Sunday, December 12, 2010

Please join me in supporting this great cause for World Progressive Judaism

Dear friends and family,

I'm writing to tell you about an amazing opportunity that I have been
looking forward to for a long time. This Passover, I will be traveling
to the Former Soviet Union, specifically Belarus, to bring music,
Passover programming, and seder leading assistance. In partnership with
World Progressive Judaism, I will be joining 17 HUC Cantorial, Education
and Rabbinic students to observe this yearly celebration of freedom in a
community that has experienced much oppression in the past. I am
completely thrilled to travel to the area in which many of my
great-grandparents were born and raised. Although, of course, looking
different today, it will be highly enriching to see Progressive Judaism
from a new perspective.

This cultural experience will benefit both of our communities greatly.
I'm looking forward to learning new melodies and traditions from my host
community in Belarus, and at the same time teaching them some of my
traditions. We will have translators to help us communicate.

Did you know that there are only 6 progressive Rabbis in the Former
Soviet Union today? It's so important that as fellow Jews we travel to
these communities who are thirsty for more Jewish involvement and
education and let them know that we are here to support them and work
with them.

As part of the education committee, I will be helping to create Passover
programming for people of all ages to be facilitated while we are in the

Please checkout our website!

You will find all kinds of groovy info, including how you can donate
on-line or send a check to help me pay for my transportation and a translator. You can
see a video from the President of the Hebrew Union College and see bios
on all of the participants going on the trip.

To donate:

Just click on "Donate Now!" and then click again on the "donation page"
link found in the first paragraph.

Remember to write my name in the memo space, so that your donation goes
to me :)

Also- when prompted, remember to write that this donation is for the FSU

Thank you so much. This really means a lot to me. I can't wait to tell
you more details (as I learn them) and share with you stories from this
unique trip.

To take advantage of this great opportunity I have to raise more than half of $2,500 by Jan 1!

Thank you ahead of time for your support. Any little bit helps!


Rayna Dushman

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Hanukkah

Top Ten Things I’ve been missing over the last few months:

10. Candy corns and pumpkin flavored things

9. Mexican food

8. Recycling

7. Target

6. That Torani vanilla syrup that usually goes in my coffee

5. My guitar, “Martin”

4. My car, “Sammi”

3. Trader Joes

2. Songleading at Beth Israel

1. The number one thing I miss is... All of YOU GUYS. (Duh)

It’s been a long 2 months since I have blogged. Ooops! I didn’t mean to go so long without writing. It was my mistake to think that things would calm down after midterms. They have not. I’m just preparing for all of my final tests and writing final papers now.

Picking up where I left off

Celebrating Simchat Torah in Israel was lovely. I went with a ton of other HUC students to Kibbutz Gezer (just a little outside of J’lem) to celebrate with their Progressive community. I sang with a few other HUC students for a few rounds of the hakafot (dancing around with the Torah). Being at the Kibbutz’s outside sanctuary praying and reading Torah really reminded me of being at camp and it was a great feeling. Praying in nature always feels….well, so natural! For the morning of Simchat Torah, I had organized a group of students to form a little “band” to play for all of the hakafot at the Progressive synagogue, Har-El. The Cantor is an American man who plays a lot of guitar during the prayer services and there are A LOT of American immigrants that go to this synagogue, so it feels familiar.

Leading services

I led my first “official” HUC service in October with Dan Utley, a very musical Rabbinic student. I was so glad to lead with someone like Dan, because I knew we had a similar background and style in terms of leading services. It felt really great to be up there doing what I love to do and especially with someone that I feel so comfortable with. He actually played guitar the whole time, along with the pianist. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself to lead without guitar and concentrate on the more Cantorial style parts of the service that I do not have as much experience with. It felt great.

A few Shabbat’s ago, I got a little more practice leading services without a guitar, and leading with piano accompaniment instead. After leading services for so many years accompanying myself on guitar, it actually feels very liberating to not be standing behind it. I never thought I would feel like that and in fact at first I felt very naked without my guitar. However, in a way I feel that I can almost get more personal meaning out of praying when I’m not playing guitar. I think a part of it may also be that I am learning all of the traditional nusach (melodies) for the prayers and I am really connecting with them. There was a reason that these melodies were written in this particular way and I’m beginning to understand those reasons.

This Thursday I get to lead again with my friend, Jay LeVine, another wonderfully musical Rabbinic student. We have been having so much fun preparing. This time I actually am going to play guitar and find a really happy mix between guitar and piano, nusach and more modern melodies. I am really looking forward to it.

My 29th Birthday

My birthday this year was by far the hottest birthday I have EVER had in my life. It was 100 degrees on my birthday, October 20th. I still can’t believe it. My whole school went on a tiyul (trip) to the north of Israel over my birthday. We ended up having to cancel many of our outdoor, hiking plans because of the excessive heat. In any case, it was a nice birthday. Some of the highlights were: enjoying the beauty of the banias, the wonders of the ancient city of Dan, and going on a pretty cheesy night safari, followed by eating s’mores and having a guitar-led sing along. My birthday ended with hanging out on the beach of the Sea of Gallilee’s, at our hostel, drinking wine, and singing show tunes. Just lovely.

