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,


1 comment:

  1. yay it sounds like you are having a fabulous time! And very excited about your cactus-- i've wanted to get one for a long time!