Inner Harbor and Water Taxi
Well it is official; I am a third year rabbinic student. My finals have been taken, my papers turned in. Despite the fact that the year did seem to drag along at some points, in retrospect, it has really flown by. Israel seems like it was a few months ago, not a year plus. As June comes closer, it is hard for me to believe that another class is headed off to Jerusalem to being this amazing journey. It just doesn't seem that long ago that I was packing for my year there. As the first year students finishing up their year know, Israel isn't always easy, especially when you're living there, but there is something so special about Israel, something that speaks to us on a deeper level. So much of my experience in Israel has only come to make sense to me in hindsight.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore
One of the unique experiences I had while in Israel was to become involved with the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). ARZA is a fantastic organization that works for the advancement of liberal, Reform ideology within Israel and is the voice of our Movement in the World Zionist Organization. It has been my pleasure to spend the past few days in Baltimore at the ARZA National Convention attending fascinating workshops and plenaries and getting to meet with some wonderful people. Last night, I also had the distinct honor of being elected the youngest member of ARZA's National Board. I'm looking forward to spending the next two years to raise Israel consciousness and involvement on the Los Angeles Campus and throughout the movement in general. For those of you headed off to Israel in a few weeks, you will undoubtedly meet Rabbi Stanley Davids at some point, get to know him and soak up all he has to teach you about ARZA and about the rabbinate.
On a touristier note, Baltimore is a beautiful city that I had never been to. Like much of New England and the South, it exudes a palpable sense of Americana and American history that is so different for the Spanish history we enjoy in California. There are countless historical sites to visit and so much beautiful scenery. We spent yesterday afternoon exploring the Inner Harbor and took a water taxi along the rest of the waterfront. In some ways, it was reminiscent of the water bus in Venice.
A tribute to Mr. Calvert, Founder of Maryland
My thoughts turn again to the crop of incoming students who are packing for Israel. Whether you are nervous, excited, scared, or all three, a few thoughts for you: Enjoy it. It won't always be easy, in fact at times it will be downright hard, but enjoy the struggle, enjoy that that is life in Israel. It is all part of the greater experience that will color not only who you are as a Jew, but who you are as a Jewish professional. Get to know your classmates well, you are going to spend more time than you can imagine with them in the next five years and they are going to be your collogues for the rest of your life.
Well I think I've been opining quite enough. Many thanks to all of you who have indulged my thoughts and observations over the course of this year, your comments and feedback have been wonderful. To the newest members of the HUC Family, welcome and nesiah tovah, have a good and safe trip.
Posted by Beau at 2:58 PM
celebrating with family
The Family Rabbi
We usually don't think about it when we start packing to head off to Israel, that it's not just the student that is going to rabbinical school, in many ways; it's the student's entire family. Certainly having a loved one, much less a child in Israel for a year is something that is felt by parents in a way that we as children will not fully comprehend until we are blessed with children of our own. But post Israel, it can shape your family in a different way, after all, you're now the rabbi in the family. Never mind the fact that you've only started rabbinical school, as far as they're concerned, you're the family rabbi.
We're in the middle of Pesach and I had the pleasure of enjoying two wonderful seders thus far. The first night, I joined my family for a large seder that I have attended every year since age 3. It isn't the most elaborate or traditional seder, but we quickly make our way through the haggadah and our main focus is on food and family; it is a night that I look forward every year. For the past two decades, my Uncle has led the seder, and it was such a refreshing experience to come back from Israel last year and have him lead the seder. It was a constant, something that didn't change with my entry into rabbinical school. Well excited to add another year to our family tradition, I arrived at the house Saturday night only to find that my Uncle wasn't feeling one hundred percent and wanted me to lead the seder.
In reality, it was an honor and a privilege to lead the seder I've been attending for over twenty years, but initially, a part of me felt robbed of the experience I had come to know and love: the experience of being a participant. As we move further and further into the world of Jewish leadership, we give up certain experiences as participants. You'll become very aware of this your first High Holy Days on the bimah. I think in my head, this first night seder with my family was my opportunity to sit there and just be another participant, rather than the leader or the "rabbi." While I may have not chosen to lead the seder, in hindsight, I realized that the ability to be a knowledgeable Jew and share my Jewish leadership not just with the Jewish world at large, but with my own family, is truly a gift. Our passion and love for Judaism and the Jewish People is something that we should share with our families, not something that we should leave at the door.
