Blog #8: Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha'Atzma'ut
7 months ago, we started the academic year here with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Yamim Nora'im. And now I can tell you about what is referred to as Israel's Civil Religion and the other "Days of Awe" which have book-ended our year-in-Israel. This 10-day period, beginning with Yom Ha Shoah, and a week later finishing with Yom Ha Zikaron and Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, have been a powerful coda to this year.
Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Memorial Day.
Beginning at 7pm on Erev Yom HaShoah the city of Jerusalem stopped. Traffic thinned out and restaurants, supermarkets and other "houses of pleasure" shut down. While eerily beautiful, Jerusalem was also hushed and hollowed out - almost like a ghost-town. This was a different kind of stillness than on Shabbat - on Erev Yom HaShoah, there is no singing or silverware clanking coming from windows, and no smell of roast chicken; just sadness and solitude in the air.
On Yom Ha Shoah morning, HUC North American students led Shacharit services and a ceremony with Israeli rabbinic students. This was one of the first times we have worked together in this capacity and I found it meaningful that our collaboration happened on this day of remembrance. The first service was in the Murstein Synagogue and involved a number of meditations and readings. And then the ceremony was outdoors - on a gorgeous, warm day - and began just after "the air-raid siren", which is heard throughout the State, marking the beginning of this Memorial day. When at 10:00 am the siren went off, all traffic stopped on the streets, people got out of the cars, and almost nothing moved. That siren is a horrible, shrieking sound, and to me, it evoked a feeling as if those who lost their lives in the Shoah were screaming down, blaring at us - never to forget. At the ceremony, members of our student/teacher community stood up at a microphone and read off name after name of family members who died at the hand of the Nazis. My friends, individuals now studying to be Jewish leaders, remembered their own grandparents and talked about pride in their Jewish history through their tears. I cried thinking about how incredibly proud their grandparents would be of them. Sitting in the beautiful HUC courtyard, sharing tears with my friends and colleagues, there was a major crescendo in my heart. I was able to feel and understand Yom HaShoah in the current context of Israel - my home for almost a year. Everyone I know here was deeply affected by this day. It was both the most heart-wrenching of days and strangely enough, the day also had a surprising undercurrent, which somehow allowed us to unite in a feeling that was solid and life-affirming.
Yom HaZikaron-Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims
In my Liturgy class, we learned that the week in between Yom HaShoah and Erev Yom HaZikaron corresponds to a 7-day Shiva period. To commemorate this holiday (and Yom Ha'Atzma'ut too, as it turned out) I found myself as a spectator at the final dress rehearsal of a major ceremony at Har Herzl. With Herzl's tombstone as the backdrop, this was an outdoor production of epic proportions - with Military marching, torch-lighting, a (taped) speech from Prime Minister Netanyahu , fireworks.... and a gigantic production number which involved about 400 children running around in what looked like blue and white pajamas. Through their choreography, they formed "symbols" like a giant menorah. I was especially taken with the young children in the audience; aged 4,5 and 6, these kids sat there so quietly focusing on the action. What were they thinking about? Why were they able to sit so still on their parents' laps for 90 minutes straight - not squirming or complaining? I wondered if, on some level, they knew that one day they too will serve their country in the IDF and will be a part of this picture.
On the actual day of Yom HaZikaron I, along with 2 other North American students and dear friends, led our Year-in-Israel class and faculty in a Shacharit Service. The big question in constructing this service was - how do we as Americans relate to this Memorial Day? With guidance from Dr. Rabbi Michael Marmur, we created an American-Israeli service. We hope we did Israel proud. At the end of the service when we led our class in singing Poet Naomi Shemer's "Lu Ye'hi" (Israel's "Let It Be") I looked at the back of the sanctuary where our Hebrew teachers were sitting, crying, and I wondered who they knew who had been lost. We have all heard it said over and over: "Everyone here knows someone..."
We attended one more ceremony as a class that morning - at the Gymnasia Rechavia - a private High School near HUC.
Our class at The Gymnasia High School, before the Ceremony
Each year all over the State, solders return to their high schools around Israel, to take part in Memorial services, where names of those who have fallen, both in the past year, and throughout the school's history are read aloud. Once again, the air raid siren went off - the same one as on Yom HaShoah. This time, it drilled a hole inside me - a hollow tunnel right down my gut - as we remembered thousands more Jews who died in defense of the Jewish State, as well as others in Israel who died in the face of terror. Israeli teenagers with their uzi's strapped on, clutched each other. You could hear a pin drop. Hundreds of names were read of those who have lost their lives, as recently as in Gaza a few months ago. Yet during the ceremony, as I looked around, and heard a baby crying in the background, and watched people holding each other, I thought once again about the striking way that Israeli society intertwines a tragic amount of death....with passion - passion for being here and being alive.
