The sea in Netanya, where I spent my last Shabbat in Israel, at the IMPJ convention
Think back...way back. If you recall, I began the year's blog entries with a bullet-point list, unable to pick just one or two things to describe that would fully capture the richness of my experience in Israel. Well, after the my final two months here, I find myself feeling the same way. It has been a period of ceremony &ndash both public and personal. First, there were the "civil high holy days," a period in which, in a matter of just a few days, the country went from remembering the horrors and losses of the Shoah, to grieving and memorializing fallen soldiers, to celebrating 60 years of independence. Then there were the personal "highs" - my first aliyah, my naming ceremony, my final Shabbat in Israel spent at the IMPJ (Israel's Movement for Progressive Judaism) convention, and the planting of my olive tree &ndash yup, that same one pictured in my very first blog &ndash on campus at HUC. It would be an overwhelming task to try to convey how powerful each of these events was in and of itself, much less their collective impact, so again I resort to the bullet-point list of "moments" from each &ndash the images that will stand out in my mind for a lifetime:
- Watching the light show on the walls of the Old City from a hotel room and hearing classic Israeli songs drifting through the air all night long.
- Seeing people ACTUALLY get out of their cars at the sounding of the Yom HaShoah siren.
- Singing along with the public sing-alongs on TV.
- Dancing at the most incredible sing-along on Erev Shabbat at the IMPJ convention.
- Spending my last Havdalah in Israel under the stars and by the sea at the IMPJ convention.
- Watching fireworks from my kitchen window on Yom HaAtzmaut.
- Seeing one of my teachers break into tears on Yom HaZikaron, as he told us about a former student of his who had died in the army and cautioned us, "Israelis may seem a little bit different to you today..."
- Hearing my entire class break into "Siman Tov" right after my first aliyah and realizing they were singing for me!
- Seeing my classmates with the walls of the Old City behind them at the naming ceremony they had created for me &ndash on our last havdalah together &ndash as the light changed and the city began to glow.
- Watching as the olive tree I had bought so many months before on Ben Yehuda Street was planted in the Persian Garden on campus, and then celebrating its planting on the most exquisite afternoon with friends and teachers.
- Touching the mezuzah on the jetway as I boarded the plane to leave the land of Israel.
Havdalah and my Hebrew naming ceremony
Truth be known, I am not much further along in processing all of these events than perhaps you are after reading a bunch of bullet points about them. But I think the best gift I gave myself this year was time &ndash I would remind myself often that there was no need to experience IMMEDIATELY all that Israel had to offer &ndash that I was going to be there for a whole year and there would be plenty of time to do and see everything I wanted to, to make friends and build relationships, and to adjust to my new life. That was SO the way to go for me, so I am not putting pressure on myself to process the year's end either, even though it feels a little strange not to give this final blog entry an air of closure and finality.
My olive tree, now our class tree planted at school. It will be taken out of its pot after shanah shmitah
Instead, I will just say that I am leaving Israel with a sense that there is really no substitute for actually GOING to Israel &ndash not this or any blog. You can't feel the air and the breeze, or the pulse and excitement of that first walk down King David Street. You can't marvel at the flowers upon flowers draped all over Jerusalem, or the pomegranate and olive trees that grace every block. You can't feel the power of singing Hatikva in the state of Israel, or of seeing the Kineret for the first time. It has been an honor and a sacred opportunity to share with you &ndash throughout this year &ndash my reflections on HUC and on Israel. Now treat yourselves to the real thing :)
Yom Haatzmaut poster in the airport
Posted by Nicole at 4:08PM
The Plant Gene
Road to recovery
My classmates, Tracy and Steph, who live one flight up from me, have this big plant in their living room. They didn't buy the big plant–it was just in their apartment when they moved in. It sits on the very top of a bookshelf that might actually tip over if the big plant were to grow much bigger. But there's little fear of that, for the big plant has looked like it's been dying ever since we got here last summer. Some of its big leaves are dried up, others hang limp. It's not terribly attractive.
