Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another reflection

written December 12, 2010

Describe your feelings of connection to the State of Israel (Medinat Yisrael).

When I was very young, I learned that my parents had taken their honeymoon to Israel. In my young mind, because my parents had gone on their honeymoon to Israel, I just assumed that this was something all Jews did. Thanks to my family life, synagogue community and Shalom Sesame, I was learning to love Hebrew and Israeli culture without even being aware of it.

Over time, I have come to the realization that I think of Israel like a member of my family, for the following reasons:

1. When I was younger my relationship with Israel was very simple and innocent. Just as I looked to my parents as being perfect and incapable of making mistakes, I thought the same about Israel. As I got older, I realized that although I loved my parents, I didn’t always agree with their decisions and I began to develop my own opinions. The moment I realized I didn’t necessarily agree with everything Israel as a state chose to put into action was very challenging.

2. They say that you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick you family. I didn’t choose Israel, but Israel has always been my people’s home.

3. Even if a family member does something that you disagree with, in the end they are still your family and your support is with them. Just with Israel, even if I don’t agree with every decision Israel as a state makes, I still stand with Israel.

4. No one is allowed to talk smack about my little brother, except me! We may be hard on Israel for decisions that the government makes, but if anyone else talks badly about our home, we are the first to defend her.

5. The closer you are to someone the more their actions upset you because you want what is best for them. You see their potential, you know their real essence and you want everyone else to see that too. Just with Israel, if we didn’t care so much about Israel, we wouldn’t be so hard on her. Since we know what Israel can be, we don’t want to settle for anything less.

Just like with a family member, we get upset with Israel, we worry about Israel, we are proud of Israel, there are times when we agree and disagree with Israel. I won’t pretend I agree with Israel all of the time, but no matter what, I will have her back, cause she’s my home.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Texted 10 Commandments

My friend Julie shared this with me. Too funny.

M, pls rte on tabs & giv 2 ppl

1. no1 b4 me. srsly.
2. dnt wrshp pix/idols
3. no OMG's
4. no wrk on w/ends
5. pos ok -- ur m&d r cool
6. dnt kill ppl
7. :-# only w/ m8
8. dnt steal
9. dnt lie re: bf
10. Dnt ogle ur bf's m8 or ox, or donkey. myob.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Women of the Wall

This year we had the opportunity to meet monthly in small focus groups to reflect on topics that we found relevant. I wanted to share at least one or two with you. Here is one for now, maybe another later.

Written in March 2011

I have been enjoying my time living and studying in Israel for the year. Being here for an entire year has given me the opportunity to be involved in many active organizations on a regular basis. Women of the Wall (WOTW) is one organization that I have found particularly meaningful.

Women of the Wall’s mission is to gain legal recognition of the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall. As many of you already know, people are expected to dress and act modestly at The Wall. According to Orthodox tradition, acting modestly, for women, means praying quietly, not out loud. As American Reform Jews it’s difficult for us even to imagine that an organization like this needs to exist.

WOTW meet once a month at The Wall to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the new month. To respect the rules, women wear their tallit as a scarf so that the tzitzit do not hang down in front. Still many women are too nervous to wear them at all and others choose to avoid harassment by asking male friends to bring their tallit through the security area for them.

Although it’s a small group, there are always men who come to support WOTW. These loyal men stand on the men’s side of the mechitzah and pray along with our service to show their support. Some months more than others, they serve as a buffer between Ultra Orthodox and the women who are trying to pray.

WOTW has endured a long history of violence, harassment, verbal and physical abuse for their commitment to pray at The Wall. This summer when I first arrived to Israel, Anat Hoffman, the group’s fearless leader, was arrested for attempting to bring a Torah into the Women’s area at The Wall.

My first experience with WOTW this summer was very emotional. As our service drew close to the Sh’ma, a man stood on a chair looking over the mechitzah and began yelling at us in Hebrew. Although I couldn’t understand at the moment exactly what he was saying, I learned later that he was shouting things like, “You are the reason that the Holocaust happened.” In any case, I could tell he was very angry. Even a few women were spitting in our direction. I fought off the tears that were welling up inside. I’m not sure if it was because I felt personally attacked or because I was offended for all women who wanted to have a meaningful communal experience at The Wall. Just as we began saying the words of Sh’ma, our voices rose with the importance and the guard interrupted our sincere prayer to “Shh” us while the man on the chair continued his screaming unbothered.

Some people are so disgusted by the situation at The Wall that they refuse to go at all. They refuse to find anything meaningful from this sacred space, which is very unfortunate. There is so much beauty and potential at The Wall that people can find if they are open to it. One day when I was having a personal moment at The Wall, I heard a mother and a daughter approach the wall together. The mother said in quiet Hebrew, “Now, just ask G-d something from your heart.” And as the mother and daughter stood together touching The Wall the mother sang a little comforting melody that sent chills through my body. What a precious moment.

