Happy New Year! Since it's the end of the year, I thought I'd use this space to give a top ten list. Except, I couldn't decide if I wanted to do the top ten most important things that happened during 2007, or the top ten things that I'm expecting or hoping for in 2008. So, I decided to do a top five of 2007 and a top five of 2008. I'm not going to do world events, just things in my life – and I'm also trying to stick (sometimes unsuccessfully) to those things that are related to my being a rabbinic student.
So here they are, for 2007, the top 5 most important things that have happened in my world:
5. I read Book 7 of Harry Potter. If you're a fan, you know how significant this is. If you're not, I can't explain it.
4. I spent the summer of 2007 in Malibu, CA where I served as a Jewish Educator and Unit Leader at Camp Hess-Kramer. Aside from a full summer of camp life, teaching kids both about the Bible as well as how to b'gack like a chicken and walk like a monkey, I also got to reconnect with a few friends from college who are now living in LA.
3. The beginning of this academic year, I began serving as the student rabbi at Congregation B'nai Sholom in Quincy, IL. I have met many wonderful people there and have had the most fulfilling experiences being a part of the community as I lead services, deliver sermons, teach, meet, visit, and more.
2. In the spring of 2007, I finished my first full year of rabbinic school in Cincinnati, and as of the writing of this blog, I am officially at the half way point to becoming a rabbi. One of the first things that you're told when you first begin HUC is to "trust the process." I can't say that I was one of the earlier subscribers to this point of view. About a month into my first year I was sure that I had all the solutions and tips to completely turn around everything about HUC to make it into a much better rabbinic school. But, the more schooling I complete, the more it's all starting to piece together.
1. I am blessed with the most wonderful people in my lives, everyone from classmates to professors, from family to friends. I don't want to leave anyone out, and there are quite a few names, so I won't offer a list, except to say that even though I met my girlfriend, Jodi, in 2006, we didn't start dating until 2007. I consider that one of the best things that happened this past year.
And the top 5 things that I'm expecting or hoping for in 2008
5. Now that I live in Cincinnati, I'm becoming a fan of the Reds. Maybe we'll have a good season? If Mishkan Tefillah can make it into print, and if we're still hoping for redemption and world peace after all these years, I don't see why it's so unreasonable to hope the Reds can do well. In a similar vein, last year's HUC Softball team didn't do so well. This year, every last one of us will be an all-star.
4. HUC-Cincinnati students typically spend the summer between their third and fourth year in Clinical Pastoral Education. It's a 400 hour program, typically based in a hospital, where we learn how to minister to patients and their families. I don't expect it to be fun, but I do think it will be quite meaningful.
3. I get to continue working at Congregation B'nai Sholom, where I hope 2008 will be an even better year than 2007.
2. This coming semester will be the first time that HUC allows us to take elective courses. Should be fun! I've decided to enroll in Machzor (the prayer book used for festivals and holidays). I'm also going to be taking a musicianship class with Cantor Shore, which has as a goal teaching the students how to sing. A few years ago, I took singing lessons for an entire year. At the end of the year, the instructor wrote a brief "progress report," which said simply that I worked on rhythm and pitch, and should continue to do. Last year, I was told that the only way I could carry a tune was to download a song, put it on my iPod, and physically carry it around with me. Still, this will be the year that I learn how to sing!
1. I hope and expect that all the people in my life that made 2007 great, as well as new friendships not yet made, will make 2008 even greater!
Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that you had a wonderful year and the next will be even better.
Posted by Jason at 10:09 AM
Jodi and I had an Elvis sighting in Nashville
Two things to talk about! First: What does Jason do on his weekends when he is not at his pulpit? Well, I travel! The weekend before Thanksgiving I went to Nashville, Tennessee with my girlfriend Jodi, who has some friends about 45 minutes outside of the city and we experienced life down there for a full three days, two nights. We left Cincinnati on a Friday and made a stop in Louisville, KY for lunch. We went to a saloon, figuring it the only proper place to stop if we were in Kentucky. After a wonderful Kentucky BBQ burger, fried fish, and a game of billiards, we were off to the capital of country music (yee-haw?) and the place where Elvis got his start. We made it into Nashville around late-afternoon, plenty of time to rest up a bit and then go to Congregation Micah for Shabbat services. This was a fantastic synagogue to see, not only because of its vibrant community and worship, not only because its founding rabbi is now the Dean of the Rabbinic School at HUC, but also for the fantastic oneg which included chocolate fountains. Saturday night, we made it into downtown Nashville for some great food and walking down music-filled streets, where we even spotted Elvis (or a great imitation), and Sunday back to Cincinnati.