In a very different experience, I spent second night with my congregants in Yuma, Arizona. We had a lovely seder of about sixty. Being there, truly facilitating the Passover seder experience for this community, reminded me just how family centered Passover is. Family doesn't have to be those people who you are related to, it can be your close friends, classmates, and the community in which you choose to live. Many of you are in the process of picking a stateside campus to return to after Israel. In each of these wonderful centers, you will be welcomed into an HUC campus community, but also into the wider Jewish life of the city in which you are living. Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and New York all offer very different campus experiences, and even more diverse metropolitan experiences. The trick is to find the right match for you, the place where the facility and the Jewish community at large will become your extended family.
Posted by Beau at 4:29 PM
enjoying a night out with my classmates Matt and Jack on Jack's recent visit to L.A.
Ever since I was a little kid, the second half of the school year has always seemed to fly by. I think it's because it is usually very busy and the days move quickly into weeks and months, before you know it, it's summer. To say that things have been busy of late would be an understatement. The spring semester of classes are in full swing, the campus is bustling and we hosted fifth year placement two weeks ago. All of the fifth year students who are being ordained, along with representatives from URJ congregations seeking rabbis, descended upon the Los Angeles campus for four days of interviews; to say that it was a circus would be an understatement. There was however an energy in the air that was inspiring for those of us who are not as far along in this journey. Looking ahead three years, I can only imagine what it will feel like to be in their shoes, awaiting ordination and the beginning of the rabbinate.
If placement and ordination is the end, then the application process is certainly the beginning. Last week, I had the pleasure of having dinner with four prospective students the night before their admissions interviews. Listening to them articulate their points of view and express their passion for Jewish life, I could not help but be reminded of my own journey through the admissions process.
I remember the dinner I attended the evening before my interview well. I was so nervous about the whole experience. What if I did something wrong, what if I didn't know how to answer a question in the interview? What if they didn't like me? Looking into the eyes of the prospective students last week, I could sense the same feelings of angst and anticipation that I remember so well. In some ways, the only thing worse, was having to wait for the decision letter to arrive in the mail. I believe the expression is "it's the waiting that will kill you". Luckily, students who interview on the Los Angeles campus, receive their letters seven to ten days after their interview, or at least they are supposed to. In my case, ten days had come and gone and there was nothing to be found in my mailbox. A good friend of mine and now classmate had received his letter days earlier and I was going out of my mind to say the very least. As it turns out, my letter was lost in the mail; to this day I have still not received it. I did however manage to obtain a second copy, so I know that I did actually get in.
Looking back on it I can't help but laugh, it's one of those stories that had it not happened to me, I might not believe it. My period of waiting was the hardest part, and I know that many of you out there are going through that right now. The best advice I can give you is to trust that it will all work out in the end. Whether you are offered admission this week or not, has nothing to do with your future as a leader of the Jewish people, it doesn't even have anything to do with your future as a rabbi, cantor, or educator. The only thing it dictates is what you'll be doing next year, not what you'll be doing with your life.
For those of you who, unlike me, actually received a letter, and were offered a spot in next year's class, mazel tov, and welcome. You are in for a wild ride that will begin this summer when you move to Israel, which is a little like jumping off a cliff. So nice of the College to let you ease into it, right? You will meet incredible people and make lifelong friends, I know I did, here's a shout out to my fellow bloggers and classmates Lisa and Laura. If I can leave you with one piece of advice it's get to know your classmates and have fun! Chag Purim Sameach!
Posted by Beau at 2:15 PM
As our winter break begins to come to an end, the pandemonium that were the final weeks of papers and exams seems but a distant memory, buried under what has been weeks of relaxation and rest. This short break has been a wonderful opportunity for me to recharge and refocus before returning for the spring. I've also spent some time looking back and reading some thoughts I composed at this time last year.
"The first few weeks of December were filled with eighteen hour days of research and writing completing the multitude of assignments that kept seeming to pop up on my agenda as the end of the semester inched ever closer. It also marked the half way point of the year in Israel. In some ways, it's hard to imagine I've already been here for six months and will be heading home before I know it.
Looking back, it doesn't feel like it was a year ago. Taking my parents around Israel and giving them a window into both my life in Israel, and my life as a rabbinic student was an incredible opportunity. Israel in and of itself was an amazing experience, although it didn't always feel that way. At times it was not the easiest place to live. At times I wanted nothing more than to come home. But when I sit here in Los Angeles, half a world away, and talk to the friends I made there, and reflect on the experiences I had, I miss it.