So, what can we do with these parts of Israel that frustrate us so much? We can either let them make us so infuriated that we lose out on something that could be very spiritually rewarding, or we can help Israel grow by supporting causes that we know are important. Of course there are parts of Israel that need tikun, fixing, just like every country. We can’t expect Israel to be perfect, but we can expect ourselves to always strive for something better. We have high expectations for Israel, because we know Israel’s potential, and because this Holy Land means so much to us. What do we need to do so that we can continue to call Israel Holy? If we only ignore or criticize these areas that bother us, can we still call it our Holy Land?

The Wall should be a place where ALL Jews can feel comfortable praying. Women of the Wall is just one organization that you can get involved in to support Progressive Judaism in Israel.

Rayna Dushman

For more information about Women of the Wall:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Belarus Pesach Project

Why was this seder different from all other seders? This year I sang Dayeinu and ate matzah with communities in the country of Belarus, along with my travel partner, Miriam, an HUC rabbinical student. In a partnership between Hebrew Union College and the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Pesach Project brings HUC students all over the FSU each year to lead Passover seders. The goal? To help make their Passover experience even more meaningful and joyous, and for us to learn about their culture, the culture from which so many of our families come. Additionally, we strive to unite Progressive Jewish Communities around the world.

We flew into Minsk, the city that my grandparents on my father’s side once lived. However, the city today looks nothing like it used to, given that the entire city was destroyed by the end of World War 2. Miriam and I worked with a translator and led 4 Passover seders together. What an experience.

Belarussian Teens
I could have walked into a NFTY NW retreat, except that everyone was speaking Russian. Young, energetic, flirty and intelligent teens with great questions and a good base of knowledge gathered together for a Passover training retreat. Three of us cantorial students had the opportunity to teach a workshop on Passover music. Two days later these teens were sent out around Belarus to assist other communities in leading Passover seders (just like us!). Seeing this active youth was a very encouraging way to begin our trip.

The Yiddishkeight Community of Grodna
From Minsk we took a 5 hour, squished, bus ride to Grodna, to lead 3 seders in a row. It took a few minutes to adjust to leading with a translator and understanding the local customs and needs of the community. The first two seders were with an older group of people. Soon we were hearing stories about the decades gone by when Passover celebrations were not allowed due to war and Soviet control. For the last 20 years or so they have worked to put the pieces back together. The traditions might have almost been lost, but the Yiddishkeight will never be forgotten. They sang one Yiddish folk song after another, with one woman who always jumped up to the piano and another who took the lead with the solos. They even proudly sang Dayeinu in Yiddish for us! It was clear that the language transported them back to another time. A time associated with all types of feelings; oppression, struggles, and joy.

At a later seder, with a group of adults in their 40s, it was a completely different vibe. This was not the generation who grew up speaking Yiddish. This was the generation that didn’t have the chance to grow up celebrating Passover at all. Almost everything I sang seemed unknown to them, and so I focused more on teaching them the songs. Miriam taught about the seder traditions and shared stories. As the end of the seder grew closer, I asked them what songs they knew and wanted to sing. They immediately broke out into Heveinu Shalom Aleichem and Oseh Shalom. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so different from this community.

Minsk Cantorial Concert
It has become a tradition in Minsk to hold the annual Cantorial Concert in accordance with HUC students visiting for Passover. The concert included beautiful Belarussian dances, choir pieces, instrumental performances, opera singers, a few cantorial style liturgical pieces and the three of us Cantorial students. We each got to sing 2 pieces of music. I have not been so nervous in a very long time. However, once I started to sing, the butterflies flew away and it felt great to sing in the beautiful music hall of Minsk.

Famous from Alaska

Funny enough, it hadn’t occurred to me that the fact that I am from Alaska was going to play any part of my trip to Belarus. What was I thinking? At the beginning of each seder the communities asked where we grew up in the United States. Alaska always got “oohs” and questions. In fact, I should not be surprised at all that I received the same exact 2 questions in Belarus about Alaska as I do in Israel, Oregon, California, east coast…etc.
1. “Is it cold there?”
2. “Do you know Sarah Palin?”

A Translator, Friend and Teacher
The relationship I developed with my translator, Ilona, was one of the most special parts of my trip. Ilona grew up in Minsk, she is in her early 20s and has a degree in linguistics. Miriam and I had the most interesting conversations with her. “What is it like to grow up in a family in which you know that your parents and grandparents were persecuted for being Jewish, and yet you’re not even quite sure what it means to be Jewish because the traditions were interrupted, and the feelings associated with being Jewish were always negative or just non-existent?”
Our translator, Ilona, didn’t just translate words for us, she taught us about life in Belarus, and life as a Belarrusian Jew. On one hand our conversations seemed so familiar, drifting from Birthright Trips, to boyfriends, and to grad school aspirations. On the other hand, as Miriam and I reminisced about our childhood memories in Sunday School and family seders, comparatively Ilona’s Jewish memories began much later in life. She shared with us the story of finding out she was Jewish at the age of 12 and how she decided at the age of 21 to become a Bat Mitzvah.