Ok so that's a little about my life outside of HUC. Let's get back to school.
Myself and Cantor Shore at last year's Purim celebration: I'm a Temple sacrifice, she's the Purim Bunny.
It's hard to be a rabbinic student without a rabbinic school, and it's hard to have a rabbinic school without people to lead and teach. Here at HUC, we have some of the greatest teachers and if you really want to understand what it's like to study at HUC, it's nice to know a little something about our faculty and administration. So, here is one student's perspective on the teachers: It goes without saying that they are incredibly learned. Nearly all of those who teach at HUC-Cincinnati have either a doctorate, are clergy (usually rabbis, but we have one cantor as well), and in many instances, both. Aside from that, there is no one model or personality type. There are some thrive on intellectual rigors and transmit their love of in-depth study to the students. There are some that are simply mentsches; they strive to be caring and compassionate. There are some that work hard to cultivate their own spirituality and help guide others in their own spiritual life. None of them fall into just one category, and all of them are passionate and caring in what they do. Most importantly, there is a sense of shared purpose between the students and the teachers. We are all dedicated to serving the Jewish people as teachers of Torah.
Rabbi Kanter, Dean of the Rabbinic School, and my class-mate Ben in one of their typical interactions
Here is what I like the most about our faculty and administration: While there is an appropriate level of respect for faculty and administration, it is also true that there is a strong bond between them and the students. Faculty and students can often be seen in one another's homes for various holidays, or simply for dinner. Every spring and summer, the students organize themselves and play softball in a city-wide recreation league and there is a seldom a game when at least one faculty or administration member doesn't stop by to support the team, almost like a proud parent (sometimes we even get them to play!). It's not infrequent for a student to go up to a faculty member of visa-versa and ask what they are doing for lunch. Nor is it infrequent for there to be a considerable amount of time devoted to simply laughing and joking before or after (sometimes during?) class. Many faculty members have a great sense of humor (see the photos). There are many reasons why I love being a student at HUC, but the people that I get to study with are certainly at the top!
Posted by Jason at 9:10 AM
The Sanctuary at B'nai Sholom in Quincy
So what does a rabbinic student do? What's it like to be a rabbinic student? Let me tell start with a story to give you an idea of what it's like to be me. This one actually comes from before I started being a rabbinic student. Sometime just prior to college graduation, after I had already been accepted into HUC, I found myself at the dentist's office for a routine examination. Lying on my back, mouth open, a pair of gloved hands poking and prodding around my mouth, the dentist decided to make small talk, "So, what do you do?" He removed his hands for just a moment, and I responded, "I'm a student, graduating in about a week." His hands would go back inside my mouth, and he continued, "What do you plan on doing after you graduate?" My turn to respond came, and best as I could, with minimal drool and this time without the benefit of being able to move my mouth, I somehow managed to get out that I was going to study to become a rabbi. As it turns out, my dentist was Jewish and he then proceeded to tell me all of his thoughts on religion. He wasn't sure if he was angry with God or didn't believe in God, but he saw a lot of suffering in the world and in his own life, and all of that led him to a certain ambivalence about religion. He asked how I could possibly believe in God and Judaism with everything going on in the world. At that moment, as a cleaning tool scraped my gum, I too became intimately and viscerally aware of pain and suffering and wondered if he might have a point. The point of the story, however, is that I've noticed that whatever I'm doing, wherever I am, people will treat me as a representative of Judaism and that it is not simply something that I do during class hours, or while teaching, or leading a service, or visiting a nursing home. While many times it is quite rewarding, sometimes it is very overwhelming, and always it is a humbling experience.
Fellow rabbinic student Josh and myself going at one another
As for right now, you ask? What do I do? Well, let me limit myself to what I do outside of academics - I'll talk more about classes in another entry. Most students in Cincinnati visit a small congregation in the South, Midwest, or Great Plains area where they are the sole Jewish professional. It depends on the congregation, but these visits can be as few as once or twice a year for the High Holidays, or, more likely, once every two, three, or four weeks. I have the great honor of serving Congregation B'nai Sholom in Quincy, Illinois. B'nai Sholom was founded in 1869 and still uses their original building, which was dedicated by Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, the founder of the major national organizations of American Reform Judaism, including the Hebrew Union College. A normal visit will include leading Friday evening services, tutoring b'nai mitzvah students (we have three right now), working with the Sunday school, adult education, and individual meetings for everything from pastoral care to one-on-one learning.