But next to the big plant sits a beautiful thing: A little plastic water bottle. Tracy and Steph use this little bottle to keep the big plant hydrated as best they can. This, despite the fact that the big plant never really shows its appreciation by sprouting new growth or perking itself up–it just kind of hangs there and continues looking...well...big. What's more, even though Tracy and Steph acknowledge that the big plant doesn't exactly add to the aesthetics of the place and may not actually live to meet the next tenant, whenever they go out of town, they ask me to water it. So I do. Because they do.
I often wonder if I am equipped with whatever gene Tracy and Steph inherited that makes them so naturally inclined to keep nourished a big, dying, not-so-attractive plant that doesn't even belong to them–that gene that makes them not even question whether it's worth the bother. "You would keep it alive too, if it was in your house," they assure me. Their confidence in this assertion, I find strangely comforting.
A plaque in the waiting room at Hadassah
Last weekend, I spent 12 hours in the Emergency Room. I had passed out while leading services earlier in the week (right after we had praised God for "lifting up the fallen," ironically) and had developed some scary symptoms in the days that followed that needed to be checked out. The day went something like this: Sit in waiting room for an hour; blood test; waiting room for an hour; EKG; waiting room for an hour; meet with "Doctor Mazal" (seriously, that was her name); waiting room for an hour; 'nother blood test; waiting room for an hour; 'nother EKG. And all the while, there was Tracy. She stayed the entire time, except for the hour she left in order to go home and pick me up some snacks. This is no small thing–giving up an entire day here. We have so much to do all the time in this program that I am often hard-pressed to give up so much as even an hour to do something that isn't on my list of things to accomplish or places I'm supposed to be. But, you see, Tracy has the plant gene. So for her, there was no question of where and how she should spend those 12 hours. This is just who she is.
And there are others here with the plant gene. Andrea and Sara, who sleep only four hours a night because of their newborn and still insisted on accompanying me to a doctor and cooking me dinner that first night. Anne, who brought me food all week without my even having to ask. Keren, who spent the time to keep me from falling behind in Grammar. Aron, who taped Bible class for me. Eli, who made me the most amazing soup. Nancy, who called every few hours to check in. Daniel, for not thinking my grapefruit-theory was lunatic. My teachers, who've been concerned and understanding. Everyone who made sure I didn't walk home alone when I wasn't feeling well, or offered to come with me for my follow-up tests, or continues to offer to go grocery shopping.
Tracy and Steph's big plant and little water bottle
I would love to be able to say with confidence that I know I have the plant gene–the gene which seems so widespread among the HUC population. But all I can really say confidently, for now, is that I have Pesach. A timely reminder, to remember. To remember what this experience has been like, so that whether or not I am blessed with the plant gene, I will recognize–and know what to do–when others are in a similar position.
Tracy and Steph are leaving town again for the holiday. They'll leave the little water bottle next to the big, dying plant, and they'll entrust me with its care. And I'll do my best to live up to their example.
Posted by Nicole at 9:36 AM
"The Selfishness of Sense"
Date palm grove at Kibbutz Yahel in the Negev
After last week's shooting at the Mercaz HaRav seminary, I couldn't help but notice that beneath the shock and sadness I felt in my heart, there was an incessant struggle going on in my brain to try and make sense of what had happened. On TV news reports, images of ambulances and distraught, panicked citizens were interrupted by bits of information that catered to my craving for logic and understanding–information like the fact that there was no security guard at the seminary's front door, or that the seminary was associated with the West Bank settler movement, or that the attack occurred all the way across town and not in my neighborhood. But how close to home would a tragedy have to be, I asked myself, before I could truly accept that it could just as easily have been our own seminary, our own students, our own library floor covered with blood and books? How close does it have to be before we stop looking for reason and sense?
Pomello tree at Kibbutz Yahel
I can't possibly know what it is like to be the parent, sibling, or best friend of a 15-year-old who was killed–to have to live with such loss, torment, and confusion, day in and day out for the rest of one's life. But I suspect that the rationalizations that enable me to get on with my own life after hearing of such tragedy would be of little comfort to the bereaved, and at a certain point, just downright insensitive. To suggest to a person that his or her tragedy "makes sense" in some grand design or divine plan feels, to me, like a denial that that person's outrage is justified. And to suggest to ourselves that there are reasons hardship befalls others and not us feels like a denial of compassion–a denial that their tragedy is indeed our tragedy.
