Blog Entry 8: The Last Blog Entry
HUC students enjoy Yom HaAtzmaut festivities on campus
Hello there for the last time, loyal readers. It has been really fantastic blogging to you about life here on the Jerusalem campus. Allow me to devote a few sentences to some broad aspects of my time here, if I may. There have been a lot of ups and downs, and I don't just mean the hills. I have learned a lot and have a lot of new friends. I have a new respect for and admiration of Israel and Israelis. I have experienced things here that can only be experienced in Israel and all the while, I was doing it in an environment of learning.
I don't want this all to be about the end, because really this is just the beginning. There is a lot to talk about in the last month, that I don't want to spend all my time talking about reflections on the year. If you're coming, you'll soon have your own thoughts and reflections on Israel. If you've been, you know. I hope that this last entry can describe both the last month and, in some way, serve as a model for my time here, because there were a lot of elements that were very fitting.
The fireworks over Kikar Zion on Erev Yom HaAtzmaut
I want to start with Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day). We talked a lot about civil religion in class this year, as Israel does it as well as any other country. This month, we commemorate Yom HaShoah U'G'vurah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut. While the other days may have been more emotional in terms of memorializing and remembering, Yom HaAtzmaut touched me in a way that the 4th of July never had. I was standing in Kikar Zion, in the center of Jerusalem jam-packed with people, staring at the walls of the buildings as a slideshow of famous moments played on them. The fireworks began going off, and the music swelled. By the end of the fireworks display, the song had shifted to Hatikvah, Israel's national anthem. Slowly, people began to realize what song it was, and the crowd participation crescendoed. Soon, everyone was singing, solemnly but joyfully. It was, perhaps, the most moving moment I experienced in Israel: being here for Israel's 60th anniversary and feeling a part of the Jewish people. I felt ready to move on, back to the US, back to learning to be a leader for the Jewish people. I also felt ready to stay, for a couple more minutes and feel a part of this country.
Rabbinical Students Jen and Marc rock out during our Final Shabbat post-Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat Dinner "Zmirot"
This past week, we had our last Shabbat in Israel as the class of 2012 (2010 if you're an educator). After this, we're all going to different places and the next place we will all be together is at, maybe, a URJ Biennial; and even then chances are small that we'll all be there. It was yet another moving experience praying for the last time as our class. I think back to, and recently reread my blog entry about Rosh HaShanah, commenting about how we were all together praying, celebrating the High Holy Days. This time, it was a simple Kabbalat Shabbat, and it was just as touching to be surrounded by my new friends, colleagues and teachers. By teachers, I don't just mean the faculty. One of the lessons we all learn early on is that everyone has a lot to teach to everyone else. The rabbis of Pirke Avot had it right when they said that the wise man learns from everyone. I have learned many tomes worth thanks to my teachers, and I will be sad to leave them.
The year ends as all academic ones do, with finals. Perhaps that word is a poor choice. It seems so closed off, so...final. These are the final days we have together. These are the final classes together. These are the final moments in Jerusalem this time. My final moments in Jerusalem will be spent as they almost always are, at the Kotel. This time, my mom will be with me, and I will pray that I come back to see the stones again soon, as I always do. It's worked so far.
Israeli Street food during the living museum, Rechavia
For now, enjoy your summers. I will be back in Atlanta working on some curriculum, followed by trying in vain to acclimate to life in NYC. It was my hope to be a teacher in these posts. I hope that I have fulfilled that. I enjoyed taking the time to reflect a little each month for you and for me. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Take care of yourselves.
Posted by Daniel at 3:10 PM
Blog Entry 8: L'Shanah Haba'ah
HUC students on the Ride4Reform en route to Eilat (thanks, Josh for the pic.)
Hello there loyal readers. When I last e-monologued, we were in the midst of the Purim season. We survived the Ride4Reform (see pic.) and now, we are smack dab in the middle of Hol HaMoed (the intermediate days) of Passover. I want to spend some time reminiscing about where I was last year at this point, where I am now and where I hope to be going, and all of these center on this one phrase that every Jew reads at the end of his or her Passover Seder, L'Shanah Habah'ah Bi'Yerushalayim! (Next year in Jerusalem!).
