Blog #8: April Blog
The last few weeks have been dominated by the huge MAJE capstone project that is the curriculum guide. Our penultimate drafts, i.e. complete first drafts, were due the Monday of Pesach week, and with the frenzy of the holiday following so closely on the heels of the ultra-concentrated efforts to get my draft turned in, the first week of spring break flew by in a haze of exhaustion and matzah dust. It was actually a great break-my parents came down to LA for a couple of days, and we spent the first night of Pesach together at my close friend and classmate Julia's apartment with some of her extended family. The second night we had a very small and informal Seder-like dinner at our place, which was also delicious and fun. My Mom and I spent most of that day shopping for and then preparing dinner, which was also great. I don't remember the last time she and I spent so much time in the kitchen together! It turns out that we have a very similar cooking style-not sticking so closely to recipes (unless it's baking), smelling spices as we go along to decide what combinations we want to create. Dinner turned out to be delicious, and the day was tiring but lots of fun.
Two days after Pesach began, my co-Mishpacha Coordinator Laura and I had to spend many long hours at one of the most important congregational events at Or Ami: Seder in the Wilderness. There's actually no Seder, and referring to the Santa Monica Mountains (just 3 miles from the synagogue itself) as "wilderness" is a bit of a stretch, but the event is really wonderful. Friday afternoon many families arrive to set up tents and toss Frisbees before enjoying their cookout dinners. Then there was an Erev Shabbat service next to a roaring campfire, under the stars. Saturday morning Laura and I ran a Shabbat morning t'filah program for the kids while their parents went on a "spirituality nature hike" with Rabbi Kipnes and one of our Mishpacha faculty members who happens to be an accomplished outdoor educator. The rest of the day was spent schmoozing, picnicking with a Kosher-for-Passover faculty lunch meeting, and "reliving the Exodus" in our big Mishpcha program, before enjoying an awesome Sephardi-style Kosher-for-Passover catered dinner. For those of you who hike and camp regularly, you'll know what I mean when I say that food just tastes better when you've spent the day outside! Seder in the Wilderness ended with a campfire talent show and community havdalah service, which was lovely. Much as we were exhausted, it was a great weekend.
The second week of spring break passed quickly with lots of little events, but nothing important to report on. Really what's noteworthy is the return to school for the last 3 weeks of classes. On Wednesday the graduating class from the Rhea Hirsch School of Education presented our curriculum guides in a showcase luncheon. Each of us addressed the packed room for 3 minutes, sharing the passions that led us to choose the topic that we chose, what we feel our curriculum guides will be adding to the field of Jewish education, and the important takeaways from our guides. After our presentations, we transformed the room into a sort of museum, and each presenter shared an artifact from his or her curriculum guide. I brought the youtube clip of the slam poet Vanessa Hidary performing her poem Hebrew Mamita, and a copy of the words for everyone to read. I'm using this clip and the poem in my second-to-last unit of my curriculum guide to give participants an idea of what Jewish slam poetry sounds (and looks) like before they try their hands at writing their own. The culminating activity for that unit is a slam poetry event where the participants share their own Jewish slam poetry. Check it out:
That's all for now! This time next month I'll be done with my Rab-Ed year, and heading back to the Rab school. I'm looking forward to my last 2 years of learning at HUC, and I'm also sad that this one is coming to an end. It's been an incredible learning and growing experience for me. All you prospective rabbinical students: be sure you take the extra year to do the MAJE! It's SO worth it!!
Posted by Daniel at 2:11 PM
Blog #7: March Blog
I have never visited the Cincinnati or New York campuses of HUC during Purim, but there is no other day during the year that I am more proud to be a member of the Los Angeles campus than on Purim. Sure, the rest of the year we've got great weather and an atmosphere more of cooperation than of competition between students, but on Purim we really shine. Each class is assigned to bring something to share in the celebration-food, beverages (yes, I mean alcoholic!), decorations, etc.-and almost everyone comes in costume of some kind. Some are more elaborate than others, and some are team efforts while some are individual. But nearly everyone puts some time and energy into thinking of something witty, or at least revelatory, to wear.