Local Music

I got the chance to go see a Idan Racheil Project Concert at the Jerusalem Convention Center. It was a huge, packed auditorium. This musician, Idan Racheil, is super interesting and talented. He does a lot of collaboration with Ethiopian musicians and so the music sounds very tribal and worldly. It was a fantastic concert with a huge variety of musical instruments and sounds. At one point, one of the musicians was playing two bowling ball size balls in a tub of water and it made the coolest percussion sound!

Getting out J’lem

To celebrate my friend Susie’s birthday, we got out of J’lem and went to Tel Aviv for the weekend. It felt SO great to get out. Don’t get me wrong. I love Jerusalem, but it is a VERY specific way of life here and can sometimes feel a little sheltered and smothering. It’s difficult not to feel like an outsider sometimes here in Jerusalem as a non-Orthodox person. I personally have not had many negative encounters in result of my non-Orthodoxy, but I know plenty of my Jewish friends who have and that of course influences me. I definitely think twice about talking on my cell phone in certain neighborhoods on Shabbat, and I definitely have times in which I feel very self-conscience about what I am wearing in public.

In other words, it felt REALLY relaxing to be in Tel Aviv for the weekend (the New York of Israel, also known as “the city that never sleeps.”) I haven’t been to the infamous bar, Mike’s Place, for years now. So when I walked in, I asked the waitress IN HEBREW, “Can we just sit anywhere inside?” She said back to me IN ENGLISH, “You can sit anywhere you want, but I’m not going to speak Hebrew to you.” HA. They happened to be having a toga party that night and my friend Susie and I were having a blast eating at the bar and chatting. It was then that our American bar tender interrupted our conversation to say, “Are you two girls really going to sit here and talk about Judaism the whole time?” My first reaction was, “HOW FREAKIN RUDE!” And then I realized, Wow, we are really not in Jerusalem anymore. Ha ha. (Toto- I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore). This bar tender was NOT the first to make a comment like this. Many of the people who worked in Tel Aviv over the weekend asked us where we were living in Israel. They all gave a similiar reaction, “Man- that’s heavy.” “Why do you live there?” “It’s so serious there.” “It’s so Jewish there.” HA.

Bringing Progressive Judaism to Israel’s attention

As I mentioned before, I have been so fortunate in terms of my interaction with Israelis and the Orthodox Community. Unfortunately, I have many friends, mostly women from my school- and more specifically the women who wear a yarmulke out in public, who have been verbally abused around town.

My interactions have been mostly with secular Israelis who have little knowledge about Progressive Judaism and are honestly very interested. For example, in Tel Aviv, my friend and I made friends with a cute salesgirl who asked us what we were studying in Jerusalem. When we told her that we were studying to become Cantors she was very confused until we explained that we are Reform Jews. She was so excited. She said, “I have heard about that! I went to a Reform synagogue once and I couldn’t believe that the women and men were praying together!” I told her that at our school, the men and women pray together, and men and women equally lead the prayer services, and read from Torah too. I said that all of the men are extremely supportive of women being fully integrated. She was so excited. She said, “Wow. This is so great. This is the way it should be!” I have been in many similar situations since then. I was doing homework in a very busy coffee shop one day when a man asked if he could sit at my table since there were no other spots available. He asked what I was working on, where I studied…etc. I explained to him that I was studying to be a cantor, he said, “You are Reform? That is awesome. We need more Jews like you in Israel.”

Some Israelis are very excited and others are just completely confused. One day when I was I walking in the mall with my friend Rachel, who always wears a yarmulke, and an Israeli (clearly not Orthodox) stopped her and said, “I’m sorry, I just have to ask…Why are you wearing a yarmulke? That’s so weird.” I could tell my friend Rachel was exhausted of this question and I so I chimed in, “She’s Jewish. Why wouldn’t she wear a yarmulke if she wanted to?” The woman was not upset or offended, just very confused. She said, “But they are not for women, they are for men. It’s just weird.” I said, “You and I are both wearing pants right now. By the same rules, aren’t those for men too?” This didn’t make any sense to her and she left just thinking my friend was a bizarre cross dresser or something.

It’s very interesting interacting with the Israelis here. I think it’s really necessary that we continue to take all of these opportunities to educate them on the fact that Progressive Judaism exists. Most of them believe you are either Orthodox or nothing at all (secular). So when they decide they don’t agree with Orthodox Judaism, they stop going to synagogue all together. I wish they could see there IS a way to hold on to their Jewish traditions in a way that can be meaningful to them.


The wonderful students at my school organized a potluck dinner for Thanksgiving this year. The dinner began with a food drive in which we filled boxes of food to be given to immigrant families that need it. We then enjoyed a great meal together. A student even streamed the Macy’s Day parade for us to watch on a projector as we ate!