As finals wound to an end, I prepared for my parent's visit to Israel. Neither one of them had been to Israel in close to forty years, needless to say, it has changed a lot and I was very anxious to see how they experienced the place that is so unique and special to me. I spent hours putting together an eight daylong itinerary hoping to provide them with experiences that would foster a connection. I won't bore you with the details, but feel free to ask if you are interested. Needless to say, it was wonderful to have them in Israel, wonderful to share my life there with them and hopefully, give them a new perspective on Israel. I'll add that during their stay, we enjoyed the first snow of the winter. A heavy snow for Jerusalem, close to five inches that stuck. It was quite a sight.
After ten days in Israel, my parents were kind enough to let me tag along to Rome with them to celebrate the New Year. Our second full day here is just coming to an end and it has been quite a trip. Despite several trips to Italy, I had never made it to Rome, which I can now say is quite a city. It was really interesting to look at the Arch of Titus in the Forum. One of the two panels in the arch depicts Roman victors carrying off one of the Menorahs from the Second Temple in Jerusalem after destroying it in 70 CE. Having again toured the ruins in Jerusalem just days before, it served nicely to link my experience in Israel with my visit here."
The secular New Year is a time that many people make resolutions, as Jews I think it is a second opportunity to reflect, evaluate and look forward to the year ahead. I am looking forward to starting school again next week, with a renewed energy and passion to conquer what lies ahead in 2008.
Posted by Beau at 11:10 AM
Mishkan T'filah is finally here!
This past week has been quite a whirlwind of Judaic pandemonium. After spending a wonderful weekend with my congregants in Yuma, Arizona, I headed down to San Diego for the Union for Reform Judaism's 69th Biennial Convention. The Biennial is the general assembly of the Reform Movement. Every two years, some five thousand Reform Jews converge on a North American metropolis. This was my fourth Biennial and I would not miss it for the world. The energy that exists in the ordinarily mundane halls of a convention center is incredible.
I arrived several days early for two pre-convention programs, the ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) Board Meeting, and the NATE (National Association of Temple Educators) Symposium on Gender in Jewish Education. The ARZA Board Meeting was a new experience for me. I was recently nominated for a seat on the national board and this was my first meeting. Having studied the history of our movement, it is so wonderful to see the movement's strong commitment to Israel. After having just spent a year in Jerusalem, Israel is never far from my heart and the work that ARZA does to bring awareness and support to the issues is key.
The Symposium on Gender was of special interest to me because I have been very aware of the gender trends in Jewish life in the past decade. I spent a summer at the URJ's Kutz Camp in Warwick New York several years ago during a session in which only a quarter of the participants were male. The same ratio applies to my rabbinic school class., and I am one of only three males in my class in Los Angeles. This trend can also be observed in synagogue lay leadership. The Symposium was an opportunity to start a conversation about this issue and to explore what steps can be taken to ensure that Jewish life appeals to all Jews. I would love to be able to say I came home with answers, but I didn't. I simply have more questions, but a dialogue has begun and that is crucial.
Participants engaging in discussion at the NATE Symposium on Gender in Jewish Education
The Biennial itself was fantastic. I had the opportunity to see so many friends who I don't have an opportunity to catch up with on a regular basis. I enjoyed wonderful Jewish music and of course great shopping in the exhibit hall, but the real meat of Biennial is the plenary sessions and the workshops. Two plenaries that really stick out in my mind were a plenary in which Michael J. Fox was honored for his pioneering work to promote stem cell research and battle Parkinson's, and a plenary in which Rick Warren, the pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange Country, California. Rick has over one hundred thousand congregants and spoke about community building. Building community is one the main reasons I decided to pursue a career as a Jewish professional, and to hear a master speak about innovative ways to build religious community was inspirational.
I had the pleasure of presenting at a workshop for the College–Institute about choosing a career as a Jewish professional. It was such a privilege to get to speak to a group of individuals who are considering such a meaningful path. I have to mention that a young lady in the group mentioned that she reads the HUC blog, so I guess I have to be careful what I write from now on, haha.
Shabbat at the Biennial is truly moving. Praying with five thousand Jews is a once in a lifetime experience, or maybe a once every two years experience if you frequent Biennials. The new Reform prayerbook, Mishkan T'filah is finally out and it was a joy to finally have one in my hands as I davened.
