Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service, Los Angeles
spending time with family and friends, spin classes, traveling, watching old episodes of
Sex and the City and Law and Order
Missy and me and Avi out celebrating the end of school
Classes have been over for a week now, finals are all finished, but it still hasn't hit me that school is over! I'm still teaching my 7th graders until the beginning of June, but my communal service internship at AJC ended last week as well. The end of the year really crept up on me- We were home for Passover and when we returned, there was only one week of classes left and then finals week. Ending something is always a little bittersweet, it's hard to say goodbye to people that I've worked with throughout the year, but there is also a lot to look forward to for this summer and next year. The entire year seemed to really fly by; it just doesn't seem real that there is only one more year of school left!
We have communal service classes this summer, but first, we thankfully have 4 weeks of break between finals and the Jewish Communal Service Retreat! Avi and I are going back home to Chicago to spend some time with friends and family and are then driving to Memphis for my classmate, Anna's wedding! Every year the Communal Service summer kicks off with a retreat. It's a great way for the new classes to get to know each other and start to build our community. This year our retreat is at JCA Shalom in Malibu and planning is well underway! The second year students plan the weekend together for the incoming class.
Just before the end of finals we took some time to celebrate Matt's Birthday
Summers at HUC/LA are incredible! It's just the communal service students, so campus is quite and a little more laid back. We are taking incredible classes: organizational development, leadership in Jewish communal institutions, strategic planning and contemporary issues in American Jewry. Four classes and no internships to rush off too, will be a welcome break from our busy schedules throughout the year! As a class we will also be traveling to Israel next year over winter break to study and experience Jewish communal institutions in Israel. Every other year both communal services classes travel to Israel together for a similar experience. Last year in Israel we met with the communal services students and it will be a great experience to meet with the incoming rabbinic and education students in Israel next year.
A few weeks ago, the education students also received their internships for next year. I'll be working with a rabbinic education student and running a family education program called Mishpacha at congregation Or Ami in Calabas, CA. We have already started the transition from last year's interns to us and I'm extremely excited about this internship and great learning opportunity! Family education is really one of the "hottest" forms of Jewish Education today. Reaching out to family units and creating learning opportunities for them to experience together is a way to create community and help bring Judaism into the home. This summer my partner and I will begin planning for the first semester, our theme is Shabbat and Holidays and I look forward to working on some creative programming together!
Celebrating Matt's Birthday with Communal Service students Debbie and Shira!
Writing for the HUC blog has been an interesting exercise for me throughout this year. I've tried to reflect and comment on events and experience throughout my past year at HUC and hope it has been helpful and worthwhile for you to read. Before everything really starts up again for the summer and next year, I am looking forward to a few days of sleeping in and relaxing! I hope everyone has a wonderful summer as well!
Posted by Laura at 2:35 PM
Professor Reuven Firestone as Batman
Purim has always been one of those fun holidays that as a little kid I would look forward to. I liked the funny spiels and seeing my family and friends all dressed up. Last year in Jerusalem I thought I had seen Purim at its best – everyone in the city was dressed up there was such a momentum built up for the day of celebrations! There were fireworks, crazy parades, funny games and every bar in the city has something special planned.
Little did I know though, I hadn't seen anything yet! This year in Los Angeles, I was blown away by Purim! First came the celebrations at HUC. EVERYONE, and I mean everyone, came in costume, students, professors and administration. Every class had an "assignment": decorations, food, and alcohol! We were told there would be a "service" at its regularly scheduled time. What we got was a hilarious spoof of an interpretive worship experience. Our service leaders danced their way through the prayers and encouraged the audience to participate! We "wrote" our own Torah for the Torah service which entailed painting on a 4th year classmate dressed as a blank white Torah scroll!
Joint Students, Emily, Matt, Me and Missy all dressed up!
Then came the skits! There was not so much a spiel but a celebration of our own silliness! There was a variety show hosted by 4th year students that highlighted funny videos (links are listed below), a game show of "Guess Which Professor said such and such!" and interpretive dance, music and poetry readings! It was a fabulous celebration and a way to laugh and appreciate not taking ourselves so seriously!