Last year at this time, I was aware that I was going to in Israel in a few months time, but not for the standard 12 day on-and-off-the-bus-and-into-fourteen-different-hotels tour. No, I was coming to begin Rabbinical School at HUC. Saying those three words never had more meaning for me. I knew that I would finally fulfill those words, as they were intended: I would be in Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. Many of the students were much more selfless than I and decided to take their holiday and their break from classes and lead seders in the Former Soviet Union. I knew from the beginning, that though I believed that this was a great project, I could not go. It would be my first opportunity to spend Passover in Jerusalem, with my Israeli family (who also came out of Egypt, though in 1957, when Nasser deported all the Jews) finally making true those three words. It gave the seder more meaning and more weight at the time. I also realized that I had a lot ahead of me. I was apprehensive about the year, transitioning from a career and friends to school and new people, and more importantly from an income to not. At the same time, I was happily excited and eerily afraid. It was like being 18 again and going back to college after high school – new people, new city, new way of life. Those three words at the end of the seder gave me some comfort, though, as I realized that I was not even close to the first person to be making a move to Israel. In fact, I was one in a long line of people that did it. I was also not the first person to be going to rabbinical school. I was just one in a long line of people. Those three words never seemed more comforting.
Seder in Hebrew was an opportunity to look at the educational sides of the seder, wine optional.
This year I spent Seder with my grandmother, aunt, uncle and uncle's family. We are all of Egyptian origin. This adds an interesting note to the seder, as the foods are typical of Egyptian Jewry. We have a Sepharadi style Harroset, made of cooked dates and raisins blended and then mixed with wine and nuts, and coconut jam instead of macaroons. (There is also this thing called Mayeena, which is like a matzo and meat casserole that no one in my family makes as well as my grandmother, try as we might, every year. My attempt two years ago was nowhere close. I wanted to watch her this year, but she made it before I woke up one morning. Hopefully I can pry the recipe out of her. She, like my mother, always leaves something out when transferring a recipe, so that it never is quite the same as hers.) We also eat rice. We have always eaten rice. I don't understand this whole controversy over kitniyyot (what I can only translate as legumes?), a class of foods that is likened to grains, but is not. It includes corn and peanuts. These were never a question, but people take them very seriously. Supposedly, since quinoa looks enough like a grain, it too will soon join this class, though it is a berry. Sometimes the fence made around the words of Torah is a little too tall for my liking.
I return to those three words. When I said them this year, I knew that they were false. I don't intend to spend next year in Jerusalem. I don't even know when I will be back in the near future, but I know that next year, I look forward to spending Passover with my parents and my siblings and nieces. Am I lying when I say these words? What do they really mean? Literally, I understand them, but in a more figurative sense, I don't know yet. Perhaps they are meant to signal to us that next year we will be redeemed. But from what? Perhaps we are supposed to remind ourselves of the meaning of Jerusalem to us as a people. Perhaps we are supposed to remember our longing to be there. Now that Jews control Jerusalem, many have taken to adding the word b'nuyah (built) to the phrase, eliciting a feeling of messianic rebuilding of the temple. Would that redeem us? Would that mean peace, something ever present in the news here, even more in the past weeks? Would that mean that the seder, where we remember our redemption would become superfluous? All I know at this point is that I won't be here next year. This makes me happy and sad and hopeful and sentimental all at once. I look forward to looking back on this Passover next year and thinking: L'Shanah She'Avrah Bi'Yerushalayim! (Last year in Jerusalem!) with fondness and a hope that I will make those words truth again.
For now, I hope that the matzot are not treating you too badly and that your Passovers were meaningful and grand. For those of you on your way, I hope you look at those three words again before you come and ask yourself what you expect from this coming year in Jerusalem. It's an important question.
Posted by Daniel at 4:36 PM
Blog Entry 7: Playing the part
Here I am leading services overlooking Machtesh Ramon
Hello there loyal readers. So much has happened since I last wrote that it has taken me a little bit longer to condense it down into the blog form that you see here. It has been a month of many and varied experiences and emotions. It has been a month of deep reflection and change. It has been a month of realizations. Where to begin? Which hat do I talk about first?
I begin this month by talking about one of my many head coverings, my kippah. Truth be told, I have more than one. I have many. I wear whichever one best suits my outfit that day or whichever one seems to fit the mood or the setting. For example, on our recent tiyyul (trip) to the Negev and south, I wore a yellow, sand-colored crocheted number when I led mincha (afternoon prayers) looking over Machtesh Ramon and the text study for Shabbat morning Shacharit (morning prayers). For my d'var torah (mini-sermon about the week's portion) which was earlier this month, I wore a handmade kippah embroidered with leaves made by the famous Kippah Lady of Jerusalem. All of these kippot can seem to be merely an accessory, but to what?