The Musical Lida Community
It was a 3 hour bus ride to Lida, and we were greeted by a community member, Igor. Igor showed us around town, from castles and motor boat rides on the lake to the more heart wrenching WW2 memorial sites. There was one site, right out of town, in which an entire ghetto of Jews were wiped out in one day. We listened to the horrific story of the adults being separated from the children and brought out into the middle of the forest to be shot. We stood at both the children’s memorial and the adult’s memorial that day. It was brought to our attention that the memorial stone said, “6700 citizens of Belarus were shot here.” Under Soviet rule they were not allowed to write, “Jews were shot here.” Only recently they could add a stone with Hebrew on it and wording that specifies that they were Jews. Quickly I was understanding even more that the oppression and Jewish suffering that we speak about in the Passover seder every year is still part of their personal narratives, it’s not that far in the past for these communities.

The seder in Lida was heartwarming. The children’s choir prepared many songs to perform at the seder. In fact, they had just returned back to Lida from a choir competition in Minsk the week before. Complete with hand movements and smiles, these children (ages 8-16) sang proudly. With enthusiasm the children participated in the seder, watching me intently to see where I would hide the afikomen. Lena, a particularly enthusiastic teen, was glowing after sharing her knowledge of the 4 questions, which she sang beautifully in Hebrew with a Russian accent. After school she studies music at a Music College in town and has aspirations of becoming a Cantor or Rabbi one day.

It’s hard to believe that there is only one Progressive Rabbi for the entire country of Belarus. It was inspiring to see communities made up of lay leaders, flourishing so beautifully. The communities are determined to pass on the Jewish traditions and give their children all of the opportunities they never had. The Sunday School age children are learning Hebrew. The teens are involved in the International Reform Youth Group, Netzer. Young Adults are signing up for Birthright programs to Israel. Teens are having dreams of becoming Jewish clergy. The rebirth of Jewish tradition in Belarus is not an easy task, but it is in good hands.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Purim and Spring fun

Purim in Israel

So, I think it's only fair to update you on the last Jewish holiday before beginning the next….right?

I have never been to Mardigras before, but I’m fairly confident that Purim in Israel resembles this southern celebration. Or maybe it’s more like Halloween…or both put together. There are costumes, parties, music, parades, and most importantly, NOISE!

Plus- I can’t forget to mention the hamantashen! Most Americans grow up using the Yiddish word hamantashen to describe these 3 cornered cookies filled with goodies. We are told growing up that Haman wore a 3 cornered hat. In Israel, however, they call the cookies, Oznei Haman, named after Haman’s ears!! Well, I don’t really care what you call them, because they are tasty! Of course I will always hold on to my old faves like: poppyseed, jam, chocolate, apricot, fig. In addition, Israel has provided new faves for me this year: marzipan, nuts, caramel and white chocolate!

Although celebrating Purim is usually just a one day celebration, many of us students spent more than a month preparing and an entire weekend celebrating. In January, I began learning the Biblical Cantillation for the Book of Esther. As many of you know, every Purim we read the whole Megillah (the whole Book of Esther from a scroll).

A few students and I formed a Purim committee to organize a Purim Party and prayer service for HUC. Dana, a Rabbinic student with a very strong musical theatre background, wrote a Purim Shpiel for us to perform. It is a tradition on Purim for people to put on parodies and spoofs of the story of Esther. Dana wrote “Avenue Shu(Shan)” based on the broadway hit “Avenue Q.” Combined with the Sesame Street themed T’fillah (prayer service) that we wrote together, the entire night was muppet themed. So fun!

Interesting detail about Purim - cities that are or were “walled” cities celebrate Purim a day later than other cities. SO, this meant that a lot of us left Jerusalem the night before Purim to celebrate Purim outside of Jerusalem. We took a bus to a nearby city, Modi’in, and chanted the Megillah at a Progressive Synagogue there called Yozma. Yozma had a carnival and afterwards we chanted the whole Megillah. There was an ensemble of people playing the djembe drums to accompany our chanting. It was a really unique addition that I had never experienced before.

One of the coolest parts of the evening was that right before the performance, a man who was helping to organize the event, noticed Eli in the crowd with his magnificent home-made King costume on. He asked Eli to come down to the stage and parade around as we chanted the beginning of the story that introduces the King. Eli was SUCH a star and came down to the stage and dramatically walked along in King style. The children in the crowd were enamored with him and ran up to him to see him closer. Two little kids started walking behind him holding his “royal cape.” It was SO adorable. Then a bunch of kids started pulling on his clothes, but he was such a good sport and had a blast with it. He stole the show!

That night we headed back to Jerusalem and two friends, Matthew and Leah Letts were in town from Portland! It was so fun to see them and catch up. It was also a great night for people watching! The funniest part was that there were a lot of tourists out and about and SO many of them asked to take pictures with Eli!! It was his night of stardom!

On Sunday, we had no school because it was Purim! So, a huge group of us went to a purim parade outside of Jerusalem in Holon.