Yom Haatzma'ut - Israel's Independence Day
HUC dressed up for Yom Ha'Atzma'ut
This day was a stark, and welcomed, contrast to Yom HaZikaron the day before. It can be summarized as one giant BBQ - celebrating the creation of the State, 61 years ago. I have never seen more Israeli flags or smelled more meat in the air. Our Year-in-Israel class was right in there.
Israel is a giant BBQ on Yom Hatzma'ut and we were right in there!>
Having mourned deeply and intensely as a Nation for over a week -- Israelis were ready to celebrate. I was too. On Erev Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, I went to a giant outdoor concert in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv and let down my hair, along with the rest of Israel. When thousands of Israeli's come together (or for that matter when any number of Israeli's are together) they SING and that's what this night was about: Singing, dancing, and fireworks. What a different feeling from the day before.
My understanding of Israel - and my love for this country - has strengthened. I am grateful to have experienced (almost) a whole year's cycle of holidays here; going through the calendar year here has been important in deepening this bond. It is hard to think about leaving in 4 weeks to transition back to the USA. What happens from here and what will it be like to go back to NYC? I am excited, I am nervous. I want to go home, but I don't want to leave yet. I wonder how my relationship with Israel will continue to grow. How will I continue to nurture it? And how can I communicate what goes on here to my family, friends and congregants at home?
Now, I must turn to a Kabbalat Service I'll lead tonight and then exams - so, back to work! I will see you in about month for my final blog posting of this challenging and beautiful Year-in-Israel.
The most gorgeous flower - growing just outside my apartment building
Posted by Nancy at 2:34 PM
Blog #7: Rabbi/Cantor Relations
About 2 weeks ago, one of my classmates - a Rabbinic student (just for fun, let's call her "Lisa") - sent this note out to our class, the Class of 2013: "After witnessing and taking part in many discussions about the future of the Rabbinate and Cantorate and how these roles will cross in the next few years...I thought it would be great if we could actually form a group to have this dialogue in a more formal setting. Rabbi Donald Goor (Senior Rabbi at Temple Judea, LA) and Cantor Evan Kent (Cantor, Temple Isaiah, LA) have graciously volunteered to lead a group discussion/dialogue on the roles and relationship between rabbis and cantors. Possible issues include the obstacles we face in this relationship, participatory music versus performance pieces in a service, how we can create a partnership that utilizes both roles, how we can foster this relationship over the next 4 years in school and in the future, and any other related issues the group wants to discuss. We all have been discussing this, and it is definitely something we will deal with in the future, so why not get it out on the table now...and put our frustrations to positive use!"
How could anyone who's on the verge of completing Year #1 of Rabbinic or Cantorial (or Education!) School refuse such an invitation? This was a fantastic idea which resulted in a very productive conversation, which we ALL agreed, WE need to be having, since WE are the future of the Reform Movement's Leadership. So, before I go into some of the details that we discussed, let me explain the cast of characters: Evan and Don are visiting this semester from LA, where they have been working for more than 20 years since their Investiture and Ordination. When they arrived here in early February, it took all of us about 3 seconds to realize how lucky we are to have them with us, especially as we approach the transition back to the USA. They have so much practical, real-life experience at their fingertips...and they are really terrific, funny, easy-to-be-with people. In addition, they live with this Rabbi/Cantor partnership every day, as they are also life partners.
Cantor Evan Kent & Rabbi Don Goor
And "Lisa" was uniquely qualified to pull this meeting together; in addition to being a leader in our class, "Lisa" (OK, her name is Lisa) the Rabbinic student happens to have a mother who is a Cantor and a sister who is 2 months away from being invested as a Cantor. So, this issue is very important and near and dear to her life.
Rabbinic Students Lisa and Jimmy
So, you can understand how the stars aligned to make this conversation happen. Here is a synopsis of what we discussed:
The theme that kept surfacing through the whole conversation is that of "Relationship". Our conversation returned over and over again to this: The Rabbi and Cantor really do have to be able to act as if in a healthy spousal relationship, with a full range of trust, respect, creativity and understanding in order to make the relationship work. This gives each the freedom to fulfill their own responsibilities as experts in their respective areas, so they can ultimately be effective as a team. So, while all the micro topics that were listed in the Invitation above are certainly important, I think we came away "on board", with a clear perception that the ability to deal with all these issues stems from the Cantor/Rabbi relational dynamic.