This year we came to school and found the front door decorated with a giant hamantasch (made of brown paper and balloons). Immediately inside were members of the 3rd year class-who are always responsible for bringing beverages-pouring mimosas. Turn right down the hall and you had to navigate a maze of streamers on your way into the student lounge where the tables were covered with all kinds of munchies and more drinks. I remember being amazed in my second year that people went to class with alcoholic beverages all day, even during the first period. But hey, it's Purim! And on Purim it's best to expect the unexpected.
The class schedule even gets altered a little in order to accommodate the special Purim "service" and shpiel. Last year the "service" involved 2 4th-year students dressing as high priests in the Temple and offering sacrifices. There was lots of fake blood and a small hibachi grill involved. This year the service was essentially a mockery of what services are usually like at HUC-LA. It was hilarious, and also beautifully incorporated some chanting from the megillah, which was great to hear. We went from "services" to the student lounge for lunch and the shpiel.
Every year the shpiel consists of different acts that are submitted by different groups of students. This year, as in the last couple of years, there were some amazing video submissions, some live skits and musical acts, and a healthy dose of poking fun at our professors who, in turn, poked fun right back at the students. That's part of what I find to be so wonderful about Purim at HUC-LA: it showcases the strength of our community. Often people complain about a lack of community on our campus, but this kind of Purim celebration really couldn't take place if it weren't for a general feeling of goodwill among and between students, faculty, and staff.
And just like that, we've completed the first of what they refer to in Jerusalem as "the 3 P's: Purim, Pesach, and Packing." Here in LA we don't have to deal with the last one, but this little saying emphasizes that, once we hit Purim, we start speeding on the downhill toward the end of the year. Hard to believe! Pesach is only 3 weeks away, and then it's only a few more weeks until the semester is finished. Enjoy the next few weeks of chametz-I'll write again when we're all enjoying matzah sandwiches for lunch!
Posted by Rebekah at 2:43 PM
Blog #6: February Blog
Me and the pup
It's hard to believe that in 2 weeks we'll have finished the first half of this semester! It seems to be true what they say: at some point you round the corner on this long path toward ordination, and, all of a sudden the end starts to seem very near. January marked an important turning point for me: Sean and I are exactly halfway through our time in LA. Knowing how fast the last 2 _ years have gone, it's kind of crazy to think about just how fast the next 2 _ will go.
These days I'm working hard to get through the next couple of weeks to the end of the quad (quarter). Next quad I'll have 2 fewer courses, which will free up a good deal of time to finally focus on my curriculum guide. For right now, finding the time to write the second unit of my curriculum guide, while also working on the daily homework, and getting the midterm assignments done, is feeling like an extraordinarily challenging task.
What's a curriculum guide, you might ask? The capstone project for the MA in Jewish Education instead of writing a traditional master's thesis is the curriculum guide project. Every MAJE student writes his or her own curriculum guide. For rabbinic-education students, the work begins over the summer before the Ed year. Towards the end of the school year we have meetings with the school director (Michael Zeldin) to decide on a topic for the curriculum guide. Then, over the summer we read a book that will inform the content of our curriculum guides.
Spending birthday weekend with the family
Having been inspired by the family education model at my internship, I decided to write a curriculum for adolescent girls (post-bat mitzvah) and their primary female caretakers (AKA mothers, but this longer title allows for alternative family structures). In this school-year-long curriculum, women will come together twice monthly to learn about womanhood through the lens of Judaism, Judaism through the lens of womanhood, and what it means to be a Jewish woman in relationship with God. It's exciting to be creating something like this, and it's certainly also a challenging project for me that is stretching my thinking in new ways. Hopefully the finished project will be useful for someone, somewhere. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll have the opportunity to use it, or at least parts of it myself!
In the meantime, I've just returned from spending my birthday weekend with my family and some favorite friends in the Bay Area. It's always hard to come back from that kind of fun, easy-going weekend, especially when there's so much to be done upon my return. But it was great to have that kind of recharge. I also know that, once I make it through the next couple of weeks, things are going to be significantly simpler. For the last quarter we take 2 fewer classes, which will allow me to spend more time focusing on my curriculum guide as we sprint to the finish line of this semester and this year! And with that in mind, I've gotta get back to work!