Lemon tree in the city of Uhm-al-Fahm
That said though, I'm not sure I can stop my mind's instinctive search for meaning and logic when horrific things befall those who seem so undeserving. It is a human reflex, I think, to try to make sense out of the absurd–a self-defense mechanism that enables us to get out of bed in the morning, to leave our homes, to go to the grocery store, to go to school and to the library. But after last week's shooting, I'm at least going to start acknowledging it as the selfish, survival technique that it is–"selfish" because it makes us set aside our thoughts of those who died or are in mourning, so that we can remain among the living; "selfish" because the solace we find is simply not available to those directly impacted by the attack.
Almond tree in the Sataf
I am sharing these thoughts with you because as prospective students, you should know that it is okay to enter this institution without having all the answers to whether there is reason and meaning in the world, to whether there is a divine plan, to what you believe about God. When I was preparing for my HUC interview, I felt a lot of pressure to be able to articulate what I thought about God and death and tragedy and Israel and Torah and community and a million other things. But the reality is that I will be forming and reforming thoughts on these concepts for the rest of my life. It's okay if you can't make sense out of everything. In fact, I think that your experience here will be far richer if you come in with more questions than answers. These five years are an extra-ordinary opportunity to be around others who grapple with similar questions, and to explore those questions with the guidance, wisdom, and love of teachers who have made our search for understanding their life's work. I am especially grateful to be in their company at times like this.
In contrast to the darkness of last week, this week in Jerusalem we have seen the first signs of Spring–warmer weather and flowers and trees blooming everywhere you turn. I am attaching some photos so you can enjoy these things too.
Posted by Nicole at 1:57 PM
A Tribute to our Classmate
I wanted to be mad at God. But you told us to pray, for Tikva.
I wanted to stop giving thanks for the blessing of being here, because suddenly it just seemed so unfair. But you told us to be grateful every day for this opportunity.
I wanted to mourn the interruption of your dream, because I know so well what it is like to have waited so long to get here. But you told us you were going home to try to save a life.
I wanted to be sad about the inconceivable notion of you returning to a former profession–after you had always shared my elation at finally landing in the right place. But you told us to only think positive thoughts.
I wanted to stay after your announcement and offer comfort. But you told us to go to Hebrew class.
You stood there at services, modeling what it means to be fully human. Modeling how to make Jewish choices and truly live them out. This modeling was a language we could understand. A language we will always remember. A language that inspired.
We will miss you and look forward to the day when you rejoin us.
And we will stay here and continue learning how to pray. We'll pray that God can bring healing and wholeness. We'll pray for help in making sense out of the absurd. We'll pray for the day when those who sow in tears will reap in joy. We'll pray for Tikva.
Posted by Nicole at 10:42 AM
Conference on Contemporary Reform Judaism, Jerusalem
Every so often in Hebrew class we learn a new word that just "sticks." I don't know what it is about these special words that causes them to escape the fate of the typical new vocabulary word, which fades quickly into oblivion upon completion of the one-and-only exam on which it appears. I just know that when these special words pop up in conversation or movies, we all recognize them, glance at each other knowingly, and marvel for a moment at the usefulness of what we've learned and the fact that, wow, people really do speak this language! One of these special words we
this word comes up frequently not only in conversation, but in my own thoughts as well, as I move through life in this country that feels sometimes so foreign to me, and other times so much my own.
The singing of Hatikvah upon the arrival of Air Force One in Tel Aviv
I'm learning that when you spend an extended period of time in a foreign land, you become quite aware of the gap between "their" country and "my" country. When I first arrived here, the gap seemed huge, as I struggled to make sense out of a dizzying array of unfamiliar brand names and couldn't carry on a conversation beyond "hi, how are you, what time is it?" Then, over time, I made my apartment homey, my Hebrew improved, and I've had opportunities to interact with Israelis; the gap has narrowed. But now, six months into my stay here, my experience of the gap fluctuates almost daily–there are moments of deep connectedness interspersed with moments of gratitude that I get to return home at the end of it all. In Israel, I think these fluctuations feel extra intense–and complicated–because this is the Jewish state, i.e., "their" country is "my" country... sort of.