Within that fluid, dynamic relationship, the Cantor and Rabbi establish their roles and their interplay. Rabbi Goor spoke so clearly about this interplay in a way that really rang with me. He said that the way he envisions the relationship is that on the bimah, the Cantor sets the rhythm and creates the energy to bring Kedusha through music into the life of the congregation, which sets the stage for the Rabbi to lead and create moments of Kavanah. This made so much sense and both Rabbi Goor and Cantor Kent expressed these ideas beautifully.
We also talked about roles in the bigger picture and that today, both the Rabbi and Cantor really must act as full clergy people. And in order for the Rabbi/Cantor relationship to work, each must have respect for each other's voices -in the classroom, the boardroom, as a leader in the larger community and of course on the bimah. We discussed how roles have changed as well over the past decades: the Rabbi, in addition to being the "arbiter of law" and having all the other rabbinic and teaching responsibilities, is really a community director; and in today's Cantorate, in addition to all of his/her musical and teaching roles, the Cantor is a cultural director and a programmer/ promoter of Jewish Arts.
We also talked about the fact that the execution of these roles isn't always easy or stream-lined. Even in our conversation things got a little heated when talk of synagogue hierarchy came up. As we batted around issues of title, responsibility and accountability in the synagogue organization, the conversation once again returned to the relationship of the Cantor and Rabbi as leaders and to the importance of knowing oneself, ones own abilities, and the cruciality of checking our egos at the door. I think by the end of this session, most of us agreed that in order for any organization to function, one person does need to be at the fulcrum of the vision-setting (particularly around the vision of Tefilah) and in the synagogue, this person is usually the Rabbi. However, the Rabbi and Cantor must agree on this vision and how to carry it out as partners.
We closed the conversation - with a Niggun - (and boy, did I see how effective beautiful guitar playing is in a meeting....it completely changes the energy of a room!) and a discussion about how the words and phrasing we use to discuss these issues is vital. We as leaders, will be able to have a real influence on how the Rabbi/Cantor relationship evolves, and there is no better time than now to start being very clear and intentional - with ourselves and our future colleagues - about how we handle and work on these relationships.
So, on that note, I must say goodbye for now and log onto Skype for a phone interview with a Rabbi, with whom I might be a student cantor next year. This is the month of student pulpit interviews for the cantorial students!!! I will see you in April. By that point, I will have returned from our Pesach break, and will surely have lots more news to share. I wish you a sweet Passover...
Posted by Nancy at 12:26 PM
Blog #6: February Blog
So much is going on here, I am not sure where to begin. Since I last wrote you, in Israel, we have had Elections, Tu B'Shvat and finally some RAIN. And I am continuing to soak up everything I can about Israel. As usual, our "Israel Seminar" continues to feed us unique vantage points from which to understand Israel, so perhaps I'll begin there.
This past week, we had a very rare experience. We spent a whole day on a hilltop in Judea, with a special unit of the IDF, called the Maglan Unit. We were there to watch a practice run of a basic exercise where they drill what they'd do if had to face conquering an enemy in The Hills - clearly complicated terrain. They had a pitched a giant tent that we stayed under the whole day - along with the soldiers not involved with the drill - and had the chance to hang out and talk with some of the soldiers. This particular Army unit is an "elite" unit and the soldiers were incredibly impressive - thoughtful, committed to their country, and so bright. These men and women are, without question, our future leaders. They explained to us, that if this were a real war, first IDF air forces would bomb the area, and subsequently, they'd go in and do what we were watching them train for. We watched as 50 young soldiers - most were 19-22 year olds - maneuvered around the desert doing a "dry training" (ie without live ammunition). The drill culminated, at the end of the day, in a "live training" (ie - with live gun fire) where we got about as close as humanly possible to watch the drill - from a hilltop - done with (very) live ammunition. Having spent the day with these soldiers, it was dramatic and emotional to watch them literally in the act of what could mean putting their - very young - lives on the line, in order to protect The Land. Here's a photo of our class watching the live drill:
Our Class observing the IDF in the Judean Hills
During the day, I had the chance to talk to the soldiers about their lives, and many of our conversations kept revolving back to the soldiers' curiosity about Reform Judaism - about our becoming Rabbis and Cantors, about exactly how Reform Jews keep Shabbat, and if you can actually make a living as a Reform Rabbi or Cantor in the States. I was touched by their honest probing into our American Jewish lives, and sensed that, like us, they too are searching for some sort of way to be Jewishly observant here in a place where the dichotomy between religious and secular is stark. I wanted so badly for them to understand all I was trying to explain. But while our searching might share similarities, our worlds ARE different; the major difference is that they live in the Jewish state, and I do not (as of June 1). When one of the female soldiers put an exclamation point on our conversation saying, "Here in Israel we are Israeli first and Jewish second", I thought I'd burst into tears. She encapsulated a sense of pride, passion and togetherness - which IS Israel - that I don't think could ever be replicated anywhere else, and I will miss so much.