This past week back at home has been filled with finals and papers, the reality of school, even rabbinical school. On that note, I still have a paper to finish, so I will save the rest of my ramblings for the New Year.
Posted by Beau at 10:54 AM
Sleepless in Hollywood participants making havdallah at Temple Israel of Hollywood
I had the pleasure of celebrating Simchat Torah three times this year, a bit unusual I know. I enjoyed one night of hakafot on the seventh night when many Reform synagogues observe the holiday. Another on the eighth night when traditional communities observe it, and yet another night of hakafot on the ninth night because I happened to be making a pulpit visit to Yuma Arizona and we choose to celebrate Simchat Torah then. All told, I danced twenty-one hakafot.
In recent years, Simchat Torah has held an incredibly significant place in my life. After years of trying to talk myself out of rabbinical school, trying to convince myself that I could pursue another path, it was on Simchat Torah that I finally decided to stop kidding myself. I was dancing a hakafah with a group of friends, my arms wrapped tightly around a torah scroll, and I had a moment of clarity. Who was I kidding; this was the only path I could choose. This year especially, in the midst of papers, reading and work, my three Simchat Torah celebrations helped remind me just how much I love our tradition and how important the path that I have chosen is to me.
Some quality time with my close friend and classmate Heath, and his wife Amy
The weeks since have returned to the routine of work, school, and homework. We are moving into winter, which all of my non-native Southern Californian classmates think is a joke, but it is a change nonetheless and as a native, I've brought out my sweaters. This change of seasons makes me think back to last year, as Chanukkah approached. I remember being with one of my closest friends and classmate Heath and his wife Amy reminiscing about Los Angeles. I cannot remember what specifically, but I remember the feeling. This year I can't help but find myself missing things about Israel, especially as I start to think about Chanukkah. There is a way that it fills the air and you start to see sufganiyot appear everywhere, it is similar to the way Christmas fills the air here from Thanksgiving on. In hindsight, the year in Israel is really a gift, the experience and the memories stay with you forever.
One of the things that I did miss while in Israel for the year was working with youth. I was lucky upon my return to Los Angeles, to also return to my position as Youth Director at Temple Israel of Hollywood. Helping to build and foster Jewish identities in teens has always been a passion of mine because it was as a teenager that my Judaism really became my own. One of my favorite parts of my job at Temple Israel is an event that we run called Sleepless in Hollywood. The event open to Jewish youth from across Southern California and is a longstanding tradition–I attended as a participant when I was in youth group. So, to be a part of putting it together is a real treat. It is an all night event and a logistical nightmare, but worth every minute of hard work to see the enjoyment and the connections made in the participants. This year's event took place this past weekend and was wonderful. At one point in the evening we were joined by several youth groupers from Las Vegas who were in town with their educator on a ninth grade trip. Their educator was and still is one of my mentors and having him and his students participate in the event was a real treat.
Thanksgiving is this week and we usually skip over it in the annual Jewish narrative because it is not a Jewish holiday per se, but I think the themes that are at the center of Thanksgiving are inherently Jewish, and let's be honest, there is always something Jewish about a big meal. Happy Thanksgiving.
Posted by Beau at 12:23 PM
My classmates and I are all breathing a little easier these days in the wake of the High Holy Days. Our year gets off to quite a start with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur immediately followed by Sukkot and Simchat Torah, it's a wonderfully festive and celebratory time, but for those of us leading communities, it can also be a bit exhausting.
I've been taking some time these past few weeks to reflect on my experiences leading High Holy Day services in Yuma, Arizona. While I have a lot of experience leading services, I have had almost no experience leading High Holy Day services, until this year that is. This had been a deliberate choice on my part, not wanting to give up my own, very personal holyday experience. In preparation for these High Holy Days, I knew that it would be a very different experience, but I don't think I really knew how.
Rosh Hashanah went very smoothly and I felt very good about it. Despite my best laid plans, I had put off most of my Yom Kippur preparation and sermon writing until after Rosh Hashanah, as a result I felt a little frazzled and not as prepared as I would have liked to have been as I headed to Yuma for Yom Kippur.
I found myself sitting on the plane Friday afternoon, hours before Kol Nidre getting very nervous, a feeling that I am not so accustomed to. Then I started to laugh, I found it almost comical that I, a twenty-four year old kid, had the responsibility to facilitate Yom Kippur for this community. Alone.
