Thursday, December 23, 2010

My D'var

Hey World,

So the moment you've all been waiting for...maybe.
Yeah so here is the link to the video for my d'var Torah:

After watching it myself (which was quite painful, it's weird to see yourself on video), I think it was decent. I could nit pick, but I won't do that here. But yeah the message is something that is really important to me. It is summed up by the line in my d'var "Reform Judaism gives us a choice but it shouldn't make the choice for us" (or something like that). I think that as Reform Jews (sorry if this is not something that concerns you) we have these choices and the opportunity to make really meaningful choices, and instead we just do what is common reform practice, whatever that means. We need to challenge ourselves and I think we will gain so much from doing so.

Ok the end of that...let me know what you think!?

So yeah today was our last day of classes for this semester. It's pretty crazy. It didn't really hit me that we were in the last week of classes until like yesterday. I do feel accomplished to some degree that I made it through the semester (not counting finals of course). I've been thinking about the semester and reflected. What a ride, I was all over the place. oy. I feel pretty good about it overall. I still have some frustrations with my classes, but I do think I did the most I could in my power to give myself the opportunities academically that I wanted.

I stayed up late last night to finish a bible paper so I'm pretty tired. It was an interesting subject but we had to write it in Hebrew. The actual writing part wasn't a huge pain, but TYPING in Hebrew was super annoying. I need some mavis beacon teaches typing Hebrew style haha.

Yesterday during Israel seminar we went to the Ades synagogue in Jerusalem, a syrian synagogue (Aleppo). Attached to this synagogue there is a piyut school, which helps train people to sing in this certain style. I am explaining this horribly...So piyyutim are these religious (Jewish) songs and there are lots of complicated melodies and scales that are associated with them that this synagogue uses and helps train people. The guy who was telling us about it says that each shabbat has a different scale associated with it (there are over 100), and it takes years to learn. He also sang to us examples of different scales and different piyyutim. It was soo beautiful. This tradition comes from Syria, so it was something I had not been exposed to before as I usually pray in (and am exposed to) ashkenazi style synagogues.

Ok I need to stop procrastinating. work time


ps thanks Jay for being my editor kinda

Monday, December 20, 2010

the past week...

Hey World,

Yikes it's been over a week since I've updated you all. I blame it on finals/being busy. I gave a d'var torah (speech thing about the torah portion) today so I was stressed out getting that ready. It went really well...when I get the video I will post it on here and talk more about it...

I'm actually a little overwhelmed because I did a bunch of interesting stuff this past week that I want to tell you about.

Gah where to start. Last Monday we had this "interfaith" day where instead of classes we went around and spoke to different people of different faiths. First we went to an Armenian church and spoke with three people who have various positions around Jerusalem. There is a lot of christian tourism, and Christian holy sites here so it makes sense that there are people here trying to run and improve that stuff. We spoke to people who also help run Christian schools, and who are just here to help give care to people, etc. I'm really not giving this subject any justice, I apologize. While two of the three Christians we met were not Armenian, one of them was, and it was interesting to hear him speak about the Armenians in Israel. There is a whole population of Armenians that has been here for like 1500 years, and I feel like that is something that is forgotten. It's not that they want to take over Israel, they just want to live here in peace, and do there thing. All three of the people on the panel say they often feel stuck in between the arab-israeli conflict because they don't want to take sides and that puts them in a tough place.

After the talk we went into this beautiful armenian church for their service. It was a lot of chanting, it was pretty cool. There were even certain times the chanting sounded like the melody we use for the weekday kaddish (a prayer). I really like to see different forms of worship, I was a religion major and this stuff fascinates me.

After that we had the "muslim" panel composed of three different muslims. One was a sufi shiek (does that exist, I think that is the proper title), who was super well spoken. Sufi, as I was explained, is kind of like kabbalah or mysticism but in the Islam world.

I'm glad we had this day. I think interfaith work is soooo important, especially as future leaders. We can help bring people together and help teach people through getting outside our religion. I know I had more thoughts about this day, but I will leave it here for now.