This has hit me hard recently. Because -- In our HUC world, we are in the part of the year which I have dubbed, "Turning Back To America". I am not sure where February has gone, but I do know that much of the month has been filled with thoughts and details which will concern us Stateside. We began our semester with a 3-day Colloquium focusing on "The Challenges and Opportunities of Creating Vibrant Jewish Communities in America". Led by 3 terrific professors from the 3 Stateside campuses, we addressed a list of serious issues including: Afilliation, Interfaith issues, the economy, redefining the Synagogue and divisions of Jewish Peoplehood. As a community and individually - we spent these days pondering questions about the broader picture in America right now, and our roles as future leaders. Amidst all the deep thinking, I felt like I was beginning to mourn having to leave Israel. Here, Jewish Life is more clearly defined (even though there's NOTHING simple about life here). Life revolves around the weekly rhythm of Shabbat and the yearly pace of the Jewish Calendar. So, contemplating the bigger long-term picture back in the USA, what my role will be in it, and how to bring some of Israel back to NYC, felt a little like having the Jewish rug pulled out from under me. The grappling continues for all of us, and for me, the bottom-line for me is that I did come out of that Colloquium - an intense 3 days to say the least - feeling like I had found deeper direction for myself as a Jewish leader.
On that note, we also have had our "remote" introduction to the Student Pulpit Placement process. Just briefly, this involved gathering as a group of 10 Cantorial students at 9:30 am on a Friday morning, and each of us taking a turn and singing into the congregational "face" of a camera with a very bright light. A DVD compilation of the 10 of us has now been sent to NYC where it is being replicated and sent to congregations that are looking for a student Cantor for next year. Over the next few weeks, phone interviews and a double-blind matching process will ensue - and by the end of March, many of us will know where our pulpits will be for next year. Here is a photo of our Cantorial class that we took the morning of the taping (yes, it looks very much like a 2nd grade class photo!) .
HUC Cantorial Class of 2013
It's hard to believe that this first year will end in just 3 months - and with all this talk of next year, it is sometimes hard to stay focused on what we're here to do. But I want to grasp and absorb every single moment. As with each step of this process so far, I have seen that there's a lot of preparation to get ready for each next step along the way, so I do understand that we have to start looking toward America now. BUT, now, as people here are starting to say things to me like, "I hope I see you before you go back", I find myself getting a little lumpy in the throat. While I trust that by May, I will be a little bit more ready, I am not there quite yet.
Posted by Nancy at 10:41 AM
Blog #5: January Blog
When the war in Gaza broke out about a month ago, we all were painfully aware that the world that we had inhabited here for 7 months was shifting. It's not that we could see anything different from our vantage point in Jerusalem, but the tension, the stress and the threat of danger was thick in the air - with a grueling war 48 miles away. Back in late December, as the war rolled out so quickly and dramatically, I intuitively turned to my teachers and Israeli friends & colleagues for a read on what was really going on. Unfortunately no-one really knew...this "Fog", as Israelis call the secretive nature of war, is part of the IDF strategy. As I reflect on those early weeks, I recall that the most upsetting moments for me came when I saw my Israeli friends break emotionally. It's no secret that Israelis have great personal strength and often a tougher way of handling life (it's a generalization, but a true one, from what I can see). So, a few times, when I saw the tough veneer of some Israelis shatter and sheer pain and heartbreak come through, it was extra frightening and raw and very scary. For example, I recall the day that my strong/tough-as-nails (but so sweet and nurturing on the inside) Hebrew teacher burst into tears in class because the war was expanding and she and her family were scared. When she cried, I found my heart feeling shattered. And in one of the early days of the war when one of the Israeli Rabbinic students - who I am friendly with - received his Reserve Unit notice and was called up, I felt his pain so deeply. I realize now that my reactions to the pain of my Israeli friends and colleagues elicited a deeper kind of empathic feeling than I had felt before regarding war. Not only was I experiencing pain for them, but for an Israel that I have grown to love, and to a degree have begun to internalize and understand more viscerally.