Hanukkah has been a blast so far in Jerusalem. I already went around and bought a bunch of the dreidels that in Israel read, “A great miracle happened HERE.” Rather than in the diaspora (outside of Israel) dreidels that read, “A great miracle happened THERE.” As usual, it’s so fun to see “Chag Sameach” written on the windows of stores and city busses. The sufganiyot (jelly filled donuts) right now remind me a lot of the cupcake culture in Portland. There is every type of sufganiyah that you could imagine in the stores right now. I have been having fun taste testing with friends! At coffee shops they give chocolate gelt with the check. We started Hanukkah off at my school by holding a Latke Eating contest to raise money for a bike ride, Ride4Reform that raises awareness in Israel about Reform Judaism. The winner ate 24 latkes in 7 minutes!!

Praying for Rain

The Baal Shem Tov said: “The first time an event occurs in nature it is called a miracle; later it comes to seem natural and is taken for granted.”

I feel a little guilty. For the last 11 years living in Oregon, I have complained about the rain. On one hand I knew that the rain was why Oregon is so green and beautiful and on the other hand, I was sick of the frizzy hair, wet feet and dreariness. Now, I find myself here in Israel, in a drought. Besides two little sprinkles a few months ago, today was the first time it has rained here in months and months. Israel NEEDS the rain to continue and for the last many years I completely took the rain for granted. Not only does the earth here desperately need the rain, but I surprisingly find myself needing it too. Today was very refreshing and the country will continue to pray for rain, as the driest winter in a very long time continues.

Fire in Northern Israel

All of our prayers are reaching out to the families of the guards who died in the huge fire up north in Israel. The fire has STILL not been completely put out and it’s a very scary situation. All of the Haifa University students have evacuated and we can all just pray that with help, the fire will be put out soon.

To read more and/or donate:

A few things I think you should know before I sign off:

1. I bought a cactus and named her the Hebrew name for cactus, “Kaktoos.” Creative, right?

2. The millions of cats in Jerusalem are mating at night and make the worst sound you could ever imagine.

3. On my way to Tzur Hadassah, where I song lead once a month, the Rabbinic intern’s little girl was sitting in her carseat and all of a sudden pointed to the sky and started screaming in Hebrew, “Ananim! Ananim!Ananim!” I asked her why in the world her little girl was so excited about clouds and she said, “Well she hasn’t seem them in like 6 months.” HA.

4. I saw the rap artist Shyne, the other day. Apparently, he has moved to Israel and become an Orthodox Jew. On one hand he looked Orthodox and on the other hand, the “bling bling” on his black robe and black hat is a dead give away.

5. For some reason my internet is super slow right now and so I'm having difficulties posting pictures. Check out facebook! I just posted a bunch for Hanukkah!

Hanukkah Sameach,


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Catching up during the Holidays

Chag Sameach to all,

What a busy/fun time of year, right? I hope everyone has been enjoying the holiday season. This last month has been a month of traveling, learning a lot of new music, experiencing the High Holiday season in Jerusalem and beginning my fall semester (10 classes!). So much has happened, and I would love to try to recap it all for you right now.

Roma with Eli

In between summer and fall semester I met up with Eli in Rome! It was an amazing trip. We found the perfect balance between relaxing and sight seeing. Thanks to Eli’s love for maps/sense of direction we got around just fine. We tasted our way through the city with lots of gelato stops and espresso. Every night we shared a romantic dinner of wine and Italian treats. Fountains were found around every corner, including the Trevi and the sinking boat fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. We toured around the Colosseum and found a ruin that had our initials on it “R & E,” which was entertaining to us. We wandered around the Forum and the Pantheon, and many churches. In The Vatican City we climbed up what felt like a million stairs in a very claustrophobic situation to the top of the St. Peter’s Basilica for a priceless view and a lot of schvitzing.

We also toured the Vatican Museum and found Alice Cahana’s piece of art-work (Rabbi Cahana’s mother). Her piece, “No Names” is the only piece of Holocaust art work in the Vatican and is truly powerful. The Jewish ghetto was at the top of our list and with the help of our Israeli tour guide, we got to see two of the Sephardic synagogues in the area.

Tons of pictures from our trip are up on facebook now, including our Italian food photo log. (Example below)

When I returned from Rome, things at school completely changed. Things in the city had stayed about the same. We were still hearing shofar calls daily, making it difficult to differentiate between traffic jams and shofar blows. A daily explosion in the evening was still announcing to the Muslims who celebrate Ramadan that they could eat again until the next morning. But all of a sudden we were in high gear preparing for High Holidays, we started our fall semester, we were having choir rehearsals for the High Holidays, I had moved up to Kita Gimmel in Hebrew and things were crazy busy! Everyone in the city was preparing for the chag (holiday) and since Rosh Hashana started Wednesday night, most places in J’lem would be closed from Wednesday night until Saturday night because the chag ran right into Shabbat. Stores were SO crowded, I just felt like everyone was running around like crazy people. Someone in my class put it well when she said, the stores looked like they did right before Y2K! Store shelves were being swept clean and the produce left behind was only the bruised up stuff. It was a little frightening, but exciting at the same time! Everyone was busy making their chag plans, it almost felt like the “hustle and bustle” right before Christmas in America. Walking to chag services was a lot like walking to Shabbat services. As the sun goes down, everyone is walking somewhere; to a synagogue or a family’s house for a special dinner. The first night of Rosh Hashana I had a potluck at my friend Mandy’s apartment and the second night, some fellow students planned a huge dinner at HUC, which was a huge celebration.