The evening service went very well, I sung Kol Nidre beautifully, which I had been fretting and working very hard on. The following day went even smoother, all in all it was a really wonderful, exhausting, but wonderful day. It wasn't the Yom Kippur I'm used to, I didn't really have an opportunity to engage spiritually the way I would have liked to, but it was a holy experience in a very different way.
As I sat in my hotel room after break fast, the same fact that was so comical the afternoon before became the catalyst for a great sense of accomplishment. Yes it is an awesome responsibility that I was given, but I did it, and I did it well. The positive feedback I got warmed my heart, and the awareness that I was able to provide and facilitate a meaningful and holy experience for other people is holy, meaningful and indeed sacred for me.
That is what this process is all about, I don't know that it takes five years to learn everything you need to know to be a rabbi, it takes a lifetime, or longer. I think that over the course of five years you go through different challenges and experiences that help you to grow as a Jewish leader.
Sukkot was a much-welcomed break from pulpit responsibilities but brought with it the return to school. This year we were blessed to have a new and improved sukkah at HUC beautifully decorated with Kabbalah inspired art by Peachy Levy. It was a beautiful place to pray and enjoy Sukkot with friends and classmates.
Last week we celebrated Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan. The rabbis of the Mishnah call the month of Cheshvan "Bitter Cheshvan" because it is the only month on the Jewish calendar that is devoid of holidays, but so far Cheshvan has been pretty sweet for me and my classmates.
Posted by Beau at 11:42 AM
Final days in Israel
The days are counting down to Rosh Hashanah and I'm starting to understand why you see so little of rabbis this time of year. To describe High Holy Day preparation as hectic and overwhelming would be a gross understatement. New liturgy and music to learn, Torah and haftarah portions, and a plethora of sermons to deliver, it's enough to strike terror in the heart of any second year rabbinical student, fresh off the plane from a year in Israel. However, when I take time to step back from my preparations, I realize just how special it is that I have been given the opportunity to facilitate a meaningful and prayerful High Holy Experience for a wonderful community in Yuma, Arizona. To put it simply–it's pretty cool.
My name is Beau Shapiro and I am a second year rabbinical student at the Los Angeles Campus. I grew up in Santa Barbara, California and began my commitment to Jewish life as an active member of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) attending the National Leadership Center at the URJ's Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York. I graduated with honors from the University of Southern California earning Bachelor's Degrees in both Cinema-Television and Judaic Studies.
I have been privileged to spend several summers on staff at the URJ Camps Swig and Newman in a number of different capacities. I have also worked with NFTY in Israel and the Union's Eisendrath International Exchange Program in Israel.
My own positive experiences in NFTY led me to youth work and prior to taking over as Senior Youth Director at Temple Israel of Hollywood in 2004, I served as the Youth Director at Sha'ari Am: The Santa Monica Synagogue. In addition to an extensive background in youth work, I am passionate about Jewish music and served as the Head Song Leader at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. I continue to be an active contributor at Hava Nashira, an annual conclave for Jewish musicians.
Avigdor in Argentina
After returning to the U.S. from my year in Israel, I was lucky enough to lead a delegation of Reform college students to Argentina. The trip was sponsored by Kesher, the URJ's college department. We spent ten days learning about the challenges facing the Jewish community in Argentina, both in Avigdor (one of the first and oldest Jewish villages in the rural countryside) and in Buenos Aires. The passion and ruach, spirit, that they have for their tradition is unbelievable. I know that with every passing day my vision for my rabbinate changes and it is experiences I have and the people I meet that help to shape it; my time in Argentina left an indelible mark on my Jewish identity.
After an exhilarating year in Israel, it is wonderful to be back in Los Angeles starting the next chapter in my journey to becoming a rabbi. Los Angeles is an amazing city with a dynamic and vibrant Jewish life. One of the wonderful things about Los Angeles is the freedom of expression that is an inherent part of the culture here. This relaxed nature and freedom of experimentation is a tangible part of the HUC L.A. campus community, something that I think is unique in the large college community.
As I prepare for these High Holy Days, I take a moment to appreciate the fact that I spend my days in a place that enables me to take time each day for introspection, an essential part of the heshbon hanefesh, accounting of our lives, that we engage in during this season.
Posted by Beau at 1:51 PM