As events and violence unfolded, we were all asking so many questions about what was going on and exactly why. Not to mention trying to volley answers back to questions about our safety from friends and family in the US. I felt a kind of pseudo-Israeli strength inside, as I explained that Jerusalem was 50 miles away and we were safe. "You mean, that's equivalent to being in NYC with war being faught in Westport Connecticut?....It's that close to you!" one friend said. And I explained (perhaps, partially in an effort to self-sooth) that it not like that...it is different here... this was a contained war and we were fine. However, Israel was not. Israel could no longer stand by while its residents in the South were repeatedly and continuously attacked.
This being said, it remains excruciating and challenging, to say the least, to process the loss of human life and devastation in Gaza, and what one of our teachers called the "we shoot and we cry" IDF philosophy. And what does not help was the lop-sided coverage of the war by the American media. Viewing the news media both from the Israeli side and then in America (over the last 2 weeks, while I was in NYC on break) was so frustrating. I was extra-sensitized to how this story was being portrayed and how many in the world were viewing Israel through the prism of this war. The human side of the Israeli story was barely told. Granted, the wreckage and loss from this war is horrifying, but I also saw in black and white that there was great imbalance in how the war story was portrayed; and I felt a responsibility to scream this all over NYC in first half of January. It angered me, in particular, that there was a dearth of news analyses and reportage on what had transpired, leading up to this war in Gaza. This problem held an extra layer of pain for me, because I worked for a number of years on the business side of The New York Times, and during this war, I could barely look at it. (of course what I say above holds for TV coverage as well - shame on CNN!).
On a personal level, during the war outbreak, for us on HUC's Jerusalem Campus, we were approaching our first exam period as HUC students. It was challenging to keep focus, but we had no choice. Many of my classmates - and me as well - took heed of one of our Dean's words, which were to choose to affirm life (ie - pull the books out and keep studying for those exams) and to NOT let the fear and upset generated by this war impede our ability to move forward toward soaking in the knowledge we are here for. I got through exams, and even though I am still waiting for grades to come back, I felt pretty good about the exam period and all that I know I have learned.
Vacation in NYC (which also included co-leading Kabbalat Shabbat with a Cantor who I had done some work with last year) left me feeling relatively rested, and with some time finally to reflect on semester #1, really solid about what I have accomplished so far in school. And as wonderful as it was to see my friends and family at home, I found that I missed the community we have built in Jerusalem.
I am so happy to see everyone as we begin this new semester. And I feel I have returned with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. Now, with four months left to go in Israel, we are all experiencing this intense realization that our time here is getting shorter. I intend to savor each moment, especially with the dear friends I have made who will be on other campuses next year. This is a precious and once-in-a-lifetime experience. I feel blessed to be here, and grateful that I will be re-entering America, having personally grown and changed, and hopefully able to help our ailing world, in a different way than I could have before I started HUC. That is my hope.
Posted by Nancy at 10:41 AM
Blog #4: Hobbling at Half-Time
Last year, I remember reading a few blog posts about people who either got sick or had accidents while on their Year-in- Israel, and I remember thinking how scary and unsettling it could be to be sick away from home - away in a place where the language is different and the usual comforts may not exist. Well, now I can report on this phenomenon first-hand. And I can also tell you how supportive and caring this HUC community is when something happens. This "something" happened to me, 48 hours ago, when I was walking to school and one of my ugly, but trusted clogs, slipped out from under me and I heard the dreaded "thwack" of a bone snap. I am now the proud owner of a fractured foot. For anyone who has spent time in Jerusalem - you know what a bummer this is, since this is a serious "walking" city with lots of little hills and stairs. But here's some good news: through this experience, first, I get to introduce you to Nancy Lewitt, the Head of Student Affairs on the Jerusalem Campus, who wears about 370 very important hats as our advisor and friend.
Nancy & Nancy at the Hospital
Nancy came to my rescue when I woke up at 7am and wasn't able to walk. Not knowing exactly which ER to go to, or how I'd even get to one since I could only crawl on hands and knees, I reached for the phone next to my bed to call Nancy. Twenty minutes later she whizzed by in her car, brought me 2 canes, and whooshed me over to the Emergency Room. I will spare you the details, but I have to express how comforting it was to have her there with me - she knows the system (which bears little resemblance to the USA's medical System, for both better and worse), speaks fluent Hebrew....and is fun to laugh with.
So, if you might be heading to Jerusalem next year, know that Nancy will be here waiting to help - with open arms.