Then came the rest of LA. Now, I'm from Chicago and we have a pretty large Jewish community, and I've lived in the center of Jewish life- Jerusalem- but LA's Purim celebrations were truly unique! There was a special Key Club Purim party the week before, a JDub records Wet Hot American Purim celebration (only my favorite movie EVER!) and every synagogue had partying and carnivals like I've never seen before!
I teach at University Synagogue and our Purim Carnival was about 2 weeks before Purim, because of spring break for the local schools. It was HUGE, seriously unlike anything I had ever seen before. There were professional rides brought in, a train that chartered people all over the parking lot, moon bounces, giant slides... and tons of food! But no goldfish sadly... that was a staple of my childhood Purim experience, the Purim carnival goldfish!
Purim evening my friends and I also went to a congregation to hear the megillah and go to their "adult" carnival- we went to IKAR and their Justice Carnival. It was actually a brilliant idea, instead of gragers they asked that everyone bring boxes of macaroni and cheese! Nose makers for the megillah and then donated to a food distribution site later! And then at their Purim Carnival you won tickets at all the games that were played. Rather than cashing them in for prizes in the end, you could choose which organization to donate the money too!
It was amazing to see LA and particularly HUC really embrace such a fun Jewish holiday and really make it its own! While over Passover we say, "Next year in Jerusalem" maybe in future years for Purim we will say, "Next year in LA!"
One of last year's videos
Posted by Laura at 10:02 AM
OK, so I have to be a little honest about something praying isn't really my favorite thing. I know I'm an HUC student, and I know I will soon be a Jewish professional, but of the aspects that I love about being Jewish, praying is not high on my list.
There are services every day at HUC, all of which are student lead. Mondays and Thursdays are assigned student schilei tzubur (service leaders), Torah readers, and d'vre Torah and sermon givers. 2nd and 3rd year students give a 3 minute d'var Torah, while 4th and 5th year students give a longer and more in depth sermon. Tuesdays and Wednesdays there are also services, but they are lead by student volunteers and are often less formal and more "alternative". Even with all these different service opportunities, with so many different service leaders, I still have trouble getting motivated and excited for services and prayer.
Last year in Israel we had mandatory services 2 to 3 times a week. We were also given clear guidelines of what every service needed to include, that every service leader needed to follow. I understand the value in giving first year students guidelines to work from, but as I'm sure you can image, services became extremely monotonous. To be fair, services are supposed to be somewhat the same; we say the same prayers, in the same order, its part of our Jewish tradition. But I need something more, and its hard to pin point exactly what that is.
For a liturgy paper I wrote recently, I was really struggling with why people pray. And I concluded it's because we're getting something out of it. And that something is probably different for each person, and surely changes over time. I can think of particular moments in my life that prayer or a service has really changed something for me, shook me to my core. But, in all honesty, it's been a while since I've felt anything that powerful from services.
There is also something to be said about being able to lead someone else in services though. I truly value the fact that I have the skills necessary to lead a service, and it was particularly meaningful for me when leading my grandfather's shivah service. But is having the skills enough? I feel confident in my ability to lead a congregation through the prayers of the service. I know that I can translate an entire morning or evening service into English, and even into poetic English! I can even tell you a little about the history of some of the prayers and how they may or may not have been changed by the Reform Movement over time. But is that enough? What about the passion, or devotion to the words that I'm saying? Even though it's something that I can do, it doesn't mean that it's something that I like to do.
My classmate led a D'var Torah discussion during services on Thursday, and my friend Jessy commented that certain classmates weren't at the service because "They don't like to pray", and I responded, "well, I don't know if I really like to pray either". She pushed me on this, and said, "Well, why not? You know you do it all the time, probably every day of your life. You reflect and interpret and make meaning, all on your own- but you don't call that praying? Do you ever need a space just to think? Isn't that praying? Even if you don't like the words on the pages of the prayer book, do you pray about much different topics? Do you not pray during silent prayer in your own words?"
These questions still linger for me, and I can image continuing to grapple with them throughout my life. However, right now, I'm still in a position of needing to lead my HUC community in services. It is a real challenge to think about planning a service for a community of people, the majority of which are studying to be service leaders themselves! How do we make services new and relevant for them, but also meaningful for ourselves? What if you don't have the passion at that moment, but still need to say the words? Last Monday was my turn to lead services, and while I did bring some new ideas to the service, it still wasn't as fulfilling for me as I would have hoped. Thankfully I still have more opportunities to test the service/ prayer waters more, and believe that at some point, I will be struck to the core again.
