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!