And here's more good news: I have been so touched - as I wobble around on crutches - at how caring our community of classmates and teachers is. The bottom line is that there is no "Fresh Direct" here. So I have had no choice but to ask for help (not my forte). People are so kind and are practically anticipating what I need - things like FOOD, transportation, my books, etc. - and are being great about offering help. This is making it much easier for me to keep my spirits up. From the 3 gallons of chicken soup that appeared at my door, to the DVD piles, to offers to go grocery shopping and bring homework to my apartment, to the car-rides that HUC teachers offer daily, I feel lucky and cared for. This will be a hard few weeks as the injury heals and we enter exam week, but I don't think I could be surrounded by a more thoughtful group of friends and colleagues.
So, what else?? This week we had our "Chetzi" anniversary, the official half-way mark in our year here. We have all been commenting, sort of under our breath, how quickly it is going by. It's hard to know what to think right now. There are lots of mixed feelings about the year here; for me, it's been such an intense and transforming time that part of me doesn't want it to end, but it's also difficult to be in a "bubble" and away from my regular life. But as I write this I realize that my "regular" life no longer exists. I know that I have already changed personally from this experience (more on this in a future post) and I will be going back to a world that has certainly changed. Yes, my friends and family are back in the States, but my city will not be the same NYC that I left in June. Everyone's reality has shifted. These thoughts remind me to enjoy every moment of this experience while I have it in the palm of my hand.
In the meantime, there are still so many experiences to soak up here. Some of the adventures that we've had in the past month (before my little accident) included a delicious Class Thanksgiving Buffet Pot-Luck Extravaganza, a Master Class with Cantor Benny Maissner (he is nephew of famed Chazzan/Composer Israel Alter), a class trip to Haifa & Sfat, and also a trip to Tel Aviv to see one of the Israeli Rabbinic Students play in his band. Here are some pix.
Cantor Maissner and Cantorial Student Amanda
A Pre-Shabbat Nosh in a Sfat Wine & Cheese Shop
Rabbinical Student Or Zohar and his band at the Susan Dellal Performing arts Center in Tel Aviv
Finally, even though we are heading into reading period and exams now (and there are 3 papers to write and 6 exams to take!), suddenly I have a feeling that the next big event will be focusing on and preparing for Year 2. For the Cantors, this reality was underlined earlier this week, when we had our first meeting (by video-conference) with the Director of Placement in NYC, to talk about Student Pulpits for next year. We're just beginning the process - drafting resumes, choosing audition material and thinking about how frequent a pulpit placement we'd want for our first year back in the States. Wait - stop. I am not ready yet! (SOON, but not yet!!)
More about all of this in the next few months. My next post will be from NYC -where I will be hobbling for our January vacation. See you then.
Posted by Nancy at 10:41 AM
Blog #3: Connections...
What is it like here in Jerusalem on the HUC Campus? BUSY, extremely BUSY, insanely BUSY- the kind of schedule that keeps me at the college from 8:30 am until well after 6pm most days. Many moments are wonderful and full and rich, and there are also moments where I am spread so thin that I wonder - how I will be able to develop a sense of depth in any area of study (then I remember I have another 4.5 years to go!). However, when I step back for a second, I can see what is happening: slowly but surely, I'm giving myself the tools to do work as a Jewish leader.
HUC in the evening
Both in and out of the classroom, connections are forging in all sorts of ways - and that is the theme this month - Connections. With each other, within the Jewish community, across borders and within ourselves. Time is flying by, and I want to give you a snapshot of what's going on
2 weeks ago, I led my first Shacharit Service, along with 2 other students - a Rabbincal student and an Education student. We designed the service, and led our classmates in a prayer, including a Torah service and also a Drash. It went well, and the experience reminded me how much I love connecting with the prayers and leading. Leading this particular Kahal is unique because everyone is familiar with the liturgy, and it really felt like leading a community. Technically, it was amazing to be able to take the some of what I have learned in the classroom - like Morning Nusach - and use it. Baby steps!!
(Here's a photo of the leaders of today's morning service - Cantorial Student, Leslie and Rabbinical Student, Amy - who led a beautiful service.)
Leslie and Amy Lead today's Shacharit service
Another activity going on outside the classroom is my Community Service Project (each student is required to spend a certain amount of time on this each week and there's a lot of choice in what to do). Along with 2 friends, we've designed a project - talking and bringing music to a residence for the elderly, some who are quite ill. Personally, I am interested in exploring Pastoral Care in the coming years, and in this work, I see the direct affect of the attention we are offering and how the music lights up the faces of the group. For example, we have been singing Yiddish songs twith them, and we are seeing people who haven't spoken a word in months, produce sound as they come alive and sing along with us. Each week, as exhausted as we are when we arrive, we can't believe how energized we feel when it's time to leave. The Jewish values of visiting the sick, showing kindness, and keeping the traditions going between generations are all in play....forging these connections each week has become a beautiful part of my life here.