At the same time, I had prepared, along with the other Cantorial students, to lead people in prayer in every t’fillah (prayer service) for the holidays. It felt so wonderful to be up doing what I love to do, with this new community. At the same time, it was a great challenge because some of the melodies were brand new to me and I have begun singing a style of music that is completely different from the folk-guitar music I usually lead with.

For the second morning of Rosh Hashana, HUC didn’t have services. I went to a city very nearby called Tzur Hadassah to join with their Progressive synagogue’s Tashlich service. Since running streams are not found very frequently around Jerusalem, we blew bubbles with the kids of the congregation to symbolize throwing away our “baggage” or “sins” from the last year. We sang a lot and I tried to understand the teachings that were interspersed throughout the service (in Hebrew- Yikes!). I got to blow the shofar at the end of the service. T’kiah!

10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur was just not enough time to catch up spiritually, academically or physically, but it came whether I was ready or not. Just like on Rosh Hashana, the whole city prepared to shut down. I go back and forth to finding this “shut-down” a nuisance to seeing the beauty in it. On Yom Kippur evening we held services in this breathtaking hall in the Center for Progressive Judaism in Israel. The hall has an entire panoramic wall of windows looking out on The Old City. That’s the crazy thing about being in Israel. We aren’t just talking about these places in which people did things a long time ago, we are HERE, experiencing it for ourselves.

After services, at the beginning of the most holy day of the year, I went with some friends to the Kotel, the Western Wall. My experience at the Wall is always very complicated, well at least lately it is. Before I got to the Wall security I was reminded that I would not be let in if I was holding my tallis bag (my prayer shawl). I ended up having to give my tallis bag to my guy friend who was already “smuggling” in 2 other girls’ tallis bags. (??!!) The fact that I can’t even bring my tallis, something that makes me feel so Jewish, into a place that is such the basis of the Jewish religion is beyond frustrating. I really did not want it to ruin my experience that evening though. However, as I sat on the women’s side of The Wall in silence with the other women, listening to the men sing and praise G-d, it was really difficult to face the issues that I always face when I go to The Wall. This place should be a place that I feel comfortable too, but it’s not always. I don’t like to be silent! I want to pray and sing out loud with the women on my side of the mechitzah (the divider)! And at the same time, I don’t want to be angry every time I’m there, so I find a way to make it meaningful for myself. I choose the timing of my battles, I suppose.

After The Wall, some friends and I walked down to the more residential, family area on Emek Rafaim and saw the beauty of the city shutting down. We walked in the middle of the streets all the way there because not a single car was on the road (in fact, it’s illegal for anyone to drive on this day). The ENTIRE city was out on the streets. Every kid was on a bike, skateboard or scooter, enjoying the fact that they had full reign of the streets. I ran into someone I met a long time ago at a retreat in Alaska. Everyone was wishing each other a “Shanah Tovah” (Happy New Year) and “G’mar Chatimah Tovah” (May you be sealed for a good year). It was a great feeling. But it made me think, what are the non-Jews in Jerusalem doing on this Yom Kippur day? Do you think by any chance they are at home with their families, enjoying the day off and eating Chinese food?

Under the Sukkah (we’ll be having some fun!)

In school, one of the ways we prepared for Sukkot was by watching the movie, “Ushpizin” (“guests” in Aramaic). This Israeli movie shows the special traditions surrounding the holiday of Sukkot and how important it is to welcome guests into your sukkah to eat. Everyone in Jerusalem builds their own sukkah and buys their own etrog and lulav. Restaurants build a sukkah over their outside eating areas, apartment buildings build them on their roofs or on the balconies. Check out my “Going on a Sukkah Hunt” photo album on facebook! The first evening of Sukkot, I went over to the apartment of a few students in my class. The family who had lived there before them, sold them their sukkah kit when they moved out! We had so much fun decorating the sukkah. It made me miss our preschool decorating parties at Beth Israel! We said the brachot, ate good food, hung out and sang.

Sukkot on Emek Rafaim street

Last night I went back to Tzur Hadassah. Every student at HUC is required to have a Trumah project, a volunteer project, for the year. Me and another cantorial student, Ben, are songleading at Tzur Hadassah’s Progressive synagogue for the year. It’s a really sweet, intimate congregation led by an Israeli, Rabbinic student from HUC, Gila. Gila drove us out to Tzur Hadassah’s sukkah last night, for a service squished inside. It was a really nice first service together. Ben played an electric piano and, of course, I brought my guitar. It was so casual and another Rabbinic student in the congregation played her flute and recorder throughout the service too. Coincidentally, many of the families in the congregation work for Intel and have all traveled to Portland many times! Some of them have even lived in Portland for periods of time. That was a cool connection. Ben and I are looking forward to going out there at least once a month.

