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.