Posted by Laura at 1:03 PM
Proud Parents, Ilana and Colby, with new adorable baby Sammy!
You know, I have to be honest; school has been one of the last things on my mind recently! There have been so many wonderful experiences taking place outside of school; I have really had to motivate my self to keep my head in the game. Last week one of my classmates, Missy, led a wonderful service. She wrote a short piece introducing the micha mocha where she outlined some of the wonderful things that have been happening in our HUC community and how everyday there are little miracles we can appreciate and be thankful for.
Just to name a few of the wonderful "distractions" I've had from school recently: One of my classmates and friends Ilana, had a beautiful baby boy named Samuel about 3 weeks ago. Right at the same time, my boyfriend Avi moved here from South Africa! I also played "director for the day" at University Synagogue where I teach 7th grade, and there have been numerous events with my communal service internship at AJC that have kept me busy and entertained!
It's wonderful to think about the kind of HUC community we have here in LA. I was just reflecting with Avi about my year in Israel and how it's the same or different than in LA. So much of my year last year was really about experiencing Israel and being a part of the culture, people and daily life. Before I left for my year in Israel I had countless people telling not to get stuck in the "HUC (i.e. American) bubble" in Israel and I really took that to heart. I so valued my friends and Avi's family in Israel because they really helped to frame an authentic Israel experience for me.
However, when I moved to LA, I didn't have a network of friends, in fact, I didn't really know anyone outside of HUC. We are only 1/3 of the class we were in Jerusalem and while 16 people can be a lot in one class, it can also be extremely small! To be honest, I was a little worried that I would get sick of seeing the same people all the time! Or that I would create an "HUC bubble" in LA and not branch out.
Well, I've been in LA about 7 months now, and while I have branched out a little, I do spend most of my time with HUC, HUC events, and my HUC friends, etc. However, I see this as an amazing positive experience and again, I find myself truly valuing the people and experiences I have around me. At a time when there are, thankfully, so many simchas in my life, and our community, it is really evident how much people really care for each other and love to celebrate together. At the same time, when there are more difficult times, the community really comes together for support one another.
So to add to Missy's list of wonderful miracles we experience everyday; I would add our HUC LA community to the list, right along with Sammy and Avi! And, as Missy also said that day that she led services, the Giant's winning the Super bowl!
Posted by Laura at 1:08 PM
Ben, Jessy and fellow University Synagogue teacher Jacob after a long afternoon of cooking
In the midst of classes, two internships, homework, and oh, maybe trying to have a life (!), it has been a long time since I've found time for myself to volunteer. Volunteering has always been a big part of my life, and my family's life, and frankly it's felt a little strange not to have time for something so valuable.
I stayed in LA over winter break and was fortunate to have many wonderful visitors! My brother Ben came for a week of his winter break and was here over Christmas. While we had a traditional Jewish Christmas experience of Chinese food and a movie, we also did something a little different. University Synagogue set up an opportunity to volunteer to cook and serve Christmas dinner to residents at a half-way living facility and give the Christian volunteers a night off to spend with their families. It was such a wonderful experience!
A kitchen full of cooks!
First, they needed families to cook full turkeys at home and bring them to the facility because we wouldn't have time to cook the turkeys there. My brother being a grill master, meat extraordinaire, I readily volunteered for us to cook one of the turkeys. Only ever cooking a turkey once before, when my roommate Jessica and I hosted Thanksgiving in Jerusalem last year, I really left most of the work to him.
Next it was time to cook the rest of the dinner! With about 20 plus people in a small industrial kitchen, ranging in age and experience, we washed, cut and steamed vegetables, peeled, cooked and mashed potatoes, mixed stove top stuffing, carved 6 turkeys, heated gravy and even made sweet potatoes... though we did forget the marshmallows! After everyone was served, my classmate and friend Jessy and I led the group in a lively game of bingo! There were special prizes for the first few winners, though everyone received a gift by the end of the night.
