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.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

New book in the Torah, new chapter in my life

I guess it’s pretty appropriate that this Shabbat we began reading a new book in the Torah, since this really is a new chapter of my life. Tomorrow classes in Hebrew and musicianship begin. But first….I need to back up, because it’s been a really interesting week. Although extremely overwhelming at times, I’m feeling good about things.

Orientation was a lot of information to absorb. Each day had a different theme to focus on. “Why did you bring us here?” was the focus one day, reminding us all of the Israelites in the desert after fleeing Egypt and their complaints to Moses. True. Many of us are feeling this exact way. Why did you make us pack up our lives in The States where we had friends, family, comfortable homes and familiar language? This opportunity and challenge we have been given this year is invaluable. It won’t be easy. We have all been taken out of our comfort zones, away from our support systems, and been thrown into a whole new world with different mentalities and lifestyles. This is part of why this year will be so powerful. We have latched on to each other for the support we will need and through this year we will be forming a new family with our future colleagues. (Talk about a bonding experience.)

On one hand, we move from The States in which being Jewish is the minority, to Israel, where you don’t need to explain to anyone why you can’t work on Rosh Hashana or why you’re building a hut in your backyard on Sukkot. The country's flag has our Magen David on it and on Friday afternoon you can say Shabbat Shalom to literally anyone you see and it's the common friendly greeting. I love that. What a comforting and welcoming feeling to hear Hebrew all around and see it written on signs and bumper stickers. But at the same time, facing the realities that specifically Progressive Judaism faces in Israel today will be a real challenge and already has been. Making sure that Progressive Judaism’s voice is heard throughout Israel will be one of many focuses this year.

Israel will be our classroom this year as we take little trips (tiyulim) around Israel with our professors. As part of orientation we have gone on a few tiyulim around Jerusalem. As we travel, our professors give us interesting history and midrash (stories) about the places we are seeing. We traveled up to the Mount of Olives to see a great view from an Italian Catholic Church and learn about the Temple Mount. (That’s why I am wearing the shawl, we had to keep our shoulders covered out of respect at the church).

Here is a picture of the view from Mount of Olives

The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives is a very desired place to be buried. I think we were told it’s about $10,000 to be buried among them. Founder of the Modern Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, is buried there. You can see some of the graves in the picture.

I got a chance to go Thursday evening to the shuk, Mahaneh Yehudah, an outside market. Prices are so cheap, and produce (and everything) is so fresh. Here’s the scene- people crowding their way in, pushing their money in to pay first, prices being yelled out, strollers being jammed into your feet, Israelis bringing in more food and yelling at you to get our of their way….it’s great. I can’t wait to go again.

Here is a picture of my friend Steven at the shuk

Shabbat began yesterday and all 65 of us stood in a circle and as we sang, we passed the Torah around our entire group and everyone got a moment to hold the Torah.

The prayer services have been some of my most favorite moments so far. With such a musical faculty, you can just imagine the wonderful noise we have been making during services. This morning for Shabbat services different groups from NFTY , Bonim, HUC alumni and synagogue groups from The States all joined us. The Director of the Cantorial program, Tamar, read from Haftorah with the special melody (trope) that reminds us that we are in the month of Av. This means we are preparing for Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month called Av. Tisha B’Av is a day in the Hebrew calendar in which we commemorate the destruction of the Temple and many other sad events through history which happened to fall on this day as well. The country of Israel will begin a time of mourning starting Monday night.

I volunteered with 7 other students to chant from Lamentations on Tisha B’av Monday night. I have chanted from Torah and Haftorah before, but never from Lamentations and so this is a brand new challenge and brand new melodies. One of the many interesting things about trope are how they tell a story or create a certain feeling with their melody. Of course this particular trope, eicha, has a sad feel to it, almost eerie in my opinion. I began practicing when I arrived here. It was very helpful that my very furnished apartment had 2 Tanach’s on the bookshelves for me to practice with!

Picture of us practicing eicha trope for Tisha B’Av

A few random things that I would like to add:

1. Israelis do NOT jaywalk. Even if no cars are coming for miles, they will stand on the sidewalk and wait for the little walking man light to appear. Isn’t that so UN-Israeli sounding to you?? I’m still very confused by it.

2. There is a little switch in my apartment that I need to press 15 minutes before I want hot water to take a shower with. When it’s hot outside, the sun warms the water.

3. Currently, I am almost entirely one HUGE bug bite. Fortunately, I just bought some plug ins for my apartment that should scare them away (or do whatever it is that those things do).

4. Somehow I managed to get into grad school and yet I still cannot figure out how to work the washing machine in my apartment. This is going to become a more serious problem very soon.

5. I’m looking into buying a used guitar to satisfy my withdrawals. I found an AWESOME deal on craigslist and I hope it works out.

I'm meeting a group of students in the park for Havdallah tonight. Should be fun!

Shabbat Shalom everyone.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Speaking out for Progressive Judaism in Israel.

Friends. I’m sure you have already heard about Anat Hoffman’s recent arrest at the Kotel (the Western Wall). For those who have not, Anat is part of a wonderful organization called Women of the Wall who organize monthly gatherings at the Kotel to celebrate Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon). For more than 2 decades now Women of the Wall has been dedicated to making Progressive Judaism’s voice heard in Israel. This past Tuesday, Anat was arrested merely for being a woman who was carrying a Torah at the Kotel.

Read more:

I look forward to joining Women of the Wall for Rosh Chodesh next month.

