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.