That evening the celebration was at HUC. T’fillah and the Shpiel. I dressed up as “Oogifletzet” (Cookie Monster!) Thanks to my friend, Mandy, who supplied me with a poofy, blue bathrobe! In addition, I purchased googly eyes for my head and stuffed the pockets full of cookies. I led the Purim T’fillah service with April, who was dressed up as The Count. Highlights of the service included singing Adon Olam to the tune of Rubber Ducky, Mi Chamocha to the tune of the Sesame Street theme song, and Sh’ma to the tune of “Why are there are so many songs about Rainbows?” Adding humor to the service, since everything on Purim is very joyous, goofy and topsy turvy, April, as The Count, interjected during the Amidah- “Three, Three Patriarchs! Ha ha ha…” “Four, Four Matriarchs! Ha ha ha….” Followed by counting the benedictions as we prayed. [This probably takes knowledge of the Amidah prayer to understand its funniness, but believe me, it was funny.]
The Shpiel, as I mentioned before, was modeled after "Avenue Q," but also muppet themed in general. Of course Haman was Oscar the Grouch and I was King Oogifletzet. Mordechai was The Count, there was a Sunday School teacher and Esther was our friend Jay cross-dressed. The two spies were Bert and Ernie. Best paraody was, “The Internet is for Purim.” With lyrics such as, “Grab your drink and double clink, for Purim Purim Purim.” Of course, since I was the king, everyone bribed me with cookies the whole shpiel. It was FANTASTIC until afterward the shpiel when I realized I had eaten A LOT of cookies. Nom nom nom....

That night we had one of the most memorable Megillah readings ever! We read in a bar on Shushan Street in Jerusalem (Only in Israel, right?!). All kinds of people were there dressed up, many with graggers (noise makers to shake when we read Haman’s name) and some even brought their own scrolls to follow along with. It was so incredibly unique to be in a public place like a bar, chanting from the Book of Esther! What a fun night.

But- do not worry- the weekend was NOT over yet. We also had Monday off from school and so Mandy, Eli and I took a sheirut to spend the day in Tel Aviv. What a weekend!

In the news...
After such a joyous weekend, it was even more difficult to hear about the bombing that happened in Jerusalem near the central bus station. Ironically, I was sitting in class that day making a list of memorable things that had happened this year in Israel, literally think to myself, we are so lucky that it has been such a safe year in Israel. 15 minutes later, I noticed the dean of our school talking to teachers outside our classroom, then the president of the campus joined, and then teachers started to leave our lecture hall to talk with them outside. I could tell something was up. Then students started getting phone calls and leaving and finally one of the teachers told us that there was a bomb that exploded near the bus station, hitting a bus with many passengers. A guest speaker was speaking to us at the time and once the teacher had updated us on the situation, the speaker just continued to speak. We were all very interested in what the speaker had to say, but at the same time the room was very distracted. Finally, the school sent us home a little early. The city continued that evening completely normal, although a little shaken up. I spent the evening at home with Eli that night. It was a strange night. Everyone was dealing with the situation in their own way. Later we found out that a woman had died and many were injured. It had been a while since something like this had happened in Jerusalem. Things had been so quiet. We were all wondering if this was an isolated event, or the beginning of something more serious. It was difficult to get back in the groove of school the next morning, but we did. Israelis keep going after these type of events. We kept going, although much more alert and aware of our surroundings. Some chose to stop taking the buses for a while. Others insisted on living their lives completely normal, with the feeling that if we stop our everyday lives we are giving in to the terror. We prayed and continue to pray for the families and people injured and killed in this incident. We keep living our lives, appreciating the gift of life we have been given even more.

B’nei Mitzvah with Chicago
Then, there are always joyous events that remind us of how fortunate we are. A group of 6 B’nei Mitzvah teens traveled with their families and synagogue members from Chicago to Israel for sightseeing and to celebrate becoming a B’nei Mitzvah. [For those of you who are confused, B’nei Mitzvah is just the plural of Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mizvah.] I was happy to have been asked to serve as Cantor for their ceremony along with the Rabbi of their congregation. It was an intimate service in the same hall that HUC had High Holiday services, that overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem. It’s a magnificent view. These teens were so sweet. They had all just bought with their families tallitot (prayer shawls) in Israel and yadayim (pointers to read from Torah) during their travels.
So, every year there is some “lucky” B’nei Mitzvah student who “gets” to read the portion about leprosy from the Torah and give a D’var Torah (words of wisdom from the portion of Torah) to the rest of the congregation. Note my sarcasm. These teens were such good sports and all talked in seriousness about what they can learn from this portion and how it applies to their lives. It was so sweet and gross at the same time.
One moment in particular that was special to me and felt “Cantorial” was when the Rabbi had all of the B’nei Mitzvah students go to their families and have their parents put their hands on their head for the Priestly Benediction. I sang the Benediction line by line with the Rabbi interjecting the English in between, just like Cantor Schiff and Rabbi Cahana do at Beth Israel! It was such a beautiful moment for the teens and their families, and for me too. It was just another step forward crossing over the line from being a songleader to becoming a cantor.

Eli’s Parents’ Visit
Eli’s Mom and Step-Dad came to visit for almost 2 weeks. It was fabulous to spend more time with them and see the country together. Both of them have spent good time in Israel, and Eli’s Mom even lived here when she was younger. We had so many adventures while they were here.