In the meantime, there's a whole semester to learn from!
Posted by Rebekah at 2:13 PM
Blog #5: January Blog
I'm just finishing up the first week back at school, and so far things are feeling far more manageable than they did last semester! This is a very good thing. I'm also taking my very first 4th year rabbinic elective course: Reading and Teaching Rabbinic Literature. It's being taught by one of my favorite professors and soon-to-be dean of the rabbinic school here in LA, Dvora Weisberg. I feel especially fortunate to be able to take this course with her since I don't know how many classes she'll be teaching in the coming year as she steps up into the deanship. Anyway, the outlook for the semester is good, and the energy on campus after our winter break is high and positive. Good for all involved.
I'm also coming off of a really inspiring and thought-provoking week at our second of three Mandel seminars, this one in Boston. As I was telling my academic faculty advisor Sara Lee (who also coordinates a large part of the Mandel program), I can tell that the ideas that we discussed last week have really lodged themselves in my thinking and that I think I was deeply and meaningfully influenced by the learning we did.
In the event that I haven't mentioned it before, the Mandel Fellowship is an incredible supplemental program for rabbinic-education students in the rab-ed year. It also comes with significant scholarships for the year, which help to offset the costs of taking this additional year of school. When I applied to the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, I simultaneously applied and interviewed for the Fellowship. And when I accepted the funding that comes with the Fellowship, I also committed to participating in 3 seminars during the course of the year. The first was a 3-day seminar in October and was held at the conference center at Camp Hess Kramer here in Malibu. The second was 4 days long and was last week in Boston, and the third is 3 weeks long and is in Israel in June!
During our October seminar we were introduced to the themes of the Mandel Fellowship year: leadership, vision, and community. We did a site visit to Beit T'Shuvah (www.beittshuvahla.org), a vision-driven congregation and residential treatment facility for Jews who struggle with addictions of many kinds. Since the seminar took place during the Yamim Nora'im (between Rosh Ha'Shanah and Yom Kippur), we also focused on the concept of t'shuvah itself, as well as beginning to delve into the larger ideas of leadership and community.
This past week has already begun to influence the way I look at congregational-and really any organizational-life. In Boston we visited the vision-driven organizations Mayyim Hayyim (www.mayyimhayyim.org) community mikvah, Temple Beth Elohim (www.bethelohim-wellesley.org), and the megachurch Grace Chapel (www.grace.org). In each of these organizations we met the vision-driven leaders-both lay and professional-who either founded (in the case of Mayyim Hayyim) or participated in the vision-driven change processes that led these organizations to the inspiring places they are in today. I left Boston feeling both energized and a little overwhelmed, wondering how I'll go from the place I'm in today to one day, hopefully, participating in one of the incredible teams that drive these kinds of organizations. I think the most exciting thing is that I feel like my eyes have been opened to what exactly is at the heart of a healthy Jewish community, and now that the secret has been revealed, I feel empowered to continue to explore the ideas and strategies that we were exposed to last week in Boston. One thing is for sure: I'm very much looking forward to the Jerusalem seminar. With 3 weeks (instead of 4 days) to do this kind of institutional- and soul-searching, and, at that point, with the rab-ed year behind me, I can only begin to dream about the kinds of insights about myself and about vision, leadership, and community that will be revealed.
In the meantime, there's a whole semester to learn from!
Posted by Rebekah at 2:13 PM
Blog #4: December Blog
Songleading with Cantor Ellen Dreskin on the Shabbaton
Wow, it's hard to believe that the first semester is coming to a close. Time is flying by way too fast! Happy Chanukah, everyone!
I know why time is moving so quickly. It's because every single moment of this semester has been packed. The last month, for example has been crazy. The second weekend in November I traveled to the Bay Area for a family Shabbaton which is a joint program of 4 congregations in the East Bay. This Shabbaton takes place every 2 years, and this was my 4th year participating. In other words, I've been working in these communities for the last 8 years! Crazy. Anyway, the Shabbaton was wonderful this year, as it has been each year I've participated. We spend the weekend at Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, which I actually think is more beautiful in the fall/winter than it is in the summer when camp is in session! So many of the trees change colors, and the rain turns the hills green from brown. It's really gorgeous. This year Cantor Ellen Dreskin was the scholar-in-residence, and I also had the opportunity to work with 3 rabbis, some talented songleaders, and some inspiring (and inspired) lay leaders. I was there as a student rabbi, and I songled, co-led services, and planned and taught 2 workshops. It was a really wonderful couple of days.