This past month got me to thinking a lot about the new hat that I will be wearing when I become a rabbi. I had the opportunity to lead people in prayer and study, as well as preach, all the while recognizing that the kippah on my head is indicative of the person that I am becoming. But, what about the person that I am? What about the man who is doing this now. These opportunities to lead and teach were amazing for me because since I left my job, teaching at a reform day school in Atlanta, I haven't really had the outlet to teach on a level that I enjoy and appreciate. It was a great feeling putting together a text study and helping my peers work through it and make sense out of it. It was a fantastic feeling looking out over a crater in the middle of the desert and leading my community in prayer. It was a fantastic feeling making a statement and having it well received. I don't know if ever before this year, I have felt that the kippah that is on my head daily is there for a real reason and purpose and belongs there. I feel that I am making inroads into becoming the man who wears the many hats that a rabbi requires.
Here I am as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (the sunglasses are a part of the look) flanked by Leora as a stoplight and Joe dressed as Professor Dave Levine
Another hat I had to don this past month was the hat of resident of Israel. I was born here, but this is the first opportunity I have ever had to live here, as my parents moved to the US when I was a wee six months. The attack at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva knocked off the hat of security and calm that we had all been wearing. It was the first time this year that I understood what it was like to be a part of this society. The many faculty who are olim (immigrants) to Israel discuss how they didn't really feel like they were Israeli until they had lived through a war here. It is true, we can't understand what it is like until we are here. The phone ringing without stop, the flood of e-mails that beg for a response to know that I am ok, the glued-to-the news aspect that takes over life for the next couple days and the confusion that follows a moment like this are unique to Israel and Israeli life.
The final hat that I want to discuss is a gold turban. That's right, a gold turban. This past week was Purim and we did it up. We celebrated as a community with a service inspired by Motown and a full magillah reading. This was all followed by the student beit café (coffeehouse) which is the talent/variety show that happens a couple times a year. There were original songs, skits lampooning the more ridiculous aspects of life at HUC Jerusalem, and of course, Purim costumes. I came as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi and spiritual leader of the right wing political party Shas. I came as him because Purim is all about turning things upside down. What does that more than dressing as a rabbi who believes that Reform Judaism isn't really Judaism? I believe I won the contest for best religiously inspired costume, but I have yet to receive the plaque.
Brad, Evan, Me and Greg performing at the Bet Café
All these hats, from handmade kippah to costumey gold turban, serve as a reminder of the varied parts of each of the people here and each of our experiences. I could not have written my d'var torah as I did had it not been for the people around me. I would not have led the text study as I did were it not for the people around me. I would not have dressed as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef if the people around me didn't also share a discomfort with many of his policies and views of Judaism. The people around me help to make me who I am and I hope that they can say the same about me for them. It is not easy juggling all these hats. I haven't even mentioned the hats of the student, grandson/nephew/cousin, volunteer, American, et al. that I have to wear regularly. The practice that I am getting juggling these hats is something that I am sure will serve me well in the future...at least I hope it will.
For now, if your spring is anywhere near as beautiful as it is here, shame on you for being inside and reading this. Be well.
Posted by Daniel at 1:37 PM
Blog Entry 6: Snow, Flow and Grow
HUC students arrive amidst the blizzard of '08 (aka snowloquium)
Part 1. Snow: Israel in the snow is a unique thing. See pictures below. Having lived in Chicago – where snow removal works like a well-oiled machine (though I hear they are out of road salt this year) – and Atlanta – where even the word snow means the Publix® is out of milk and bread – I was interested to see what would happen in the holy city when the snow came. Well, it came, and none too soon for us. We were due back to HUC for the beginning of the spring semester, which kicks off with a colloquium, a three day intensive "learn-in" where a topic is discussed and debated with faculty from all 4 campuses of HUC. We had the pleasure of meeting great faculty from LA, New York and Cincinnati and learning with them about this year's topic, community, and learning about the campuses, to which we are all eagerly anticipating getting back. We studied texts, heard from different Rabbis about creating community, and discussed our ideal communities. All in all, we learned a lot and got a lot done.