Now I have a week vacation from school and I am heading OUT of town. Jerusalem is amazing, but it’s time to get a change of scenery! My friends, Daniel, Rachel, Sharon and I are all renting a car and taking a 4 day coastal adventure. We are planning to stop at a few vineyards along the way, a stop in Akko, relaxing at a few beaches, adventures in Rosh HaNikra and we are staying at a hostel in Haifa. YEA!

Missing you all like crazy, especially at the holidays.



Thursday, August 26, 2010

End of Summer Semester

“The most traditional thing a Jew can do is to change.”

-Rabbi Michael Marmur


It’s been a while since I blogged. Why? I have been busy:

a. studying

b. going to concerts

c. eating passionfruit

d. preparing for the High Holidays

e. trying to speak Hebrew

f. singing intervals

g. all of the above

I’m sure with all of your good test taking skills, you answered correctly with “g. all of the above.” It’s been a busy but exciting end to the summer semester. I just had two final tests in Hebrew this week and a final evaluation in Musicianship. I’m relieved to say that I feel really good about all of them. As cheesy as it sounds, I really feel like I have learned so much already in the last month and a half. I can’t even imagine what it will feel like at the end of this school year, or the end of next school year, or at the end of 5 years! Wow. What a journey. As much as I might complain sometimes about homework being shoved back into my life, I actually have to admit that I’m really enjoying being a student again and even having homework and study groups.

Arrival of the Roommate and Heading to ROME!

Yesterday my roommate Eliana arrived and it was great to finally meet her. She will be starting school at Conservative Yeshiva next week. As she unpacks all of her belongings, I am packing for a 4 1/2-day vacation with Eli in Rome!! I can’t believe it. I’m excited more than words can express! We are meeting in the Rome airport at the DaVinci statue on Friday afternoon. It’s like a movie, or a dream, or something wonderful like that. I cannot wait!

High Holidays and Voice

High Holiday prep started a few weeks ago. I am one of the Cantorial students who will stay in Jerusalem and help lead HUC services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We are guided by Cantor Mikhal Shiff-Matter.

In the last few weeks I have met both of my voice coaches for the year, Azi Schwartz and Cantor Mikhal Shiff-Matter. Each cantorial student will have a voice coach and a voice teacher for the entire year. Azi will guide us in traditional Jewish nusach and Michal will teach us specifically from the Reform perspective. The first time I met with Azi was classic. I sang a little bit for him and he said, “When you sing in Hebrew you sound like an American.” Hmmm…really? He said this is something we will really need to work on together. Haha. This is always my problem.

(Tangent: I was walking down the street the other day and an Israeli asked me in Hebrew if I had change for his 10 Shekel coin. I answered with one Hebrew word, “Lo,” which means “no.” Just with that one single word, he could tell I was American and said in English, “Okay. Thanks anyways.” Accent! I need an accent!)

Back to the subject matter: I also met with Mikhal, our other voice coach, and felt an instant connection with her. She is very warm, comforting and reassuring. She is someone I can see myself feeling comfortable to take risks with and learn a lot from, so I asked her to be my private voice teacher as well for the year.

The difference between a voice coach and a voice teacher= the voice teacher helps with me with how I use my voice, how I breath, how I direct my sound and create a purposeful tone, etc. The voice coach will help me specifically with the Cantorial/Jewish part of my singing. What do these words mean? What am I trying to convey to the congregation? They will help me become a musical leader of prayer rather than solely a performer on a stage.

Since the last time I blogged I bought a cheap guitar from a music store down in the Talpiyot area. It’s been awesome to have. I don’t even think I realized how much more I feel myself when I have a guitar around! I also borrowed a keyboard from the music department to help me learn music and practice music theory at home.

Music and T’fillah

The cantorial students and some musical rabbinic students prepare choral type settings to prayers about once a week and present them at morning t’fillah (prayer service). This has been a great experience, especially since we have a few students with a tremendous amount of experience conducting choirs and playing piano accompaniment. We truly have such a well-rounded, talented class. Additionally, each cantorial student is expected to lead 3 morning prayer services along side 3 different rabbinic students. We also all signed up for a date to read Torah later in the year.

Committee Time

Every student is expected to sign up to be on a committee this year. There is the social committee, and the support committee, and the sports committee, etc. I joined the Ritual and Spirituality Committee. The mission statement that we came up with is:

The Ritual and Spirituality Committee seeks to create additional prayer and ritual opportunities for the HUC community, while increasing spiritual awareness in activities on and off campus. We hope to facilitate a safe, supportive prayer environment where people can explore and grow.

We are planning to organize “field trips” to different synagogues around Jerusalem and all over Israel throughout the year. We will also be organizing extra prayer services, making Havdallah booklets, fun things like that.