Places/things we did together:
• Went to the Quamran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
• Climbed up and down Masada! Toured the ancient fortress ruins on top.
• Floated in the Dead Sea! So unique everytime!
• Visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
• Went on a tunnel tour under the Western Wall
• Traveled to Ashkelon where Eli’s great-grandparents are buried. Back in pre-State of Israel time, his great-grandparents built a house that we had the chance to visit.
• We drove to northern Israel and toured around the ancient ruins of Caesaria on the Mediterranean.
• We had a picnic outside of the Bahai Gardens in Haifa
• Visited another home that Eli’s great-grandparents built in Haifa
• Visited a Druze village in the north and the shrine to one of their 5 prophets.
• Walked around the ancient port city of Akko and hung out in their shuk

Thank you to everyone who helped me raise funds to travel to Belarus to lead Passover seders! I appreciate all of you so much and I can’t wait to report back on how it goes. I leave in the morning!

Chag Sameach to all,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Eli’s arrival, Pulpit Placement and Anniversary

It’s been a whirlwind of work and excitement since Eli arrived to Jerusalem. Eli is settling in very quickly, so much so that it feels like he has always been here! It’s been so fun showing him around Jerusalem and introducing him to everyone at school. He spends his days, while I’m at school, sightseeing on his own and with other S.O.s (significant others) that are here in Jerusalem with my fellow students. He also has spent a lot of time learning Hebrew and is still searching for Capoeira and K’rav Maga classes that will fit his schedule and style. When I’m not in school we have had the chance to see a lot together, like the Old City, the Shuk, different neighborhoods and shopping areas.

It’s been so fun to see his reaction to everything about living in Israel. One of my favorite reactions had to have been his comment about the fact that Israeli drivers are constantly honking. His comment, “Well, you were right. This really is a vocal automobile culture.” Ha ha. It’s been fun for me to see him practicing the Hebrew phrases he is learning with Israelis and he does so very comfortably and confidently. He’s learning SO fast!

For his first Shabbat in Israel we had many exciting plans. He got to come to Tzur Hadassah where I songlead once a month. This adorable Bat Mitzvah age, Israeli girl sat next to him and showed him where we were in the Israeli, all Hebrew, prayer book. The next morning, he had the honor of saying the blessings before and after I read from Torah at HUC. I felt like that was a really special way to honor our first Shabbat together in Israel. Other adventures? We went to Women of the Wall together for Rosh Chodesh, we have visited with a lot of friends and shared some great food as well. Oh and btw- He is currently addicted to hummus and schwarma.

The Anniversary Trip
Last weekend was Eli and my anniversary, so we took Thursday-Saturday, rented a car and drove down to the south desert of Israel, the Negev. We left a rainy, windy, COLD day in Jerusalem and drove down to Mahktesh Ramon, an area that Israelis call “The Grand Canyon of Israel.” However, it isn’t actually a canyon. It looks like a huge bowl cut out in the ground, and is a unique phenomenon here in Israel. We hiked everyday within this mahktesh. The first night we stayed at a very unique, vineyard near the mahktesh. We stayed at a small cabin there that had a hammock outside and hot tub too. The floor of the cabin was made out of rocks! We drove into a little town nearby and found a farmer’s market to buy food at to make dinner in our little kitchen. It was such a beautiful evening. The cutest part was that they deliver a cooler of breakfast food and leave it at your front door in the morning. SUCH yummy breakfast (pictures on facebook!) After breakfast, we got a free wine tasting with a sweet Israeli girl that works there named Halleli (which is now my new favorite Israeli name meaning “I will praise G-d.”) We bought a bottle as a yummy souvenir of our trip.

On Friday of our trip, we hiked more and made our way to Kibbutz Lotan, the Eco-Kibbutz that I visited with my school a few months ago. Ever since I visited Kibbutz Lotan with my school I knew Eli would LOVE it and I couldn’t wait to bring him there. We had Erev Shabbat Services with the Kibbutz and ran into a Rabbi friend of mine, Rabbi Fred Wenger. We ate dinner with the Kibbutzniks in the dining hall and met people from all over that are volunteering with different projects on this environmentally friendly Kibbutz. We saw a girl making cookies in their solar oven, visited the garden again, said hi to the goats and just tried to soak it all up.

Saturday, we hiked more in the beautiful mahktesh with a small stop at a Bedouin tent to drink their mint tea. On our way home, we took one small wrong turn and 30 minutes later, when we realized we were on the other side of the country (cause that’s how small Israel is) we decided to go with the flow and return to Jerusalem via the coastal view of the Dead Sea- just in time for sunset. It worked out perfectly!

Student Cantor in Port Washington, New York
Less than a week after Eli arrived, my pulpit placement (serving as student Cantor at a synagogue) interviews began on skype. I had 6 skype interviews from Sunday to Wednesday with synagogues in CT, IN, TX, NJ and NY. I felt bad that Eli had just arrived and I had to spend my evenings interviewing, but he was so supportive and wonderful and made me dinner in between skype interviews. I just found out the results this week! Next year, a little more than once a month, I will be taking the train to work in Port Washington, New York at Port Jewish Center synagogue! I’m completely thrilled to be working at this small, intimate, congregation that reminds me a lot of my home congregation in Anchorage, AK.