I have to say, it was just so refreshing not to be in charge of anything, just to come and have a good time! It was clear that the residents really enjoyed something special and different, and our group from University had such a fabulous time cooking and prepping too!
Jessy and I reading off bingo cards
I also put in some extra hours at my communal service internship to make up for time that I missed while I was in Israel in September. Because of our class schedule, I had never spent an entire weekday at my internship before. While it was a little slow at first, finding things to fill my entire day, rather than projects for a few hours, it felt really good to feel like I was in the work place again! Yesterday I was actually at AJC for 12 hours, 4 diverse meetings: a jam-packed fabulous day!
While on break, its become really clear to me how hard it is to step out of the vacuum some times, and to see a bigger picture of my experience at HUC. So often it's about the next paper, or the next special day to plan, the d'var Torah or lunch and learn, and not about the bigger picture of entering a Jewish life of service and community building. I thought it would be hard not to go home for winter break, but bringing friends and family into my world here in LA and with HUC helped me to open my eyes to my own experiences. I hope that moving into this next semester I can be more aware of the bigger picture of my experiences here and be sure to take full advantage of all the opportunities I'm afforded!
Posted by Laura at 11:14 AM
Students examining the picture made for them!
For my teaching internship I teach 7th grade at University Synagogue, and my class is in charge of choosing the Tzedekah project for the entire school; where all the money will be donated at the end of the year and what hands-on experience everyone can participate in. We have been doing a survey of all of the possible Tzedekah options we could choose from. About 6 weeks ago, one such "survey" lesson was on recycling. We had three stations of recycling activities, one station related to recycled clothes, one built recycling bids out of cans (stacking them one on top of the other and duct taping them together to make recycling boxes- it was GREAT!) and finally, we needed another station, and at the last minute decided to make bikkur cholim cards from recycled paper. We used old announcements, colored paper, anything without a name on it that we could find. We told our students they needed to include one of two prayers for healing from the board, and somewhere it needed to say "made my University Synagogue Students on Recycled Paper."
Students were so excited to find all the hidden messages in the picture!
After we completed the cards, I took the cards to the Kalsman Institute (located at the HUC-LA campus, it's the institute for Judaism and Health). I was hoping that rabbinical students would be able to use the cards on chaplaincy visits to area hospitals.
Then about 4 weeks ago I received an email from the Kalsman Institute with a forwarded email that said:
A patient was particularly moved by the card received from the kids at
University Synagogue. He has made an amazing painting which is very
deeply Jewish and inspirational. He has asked that it be given to the
kids as a thank you and that they would know how much and how profoundly
their gesture has influenced him and his healing process.
As I read the email, I got goosebumps! This little project had been an afterthought, and somehow it had profoundly affected another person. We decided to present the painting to our students this past Sunday, our last day of religious school for the semester. We started by asking our students if they thought any of the tzedekah projects they have done this year has really helped anyone. Unanimously, everyone said no. They were so excited about the picture, and immediately wanted to make more cards as well! While the picture is in no way professional, it is very deep and there are many hidden Jewish messages throughout the painting. My students loved looking at the painting and we are hoping to hang it for the entire synagogue to enjoy as well!
7th grade University Synagogue Religious School Class
I am extremely honored and proud to have presented the picture to my students and complete a cycle of learning in an exciting, but most unexpected way! This is why I am excited about Jewish education, these unexpected and amazing situations that arise that will hopefully impact and stay with my students for a long time to come! It is these kinds of experiences that can help shape Jewish identity in the most unexpected ways, things you dream of but can never plan! I'm so proud of my students' simple efforts that made a great difference in someone's life and I was very moved to present this patient's gratitude to my students as well! In the midst of stress of finals and final papers, this was such a welcome and wonderful experience to share with my students over Hanukah!
Posted by Laura at 10:20 AM
OSRUI, in Oconomowoc, WI
I met with a group of high school students today visiting HUC LA. They were 9th graders, probably even a little young for them to be thinking about graduate school, most of them weren't even really thinking about college yet! But telling them about how I got to HUC really got me thinking. I have spoken to several groups over the past two years: birthright trips, Hebrew University students, Israeli students, adult groups... and something common among any group that I meet with is always my past experience with camp and EIE.