Women of the Wall’s mission:

Women of the Wall, a group of Israeli women joined by Jewish women from around the world, seeks the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall– Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people hood and sovereignty.

Our purpose is both social advocacy – to change the current status quo which prevents women from being able to pray freely at the Western Wall, to educate Jewish women and the public in general about the social, political and human rights issues involved in women’s right to pray as a prayer group; and to empower Jewish women to take control of their religious and prayer lives. WOW stands with other activists in the forefront of the movement for religious pluralism in Israel.

You don’t need to be in Israel to have your voice heard. The Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. is just one place that makes it easy for us to make a difference. Click below!

Information on the Conversion Bill

Take action now:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How do I fit into all of this?

Picture on my walk to HUC

July 13, 2010

Orientation week is off to a great start. Every once in a while I stop and think about where I am. I look around me at the people who will one day be scattered across the world leading congregations of their own. These people will be colleagues of mine forever whom I will be calling on for advice, encouragement and wisdom. It’s all still a bit surreal.

I think there are about 65 students in our Year In Israel Program. There are 10 Cantorial students, 10 Education students, and 45 Rabbinic students. Our group, on one hand, has a lot in common with each other. At the same time, we are also very diverse. Most of the students are from the U.S., but some are also from Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Berlin and London. I would say that most of the students are in their 20s, but some are in their 30s, 40s, 50s, coming to HUC as a second or third career choice. Half of the students never thought they would become a clergy person and half of us, including me, feel like we have been on a smooth, natural path towards HUC our whole lives. Many of the students brought their girlfriends/boyfriends, wives/husbands with them to Israel for the year. Many, sadly, had to leave them at home. We took a lot of time today during our orientation to hear each other’s stories and how we arrived at this journey.

Our first day of orientation (yesterday) started with mixers led by our summer interns. Afterwards, Rabbi Josh Zweiback (Yoshi) led us in a Talmud study. It turns out that there is never a dull moment with Yoshi as he imitates Israeli accents or incorporates the phrase “Original Gangster” into a Talmudic discussion.

This year is going to be a year of growth. Yoshi reminded us this as he gave us all our own journals to use throughout the school year. We are encouraged to bring these journals with us everywhere to reflect on what we are learning. Yoshi quoted a teacher of his, “We don’t learn from doing. We learn from doing and reflecting on what we have done.” I really want to appreciate this gift I have been given. To live a whole year in Israel and be a full time student. For a year, my full time job is to learn about the beauty of Israel, about the challenges of Israel, to immerse myself in Hebrew and words of Torah, to learn about the Jewish people, the world, human beings, about prayer and how I fit into all of this.

My Pad

July 12, 2010

Picture from outside my pad

After a long struggle in the U.S. to find a place to live here, I was relieved to finally find a 2 and a half bedroom apartment about a 7 minute walk from HUC! My roommate, Eliana, is from L.A. and will be moving here at the end of August to go to Conservative Yeshiva which is also close by. I’m looking forward to meeting her soon. Until then, I’m living by myself. It’s a great place and completely furnished. When I say furnished, I mean more than just furniture. There are towels, fans, blankets, dishes, of course mezuzot and menorot..etc. The tenants before me were HUC students and they left behind things like shampoo, conditioner and school supplies. All of these things have made my move here much easier. Now don’t get me wrong- this place has its issues (like the layer of sand that is still covering most things in the kitchen or how the TV will not turn on), but all in all I feel very fortunate. I have huge windows in my room that let in a highly desired breeze in the evening.

Picture of my windows with a great view

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pictures of HUC campus in Jerusalem

I arrived in Jerusalem just before Shabbat was beginning on Friday. What a special day to arrive to Jerusalem. I could hear people around me talking about their Shabbat plans and rushing around to get everything done before sun down. It also was a bit stressful of a time to arrive because everything closes for this day of rest until Saturday night. Fortunately, a friend of mine from songleading at Camp Newman, Aaron Gertz, met me at my new apt to help me get settled. He made aliyah (became an Israeli citizen) a year and a half ago and is on vacation from the military for a month. It was so comforting to see him. He served as a great translator between my landlord and me. Thank goodness because I barely know how to talk about leases, contracts and electricity companies in English! Aaron invited me to a Shabbat dinner with him and we played music into the night.

After a LONG night of sleep, Aaron and I went in search of food. This was not an easy task because I was really jetlagged and my stomach was telling me so AND it was Shabbat so barely any places were open. So what is open to eat in Jerusalem on Shabbat?? You guessed it……the YMCA!

Saturday evening I went to HUC for the first time to attend an alumni event which first year students were also invited to. It was a really sweet evening. It felt appropriate that my first time at HUC was surrounded by alumni, people who made the same journey that I am beginning this year. Director of the Year in Israel Program, Josh Zweiback and visiting Rabbi and musician, Ken Chasen, led Havdallah with the Director of the Cantorial program, Tamar. In a beautiful courtyard, I sat next to some of my fellow cantorial students and we instantly harmonized and welcomed in the new week together. A bunch of us went out to eat on Emek Rafayim. Again, not surprisingly, we got to know each other that night through playing music until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

Today it was time to get down to business. Remember the workweek here is Sunday-Thursday. Today I took a tour of the beautiful HUC campus. I have been getting a lot of registration tasks done, taking a break of course to buy some felafel with potatoes on top. YUM. Still today I need to take a history placement exam and another Hebrew placement exam. I also really need to go grocery shopping so I have food to eat!

I can’t wait to tell you more about my apartment! I’ll save that for the next post.