So far we have been facilitating one more prayer service a week then our school schedule provides. This has been a really special lay-led service and we are all bringing our own backgrounds, traditions and experience to the group. It’s also great because it gives us all extra experience leading groups in prayer, reading from Torah, facilitating Torah services, learning daily nusach (the melodies for every day are different than we chant on Shabbat). Last week I read from Torah.

Out on the town

I’m slowly trying out different restaurants in the area. Sushi Rehavia is a new fave. I have met up with an Israeli friend that I know from working at Camp Newman, Neta. She actually just moved to Jerusalem for the year as well for a job, so it’s been really fun to hang out with her and see Jerusalem from an Israeli’s perspective (and the perspective from inside a car, which I’m not used to seeing anymore). I finally went to see a movie in Israel, an American movie, “The Kids are Okay.” It was funny to receive a ticket with a specific seat number on it and have an intermission in the middle of the movie! The movie was really funny and nothing beats sitting in AC when it’s 113 degrees outside!

I have been trying to balance out all of my studying with the many fun events going on around the city of Jerusalem. The wine festival, which was held outside at the Israel Museum, was fantastic and tasty. For some reason it was fun to see Gew├╝rztraminer written in Hebrew. Plus- I found a new favorite white wine from Israel called Pninim (Pearls). YUM!

Some friends and I went to the International Arts Festival that takes place for more than a week in the Sultan’s Pool, which is an awesome venue right along side the Old City. There were vendors from a ton of different countries and a lot of Israeli local artists. Plus, every night featured another Israeli musician. I got to see two musicians I have been wanting to see for a long time- David Broza and Achinoam Nini. When I was here in 2006 I went to this festival and saw Matti Caspi. Such a great event.

David Broza


I took my Hebrew Summer ULPAN final yesterday and felt really good about it. I just found out today that I’m moving up a Hebrew level starting next week for the new semester. Yikes! I’m kind of nervous though because as usual I feel like my Hebrew skills on paper are improving at a rapid pace and my speaking skills are still dragging behind… would think someone like me who likes to talk so much would not have this problem. I’m sure that this new challenge will help my speaking skills and until then I will continue to practice on the guy, Erez, who works downstairs at Caf├ę Jo.

Yesterday, in addition to our final test, we had our final summer ULPAN presentations. My class re-wrote the words to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and changed the words to Hebrew lyrics about how difficult Hebrew is to learn and how we feel like “Beginning Soldiers” in this whole process. Ha ha…I’m laughing just thinking about it. Another class made up new (Hebrew) words to “Thriller” with a choreographed dance and white socks on one hand. Another class translated Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” into Hebrew and did the music video dance. It was amazing. Yep- this is Clergy School, people. Be impressed! Be very impressed. J

Cantorial students- Nancy, Rayna and Sofia

Shabbat Fun

Each week I look forward to making plans for Shabbat. Where to have Shabbat dinner? Where to go to services Friday night? Saturday morning? Shabbat lunch? And then there’s always Havdallah. Shabbat meals have all been potlucks and squishing around dinner tables and sitting on living room floors. It’s just great. Often times guitars are broken out and song session begins.

I continue to Shul-Hop around. In addition to HUC and Kol Hashama services, I also really enjoy Shira Chadasha. Shira Chadash is a modern Orthodox Shul and although I can’t say that I would raise a family at this shul, I really enjoy going on Friday nights. “Shira Chadasha” means “new song” and their name is definitely reflected in their services. They call themselves a feminist orthodox shul. The big differences between this shul and any other Orthodox shul is that the mechitza (the divider that separates where women and men sit) is down the middle of the room so that both genders can see the ark where the Torah is kept, rather than others in which the divider puts women in the back of the men with a curtain in front of them. This type of worship experience always makes me very uncomfortable. Also, at Shira Chadasha, a woman leads the Kabbalat Shabbat singing, which is different from only letting a man leading the congregation in song or prayer. I had a sweet moment at Shira Chadasha last time I went. When it came time for L’cha Dodi, when we welcome the Sabbath bride, the women’s side got up and starting dancing and clapping hands. They were so joyous and excited that I was assuming they were celebrating some kind of simcha, some happy occasion, like a birth or a wedding. It turns out there were celebrating- the fact that it was Shabbat! What a concept! I loved the community we created on our side and it reminded me of that special feeling that we can sometimes have by separating ourselves and being just with our own gender.

On the other hand, I tried out a Progressive synagogue called Har-El this past week. The Rabbi is a woman and the Cantor is a man who plays guitar. I had never been there before, but it felt very familiar and homey. I’m looking forward to going there again very soon.

This is one of the wonderful parts about being in Jerusalem this year. Although I am going to a school affiliated with the Reform Movement, we are all encouraged to use this year to explore and take advantage of being in a city with a wide range of denominations, synagogues and practices.