The next weekend I had Mishpacha (my internship) on Sunday morning, but my cousin Ari, the eldest of the next generation of cousins, became Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat morning in Boston, and I felt that it was important for me to be there. So yes, I flew to Boston for 24 hours, and yes, it was worth it. It turned out to be a really fun little family reunion, and it was also a treat to be there as my cousin became Bar Mitzvah. He did an awesome job leading his parts of the service, chanting his Torah portion, and presenting his drash. Then he blew us all away as he played his new keyboard (a BM gift from one of my other cousins) and sang with his band at his own reception. And it wasn't the kind of performance you might expect from a band of 13-year olds. They were really good! So yeah, it was a crazy weekend, but it was well-worth-it.
The Bar Mitzvah Boy, my cousin Ari
The week after that made all the weeks leading up to that week seem empty by comparison. Sean and I are (were) a single-car family, and our one car died suddenly the Tuesday before we were set to move into our new apartment. Then, on moving day we couldn't get 1/3 of our couch around a corner near our front door. And of course there was the usual stress of having all of our belongings packed in boxes and turning our home into another place of seemingly endless work.
The last few weeks have been a blur of Thanksgiving travel (to Phoenix to visit Sean's family, where my family also happens to sometimes gather for T-Giving), 2 back-to-back Mishpacha sessions, finals, fixing the car, and settling into our new place. It's been a crazy end to the semester, but I seem to have survived, and everything seems to have gotten done on time. Last night we celebrated the first night of Chanukah with our friends Julia and David, and in a couple of days we'll head down to San Diego to visit with Sean's sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law (who live there) and his parents (who will be driving in for the long weekend). The most amazing thing is going to happen: I will be leaving my computer at home, and I will actually be taking 5 full days away from school- and internship-work. I may even start reading a novel. (I don't remember the last time I did that!) Then I'll have a week at home to relax some more, work on my curriculum guide (more on that in a later blog), and get ready for the next Mandel seminar-4 days in Boston the first week in January. I'm sure I'll share that experience in the next blog. Based on the itinerary and my experience during the last seminar in October, it promises to be an incredible 4 days!
In the meantime, Chag Chanukah Sameach to you, and Happy 2009!
My dog Judah (left) and his buddy Rory (my friend and classmate's dog) mugging for the camera on the first night of Chanukah--smaller
Posted by Rebekah at 11:16 AM
Blog #3: November Blog
Assembling the Sukkah
Alright, I think it's finally time to tell you a little more about my internship this year, especially since it feels like it gobbles up most of my time and energy! As I've mentioned in earlier blogs, this year I'm doing an education internship at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas. Along with a fellow MAJE student (MA in Jewish Education), I'm co-coordinating their Family Alternative Learning Program, which is called Mishpacha (which, for those of you not up on your Hebrew, means family). The program is incredibly innovative in the world of Jewish education, and it's a big honor and a big challenge for me to co-coordinate this program this year.
The program meets twice each month, usually on Sunday mornings, for 2 _ hours. We run 2 back-to-back sessions (i.e., we run the same 2 _-hour program twice, with a 15-minute break in between sessions), and each session has a capacity of 35 families. Both sessions are full. So part of my job, along with my co-coordinator Laura, is just to assemble all the supplies, do some full-group teaching/coordinating/time-keeping, and just generally make sure that everything runs smoothly. Another part is to supervise our faculty of 12 teachers. And the last big part, which takes the most time, is to write the curriculum that we're teaching this year!
