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.


  1. Yay Rayna! This all sounds so exciting! I'm glad things are going so well!

  2. Is your placement like the rabbinical placements, where you work for a year at a little tiny synagogue (like mine)? I love living vicariously through all your adventures!

  3. I used to visit Yerucham when I lived in S'derot with my friends who had family there! I am glad you are having such a wonderful time! Thank you for sharing your year.