Well, I haven’t blogged in so long that WordPress had logged me out of my account, even though I’d clicked “Remember me”!! I guess Grad School keeps you busy or something. Anyways, better late than never! I’m going to try to make a list of some fun/important/educational things that have happened to me over the past 6-ish weeks. And then do my best to not let this long go by without blogging for the rest of the year.
-To kick off Fall Semester, we had a class tiyyul (overnight trip) to the north of Israel. We went to a few famous sites like Tel Hai and the poetess Rachel’s grave, spoke with one of the first kibbutz founders and had a beautiful morning service on the bank of the Kinneret. We were also next to the Lebanese border during an especially uncertain period at the end of August, so that was intense. The trip was part of our Israel Seminar class, a really awesome course we have that takes up one day a week. Every Wednesday, we either travel to a location and learn about it (so far we’ve been to Tel Aviv, Yad Vashem and Har Herzl, and explored my neighborhood, Rehavia), or have speakers come to school and talk to us about different issues (the first set of speakers is this coming Wednesday). It is so cool to explore and learn about all these places, perhaps to teach about them when we lead congregations to Israel in the future, or even just to broaden our own personal horizons. Our instructors are really awesome and it’s nice to have a day of the week where we do something a little different.
-This semester, I am taking Modern Hebrew (5 sessions a week), Biblical Grammar (taught in Hebrew), Rabbinic Texts (taught in Hebrew), History of the Zionist Movement, Liturgy (a lecture and a smaller lesson), Bible (two sessions a week, taught in Hebrew), and Second Temple History. Plus there are required Sunday afternoon, Tuesday morning and Thursday morning services, most of which are lead by classmates, and we have mandatory Shabbat morning services twice a month. It is a lot, but after the holidays I think I was really able to settle into a good routine and figure out how to budget my time and get my work done! A few friends and I have a weekly chevruta (study group) which has been really helpful. It is also really fun to be learning about stuff I’ve done my whole life, and expanding my Judaism, and to be surrounded by 39 others doing the same thing!
-The High Holidays here in Israel were really fascinating. I sung in the choir at school which turned out to be a great decision. Practicing the music in advance really prepared me for many aspects of a service which was different for me than my home congregation. It was my first time ever away from my parents (and first time since moving to NY away from my temple) and being able to concentrate on singing was a really helpful place to turn my energy. I also made an apple cinnamon cake (the same recipe my dad used to make me applesauce cupcakes to take to school on my elementary school birthdays) and it turned out to be hit! I ended up baking it for multiple occasions. We had Rosh Hashanah evening services at school, and then were left to our own devices for morning services on Days 1 and 2. I discovered that while Rosh Hashanah is one of my favorite holidays back in America, I didn’t really enjoy it in Israel. The services were LONG and full of straight chanting and reading Hebrew from the prayerbook. It seemed more Conservative style to me than Reform, and I unfortunately did not get much meaning out of it.
-My birthday fell in-between the holidays this year and although it was weird to be away from home I had a nice day! I woke up to balloons all over my apartment and cards and goodies from my roommates, went to lunch with some friends and then had a dinner and drinks party that night, to which most of the class showed up! I also got my annual birthday bouquet of roses from my parents, even all the way across the world!
-If it is possible to have a good Yom Kippur, I did it. We had all of our services at school, and since a lot of people show up, HUC rents out another room, which happens to be all glass and overlooking the Old City. So basically, we were at the exact place that Jews all over the world were praying too, which was awesome. We had a nice pre-fast meal at a classmates, and then all took pictures in our tallitot in front of the Old City before services started. When we left, and for 24 hours after that, there were no cars on the road. It was crazy!! We all walked in the middle of usually busy streets, sat in major intersections, and even lay down in the road! People were catching up and singing in circles in the street after Kol Nidre, and I saw multiple people from different groups run into people they knew in the middle of the street! On Yom Kippur afternoon, Jade and I (and three other pairs of classmates) lead an afternoon study session. Ours was on the topic of Returning and Re-Cycling and it went well! The entire class plus guests gathered in our social hall for a break fast which was a little crazy, but I have never seen my class be so efficient and go through a meal so quickly.