This year the subject of the curriculum is Living Jewishly: Shabbat and Holy Days. It's a really cool program, kind of like family camp twice a month all of the education is informal education, i.e. no frontal classroom-style learning. And that makes it not only really fun, but really challenging. It turns out that frontal teaching is a great way to get information across, and it can be much more difficult to have your students learn the same information when you aren't just telling it to them directly. So we have to make sure that the depth of the learning is just as profound as it would be if we were just teaching frontally, but we have to make it constructive so that students are really discovering the information on their own. This internship is stretching me in ways I could never have imagined. There's no question that I will come away from this year with many many more skills than I had before I began!
Learning in the Sukkah
So that's the basic run-down. And one really cool thing about the rab-ed year is the way that our class work is really integrated into our internship work. For example, we've had this ongoing multi-part assignment in our teaching class that began way back in the beginning of October. I had to plan a lesson for Mishpacha, and I had to teach that lesson. I don't normally teach that much of any given Mishpacha day, so this was a little bit different, and my supervisor, Rabbi Paul Kipnes (who is himself a rabbi-educator), was nice enough to let me teach my lesson to the adults when we did age-specific learning that day. (A normal Mishpacha day involves some time for the families to do some learning together and some time for the adults to learn together with Rabbi Kipnes and the kids to learn with other kids in their grade with one of our faculty members.)
So I planned this lesson, with help from my teaching class professor, and then I taught it a couple of weeks ago. Each of us in the teaching class went through the same process to plan the lesson, and we each were videoed as we taught. The next part of the assignment, which I just finished last week, was to watch our videos with a partner, and to give each other feedback (according to certain guidelines) about what we saw. It was a really cool process. The last step, which is due in the next couple of days, is to write a reflection paper about what we learned from watching ourselves and from discussing our videos with our partners. Along with this reflection, we're asked to revise our original lesson plan according to the way we actually taught it and/or think it might have been improved, in retrospect. In addition to having our schoolwork and our internship work really well integrated, another thing that the Rhea Hirsch School does incredibly well is to help us learn from our experiences through the process of careful reflection. All-in-all, now in November, this is turning out to be an invaluable year.
Posted by Rebekah at 10:42 AM
Blog #2: October Blog
On my way to leading services
Chag Sukkot sameach (happy Sukkot) everyone! After the frenzy of the last couple of weeks, these first few days of Sukkot are feeling like a big relief. I finally have some time to catch up on my schoolwork! But Rebekah, if you're an education student this year, why were the High Holy Days so busy? Let me explain.
During the Year-in-Israel program, rabbinical students have no pulpit responsibilities. We occupy our time in other ways while we are in Israel-exploring the country, volunteering in the local Jerusalem community, and getting into the routine of rabbinical school. For those of us who returned to the LA campus, we had required student pulpits during our first 2 years here (translation: our 2nd and 3rd years in school). I was lucky enough to work in a congregation (Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, CA-www.congshirami.org) that I had worked in as a songleader while I was in college at UC Berkeley. The little congregation of about 60-70 member units is only about an hour drive from my parents' house in Albany (CA), so each weekend that I would fly up to work at Shir Ami as their student rabbi, I'd stay with my parents. It was a pretty incredible arrangement, and I had an amazing couple of years at Shir Ami.
Because I was a songeader in the East Bay community before leaving for Israel, and because I worked as a student rabbi in the East Bay for the last 2 years, and because I had no other High Holy Day commitments as an education student this year, and because Sean and I will be moving back to the Bay Area when I'm done with rabbinical school, I had the opportunity to work in 2 different congregations during this year's High Holy Days. For both Erev Rosh Ha'Shanah and Erev Yom Kippur, I worked as the rabbinic High Holy Day intern at Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton, CA (www.bethemek.org) wit Rabbi Richard Winer. I wrote a sermon for each of the evenings-my Yom Kippur sermon was definitely the longest and probably the best sermon I've ever delivered-and worked with Rabbi Winer, who is also a songleading rabbi, on the music. It was a really great experience. Beth Emek is a growing small-medium sized congregation of about 250 member units.