Havdallah continues to be a favorite part of the week. We have started meeting in a park behind the King David Hotel. It’s amazing that every week someone else who just happens to be at the park comes and joins our circle. I’m so glad that our group gives off the welcoming vibe that invites people to sit down with us. My favorite was a few weeks ago when an entire Arab family came and sat down with us. We were going around sharing thoughts from the week and the mother of the family asked if she could say a few words. She said that they come to this park often and that they heard this beautiful music and it really moved them. We closed the ceremony with Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, a hopeful song about peace between the Israeli and Arab people. It was a very touching experience.

I have more that I want to write, but I have completely run out of time. I really wanted to share my experience about going to the Western Wall for Rosh Chodesh to celebrate the new month with a group called Women of the Wall. I will have to write more about that next time. Meanwhile, I’m preparing for the High Holidays, getting to know my new roommate and meeting up with my boyfriend in Rome!

Life is good and I hope that you are healthy and happy as well.

I look forward to hearing from all of you soon.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Food and other random things

So it turns out that the tenants that lived in this apartment before me left a “shuk cart.” A cart on wheels made to bring grocery shopping at stores or more specifically the shuk. That means I can finally be one of those people at the shuk who are running the wheels into people’s heels! Yeah! I am looking forward to heading back to the shuk soon. However, it’s also very convenient that there is a grocery store very close to my apartment (about an 8 minute walk?). Although I have a decent vocabulary, I am still relying a lot on food containers having pictures on them. I have only made a few mistakes so far, in terms of opening food to find out it is different than what I wanted to buy….ooops.

I am proud to announce that I am currently drinking my milk from a bag.

Recently, I have had the chance to meet with my voice coach once, go to the art fair on Emek Refayim, explore the Old City shops and march from Gan Ha’atmaout for an hour and 45 minutes to the Knesset in the Jerusalem Pride Parade with hundreds of other people.

A few more random things that I would like to tell you:

1. The other day when I was walking home from Ben Yehuda area I saw an Orthodox woman driving a motorcycle in a long skirt, long sleeve shirt and head covering. You go girl!

2. Washing Machine update- Thanks to Eli downloading my washing machine’s manual in English and sending it to me, I was finally able to wash my clothes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that these Israeli machines are really rough on clothes and unless I want all of my clothes ruined in a month, I will need to find a solution. Keara- you totally warned me about this, but did I listen? Well, yes I did, but I didn’t know what else to do.

3. The other day when I was walking home from the grocery store I saw a soldier standing at the entrance of a side street and it made me nervous because I didn’t understand what he was guarding. About 30 seconds later a police car came driving through with it’s siren on and then proceeded to yell into a loudspeaker something in Hebrew which I did not understand. All traffic stopped and I turned to a very old lady on the sidewalk and asked what was happening. She answered me in very fast Hebrew and all I could understand was, “Something, something, something, Netanyahu, something, something, something.” That’s when I saw the caravan of cars coming through and realized traffic was stopping for the Prime Minister to drive through. Oh, living in a capitol of a country! How interesting! (My D.C. friends probably don’t see what the big deal is.)

4. It has come to my attention that fireworks are extremely popular here. I hear fireworks literally 5 times a week. Does anyone else find it strange that in a country like Israel, people would want to make loud explosive noises in the air for fun? Actually, they really are beautiful. Someone told me that it’s very common to have fireworks at your wedding here.

Today is Friday and so that means…. I got to sleep in!! Yeah! I’m looking forward to more Shul Hopping this Shabbat. Last week, as I said, I was in Tel Aviv at the Beit T”fillah and then Saturday morning I walked to Kol Hanshama to see my fellow cantorial student chant Torah. (By the way- for those of you who know him- I ran into Danny Siegel on my walk to the synagogue). Tonight I am looking forward to going to Shira Chadasha.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

How are your summer adventures going?


First two weeks of school

For the last two Saturday nights, fellow classmate Daniel Utley, has organized a get together for Havdallah in the park near our school. Our group has so many talented song leaders and everyone brings their guitars to assist in leading the music. Nancy, fellow cantorial student, has been jamming along on her flute. We decided as a group that we would meet weekly like this, to offer closure to Shabbat, to have time to share thoughts or feelings with each other and to share new melodies with the group. There were about 35 students that met up last time. I feel so fortunate to be a part of such a supportive group of people. Really, it’s a magnificent group in which everyone brings something different. We are all very eager to learn from each other.

After Havdallah two weeks ago I went with a group to a waffle place near Ben Yehuda called Babbets. Yes, it was like 9:30 p.m. and we were ordering waffles, along with MANY other Israelis. There are toppings galore to choose from. Later, some people were still hungry and so we went to a felafel place to top it off. On the way back home my friend Steven described the events of the night beautifully….some of you may recognize his reference- “Some Jews live on rice, and some live on potatoes, or WAFFLES, FELAFELS, or hamburger buns.” HA.

Steven, Dana and Ricky


Okay. It is important to acknowledge the fact that I am actually taking classes, since this is SCHOOL. Right? We started intensive Hebrew classes (ULPAN) two weeks ago now. I also take a weekly musicianship class- which I adore. Not only because I have A LOT of work to do in that area, but also because the class is really FUN. We are working on a lot of sight singing with solfege (Do, re, mi…) and tapping out rhythms. We are also working a lot on interval recognition…etc.