Now, tonight Purim begins and I’m ready to see Israelis party! Eli is dressing up like a king, and me? I’m going as Cookie Monster- “Oogifletzet” in Hebrew.
Can’t wait to give you the whole report on Purim in Israel!
~Purim Sameach~

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Four Ps start with Placement

TOMORROW, my boyfriend Eli comes to live in Israel for the next 3 months! I cannot believe the day is finally going to arrive! I can’t wait to share all of my experiences here in Israel with him, hear his perspective on everything and explore many more new places with him. I’m so grateful that he is in a natural transition time which makes it possible for him to come here and live until the end of May when classes finish.

Pulpit Placement Next Year
Eli is arriving at an interesting time for me. Many past students told me that the spring semester flies right by. They let me in on the “3Ps.” “Purim, Passover and Packing.” But what they forgot was that the Cantors have another “P.” Placement! The cantors go through an audition, interview and application process for our pulpits (internships) that we will have next year. Last week we recorded two pieces of liturgy for synagogues to hear. I sang Lisa Levine’s Mi Sheiberach and Dan Nichols’ Mi Chamocha with a fancy Katchko chatimah (ending). The first I sang with piano and the second I played on guitar, to show variety. For the next two weeks I will have skype interviews with synagogues, and by the middle of March I will know where I will be working next year. It’s a very exciting, but nervous feeling.

Classes are going well. Sunday continues to be the busiest day ever with classes from 8:30 am to 6:45pm! That’s right- 10 hours at school with a one-hour lunch break. It’s insane, but it’s my music heavy day, and so that’s what makes it all worth it.

Here is my Sunday:
• Modern Hebrew Class.
• Liturgy lecture
• Liturgy discussion
• Music Theory
• Lunch
• Cantorial Workshop
• History of Jewish Music

Other Classes that I take during the week:
Rabbinic Texts
Hebrew Grammar (Dikduk)
History of Jewish Late Antiquity
Arab and Israel Conflict

**Modern Hebrew, Rabbinic Texts and Grammar are taught ALL in Hebrew (Yikes!)**

Every Wednesday we have Israel Seminar. Sometimes we have speakers at the school and very often we leave campus and even Jerusalem sometimes to explore different aspects of Israel. We have gone to Tel Aviv and talked about “The New Jew,” we have gone to Yad Vashem and Har Herzl, we have had a tour around the Shuk (outdoor market), we have toured around Mea Shearim (the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood), we have visited an Orthodox Film School, we have talked about Reform Judaism in Israel and most recently we visited an army base down south.

I have never written in my blog about the great teachers here at HUC. Our Grammar teacher is fabulous. Fortunately, she makes a VERY boring subject a little more bearable. When she volunteers someone to read or to answer a question she calls them the Karbon (the Hebrew word for the sacrificial animal that used to be placed on The Temple mount in Temple history). Ha. The funniest thing is when she explains grammar rules she often yells for emphasis and slams her hand on the desk. It always makes at least one student jump and she reassures them not to be afraid. Ha Ha. She always yells in Hebrew, “THIS is the rule!” and slams her hand down on the desk and yells, “Even if you’re in ALASKA this is the rule!” Ha Ha. So after class one day I told her that I appreciated how much she brought up Alaska in class because that is where I grew up. She said, “I’m sorry! I only said Alaska because I thought that there was no way someone could be from there. From now on, I will say Antarctica instead.” Ha ha.

Bible has been a very interesting class. During prayer services, when we read from Torah, we talk about Torah in a very spiritual, and even historical way. In Bible class, when we study Torah, we study it in a very academic way. It’s extremely fascinating to look at the Torah in both ways. I have learned a lot in this class.

One of my favorite subjects to study is liturgy. We have been learning the origins of our prayers and where we find evidence of the first prayers in the Torah. We learn what the words mean, and why many denominations have changed certain words to fit their ideological beliefs. We are also learning a lot about specifically the Reform Movement’s growth by studying the movement’s prayer books over the last century or so.

Rabbinic Texts has been a great challenge for me, since I have never studied Mishnah before (the Oral Laws documented) AND it’s taught in Hebrew. So far, the semester is young, but we have studied the proper physical way to say the Sh’ma and what times of morning and night are acceptable. We have also just recently learned that the groom is exempt from saying the bedtime Sh’ma if he has not yet consummated his marriage! Ooh la la.

South Tiyul
Our whole class took a trip down south to the negev for an educational and relaxing trip. There were so many highlights. We visited a Bedouin home and learned about how much their people have both changed over time and strived to hold onto their core values. We were informed that a long time ago, a man would buy his wife and pay in camels depending on how much she was worth. He said that some women would be worth up to 500 camels. However, if they slept in after the sun came up and were lazy, they might only be worth half a camel. Ha. (Well I would have never survived in the Bedouin culture!)

We visited a development city in the Negev (desert region of Israel) called Yerucham. I bought a beautiful, locally painted wine bottle/vase with beautiful pomegranates on it.