Then on Wednesday, Israel seminar day, we went to me'ah she'arim. This is the haredi (ultra ultra orthodox) neighborhood. I don't even know where to start with this. So many emotions. So the first part of the day I was in a small group that went to this organization called kemach which means flour in Hebrew. Kemach is an organization that gives support and funding to haredi Jews looking to get a better education so they can get a job. To give an VERY generalized description, in the haredi community the best thing you can possibly do with your time is study "sifrei kodesh" the holy books (basically the Talmud). So they study all the time instead of getting jobs and they are supported by stipends that the government gives them. It's a pretty messed up system and since the haredim have so many kids there is a lot of poverty because they don't have jobs and are relying entirely on the government and donations. Currently more of the women work than the men, because the women aren't supposed to study they are supposed to take care of the children, so yeah sometimes they are able to find work to help support the family.

So now as the haredi community gets bigger and the money is running out more and more haredi men are starting to look for jobs. The problem is that they don't have any resources or the proper training. They weren't taught much in the way of secular studies so they need to be taught the materials so they can get good scores on entrance exams and be accepted into university or a professional training school. So this is what kemach helps with. They guy who spoke to us was great. He was haredi, so I was expecting him to be an a-hole (I and friends have had many unpleasant encounters with haredi jews so this expectation wasn't totally unfounded), but he totally wasn't. He was really nice and was very honest and answered all our questions. He was great, I left feeling a little more positive towards the haredi community. It was nice to meet someone who was so nice and wasn't making judgments about us. We spoke to each other like humans.

So after that really positive experience we went to this girls school for haredim but also had another school in the same building that served russian immigrants and we spoke to this rabbi who was the head of the school. After the positive experience I had just had this reminded me why I feel the way I do about haredim. Ugh it frustrates me so much, and it is so hard to see a fellow Jew who I just kinda want to punch in the face (but never never ever would because that is not nice). So one thing we spoke about was this letter/declaration signed by a bunch of rabbis forbidding Israeli Jews from renting to arabs. Horrible. Here is a news story if you want to read more about it Anyways a lot of people have since spoken up against this, and I believe that this ruling was not an appropriate or Jewish thing to do (to say you can't rent to arabs). While you can find a basis in the Torah for this land being our land or whatever we are also told to always be kind to the stranger living in your midst because "we were once strangers in the land of Egypt." WTFFFFF people. Anyways we asked him about this and he said that it was ok and that it wasn't racist because the word for racism came about in the 20th century blah blah bullshit bullshit. His whole talk was infuriating.

It was interesting to be in me'ah she'arim. It felt like a whole other world, and it's only like a 15/20 minute walk away from where I live. We all had to get dressed up in appropriately modest clothing. It was crazy. I def want to go back and go into some of the shops/just explore. The weird thing about getting dressed up modestly was that I now appeared to be orthodox (the way a person dresses here can tell you a lot about their religious practice), so it was weird to be perceived as someone who I am not. I felt like I was lying.

What else...Friday before shabbat I took a trip with some classmates and one of my fave professors to Qumran. This is where some of the dead sea scrolls were found (wikipedia if you want to know more). It was pretty sweet to see this place where these sectarian/separatist Jews(?) had done their thing. We also went on a fun climb thing nearby where the caves were that the texts were found in. That was bad English, sorry.

Shabbat was nice, as usual. I really love shabbat, ohhh man. Also I do think it's been really helpful for me and my sanity to have that time set aside to exist in a way that I don't during the week.

Yesterday (sunday) I taught again. It went pretty well. I taught the classic of tanur achnai. Ohh man is that a good story. Ask me about it sometime and I'll tell you. We had some great discussions. These kids are awesome. I also tried to speak in a british accent for the last couple of minutes of class (because they are all british). I dunno, it was silly. I think being a little silly has its place in a classroom, especially in a class that is relatively casual in nature. Not that I know anything about pedagogy, but I think it is important to be serious and also to be human and to connect to your students because I think they will listen better that way. I dunno I guess we will see.