Perhaps some recent experiences shed light on why I'm grappling with this word–this idea–of pa'ar. First, just after I got back from the URJ Biennial in San Diego (see previous blog), there was a conference on Reform Judaism here in Jerusalem. While these two Reform events were quite distinct from one another in their nature, many people I had seen in San Diego were present at the Jerusalem conference, which made me feel that our Israeli and American Reform communities really are connected in meaningful ways. I was also excited about how many faces I recognized among the Jerusalem attendees–it made me feel like I had maybe found my "place" in Israeli society.
Our class eating lunch at the army base we visited
But a few days later, our class visited an army base, and we got to have an hour-long conversation in small groups with some soldiers. Though the conversation was in Hebrew, I understood enough to recognize discrepancies between how American and Israeli Jews perceive their obligation to Israel and between our views and the soldiers' about the importance of diaspora Jewry. The atmosphere was tense, and it felt like our loyalty to Israel was being called into question by virtue of our choosing to remain American.
The next week, our class attended an Ulpan for new immigrants to Israel. As they were all from different countries, our common language was Hebrew, which, in and of itself, felt profound–for awhile there was a fabulous sense of k'lal Israel in the room. But soon the three of us HUC students were fielding questions like "do Reform rabbinical students actually study Talmud or do you just learn about the Talmud?" and trying to explain how one can be both Reform and religious at the same time. Because outside America, "religious Jew" seems to mean something different from what we're used to.
And just yesterday, something happened that made me realize that this heightened awareness of pa'ar–and its widening and narrowing–is unlikely to dissipate when I return to the States in May. I was watching President Bush's arrival in Tel Aviv on TV. I've always considered myself a pretty patriotic American so I thought I'd certainly get choked-up upon watching the welcome ceremony, but the only part that brought tears to my eyes was when they played Hatikvah. That's strange, I thought, I wasn't this moved when they played my national anthem just before Israel's. It didn't even occur to me to put my hand over my heart, like I've done ever since I was a kid. I have known all along that this year would change my relationship with Israel. But I didn't expect my relationship with America to change too. I'm glad pa'ar is one of those words that stuck, because it seems I might be using it at home. With this, my first visit to the Jewish "homeland," I sense that my exploration of pa'ar has only just begun.
Posted by Nicole at 10:14 AM
My Trip "Home"
My neighbors/classmates Tracy (cantorial) and Steph (rabbinic), debating the order of candlelighting by the light of my menorah
Last week I left Jerusalem to attend the URJ Biennial in San Diego. I often say that missing a week at HUC is like missing 3 weeks in any other, normal universe. We are constantly running between classes, community service, field trips, services, reflection groups, professional forums, enrichment courses, the grocery store, and yes, even occasionally, the library. Life just happens at a faster pace here. What stresses me out one week is resolved, over, and done with by the next. Each day is incredibly full. So in anticipation of how behind I would be after a week away, I made myself nuts trying to get as much work done as possible before my trip. How I managed to also cram a week's supply of clothing into two backpacks and get myself on an 8am Nesher taxi to the airport is...still all just a big blur.
Air Canada advised me to be at the airport 3 hours early (they actually have a special rule for Ben Gurion Airport–for others they only require 2 hours). Before leaving Jerusalem, my taxi picked up an elderly couple in a traditional neighborhood. As the driver threw the couple's belongings into the trunk, their son told him, "there are tefillin in this bag, so please don't cause it harm."
Oneg Shabbat for 6,000 congregants at the URJ Biennial, San Diego
Along the 45 minute drive to Tel Aviv, there is a very dramatic curve which, this time around, brought to the surface a lot of my mixed feelings about leaving Jerusalem. It does feel like a descent, I thought to myself, leaving what feels to me like a holy place and a country where my presence feels purposeful. Plus, I was having a hard time picturing myself in America–that cushy, spacious, centrally heated, Christmas-y land of Cool Ranch Doritos and Target and all-English menus. And when the plane took off, it occurred to me that my first visit to Israel was, technically, over. I watched the shore disappear out the window, watched for as long as I could.
On the plane, I sat next to an Israeli who had just completed his army service and was spending the next 8 months in Buenos Aires. Eventually, I gave up my seat so his friend could sit next to him, but my new seat was freezing, so I looked for another. The only other empty seat on the plane was next to another Israeli who told me, "I'm sorry, I won't sit next to a woman, it's my religion."