But back to the snow...This is not just a light dusting we're talking about. This is three plus inches of wet, slushy, heavy snow, falling and sticking while we are supposed to be at colloquium. Not only is it cold, windy and hard to get around, but the entire city is paved with beautiful, yet slippery-when-wet, Jerusalem stone tiles. We had to cut colloquium short one day and start late another plus we got to see how professional educators deal with new and sudden schedule changes, and how we as students dealt with the same changes. We drank a lot of hot tea, huddled around the heaters and thanked God that at least it was just snow falling.
HUC student Matt uses all his strength to hold up his just unwrapped copy of Mishkan Tefillah
Part 2. Flow: This relates to part 1 because it has to do with going with the flow. We had to do a lot of this during the colloquium and we are constantly learning the meaning of this expression this year. We have been in constant anticipation, for example, of the new Reform Siddur, Mishkan Tefillah. It finally arrived! The flow of things around here involves a critical eye, so we had many a debate, some of which have not yet ended, regarding the pros and cons of Mishkan. We discussed what was left in, what was left out, and the weight, both theologically and physically. (Let's just say that my forearms are looking rather jacked due to my preference for a one-armed Amida.) The statement that is made by a movement's prayer book is not to be overlooked. We heard a lot about all the changes and I realized quickly that whether I like it or not, this is our siddur. We made it. We own it. We have to learn to use it. We're never going to be able to be a part of our ideal communities, because they don't exist. Just like an ideal siddur can't exist, because it's for more than one person. We have to learn to go with the flow and use it to its fullest. I believe that there's enough in there to make more than a few meaningful prayer experiences, and we have to be willing to go with it. We'll never get anywhere if we stop every step to contemplate and criticize.
Part 3. Grow: One of the more interesting aspects of quickly approaching the close of the Year in Israel, is thinking back about how much we have grown. I was thinking recently that our community has grown to be just that, a community. All the stuff we read during the colloquium is no match for the experience we have had in creating one. We have been through joys and pains together, and grown because of it. We have been through the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter and come through it together. We have dealt with the pros and cons of this program and made the best of them all. Were we destined to be this community at the beginning of the year? Did we grow into it? I know that we were not a community before the summer began. We had common traits, Reform, dedicated, educated, living in Israel. Now, however, we have become the HUC Year In Israel class of 2008.
HUCstables members play some 3am street football during halftime at the Superbowl
This realization is, I must confess, in no small part due to my working on my one chance to deliver a d'var Torah this year which also deals with community and is quickly approaching. I have been working a lot on getting the wording just right and making a statement. It has been a learning experience, a growth experience and a lesson in going with what comes. I didn't want to come to the Torah portion with an idea; I wanted to wait for what came. It turns out that even when you go with the flow, you bring a part of you with you. You can't leave yourself behind.
On the sports front: Unfortunately, the HUCstables dream-making season ended in heartbreak as a first-round playoff loss to Shuman PR in the AFI Flag Football League quashed hopes of a rags-to-riches victory. A series of questionable calls left the team one point short of a victory. It was a great season, nonetheless.
We also have been raising money for the Ride4Reform, a bike ride in Israel to raise awareness of the Reform Movement here. If you want to learn more: www.riding4reform.org. A number of us will be meeting the HUC riders in Eilat at the end of the ride. They need as much support as possible.
For now, look forward to the spring, I know I do. Be well.
Posted by Daniel at 10:07 AM
Blog Entry 5: Oh the places I did go!
"The Canyon of the Crescent Moon" aka Petra. This was all carved into the rock face without power tools. Also, it's amazing to see.
Hello there loyal readers! I hope that the holiday season treated you well and that you are back in to the swing of things. Our schedule here in Israel is a little different than yours, but we are making the best of it. We finished our finals in the second week of January and are now in the midst of a much deserved and much needed break. Who would have thought that Rabbinical School would be so taxing? Much of what I think it is has nothing to do with rabbinical school but rather it has to do with the changes that we have made in our lives, something that I wrote a little bit about last time. We got here and hit the ground running in July and haven't really stopped since.
Me and Kara in the middle of the Jordanian Desert on a 4x4 ride. (Not pictured, '50 Cent-loving' Jordanian driver.)
Finals here are an interesting creature. They are in a way like the finals of any other program, but then there are the differences that come along with the uniqueness of the institution. For example, I felt less of a need to worry about the grade that I would get and more of a need to be sure that I knew the information that I had learned this semester. This is not normally how I operate. It appears that when you want to do something the motivations change drastically and the methods used do as well. I studied in a more adult manner than I ever have before and I feel that I learned things not just for the test, but to learn them. I hope this means that I am on my way to accomplishing the task at hand: gaining the knowledge base to be ready to be a rabbi for a community. In the end, it was important for me to remind myself that grades don't really matter; what matters is that I learn and use what I have learned in a positive way. All that being said, I think I did really well on the exams.