And that brings us to today. I am anxiously waiting for the video of my speech, I want to see what I looked like. ahhhh. I will post it here as soon as I get it, so look forward to seeing me speak instead of hearing my voice (or not my voice) in your head as I write and you read this blog.

Back to work dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

I leave you with a fun song because you can be anything


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pluralism??? and stuff

Hey World,

So I just got back from my second day of teaching my class. I already mentioned this but I am teaching gap year kids Talmud for one hour on Sunday night. It's a good time. Last week (or well 2 weeks ago because we didn't have it last week) things went really well. Today was a mixed bag. I decided that I wanted to give the students some historical background on the Talmud, but not too much, just enough to give them context. Anyways I think I just ended up confusing them. Between talking about mishnah and Talmud and gemara and seder and masechet and oral/written I lost them. The nice thing is that they weren't afraid to ask questions, and I think I cleared most everything up, but it def made me realize that I had not presented it in the clearest way. I think I also assumed more background knowledge than I should have. It was all a good learning experience. I told them next time I would make a sheet/chart of the major Jewish texts to help clear things up. I think a visual will be helpful, and there are many texts out there so this will be a good resource for them.

I only wanted to speak for like 20 minutes and it ended up taking 45. To be fair they did ask questions about other texts that I wasn't trying to cover, but I figured it was important information so I answered them. I was asked about the dead sea scrolls (thank you 2nd temple history for enabling me to explain that one really well), midrash, more about TaNaKh, rashi. It's like all these terms are thrown around a lot, but people don't explain what they mean.

After that we did a little bit on Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish. It's an interesting story about how they meet (Reish Lakish the bandit sees R. Yochanan bathing in the river and thinks he's SUPER hot and jumps in after him...then R Yochanan says he should marry his sister who is better looking and they become buddies. Rabbi Yochanan teaches Reish Lakish torah and he becomes a great scholar and they have lots of friendly disagreement over Jewish law. It's lovely. Until one day they are having a disagreement about when certain knives become impure and rabbi Yochanan makes a mean comment that of course Reish Lakish would know about weapons because he knows the tools of his trade, basically alluding to the fact that he used to be a criminal. Reish Lakish is offended and in turn insults Rabbi Yochanan, then Reish Lakish gets sick and dies, and only then does Rabbi Yochanan feel bad and he grieves for his friend). Bava Metzia 58a, if you wanna look it up. We didn't spend as much time as I would have liked on it because I spent so much longer talking about texts, but we did have a good although abbreviated conversation. I really enjoy this age group, they can make really insightful and intelligent points about the texts.

So this past shabbat I went on a shabbaton with school to Kibbutz Hannaton. It is a pluralistic kibbutz up north kind of near Tzfat. It was really lovely. This kibbutz used to be the only masorti (conservative movement in Israel) kibbutz in Israel. Eventually it went bankrupt and people left. Then about a year and a half ago this one guy decided he wanted to come back and revive the kibbutz because he had spent time there as a kid and really enjoyed it. Instead of just having it be masorti he decided to make it a pluralistic kibbutz and convinced some of his friends to move up there with him.

So it's a very young project, but it was cool to see. They definitely have a long way to go in figuring out the best way to accomodate everyone, but it's great they are trying. They are facing problems with their synagogue. They only have one, because there are only 24 families there right now, and they are having trouble decided the best way to worship. There are people who don't feel comfortable davening without a mehitzah (something that separates men and women), some who don't feel comfortable when there is a mehitzah, some who want more traditional or less traditional liturgy, etc etc.

Right now their services are pretty egalitarian, basically how a conservative service would be run in the states. I'm not sure if they have limits about when women can lead or not, I didn't get a chance to ask. I did enjoy the services there. The sad thing is is that I don't think there is a way for everyone to be happy across all denominations in just one service. I do admire their mission though, and even if they can't all pray together and will need to have 2 services I think it's still great that they are trying to make things work and raise their kids in a pluralistic environment.