Reserved Seats at the URJ Biennial, San Diego
After 20 hours of travel, I got to see my husband for the first time since Sukkot! Despite my excitement, I couldn't help noticing all the Christmas wreaths in the airport, and the fact that we passed no fewer than FIVE Best Buys on the drive from L.A. to San Diego.
The Biennial itself is a blog for another time. There were MANY highlights, but I can only touch on a handful here: Leading the birkat hamazon for the first time by myself; feeling patriotic when they showed videos of Israel; seeing MY rabbi; speaking Hebrew with the Israeli vendors; my first yoga minyan; and being asked by several people, "hey, aren't you the one with the HUC blog?"
Me and My Husband David, on the Beach in California. This is one of the three times we will see each other this year.
After an exhausting week, my husband and I (okay, mainly me) were grouchy, and I was definitely feeling the frustration of being home-but-not-really-home in a city that was totally unfamiliar to me. I was also dreading that when I got back to Jerusalem, there would be finals, papers, and work to catch up on. What's worse, I had to spend 8 extra hours in the Toronto airport due to an airplane problem. On the bright side, I got to stock up on a supply of Nerds (can't get those here) and bond with 40 Birthright kids, who graciously shared their donut holes–and their contagious excitement–with me. They all clapped when we finally took off for Tel Aviv, and cheered even louder 11 hours later when we came within sight of the land of Israel. I am so excited for them.
Back in Jerusalem, I'm more aware now than before how much we are floating between two worlds after only 6 months at HUC. We've grown accustomed to reciting prayers we never hear at home (even at Biennial), and to kabbalat Shabbat services that move fluidly from melody to melody without spoken interruption. We've incorporated phrases like "kol beseder" and "kal v'chomer" into our English conversations. We've learned how to bargain at the shuk. And yet, we still struggle to understand the news, Israelis still respond to us in English no matter how good we think our Hebrew has become, and we get really tired of having to explain what "Reform Judaism" means. I have always felt that human beings are not emotionally equipped for air travel–even hours of flight time never seem adequate to allow our psyches to leap from one distinct world to another. But now I see how foolish it is to expect an airline to make that leap for us–clearly they are not the bridge that connects our separate worlds. We are.
Posted by Nicole at 9:59 AM
Ready or Not
Last Wednesday marked the 12th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. In Hebrew class the day before, our teacher asked us where we each were when we first heard about the tragedy. I had never been asked this before, or even thought about it, to be honest. I can, of course, tell you exactly where I was the morning of 9/11, or during the tornado that blew through downtown Nashville in '98. But I have no recollection whatsoever of the first time I heard about Rabin's death–and not just because it was a long time ago. The truth is, twelve years ago I really didn't think of Israel as my country. Israel certainly felt like a part of my "Jewishness," but only on a very peripheral sphere of...well...all the other parts of my Jewishness. Our teacher's simple inquiry raised a much more complicated question for me: What about now? Was I now ready to expend energy on, make room in my heart for, and shed tears over Israel's losses, as if they were my own?
Before I could spend too long contemplating this, our teacher began teaching us "Shir LaShalom," a song for peace. If you've never heard the song, it's really stirring, and all the more so when you learn, like I did last week in class, that Rabin was singing it at a peace rally moments before his assassination, and a blood-stained copy of the lyrics was later found in his pocket. Our teacher didn't just play us the song–she had us learn the words and sing it together. As I walked out of class, teary-eyed and choked-up, I passed by other Hebrew classes learning the same song. This tragedy is becoming our tragedy, I thought to myself. This country is becoming our country. Ready or not.
The next morning was to begin with a student-led, memorial service for Rabin, and afterwards our Israel Seminar–a weekly class in which we learn about the complexities of Israeli society–would be visiting Yad Vashem. As I walked to school, I felt myself resisting something. Exhausted from a difficult week and stressed about schoolwork, I didn't feel ready to face the sad, sobering, heavy day I knew lay ahead. But "ready" was irrelevant. I had no choice–and I don't say that as a student who is part of a mandatory program, but simply as a Jew. As Jews, I acknowledged that morning, we do not get to choose whether to recall the memory of our people who have perished; it is not ours to decide whether or not to bear the grief of our nation which has suffered. This is part of our Jewishness, as much as is the joy of joining hands for 'hava nagilah' at a wedding or eating charoset on Passover. Ready or not, the time comes for celebration or commemoration. Ready or not, we don't turn our backs. Ready or not, we all boarded the bus to Yad Vashem (well, except for Joe, but that was just an oversight...)