Me, Kara and Michael at El Fishawi's Ahwa (coffeehouse) in the
Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo.
After finals, many of my classmates boarded the first plane home and eagerly anticipated seeing their families and loved ones. Others of us waited for the opportunity to do some travelling and have our friends visit us. I fall into the latter category, as my friends Michael and Kara came to visit and romp around the world (or at least the Middle East) with me. Kara came on Taglit Birthright and Mike just came to visit. Together we toured Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan and Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt. We did it on our own, no tours, no guides, just us and Michael's hotel points. We had a great time. It was really interesting to see these other civilizations, and I don't mean just the ancient ones of the Nabateans and the Egyptians. It was interesting to be in an Arab, Muslim country. It was a learning experience to be surrounded by the Arab culture and to grasp a little about what separates us and a lot about what makes us the same.
In Giza, at the base of the great pyramid, a street vendor asked me if Kara was my wife. Not thinking, I announced that she was my sister because I assumed that that would be a better answer to get him to leave us be. It suddenly dawned on me that someone had been in this situation before. I thought of Abraham and how he told Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife and I recognized the importance of seeing where history happened, even 4000 years later. Would I have said that Kara was my sister anywhere else? Probably. But here, in Egypt, the symbolism struck me.
All I really wanted was this picture of me in front of the Pyramids. I could have 'photoshopped' it, but what fun would that be?
Since returning from Egypt, Michael and I spent the last couple days in Tel Aviv. This is a city I don't know a lot about, and for many of us HUC-JIRers that is the case. We spend a lot of time in Jerusalem and we forget that there is this whole other land down the mountain. Tel Aviv is a city that contrasts itself to Jerusalem in many ways. It is filled with modern secular Jews living their lives while the world goes on around them. It is much more western in many ways than Jerusalem. It also is not all the same color, figuratively and literally. There is a diversity and modernism there that only peeks out in Jerusalem instead of shouting from the street corner. There is an urgency to life matters, not just religious matters. There is decent Chinese food. As I walked through the city of Tel Aviv on the last day of my travels, I thought about the diversity in the world and the diversity in Israel. I thought about how within two weeks, I saw so many different things both inside and outside of Israel. I thought about all the things that I had learned inside the classroom and outside, and I realized that I was ready to continue with my studies...just maybe in a couple more weeks.
On the sports front: the HUCstables moved up the leader board to 4th place overall in the flag-football league. Our playoff hopes are big and we look not to disappoint. This has been the winningest football team in HUC history. Next game is February 5, playoffs round one vs. Shuman PR.
For now, best of luck in the New Year and take care.
Posted by Daniel at 11:23 AM
Blog Entry 4: The search for change
HUC students/fans pose above the grill at the Tailgate prior to the Pardes Homecoming Game.
Hello there, loyal readers. I hope that the holiday season finds you well and that the smell of latkes did not permeate too deeply into your fabrics. Hanukkah here was beautiful. It was definitely a new experience not to see all the lights and ornamentation usually associated with this time of year. Having loved in the south for a number of years, I know what Christmas decorations mean to people. I didn't know what they meant to me and to some of my classmates, though. There were a number of us who found ourselves missing the lights of Christmas and the symbols of the holiday season around us.
Hanukkah in Israel is not surrounded by all these signs and wonders. It stands alone. It remains a minor holiday, except that kids don't have school. We spent some time these past weeks discussing how Hanukkah has begun to change in Israel: the Americanization of the holiday. There is more of an emphasis on gifts here than there used to be, and every year there is a child-friendly spectacle called Festigal that gets more and more elaborate and expensive after having started as a simple song contest for kinds. This got me thinking. How can I change Hanukkah and do I want to. I went with some friends to Mea Sharim (a very religious neighborhood in Jerusalem) to see the Chanukiot. Part of lighting the Chanukia is placing it so that it can be seen from the street, and in this neighborhood, everyone does it. As I walked, I thought about the twinkling lights that I thought I had been missing and about the beauty in the simplicity of the little oil flames flickering in the windows, illuminating dark alleyways with soft beams of light. Hanukkah seems to have changed into something more complicated than it needs to be; how can it change back?