-I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do for our Sukkot/Simchat Torah break, but last minute my friend/roommate Jenn and I ended up going on a trip to Jordan with our Israeli former class intern and it was amazing! We took an overnight bus to Eilat, napped on the beach and sunrise, and then got picked up and crossed the border into Jordan. We drove through the city of Aqaba and then spent a few hours in Petra. To get to the actual city ruins, you walk through this gorgeous canyon for a couple of miles, and then suddenly you’re through the narrow space and see the beautiful fossilized ancient structures. It was really cool, even though we almost got run over by people riding horses/donkeys/camels through the canyon. That night, we were driven out into the middle of nowhere in the desert and slept in a Bedouin tent with only a few other people at the camp with us. It was really one of the most spectacular nights of my life. It was not lost on us that the night we slept in the desert was the Shabbat of Sukkot, so we were really emulating our ancestors by sleeping out in the middle of nature in a temporary structure. We could see nothing but the desert and the stars, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t even get a semi-decent photo of the night because nothing can really capture it. The next day, a Bedouin took the three of us and our German friend we’d met in Petra on a private jeep tour through the desert. We climbed up to a narrow rock bridge, went into a canyon, met some Bedouins in their makeshift store in a tent and hiked up a mountain to a natural spring. I really pushed myself physically and emotionally on the trip, and I’m so glad it all worked out the way it did.
-Sukkot is so fun in Israel! Everywhere you go you can see the little huts. Most restaurants have them in front so people can fulfill the mitzvah of eating in there. It’s really fascinating to be in a country that completely revolves around the Jewish holidays, it’s a great time of year here.
-Over Simchat Torah, I read Parashat Beresheet (the very beginning of the Torah and my Bat Mitzvah portion) three times in four days! We went to Kibbutz Gezer, a Progressive establishment between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, for Erev Simchat Torah and they needed someone to read there..since I had already learned it to chant it for the congregation here, I volunteered! The next morning I chanted all seven days of creation at Kehilat Har El, Israel’s first Reform congregation for Simchat Torah morning, and then that Saturday I did it all again at Har El for Shabbat! I got most of it on video, and it’s here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLX4_UEN66lGEwso0qHmXbO9jxz_zYBPhK
-We are now in full swing for Fall Semester. I’m not leading my first service until December (Rabbinic Students only do two this year), but my D’var Torah (sermon) is in a few weeks so I’ve been working on that which is exciting! I’ll post it here once it’s finished.
-I am now wearing a kippah most of the time. I never grew up wearing one (my Rabbi doesn’t at all) and it never really had any appeal for me. For the first few months here, I wore one during services. We pray so much that it really helped set that special time apart from all the studying and other time spent in that same room with the same people. Lately, I’ve been wearing it more and more. I find meaning in and enjoy it; it serves as a physical reminder of why I am here, helping to keep me grounded. When I wear it, I think of the saying, “Everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: I am but dust and ashes, and on the other: The world was created for me.” I know when I get back to the states, people will see me wearing it, and maybe even ask me about it. I want it to help me serve as a positive and open-minded representation of Judaism.
-My friends and I found the best schwarma place ever. It is amazing. I’d been doing well with not eating that stuff a lot but now I think that things are going to change!
-It is awesome reading the actual words of the Bible, translating the prayers I’ve been saying my entire life, learning the nitty-gritty of biblical grammer, and getting better and better with my Hebrew. Every time we get together in chevruta, translating gets a tiny bit easier. The more we fall into the groove of it, the more fun it becomes! We just read the beginning of the Joseph story for Bible class, and we’ve done things like Jacob and Esau and Saul finding David and choosing him to be King. When I look at prayers, I can get a very specific idea of what they mean, even if I can’t yet translate them word for word yet. I’m really looking forward to more years ahead of doing this! It is also great seeing my classmates on the bimah leading services. Each of them has definitely brought his or her own uniqueness to prayer.
I’m sure there is more to say that I’m forgetting, but I think this is enough of an update for now! I am going to the states for a few days on Wednesday night to celebrate my Grandpa’s 90th birthday (with a quick stop in NY to see my mom) and I’ll be back in Israel on Monday afternoon, so that should be awesome and crazy. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, and I promise I’ll update before another 6 weeks pass by!