I grew up at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, WI. It's the original URJ camp and I have been going to camp since I was 6 years old. I spent every summer there until I was 22 and some of my closest friends and most formative experiences were from my summers at OSRUI.
Even though I haven't been at camp for two summers now, I still feel very close to the community. Besides my family, it's really the backbone of my Jewish experiences and a foundation that I've continued to build upon. One aspect of our teaching class this semester is the creation, teaching, and video taping of a lesson. The entire process is weeks long, going through several drafts and working with a supervisor. The process teaches you to think though a lesson in different ways and to work in groups to better prepare before your teaching.
From the video taping of teaching my 7th grade students at University Synagogue in Brentwood, CA
Camp was probably the greatest preparatory experience for me in a career in Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service. At camp I learned to work within a diverse group of people and in intense situations. As a counselor and unit head, I learned that I was always, "on", campers are always watching you! At times it's definitely frustrating not to really have personal space, but it also taught me to feel comfortable and to think on my feet! I was always teaching, presenting, being in front of the group – it's hard to actually think of times when there hadn't been an "audience" of some kind.
After video taping my lesson, my educator asked if I had been nervous. To be honest, I hadn't really thought of it before she asked. I think all of the summers at camp really helped prepare me and made me feel comfortable. Part of the experience is playing back the lesson with classmates. I knew that others would be watching the taping with me, but it's not really that much different than presenting directly in front of other groups. If anything is really different in this case, it is the first time I will have the opportunity to watch myself! I'm looking forward to watching the tape and seeing for myself in a very different way how the lesson went and what could be changed or different in the future for this lesson and my teaching in general.
Thinking about that meeting with the high school students this week, I would have stressed more to them about having a diversity of Jewish experiences. I would have explained to them about how experiences like camp have really prepared me for this profession and how much I valued my summers at OSRUI!
Posted by Laura at 9:13 AM
My last night in Israel
This year was the first time in my life I spent each of the holidays in a different city! I was in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah, in Los Angeles for Yom Kippur and Chicago for the end of Sukkot and Simchat Torah! All of the holidays ended up falling just before the weekend this year, which as I learned as an emerging Jewish professional, is both a blessing and a curse!
It was truly a blessing to have the time available to travel to Israel and spend Rosh Hashanah with my boyfriend Avi and his family! Avi and I met last year, actually right before my year in Israel began, when we both attended the World Zionist Congress! He grew up in South Africa with Israeli parents and most of his extended family is still in Israel. It was so wonderful to not only spend quality time together, but to also spend Rosh Hashanah together in Israel. This was my third time celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem, and every year I am struck by how magical it is to spend Jewish holidays in Israel.
I was only in Israel for 10 days and because of the holiday energy that takes over Israel, I really felt like we spent our entire time celebrating! Granted, Avi had just finished his MBA program and my birthday had been the week before so there was lots of celebrating to be done! We tried to get to all of our favorite restaurants before they closed for the holiday (things were closed from Wednesday afternoon until after Shabbat) and spent time with friends, and a lot of time with family. It's really the best way to spend the holidays: friends, family and food! In Israel though, there is even a more specialized feeling that the entire country is focused on together. Its nothing like in the States with a climatic count down to the new year, rather it's a beautiful autumn two and a half day long celebration of spending time with family and friends, a time when people catch up with each other and send cards, and celebrate the sweetness a new year can bring! Every meal of the two and a half day celebration Avi and I spend with different groups of friends and family and more food than I wish to remember! I don't think my smile left my face for the entire 10 days!
With Avi and his family celebrating Rosh Hashanah
On the other side, Yom Kippur was particularly hard for me this year, which probably had a lot to do with leaving Israel, but also that I don't have my own Jewish community in LA outside of HUC. As most of my friends were away leading services at their pulpits, I went to Kol Nidre services at University Synagogue where I teach 7th grade religious school on Sunday mornings. But, I went there alone, and sat alone and it really changed the tone of my holiday. Not feeling totally comfortable to sit alone again throughout the entire day, I decided not to go to Yom Kippur services the next day. This was the first time that I can remember not ever going to Yom Kippur services. Part of me felt very empowered by my decision of personal reflection and independent prayer in my own way. Another part of me though felt guilty for not attending services and communal showing reverence for the day.