Classmate Ben and myself on a rollercoaster
So what about fun? Well, let me first start by saying that the learning at the College and my responsibilities at my congregation is incredibly rewarding and satisfying. That being said, we do have some weekends, and even some free evenings, and we have even been known to have fun at school. Just a few days ago, we had a jousting competition at school, where students, faculty and administration, took to the ring with protective headgear and went against their opponent armed only with massive foam thing-a-ma-bobs (see picture.) During the spring, the Cincinnati students have a softball team where we play in a city-wide intramural league. The Israel campus plays football in a similar Jerusalem-wide league. On the weekends, we have a great amusement park in Cincinnati, which has not been lost on the students. Of course, as students, we love to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays, often with a huge meal and everyone over. We also have our own individual hobbies and interests. I play tennis, love to cook, read quite a bit, spend a tad bit too long with the Nintendo Wii, have been to the local parks a few times, and if there were a beach, I might walk on it. Although, in truth, I grew up near a beach and almost never walked on it.
With that, let me say my very best wishes to everyone, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon!
Posted by Jason at 1:02 PM
Four classmates and myself, just after we started our first year of rabbinic school in Jerusalem
Hello HUC Enthusiasts!
My name is Jason Holtz, and I'm happy to say that this is now the beginning of my third year as a rabbinic student at HUC, and the beginning of my second year in Cincinnati. When people ask me why I choose to become a rabbi, it's not such an easy answer. After having had a bar mitzvah in eighth grade and confirmation at the end of ninth grade, I figured that I was pretty much done with my formal Jewish education and was content to come back to Temple (Temple Beth-El, Ormond Beach, FL) for the holidays or maybe an occasional Shabbat. Little did I realize, the Temple wasn't done with me. Just a few months after confirmation, I received a call from our Cantor, who said she was trying to start up a senior youth group and asked if I would be interested in coming to a meeting. I told her, politely, I hope, "no." Had that been my final answer, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. I soon found out that my best friend had received the same call and said, "yes." So, I figured, if he is going, it can't be that bad, right? I changed my answer and went, and the rest, as they say is history. I quickly became hooked – it turns out a lot of people had decided to come to that first meeting. We became a very active youth group, and I was atTemple sometimes two or three times a week, either for programming, or meetings, or doing youth group "grunt work." We didn't do much religious, cultural, or even social action programming for the first year – it was entirely a social group. But, regardless of what we did together, I came to love being a part of the Jewish community, and spending as much time as I did inside the Temple did have an effect on me. Being an avid reader, I eventually thought that I would read up a bit more on Judaism. My first choice of books: "The Genesis of Justice," by Alan Dershowitz. It isn't the best introduction to Judaism or the Bible, but Dershowitz did analyze much of the first part of the Torah in a very unique, unorthodox way that piqued my interest. I started reading more and more and found myself with a huge intellectual curiosity about Judaism, even if I wasn't totally committed to being a "religious" Jew. Well, the switch from pure intellectual curiosity to being a serious, dedicated Jew can actually go somewhat unnoticed. At this point, our youth group started having a broader array of programs with more Jewish content. We would go camping over the weekend and have "Shabbat under the Stars." Or, we would lead services for the entire congregation. Additionally, we began participating in more social action programming and even a little bit of educational programming.
When we were in Israel, we noticed that we wore our hair slightly differently from when we were in America
After graduating high school, I went to Syracuse University. There aren't too many Jews in Daytona Beach – we had less than ten Jews in my high school of over two thousand students. Syracuse is much different, almost a third of the student body was Jewish. My freshman year, I immediately wanted to become active in the Jewish community there and joined Hillel and the Jewish Student Union. I enrolled in Judaic studies courses and went to Israel between fall and spring semesters with Birthright Israel. I decided to learn Hebrew. To that end, and for other reasons as well, I spent almost eight months my junior year studying in Israel at both Tel Aviv University in the spring and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem over the summer. I was hooked. It was probably before then, but it was definitely decided by then that I wanted to devote my life to Judaism, so rabbinic school it was. Returning to the US to finish college, I applied to HUC my senior year and enrolled the summer after graduation.
So, that is how I got to be here. Next time I'll write more about what life is like as an HUC student – both school life and out of school. For now, I'll just say that it's a very full life, but while the academic life is very rich and rewarding, we do have time for life outside of school (Baruch Hashem, or Praise God, as they say in Hebrew) to do all sorts of cool things. More on that next time!
Posted by Jason at 9:26 AM