We stayed on a Reform Kibbutz, Kibbutz Yahel. The very first night the Kibbutz had a huge BBQ for us out in the desert and we sat on the ground at tables and ate hamburgers and hotdogs together. Following dinner we led a song session as people made s’mores. That Shabbat evening, we led a very musical service in their Beit Knesset (synagogue) and after Shabbat dinner, spent a good hour and a half just singing zmirot (songs) at the tables. Every Friday night, the Kibbutz’s bar is open for drinks, hookah, dancing and music. It was really nice to just kick back. Saturday morning we walked about a half hour away from the Kibbutz to have a Shabbat morning service together. I played guitar and two HUC students led a very spiritual prayer service in the middle of the desert. Now THIS is something our people is familiar with, right?! Ha.

We went on an amazing hike through Park Timna, where people used to mine for copper. We saw some of the copper mines and hiked through openings in the rock and enjoyed a beautiful view when we reached the top of the mountain.

One of the most interesting parts of the trip was visiting Kibbutz Lotan, which also happens to be a Reform Kibbutz, but they are known for being an Eco Kibbutz. They live a very green lifestyle there with recycling projects, composting and alternative building methods. Some of us helped them with their garden and others learned how they make the mud bricks that many of their structures are built from. They even gave us a run down on their composting toilets. The Kibbutz is beautiful (pictures on facebook).

We got some time to hang out in Eilat. Many students went snorkeling and we learned the Hebrew word, “Shnorkel.” J I enjoyed reading on the warm beach and getting my first tan of the spring!

This Friday we are bringing a group of students from HUC out to Tzur Hadassah, where my classmate, Ben and I, song lead once a month for Shabbat. This will be Eli’s first Shabbat of his trip! Then the next morning I’m chanting Torah at HUC’s Shabbat service. Purim’s right around the corner and I’m going to miss being with my Beth Israel community for this crazy, fun holiday. However, I’m also really excited about being on the Purim Planning committee here at HUC and the fun things we have planned. We will be leading a prayer service and then a Purim Shpiel (dramatic, goofy, retelling of the Book of Esther). Then, all of us Cantorial students are learning to chant Megillat Esther and we will be going to read the whole megillah (the whole story of Esther) in a BAR nearby our school! How fun is that? I can’t wait. Best detail ever= the bar is located on Shushan street. Not kidding!

So much to look forward to!

Thank you so much to all of you who have donated towards my trip to the FSU. I’m inches from my goal, thanks to all of your generosity.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Remembering Debbie Friedman

After Debbie Friedman passed away I composed an email to some friends. Now that about a month has passed, I feel like I want to share it with all of you as well.

I know that you all have your own unique relationships with Debbie and her music. You all know what a huge impact she had on me, because she had a very similar impact on you. So much of my Jewish knowledge and love for Judaism came from listening and singing her music with my mom growing up. She is a huge reason I am in Cantorial school today. As long as I have known of her, she has been seriously ill. However, I always thought of her as invincible, kind of like kids think of their parents. She has stayed strong through so much and so, even though she had just been hospitalized, I still thought for sure she would pull through. I was shocked when I found out she passed away.

Of course many of you also know that HUC’s Cantorial program is now the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. I feel so honored to be a part of this program, named after someone who helped so many people connect to their spirituality and community through music.

HUC planned a Debbie Friedman Tribute that took place here at school this past Saturday night. Hundreds of people showed up. Israelis, American immigrants, Americans who were on vacation, NFTY EIE students, Hebrew University students…etc. Rabbi Ken Chasen flew out here to Jerusalem WITH Debbie’s guitar to play in the tribute!! He brought her guitar, the same guitar that was placed on her coffin at her funeral in California. I actually had the guts to ask him if I could play a few chords on it. Once I was holding it, I couldn’t even think of what to play. I just kind of fiddled around and thought about all of the places I had seen her play that same guitar at concerts, Biennials and Hava Nashira retreats. I thought of the hundreds of healing services she led with it. I remembered how at concerts she used to strum the last down beat of a song with her guitar high in the air, signaling to the audience the last note had arrived. It was pretty surreal.

A combination of Cantorial, Rabbinic and Education students here at HUC formed a choir and sang a beautiful arrangement of Lechi Lach that one of my fellow Cantorial students, Ben, conducted. I got to help lead Miriam’s Song, which felt great and so appropriate. Another fellow Cantorial student, Sara, led us in a gospel version of Debbie’s T’fillat Haderech, which I got to sing back up harmony on.

After the concert, some people stayed and continued to sing Debbie’s music. We even sang the Aleph Bet Song at the top of our lungs, like little kids.

During the concert I was reminded of how she would always sing her Mi Sheiberach at concerts. She would always say, “First, I will sing it to you. And then you can sing it back to me.” Do you guys remember that? All of a sudden it occurred to me… the first time through, she sang to me, and for the last 29 years I have been listening. Now, she is gone and it’s my turn to sing it back. It’s all of our responsibility to sing it back and to carry on the music that she started.

Thanks for listening to my thoughts and experiences.