My school schedule:

Sunday and Tuesdays:

Hebrew from 8:30-10:00 am, 10:30-12:00, 12:15-1:00

Tuesdays are also my musicianship class from 2:30-4:00 pm.

Mondays and Wednesdays:

T’fillah (prayer service) 8:30-9:30am

Hebrew from 9:30-11:00, 11:30-1:00, 1:15-2:00 pm.

Thursdays are Israel seminar classes, trips or other lectures.

My Hebrew teacher’s name is Hannah and she is super sweet and pretty funny too. My favorite is when she yells, “Zeh Nachone!” (That’s correct!).

The other day we had to describe for the class (in Hebrew of course) how to cook something and the other day we had to put on skits describing two of the different future tense conjugations. But hey- it’s not ALL fun and games. We also had our first test on Wednesday. Yikes! I feel pretty good about it.

My group’s presentation

Walking the Psalms in Jerusalem

Rabbi David Wilfond is an HUC faculty who has led many of our tours. He took us on a tour around the Old City using the Psalms as a tour guide. It was amazing. He used songs, poetry and stories to really help us connect the words with the place.

Every word that comes out of his mouth is incredibly fascinating. I’m glad I had the chance to learn from him because next week he leaves for a year sabbatical and to get married! Mazal Tov!

Romina and Rayna with a view of the Mt. of Olives

Tisha B’Av

137:1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

For Erev Tisha B’Av, HUC gathered in the garden at school to have a student led ceremony. It was a big group effort. The interns planned and led parts of the service, but many first year students helped lead by reading in Hebrew, reading in English, singing, chanting from Lamentations (as I did) and my fellow cantorial student, Sari, played violin. It was a meaningful service and the view of the Old City from where we were sitting only added to the experience.

Being in Israel and having the opportunity to go The Kotel for Tisha B’Av is always a powerful experience. As I said before, Tisha B’Av is a day in the Hebrew calendar that we remember the tragedies that occurred in history on this day for the Jewish people including the destruction of the Temples. I actually have observed Tisha B’Av in Israel before, so I remembered the great crowds of people who were going to be at The Kotel praying, learning, visiting and observing. So many people were there with youth groups, schools and families. Some even brought pillows and blankets with intentions to spend the entire night reciting psalms and praying. Although it was crowded with hundreds of people, I was able to work my way up to touch The Wall and have a moment with myself.

137:5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

A view from the back of the woman’s side of The Kotel. You can see the divider, the mechitza down the middle.

Rabbis for Human Rights

To completely understand Israel’s history and politics, it’s important to understand many perspectives, and to hear many people’s stories. Last Thursday, I went on a bus tour through East Jerusalem (primarily Palestinian neighborhoods) with Rabbis for Human Rights. The Rabbi told us a story about her teenage son during the second intifada and how worried she was about him staying home where she would know he was safe. At the same time, he was acting like a normal teenager, wanting space and freedom from her. One night he stayed out late to hang out with some friends at a coffee shop, until his Mom tracked him down and insisted he come home immediately. He came home, of course pissed off at his mom for forcing him to leave his friends. On the news that night they saw that 5 minutes after he had returned home there had been a suicide bomber in the coffee shop he had just been in. (Freaky). Of course, this is one of the reasons that the separating wall was created, to keep innocent people safe. On the other hand, we also met with a Palestinian family and listened to their story about being kicked out of their home and the struggle that the separating wall has caused many of their families. We learned about Palestinian families being divided by this wall and the lack of new schools and new buildings in East Jerusalem, and how difficult it is for Palestinians to get permits to build even though they are paying taxes. This tour brought up a lot of emotions for me and a lot of questions that I’m still sorting through. I need to learn so much more. No matter what people’s politics or opinions are about the situation in Israel- I think we all should agree on one thing; We are all human beings and should treat each other like human beings.

Od yavo shalom aleinu v’al kulam, Salaam, aleinu v’al kol ha’olam.


Peace will come to all of us and on everyone.

Shalom=Peace in Hebrew

Salaam=Peace in Arabic

Tel Aviv beach

A big group of students went to Tel Aviv this past weekend for beach time and to attend a well-known Shabbat service on the port called Beit T’fillah. It was an easy $5 bus trip to Tel Aviv and about an hour drive. I had remembered Tel Aviv being humid, but this was just out of control. It felt great to cool off in the Mediterranean, even though I got attacked by a wave and unexpectedly taken under. How rude!

The service was extremely musical. I heard that sometimes it tends to feel even more like a concert than a prayer service. Now I see why. There were about 8 musicians, including drum set, playing together. We were sitting looking out over their heads at the sunset, as we rocked out with a variety of Israeli folk melodies, prayers and other songs. One of my favorites was when they put Hebrew words to “What a wonderful world,” -Louis Armstrong.