What else? A few weeks ago, our whole class spent Kabbalat Shabbat with one of the 2 Progressive congregations (ie, Israel's "Reform" Judaism) in Jerusalem and that night, I sang with the Cantor after the Amidah. I loved it - there, on the bimah with an American/Israeli Chazzan, helping him lead an Israeli congregation, which is doing almost the exact same service that my congregation back in NYC is doing - I felt a strong connection between here and home which I hadn't felt in a while...it was a warm, full feeling.
Later that night, I went off to join a group from B'nai Brith who was here from the Detroit area. I was "hired" to join them at their hotel for Shabbat dinner, do Kiddush and sing some songs. It was the first time I have had the opportunity here to be in with Americans as "the Cantor" (little did they know I am a 4 months old super-rookie). The chance to connect back to Reform Jews from the States and to bring them some of what I am learning here gave me an exciting- and also realistic - taste of what is to come in the future.
I also wanted to mention the "Kesharim" project (Kesharim means "connections" in Hebrew). This is an HUC program which connects us with the Israeli Rabbinic students (fyi, HUC runs a 5-year program where there are 40+ Israeli's studying to be rabbis, and they almost all 2nd Career students). This year there are an equal number of us and them on campus (for the first time ever, which points to the growth of the Progressive movement in Israel), and Kesharim is set up to help us get to know each other. We've had initial meetings, and I look forward to sharing a Shabbat dinner with my Kesharim partner and her family soon. BTW, yesterday was the Ordination for the Israeli Rabbinical students and 6 new Rabbis were ordained. Our class of Cantorial students sang at their Ordination, and as much as I was reticent to give up a precious Friday day-"off", when I got there, I was glad. These Rabbis are our future Israeli colleagues. Of course, it also reminded how all this work WILL culminate 4.5 years from now in a wonderful accomplishment. (in a synagogue on 65th street and 5th Ave!) I am sure all of us were flashing forward to a vision of our Investiture in May, 2013 and imagining what will happen between now and then.
HUC's Israeli rabbinic Ordination
Step by step...See you in December...
Posted by Nancy at 11:30 AM
Blog #2: The High Holy Days in Jerusalem, and more...
At Independence Hall
I am writing to you from a cafe in Tel Aviv at 9pm on the eve of our Sukkot break. Today we were in Tel Aviv for one of my favorite classes - "Israel Seminar" - where we literally use Israel as our classroom and explore the evolution of modern Israel. Today was Tel Aviv Day. Our stops included Independence Hall, The Palmach Musuem and the West-Village-like Shenkin Street. One of the best parts of this class is our teacher, who is gifted at helping us "connect the history dots" from ancient times to present; he is also a passionate educator, and role model, as he is constantly probing us to think how we would teach the day's content - for example - when in a few years from now, we will likely be leading groups to Israel.
So, I have the next 6 or so hours free, until my flight leaves Ben Gurion Airport at 4:00 am (INSANE!!) for my vacation in Croatia. I will be meeting one of my dearest friends from NYC for this adventure. I am excited to see someone from home, but at the same time it's a little hard right now to think about taking this break because of the amount of work on my plate. So, in order to be prepped for a number of tests when classes start up again in about 10 days from now, I will have to do a fair amount of work on this trip. I hope my friend doesn't mind waking up to the sounds of my chanting Torah, as I will be learning the Trope symbols on this trip (until a few weeks ago, I had no Cantillation knowledge). We have a test on these as soon as we get back. We also will be tested on Traditional Morning Liturgy, and have an exam in Biblical History; and just a few days later on November 10, I will be leading Shacharit service for the HUC community, along with 2 other students . The academic deck is stacked right now, but I think if I work a little every day on this vacation, I will be fine!!
Let me catch you up on the past month or so. In a word - BUSY!!! On top of our class work, the Cantorial Students served as the High Holy Day choir (since we are all women, a number of male rabbinical students as well as a few Jerusalem "ringers" jumped in for the men's sections). It was an incredible way to learn a ton of High Holy Day music, which is important particularly in light of the fact that each of us will likely be leading these services a year from now back in the States. For me, it was adrenaline-filled and intense, and I got a glimpse of how, as prayer leaders, we really have to watch and conserve our energy, while at the same time really be present in our own prayer. Services took place in an all-windowed room which overlooks the Old City. This is about as beautiful and breath-taking as a view gets. I was very touched by this ancient "backdrop", especially as a rookie first-year student Cantor - and really felt the depth of the tradition that we were taking part in. I was also so happy to be "working" and taking just a little break from the classroom. It was an awesome reminder of how much I love leading prayer service.