The following week though, I traveled home to Chicago for the end of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays! I love the fall, I love the changing colors, the cooling weather and the symbols of sukkot; welcoming friends, shelters we create, and celebrating together! I also love that in Israel restaurants even have a sukkah set up over their outside dinning areas so everyone has the opportunity to eat in a sukkah if they choose! We've had a sukkah at home for at least 10 or 12 years. My dad is kind of the "sukkah man" and has built our sukkah and numerous others as fundraisers for our Temple. It was really hard to be away from home last year during one of my favorite times of year... but not too hard because I was in South Africa with Avi! But especially because I had missed being in my own sukkah last year, I was so thankful to be able to come home and see friends and family this year!
So, like I said before, the holidays are both a blessing and a curse.... You have a lot of "time off" to be able to celebrate, and in my case travel to celebrate! But, at the same time, the same amount of work still needs to be done! We were still expected to put in the same 12 hours a week at our internships, even if our offices were closed for the holidays. This means I need to make up those missed hours at some point, which will probably end up being over winter break! It's definitely a double edged sword, but something I should probably start getting used to!
Posted by Laura at 1:46 PM
My roommate Jessica and I on our Aug. break trip to Greece!
Hi, my name is Laura Siegel and I am a second year Joint Masters student in Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service. I'm from Chicago and so far living in LA is really no match for Chicago, or Jerusalem! I came home from the best year of my life in Israel and was there for only 2 and a half weeks before driving cross country to start my Jewish Communal Service classes over the summer.
The School of Jewish Communal service runs throughout the year, but the majority of classes are taught in the summer. It was quite a transition adjusting back to life in America, moving across the country, learning your way around a new city and on top of it all having classes and homework over the summer! I couldn't have asked for a better summer though. My classes were amazing, challenging and so interesting. For the first time, all of the Jewish education students in LA are also Joint Masters and I was so lucky to have the strong friendships and support that we offer each other. I don't know if any of us could have handled all the transitions with out each other's support.
Joint Master students, Emily, Me, Matt and Missy
I feel really fortunate to have grown up in a very strong Jewish community, my parents were always very involved in our synagogue at home and I grew up going to camp every summer which is where I found some of my closest friends in the world and a place to develop my Jewish identity. I starting going to Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) when I was 6 and spend every summer there until I was 21! It was because of my experiences at OSRUI that I went on EIE, The Eisendrath International Exchange in the fall of 1999. EIE is the Reform movement's semester long program in Israel for high school students. I LOVED it! I loved learning about Jewish history hands on and being a part of a global Jewish discussion. My roommate from EIE, Jessica Ingram, is also an HUC education and communal service student and we lived together this year in Israel too... cute!
Because of that passion I found studying on EIE I chose to attend Indiana University as an undergrad and study Jewish Studies and Political Science. Throughout college I looked for other Jewish learning opportunities and experiences, and while at a NATE (National Association of Temple Educators) Conference met Sara Lee, the past director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education. After meeting Sara and learning more about the masters in Jewish Education, I knew this was the right path for my professional life. I chose to do the masters in Jewish Communal service as well because I believe that it will teach me the skills to do anything in the Jewish professional world, except be a Rabbi or a Cantor!
My boyfriend Avi and I on Yom Ha'azmaout
Many people have asked what I will do with these masters degrees when I finish and to be honest, I'm not sure yet. The field is really exciting for me and I have a lot of interests to pursue professionally. Part of why I loved the joint masters program so much is that it includes internships in field placements. This year I am interning at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and teaching 7th grade religious school. Next year, I will have an internship in an advisory Jewish Education position. Since EIE, Israel has been a huge part of my Jewish identity and where much of my passion lies. After graduating from Indiana, I worked for the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel in Chicago, it was the perfect position right out of school! This job experience enabled me to experiment with the possibility of living in Israel, and this past year of HUC gave me a first hand taste of that experience as well. So when I think about where I see my life after graduation, I like to believe that the world is my oyster!
So far this New Year of 5768 is off to a great start: a new city, a new apartment, a new HUC program, wonderfully supportive friends and family and I was even able to visit my boyfriend, Avi in Israel for Rosh Hashanah! May the year continue to be filled with blessings!
Posted by Laura at 9:44 AM