1 Semester Down, 9 to Go!

Eeek! This entry did not successfully upload and I didn’t realize that until now. Here it is, VERY late.

January 2011
Happy New Year all!
I cannot believe that my first semester at HUC has come to a close. I am officially 1/10 of a Cantor now. Only 9 more semesters to go!…and some summer internships and pulpit time and…..well, I’m making progress is what I’m trying to say. As I sit in the JFK airport, it’s not only the English and the dollars that’s alarming, it’s the realization that I just accomplished something huge. It has occurred to me numerous times throughout the semester what an extraordinary experience this year has been and how many more hours I wish there were in a day to absorb and to reflect on everything. I suppose I have the next two weeks to do that as I’m on break in America.

A few weekends ago, our class took a tiyul (trip) up north for a quick get away to relax before studying for finals. We started with a tour of Tzfat. I hadn’t been to Tzfat in 10 years, so I was quite excited to get reacquainted. We had an awesome tour guide, originally from Berkley, with true hippy/Kabbalist personality. He took us to great views of this mystic Kabbalistic city that sits on a tall mountain. He brought us through a cave into this huge old water cistern. He also brought us to some of the beautiful synagogues and if you have ever been to Tzfat, you probably went to same well-known synagoguwes like The Ari’s synagogue. We also visited this artist who was SUCH a character and made the trip even that more unique. He was also originally an American grown hippy from Michigan, who had spent his teens and early 20s exploring spirituality and meditation through many cultures until he realized that his very own Jewish religion had a lot to teach on the subjects and it was with these that he connected to the most. He studies Kabbalah, lives in Tzfat and makes beautiful artwork. One of my favorites, which I might NEED to return and buy by at the end of the school year, is a piece that represents the order of the shofar calls during the High Holidays. Following the long and short and pulsated sounds that it makes, it is a sound wave representation of the order.

For Shabbat, we stayed at Kibbutz Hannaton which is located in the lower Gallilea, and it’s considered a Conservative Kibbutz, “Masorti” in Hebrew. All Kibbutzim consider themselves in some category and the majority of Kibbutzim are either secular or Orthodox. This Kibbutz is very unique and special for having one of the only (maybe the only?) liberally run mikvehs (ritual bathhouse) in the country of Israel. A big group of women from my program went in before Shabbat, a very cleansing way to begin the Sabbath. Although the Kibbutz considers themselves Conservative, they really pride themselves on being a pluralistic Kibbutz. In other words, they tend to be Conservative, but they would like this Kibbutz to be a place where everyone feels comfortable and where people can compromise to help make it a place that everyone of all Jewish traditions gets along. So there are families that live there that consider themselves Orthodox. And Conservative, Non-Denominational, Post-Denominational, Reform, and people who prefer not to have a label at all! A few of the Israeli Reform Rabbis that have graduated from HUC live there with their families. Shabbat services were a lovely group effort, with a synagogue that contains many different types of prayer books so that you can use which ever you prefer. The weather got really stormy while we were there and the power actually went out while we were reading Torah Saturday morning. The reader just kept reading as if nothing had happened. What a pro! All in all, it really was a great weekend. I’m looking forward to making it back to Tzfat AND Kibbutz Hannaton this year.

Another adventurous get away was the next weekend when a group of us headed up to Haifa to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of one of our classmates. Fellow Cantorial Student Susie, chose to convert to Judaism later in life and decided to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah here in Israel, while her husband was visiting from New York. The community, Ohel Avraham, in Haifa was so welcoming. The Rabbi is an HUC Israeli graduate who makes the services really relaxed, warm and very funny. He invited us all to be a part of the ceremony, singing and presenting prayers. It was such a special weekend. Susie not only chanted from Torah, but she delivered a D’var Torah (a lesson about the Torah portion that week) in a mix of Hebrew and English! The congregants were really touched by her efforts to speak in Hebrew and she sounded great.

So, in the midst of studying for finals, it felt like Christmas came out of nowhere. Not like in The States where the stores have been preparing you for months. I decided at the last minute to do something VERY Christmas like, for Christmas and re-enact the pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, besides the fact that this sounded like a truly once in a lifetime activity. I am not one to pass up opportunities like this and so I went with three friends, one which was a guy who had been there a few times before. To be honest, I had no idea that it would be so easy for me to cross over into Palestinian Territory. The walk took us about 2 hours to get from Jerusalem to the center of Bethlehem. We simply walked to passport control, showed them our passports and they let us in. It’s amazing what freedom we have just because our Passport is American. Not to mention, Bethlehem loves to have visitors on this yearly pilgrimage night. I’m glad I went. Unfortunately, you have to buy tickets WAYahead of time to get into the Church of the Nativity for the service. So, we hung out in the square in the center of Bethlehem and heard musical performers, drank beer and smoked hookah with some locals that insisted on taking their picture with us at the end of the night.
The next morning, I helped lead music for Bat Mitzvah at the synagogue in Tzur Hadassah where I volunteer. All in all, a VERY interesting weekend.

For now, I’m going to soak in American culture and go to Starbucks (no comments please!). Peppermint Latte – here I come!