apparently shaving cream kills lice, and at Camp Rodef Shalom our weekly shaving cream fights are the stuff of legend.)
When we finally gathered in the newly refurbished sanctuary for our final Shabbat, and welcomed a packed house for our parent program, it felt good knowing that we had weathered the wilderness of summer 2008. Seeing the room come alive with parents and children and teens made it worth the wait, and it was the perfect way to reopen the room and our hearts to our community spirit.
I'm going to HUC now because I'm ready to learn more, to grow, to build on past successes, and take everything in my life and work in the Jewish community to the next level. I'm excited about the process, and the prospect of returning to my personal and professional traditions invigorated, as if I'm seeing my childhood sanctuary again, but somehow, for the first time.
Posted by Jay at 6:07 PM