Arts and Crafts for Hanukkah in Hebrew Class! We had to talk in Hebrew the whole time!
Another aspect of change that has been a topic of discussion is how we are going to change from normal, everyday people into rabbis, cantors and educators.* This transformation occurs slowly, and one way is becoming comfortable leading people in prayer. In Jerusalem, we each get one opportunity to lead Monday Sacharit (morning prayer). I led with Joe and Michelle was the Cantorial Student. We had the added bonus of welcoming the Israeli students that morning. It was a process of balancing Hebrew, English, communal prayer, melodies, Torah readers, and a host of other items that I won't type out here. The interesting part is watching the service change from what it was originally going to be to what it became once all these factors are taken into account. How do we change what we want to include what the congregation needs? There were a couple of times where the discussions became tense, but in the end, we arrived at a service that made us all happy, gave the community a comfortable prayer experience with some new additions and showed us that we can change into the rabbis that we want to be.
One of the many joys of Jerusalem, at any time of year, is paying for things. The inevitable question one gets upon paying for something with a 100 Shekel (about $20) bill is: "Ein lecha yoter katan!?" (Don't you have anything smaller!?) Merchants in Israel seem to also be in a constant quest for change.
On the sports front: HUC defeated Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in our Flag Football match 33-6. The HUCstables look to make it into the playoffs in the coming weeks.
The season of finals is quickly approaching, coupled with the season of friends and family visits. I plan on changing the scenery a little bit when break comes around by going to Petra and Cairo. I also have some friends coming to visit followed by my family, so as much as some things can seem to be the same all the time, there is constant change.
For now, enjoy the remainder of the holiday season, Happy New Year and be well.
*Note: Many rabbis, cantors and educators are, in fact, still normal and everyday people.
Posted by Daniel at 10:44 AM
Blog Entry Three: A normal week at HUC-JIR
The HUCstables – HUC Flag Football team. That's me in the back, No. 1 Fan and tailgater extraordinaire
Hi there, loyal readers. I hope that this time of year finds you well. I know that some of you have applications that are due either in the near past or near future. If this is the case, I can tell you things are going to change, but mostly for the better. Good luck to you. I wanted to take this month's entry to tell you a little bit about the classes that we have here at HUC-JIR Israel. I'm not going to include any pictures of us in class, because those aren't very interesting, even though the classes generally are.
The work week in Israel is between Sunday and Thursday. Friday is spent, generally, preparing for Shabbat and Shabbat is Shabbat. One of the hardest things to get used to is not having a Sunday. I mean, it's there. It did not disappear. But even for those of us used to teaching Sunday morning, the thought of going to a full class day, is disconcerting. So, we have classes Sunday through Thursday.
HUC students Olga and Igor in costume for Sam's Birthday Party on November 1
We have four academic days, meaning days in class, and one day that is the Israel Seminar, where we learn about Israel and visit important sites in and out of Jerusalem. This day is generally interesting because even though many of the sites are familiar to us, we look at them from a different perspective than one would normally do being on a trip to Israel. We think about them as a part of the Israeli culture, and the message that is being sent.
The other days are spent on campus taking a variety of classes. We have 6 periods of Hebrew a week. This semester, I have 4 sections of Modern Hebrew and one section of Biblical Grammar, which can help answer those questions that we all get asked as Hebrew School teachers, but don't know the answer to. (E.g.:
Student: "Why are there two vowels that sound like "ah" and how do you know when to tell the difference?"
I look forward to being one of the most popular teachers at Hebrew School next year. The other Hebrew section involves decoding the ancient alphabet from inscriptions and learning about how Hebrew came to be.
Old me: "Um, good question, but really complicated. For now, let's just memorize them the way that they are because that's the right way."
New me: "Well, in ancient times, there were long vowels and short vowels...(10 minute explanation)...and because there is that letter followed by that letter in that syllable, it's a short vowel.")
We also take text classes. One semester is Bible and the other is Rabbinics. A proofreader/copy editor friend of mine always comments that this is not a real word. In fact, as I type, it's underlined in red. I tell her, that it's ok, because it's translated. This semester for me has been Rabbinics, the study of the history and methods of the classical Rabbinic Texts, Midrash, Mishnah and Talmud. In our text class, we are slowly working through Avot d'Rabbi Natan, a kind of expanded Pirke Avot.