Before we entered Yad Vashem, our professor suggested two things that were helpful. First, he told us not to enter with expectations of how we should or shouldn't react. "If you need to walk through quickly, walk through quickly. If you need to cry, cry. Everybody deals with this experience in their own way," he said. Second, he told us to each "have a conversation with yourself as you go through." I'm not sure what he meant by this, but I think it's akin to our Hebrew teacher asking us to recall where we were the day Rabin died, or having us sing Shir LaShalom instead of just playing it for us on tape. Make it your own, they are saying, because regardless of where you were at the time, it is now time to make this part of your Jewish experience. And that, it seems, is what much of this year is about–a broadening of context–ready or not.
These pictures are of Israel–making it my own.
Flags on the building next door
"Go in Peace"
Posted by Nicole at 8:50 AM
Me floating in the Dead Sea
Over the past few years, I've attended a number of URJ biennials and kallot. From among the rich menu of educational offerings at these events, I usually choose classes and workshops taught by HUC faculty so I can begin to learn who's who and get a feel for who I want to learn more from in the coming years of rabbinical school. I am never disappointed, as the teaching is consistently phenomenal and, without fail, leaves me inspired and wanting more. But there is always one other thing that impacts me as much as the learning sessions, and that is seeing these same professors, rabbis, and deans at worship services, at other points during that week. Usually they are not leading services, but standing in the congregation along with me and the rest of the crowd, and it is always so powerful to me to think that we–we laypeople and these accomplished scholars and leaders who I admire so much–are all drawing inspiration from the same source, the same history, the same traditions, texts, and ideals. They are not just our teachers who feed our craving for intellectual stimulation, but also our fellow congregants who share our same hopes, curiosities, and collective memory.
Albeit in a good way, this scenario always feels a little disorienting to me–seeing people for whom I have such reverence standing alongside me facing the ark, instead of on the bimah facing me–and now that I'm an HUC student, I encounter this feeling all the time. Because these rabbis are no longer my teachers for just one week a year, they are teachers at my school. On our 3-day trip to the Golan last week, our teachers not only worshipped with us at (student-led) services, they also rode the buses with us, went rafting with us, stayed up late chatting with us, and danced with us on the shore of the Kinneret–their smiles just as big and their faces lit up every bit as much as ours. One week later, I am still trying to take this all in. Perhaps the strangest thing to wrap my mind around is when our rabbis refer to us as their "future colleagues," which, at this early stage, feels so hard to imagine.
Class taught by the Kinneret at sunset, on our recent Golan-Galilee trip
Indeed there is much else about this first year I find disorienting: I'm living alone for the first time in 14 years; I haven't known anyone in this country longer than 3 months; I've gone from being a "leader" at home to being in a class with 50 other leaders; I learned 100 new Hebrew words a week during summer Ulpan and still need a dictionary to read the cooking directions on my soup; there are 500 kinds of yogurt to choose from in the grocery store; cream cheese here doesn't really taste like cream cheese; and a pint of Ben & Jerry's costs over $7.50. A good part of every day here feels like that first float in the Dead Sea–surprising, magical, and delightful...that is, as long as you give in to your new reality, and don't try too hard to get your legs under you and swim somewhere!
One thing I find grounding amid all the disorientation is to periodically remind myself why I am here–why I have chosen to become a rabbi. Like any good compass, this question "orients" me by making me look back, look forward, and look at where I am. That is, I often discover reasons based on my past ("these were experiences that led to my decision..."), my future ("I want to be able to..."), and my present ("Right now, I want to be a rabbi because...") And right now, as I write this with our Golan trip still fresh in my mind, one of my strongest reasons for wanting to become a rabbi is because of them: These rabbis and professors who are not just leading us through an education but accompanying us on a lifelong journey; who recognize that our personal, professional, and spiritual development requires more than just books, studying, and classroom teaching, but also role-modeling and accessibility; whose investment in us invites my trust, and hints that perhaps the goal of our time here is not so much dis-orientation, but re-orientation.