Shofar Blowing Practice with the Class of 2013
Since September, people have been saying that we will dig into our regular academic work here "acharei ha chagim" (after the holidays) and with this Holiday experience behind me, I am ready to go deeper into my learning experience now. So bring on Acherei Ha Chagim!!
During the week of Yom Kippur, I also had my parents visiting Jerusalem. It felt good to share my life here with them. And I think it was very helpful for them to see me in action. Now, they have real images of where I am; things like meeting my friends, coming to classes and rehearsals and coaching's, seeing the HUC campus and my apartment, and eating fabulous humus and eggplant, were really helpful in understanding what exactly I am doing here.
A Bach Family Feast
They loved their visit they tell me, because they can see how I am loving my life here. Having them here also highlighted for me that I have a lot more to do here and I am nowhere near ready to come home yet. For this die-hard New Yorker, this is surprising, and true!
So, thanks for reading. Off to the airport soon - Chag Sameach and I will talk to you all Acherei Ha Chagim.
Posted by Nancy at 2:06 PM
Blog #1: First Blog
Sara, Dara and Nancy
I am writing you from my apartment on Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem, and wonder where to begin. I remember how important these Blog notes were to me over the past 18 months, as I went through a set of decisions about applying to HUC. Back in my apartment in Manhattan, I'd wait for the next month's Blog "installment", and with each, I became more inspired to make my HUC application happen. I hope that that my writings can help you in a similar way.
I am a second-career Cantorial Student. A year ago, I was running my own marketing business and singing in clubs in Manhattan, and now I am here in Israel as part of a community of 42 students. All 42 of us come with different backgrounds and I am grateful to be here with this group, as we take first steps toward becoming Jewish Professionals. This is not something I'd ever thought I'd write about, no less in a public forum!! But I am on the way. So, what has happened so far in this first layer of HUC, since I packed 20 years of life into storage and moved to a new city? (What!?!? I did that??) First, I have ALMOST gotten over my obsession regarding age (I am one of the "Elders" in this particular group). I am learning so much from my 41 new friends (see attached photo of 3 of us at a concert in Jerusalem) and that old concern has pretty much been replaced with new ones (things like feral cats crawling through my kitchen window on Jabotinsky). This summer, our class - along with the cats - spent our time in Ulpan classes, shopping at the "shuk" - the most amazing outdoor market on the face of the earth, at Shabbat dinners (I love the art of "Pot luck" now), singing, praying, going to the beach in Tel Aviv and in Ashdod, and sharing our various personal traditions. We've bonded, I think, and have quickly become a tight, caring community; I hope we will continue to share as much kindness and respect for each other as we have in these early days. I think beginnings are important - and this has been a good one!
Nancy, Shuk Shopping
Basically, I have spent the summer settling in. It's been an adjustment but now I know how to food shop (ie, which is a big deal here, with all the pushing, shoving,and dragging my "shuk cart" around). Ihave learned how to walk everywhere (note for future students: COMFY SHOES are vital!!!). I have visited many of the City's Synagogues. We, the Cantorial students, are becoming well-rehearsed to serve as the choir for the High Holidays. And I have finally found my inner New Yorker here - as I have argued through some of the nonsensical negotiations (often in Hebrew) that make Israel - well, Israel!
And now, as the 120 degree weather changes to a manageable 85, and we are back from our August vacations (mine, in Turkey), it feels noticeably different from when I arrived here on July 1st. Whereas just over 2 months ago, I was a foreigner entering my dishwasherless-apartment filled with raw emotion, now I start each day with purpose and relative comfort with my routine, my new middle-Eastern recipes, my new set of books, and my beautiful, tree-lined, cat-filled, peaceful, neighborhood.
Our full academic calendars began last week, and well, so much for that peaceful feeling.We havea heavy schedule - over 10 classes each week, ranging from 2nd Temple History to Israeli Folk/Pop Music. While it is overwhelming - especially having been out of the academic classroom for 20 years - it is thrilling and stimulating, and I am beginning to make some meaningful connections between many of these areas of study. My brain is working hard, my voice is getting toned, and this feels like intense cross-training. Early in the summer, the Dean of HUC in Jerusalem reminded us that it will be our knowledge that will ultimately make us valuable as Jewish Professionals. And now - the work has begun toward gaining that knowledge.
I hope over the next months I will be able to share details that will give you a sense of the kind of year I am having here in the first year of this program. Stay tuned...see you in a month.
Posted by Nancy at 2:28 PM