Saturday, February 26, 2011

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!

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