This December, I will be attending another Biennial. I was asked to speak at one of the workshops, and while that feels like an honor, perhaps the greater honor lies in the opportunity to begin to emulate those who have made such an impact on me and my conception of Jewish leadership. Perhaps at this Biennial, I can play a role in someone's journey, not just through my words but through my actions. It is hard to envision myself in this role. But it is becoming easier every day, here at HUC.
Posted by Nicole at 12:15 PM
The pomegranate tree I pass every day on my walk home from school
First, the easy part: Who am I and what am I doing here?! I was born and raised in Manhattan but moved to Nashville for college and have lived there ever since. I am 36 years-old and was a CPA for 9 years before coming to HUC. I have a husband and a Jack Russell, both of whom are staying in Nashville this year, while I'm in Israel.
Though I was born Jewish, I did not become "Jewishly involved" until I was 27 and already well on my way to becoming a CPA. As I became more and more involved in Jewish learning and community, however, I realized that I didn't want to spend my future learning the tax code when I could be feeding my soul with things that felt so much more fulfilling. If it's a blessing to find your passion, it is likewise a gift to discover a career path that enables you to indulge it, and that's what my experience here in Israel has felt like so far–a gift and an indulgence.
Rambam Soap--only in Israel!
Sure, there are challenges: Having to make friends for the first time in 10 years requires energy I can't always muster; having homework again and keeping track of our busy schedule are struggles after being in the working world; unlike a lot of my classmates who grew up attending Jewish camp and Hebrew school, I don't know birkat hamazon by heart, the weekday liturgy is unfamiliar to me, and I am still uncertain what we will be taught versus expected to just pick up on our own; and leaving behind my husband, my dog, my new house, and the Jewish community in which I had been deeply entrenched for years was, quite frankly, excruciating–I miss home most of all on Friday nights.
So now, the hard part: Conveying to you why this year feels like such a gift–why, in spite of the challenges, I experience elation and awe every single day in Jerusalem that make it all worthwhile. This is hard because it feels impossible to pick and describe just one or two of the countless images, interactions, and "holy moments" that have made my first two months here so meaningful. Ironically, it is therefore the "bullet point" list that I believe most fully captures the richness of my experience so far:
The olive tree that graces my living room
The initial challenges will ease with time. Likewise, I imagine, my initial enchantment with Jerusalem may wane–the construction outside my window and the screaming child in the apartment above me may one day no longer signify to me the blessed growth and development of the Holy Land, but instead become cursed distractions as I try desperately to conjugate a verb in my living room. Then a new challenge will emerge: Remembering to stop and appreciate the "bullet point" reminders that are abundant in this city–reminders of what a thrill it is to be in Israel for the first time and what an honor it is to be at HUC, where so many people I so deeply admire began their own journeys. I still get chills when I think of the moment I was handed my student ID card. This year is a gift and an indulgence. I'm excited to share it with you!
Posted by Nicole at 9:42 AM
- All of us Israel "first-timers" climbing out of our seats to get a glimpse of the Land as our plane
descended. And the moment when we all fell silent.
- Reading my school calendar and realizing that what I'm supposed to be doing with my time is
actually aligned with what I want to be doing. Finally.
- Sitting in a sanctuary for the first time in Israel!
- Reading Torah on my balcony for the first time in Israel!
- Buying challah for the first time in Israel!
- Seeing HUC's Torah scrolls for the first time.
- Buying an olive tree for my apartment, then saying a blessing over it.
- Being congratulated when I say it's my first time in Israel.
- Biting into a fig, straight off the tree.
- Mango nectar with my breakfast.
- Flowers draped all over the city.
- Hearing my immigrant neighbor learning Hebrew from the same CDs I used.
- Discovering a pomegranate tree–on my block!
- Realizing that the rabbis and teachers I had only encountered at URJ biennials and kallot are now my rabbis
- Standing with my class at our first orientation gathering, singing shehecheyanu in a giant circle by the HUC library.