HUC students Eli, Josh and me tasting a nice Muscat at a local winery
In addition, there is a liturgy class where we are learning about the history of the prayer service, a Jewish History course focused on Israel and a class on chanting the Torah and Haftara. Then there are the enrichment courses that vary in topic from Spirituality of Prayer to Preparation for a High Holy Day Pulpit. These courses are half semester courses, and allow us to pick and choose how to round out our learning. It may seem like we are always in class and sometimes it feels like it. There are a lot of classes, but then again, we are beginning training to be Rabbis. And there is still time to do other things; we just have to be creative. Just take a look at this month's pictures.
I have been busy at work preparing for my service and writing midterm exams this past month. The service is on the 19th, so I will tell you how it goes next month and let you in on some of the fun of planning a service for a room full of rabbinical students. Were also only a week and a half away from our 2nd class trip, this time Haifa and the Western Galilee. Tuesday is our big rivalry game against Pardes in the Flag Football League. There's a lot going on, but it's a lot of fun.
For now, I hope your Thanksgiving is great (those of you in America). I really miss the jellied cranberry sauce.
Posted by Daniel at 12:09 PM
Blog Entry Two: Jerusalem Fatigue
HUC students Keren and Brad preparing for Shacharit (morning prayer) at Tel Dan, HUC northern kingdom archeological dig and home of one of the two oldest arches in the world.
To be honest, I had some trouble thinking about what to write for this entry. I spoke a little bit about the High Holy Days last time, though we had not yet come to Yom Kippur, the day when everything stops. There are no pictures of this, since it was Yom Kippur, but the scene of all of Jerusalem walking in the streets because there are no cars is something that everyone should experience, since it really shows the connection between the state and the religion. Particularly in Jerusalem, there is quiet. There are no cars to be seen. People ride their bikes in the streets since there is no one driving. It is really beautiful and adds a specialness to the day that I had never experienced before.
This is a unique opportunity for me to let you in on some of the secrets of HUC-JIR Jerusalem...though I don't know that I will have the time to let you in on everything that goes on. One of the things that befalls many of us is something that I term "Jerusalem Fatigue" (JF for short). For all the beauty and spirituality of Jerusalem, it is easy to grow weary of the holy city from time to time. In recognition of this, as well as knowing that we need to see more of the country, HUC takes us on tiyyulim (trips). We have one trip to the Golan and Eastern Galilee, one trip to Haifa and the Western Galilee and one trip to the Negev. Apart from these, many Wednesdays we have a trip in conjunction with our Israel Seminar, where the theme thus far has been the "New Jew." The trip to the Golan was beautiful. We felt the first drops of rain of the season, learned a lot about the politics of the region as well as the social-emotional toll living in a sometimes war zone can have on the population. We saw the oldest arch ever (a fact disputed by the arch at Ashquelon) and rafted the Jordan river. All in all, a great trip.
HUC students Sam and Rachel pondering Zionist texts at a café in the white city of Tel Aviv on an Israel day excursion.
As well as these trips, many of us have found it important to take some of our own trips. For example, last Saturday, I didn't feel like going to synagogue. (Take a moment to regain your composure, breathe in...exhale; ok, ready to continue?) I wanted to go to the beach. The weather is drastically changing and the days for the beach are dwindling. Honestly, it is difficult to acclimate to everything around being closed on Shabbat. Sometimes you just want to go out for lunch because no matter how good a cook you or your friends are, the Shabbat lunch thing, which is beautiful, can become routine. So, I went to the beach with two other students, and it was awesome. We read, we swam, we talked, we napped, we ate. Basically, your average seventh day – perhaps minus the swimming. But I found my relaxation and it really helped me to separate that day from the rest of the week. It was great to see buildings with a façade other than Jerusalem stone. It was great to see a variety of people. It was great to chill.
One of the first things we did here this past summer was discuss Shabbat. The idea of Oneg Shabbat (the Joy of Shabbat) came up in terms of finding a personal oneg and doing something that makes Shabbat the holy and separate time that it is meant to be. That day was truly an oneg for me, because I felt rested, separated and ready to face the week anew and ready to do the Jerusalem Shabbat thing this week, which is great. The excursion to the beach was a nice recharge and was a great remedy for my symptoms of JF. Sometimes it is ok to make a choice like this to keep sane. Sometimes it is important to recognize that the greatest gift I am given is the gift of choice. I know that when I am a working Rabbi, I will almost never have a Shabbat to go to the beach. Does that make this trip more or less special?