Prepping for Simchat Torah
For both Rosh Ha'Shanah and Yom Kippur mornings, I was hired as the cantorial soloist-yeah, I know, I'm a rabbinical student getting my MA in Jewish Education who's hired to be a cantorial soloist, it's confusing-for the alternative morning services at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA (www.oaklandsinai.org). Temple Sinai is so big-almost 1000 member units, I think-that they rent out a local theater in Oakland for their main services during the High Holy Days. A couple of years ago they started offering an alternative morning service, which is held in the synagogue's gorgeous early-20th century domed sanctuary, which is led by one of their 3 rabbis and a songleader/soloist-that was me! So for these services I didn't say much of anything, I just sang. This too was an awesome experience. I love having the opportunity to work with so many different rabbis and to experience leading so many different kinds of services. I think it's important to try to see as much as I can before I'm ordained so that I can make the most informed decision about the kind of job I'd like when I'm done.
Anyway, this year I am indeed an MAJE student, a rab-ed, as we are called on the LA campus. And so this year, in between Rosh Ha'Shanah and Yom Kippur I also attended 2 back-to-back retreats, one for the Mandel Fellowship, and one for the Rhea Hirsch School. Both were excellent and extremely thought provoking. It's been a very reflective past few weeks! And on the Sunday following YK I was back to work at my education internship. This year I'm co-coordinating the Mishpacha program at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA (www.orami.org/learning/mishpacha). On Sunday we did a program about Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Check out some of the pics!
Anyway, as I said, after working hard and learning a ton during the High Holy Days, I am grateful for the arrival of Sukkot. Now maybe I can finally get some homework done...
Posted by Rebekah at 11:18 AM
Blog #1: My First Blog
Me on my bike
It's funny, I think everyone who comes to rabbinical school at HUC feels like they're a little different. The differences are all over the map-lots of previous experience with Jewish text, no experience with Jewish text. Arriving at HUC right after graduating from college, arriving at HUC after 20 years in a completely different field. So in that way, I'm just like everyone else: I feel different from everyone else!
I grew up in a family that identified as Jewish, but in which we didn't really practice much Judaism. My parents enrolled me in a Jewish preschool, but not because it was Jewish, rather, because it was the best preschool around at the time. I was the one who chose to go to the day camp in the synagogue that the preschool was held in, not because, at age 5, I was making some statement about the importance of Judaism in my life, rather, because all my friends were going! It was according to this same decision-making process that I decided to continue attending religious school in that same congregation. But I didn't feel like such a committed Jew-just a normal kid who wanted to spend time with her friends!
Sean and me
I spent my early childhood in Berkeley California. It was a happy life. Then my family moved to Paris (France) for my 7th and 8th grade years. Those were probably the most difficult 2 years of my life, even up to the present. But that was probably more because I was in 7th and 8th grade than because we were in Paris. In fact, living in Paris afforded me some incredible life experiences that I never would have had if we hadn't moved. I learned a foreign language at a young age-which has helped me to learn a couple of other foreign languages since then-and I had the opportunity to see completely different parts of the world and ways of life than I would have if we had just stayed in Berkeley during that time. Looking back, I think those 2 years wound up having a huge impact on who I am today.
We returned to Berkeley after our time in France, and I stayed there for college-I attended UC Berkeley-and a few years after college. Now that I've spent some more time living away from the San Francisco Bay Area as a young adult (in Jerusalem and now LA), I've come to understand that the Bay Area is in my blood. Having learned the language of Zion and exile, I have found new ways to express to others how strongly I feel about the Bay Area. It's the place that I feel most myself. I love the way the air smells, the views you get from the tops of all the hills, and the general vibe of the people there. Even in Jerusalem, where, as a Jew I was supposed to have felt like I had finally come home, and now continuing in LA, I feel like I'm in exile from my own personal Zion. My husband and I very much hope to return to the Bay Area when I've concluded my studies in 3 years.
But even though I'm living in exile, my husband (Sean) and I have certainly made ourselves a comfortable life here in LA. We love the communities that we're a part of, I love commuting to school on my new bike (which is much easier when it's sunny most days of the year!), we love taking our dog (Judah) to the local dog parks and on hikes in Griffith Park, and, perhaps most importantly-since it's what I spend most of time doing!-I really love the work I do at HUC and in my internships in the last 2 years. More on that next month!
Sean and Judah
Posted by Rebekah at 5:33 PM