We are in the thick of classes here. Between Hebrew (modern, biblical and ancient) Zionist History, Torah Cantillation, Rabbinics, Liturgy, enrichment courses and community service, my days are pretty busy. I am, perhaps, learning more now than I ever have and at the same time, really thinking about it. I think that next time, I'll let you know about the classes and the professors and the curriculum. Oh my, that's a lot.
For now, enjoy the changing weather, take in the foliage (which we don't have), and be well.
Posted by Daniel at 4:12 PM
Blog Entry One: Who am I and Why am I Here?
HUCers enjoying a day out at the New Ball Game, The Israel Baseball League. Go Bet Shemesh Blue Sox!!! (www.israelbaseballleague.com)
These questions are not only timely given the Days of Awe in our midst, but they get to the heart of the existential angst any first year HUC student–or for that matter, any student considering entering HUC–feels.
You may be wondering who I am. Good question. I'm Daniel, and though not originally from the south, I spent the last four years of my life in Atlanta teaching History and then Judaic Studies at a Reform Day School. It may seem as if this was all leading to the rabbinate, but it was not meant to be this way. No, I say! Who am I and why am I here?! Well, I'm here because my rabbi told me I'd be good at it. I was, to put it mildly, nowhere near considering entering rabbinical school two years ago. I was teaching and enjoying it, finishing an MA in Jewish Education and looking forward to a long career in teaching. I stumbled upon being a Jewish educator, luckily, as I was ready though unwilling to go to Law School. I majored in French and European Studies. I grew up in a very Jewish suburb of Chicago, the North Shore, and was a non-participating member of a Conservative synagogue, once I became Bar Mitzvah. I did teach Hebrew School at a Reform congregation, but that was because I knew Hebrew from home. I was born in Israel, but moved to the US at the age of 6 months. If you read this paragraph backwards, you have a brief history of who I am.
When my rabbi and boss told me I'd be a good rabbi it got me thinking. Would I be? Could I be? Most importantly, should I be? Ultimately, I answered yes to these questions and after a long and grueling application process, which you will get to do on-line (finally), I am here.
Joe, Leo (dog), Brad and I at the Banyas during our excursion to the north. (Beautiful waterfall and cool Druze man selling pita and za'atar not pictured)
I imagine many of you reading this, at least those of you who are not my friends and family who read this out of a sense of obligation, are wondering if you are on the path to the rabbinate or if this is the right job/career/lifestyle choice for you. I hope that my blog helps you to answer the questions you may have about who you are and where you are now and where you are going. Since those are questions that I cannot, nor would not, attempt to answer for you, I hope to illustrate what it's like to be here, in Israel, this first year: the ups, the downs, the easy, the hard, the absurd.
Where better to start than with Rosh HaShanah? Rosh HaShanah in Israel is interesting because of how it parallels certain things in the US and is so different from itself. In the US, I would often get the feeling that the High Holy Days snuck up on me when I wasn't looking. I was never ready for them. There was never enough time and never enough warning. Israel could not be more different, particularly Jerusalem. Here, commercials have been advertising the new year for at least three weeks and everyone seems to be talking about what they plan on doing, what they are eating, where they are going, who they will see, etc. It could not be a more cultural event. Rosh HaShanah starts the period of Hagim (holidays) before which nothing in Israel is accomplished. You want an answer from the municipality? Wait until Achrei HaHagim (after the holidays). Even HUC-JIR falls into this mode. The holidays are coming, everything else can wait. I tried to compare it to something in the US, and the closest time I can think of is the period in between Thanksgiving and the New Year, but even then the holidays seem more of an addition to things going on than a replacement. There are times when it makes sense why we are here for our first year. It is important to know when to place importance on events and times. Israel helps us learn to place importance on Jewish events in Jewish time.
The main street of the unearthed ancient city of Bet She'an
Up to now, we have had one week of formal classes, a six week ulpan and a week-long break during which I explored the north of Israel with some of my new HUC friends. Right now, we are in Hagim mode. Perhaps next month I can tell you also about how wonderful HUC services are, particularly because, as my good friend and colleague Ilana pointed out, "It is the only time this group of people will ever share the Hagim together." This group of people has become my friends and colleagues and I will tell you all about them throughout these next months.
For now, have an easy fast, G'mar Hatima Tovah, and have a sweet and peaceful year.
Posted by Daniel at 1:59 PM