Kibbutz hannaton just seems like a really lovely place. One of the problems in Israel is that for the most part you either have to raise your kids in an orthodox community or a secular one there isn't really much in between, and hannaton does offer that in between. It is still a religious environment, but it is not orthodox. I would totally be down to live there if I decide I want to make aliyah, but at a different stage of my life when I am married and have money/a career and when they are more established as a kibbutz. Hmmm (I don't think this is actually going to happen, but I did really like the environment, maybe I will find something like it in America).

Another interesting thing about hannaton is the demographics. Most of the members of the kibbutz it seemed to me are Americans that made aliyah or Israelis who have American parents. Is this idea of religious pluralism and of something between Orthodox (dati) and secular a foreign, American idea or can it also enter into the Israeli culture? Maybe this is something that Americans who have made aliyah can bring to Israel, but I wonder if it will ever stick or if only former Americans will be the ones in projects like this or in the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel...

I def hope to go back to Hannaton, it was a lovely escape from Jerusalem. I realized I hadn't been gone for a shabbat since september! I do really enjoy shabbat in J'lem though, so it makes sense that I always stay, but maybe I should try and get out more...

Ok this entry is long enough...

Peace (and pluralism)


ps I totally forgot to mention, we went hiking on Friday before shabbat. It was really nice, we hiked up some mountain that I forget it's name. I do enjoy getting out into nature, it's just not something I think of doing on my own. So yeah let me know if you are going on a hike, I am totes down to come with (well if I don't have to much hw haha)

Monday, December 6, 2010

only in Israel...

Hey World,

So today since I didn't have school again (yayayay) I went with a friend to the biblical zoo. I recommend it, it was pretty fun, more about that later...

So anyways I'm on the bus to meet up with my friend. I'm sitting towards the front and the bus is pretty empty. Then the bus driver points to me through the mirror and asks (in Hebrew) "Do you speak English?" I say "yes." He tells me to come to the front of the bus and he gives me his phone and tells me (still in Hebrew) to talk to this woman and figure out where he should meet her.

I'm pretty confused as to what is going on, i understood what he had told me to do, but I didn't get what was happening. I thought she was trying to find the bus station or something, but I guess she was trying to meet up with him. I really hope they found each other! I think I did an ok job translating, it was really weird though. I was talking to a random woman for the bus driver who I guess couldn't speak english well enough to tell her where to go.

The other weird thing about this is, what are they going to do once they meet up? How will they talk if they don't speak each other's language? Oooh Israel...

So after I got off the bus and finally (after some delay) got to the biblical zoo, it was pretty rad. It had been raining and was still overcast, but we decided to go to the zoo anyway. It was a great decision because not only was it less crowded BUT the tickets were 50% off...SCORE. I recommend that you go if you are in Jerusalem. It was cool to see all the animals, and it was made even better by these cute Israeli children yelling in Hebrew about how cute the animals were/getting excited by all the exhibits.

Favorite animals at the zoo? The penguins were adorable (although I don't know how they made it into the BIBLICAL zoo, but whatevs), there were two beautiful/majestic leopards, these HUGE parrot things, cute/crazy/loud monkeys...yeah it was pretty sweet.

And because I have started taking some pictures again, here are a few faves from the day:

Yep I caught the leopard yawning and it was awesome, and now I am yawning...bed time. School tomorrow. I miss staying up late and having late classes, my biological clock is not designed for this...

Happy night 6!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Festival of Lights

Hey World,

So Chanukkah in Israel has really been awesome. It's so nice to walk around and see Chanukkiyot (the things you light on Chanukkah) everywhere. There are special doughnuts (sufganiyot) all over the place made specially for the holiday. There are also lots of special activities going on. It definitely feels like the holiday season, but it is nice to not constantly have christmas shoved down your throat.

After shabbat ended on saturday night I went out around Jerusalem with a friend. She had been told how amazing it is to go around the old city in the Jewish quarter and see all the chanukkiyot lit up, so we did that. Let me tell you, it was so wonderful. In practically every window or outside of every doorway there was a Chanukkiyah burning. There were lots of people walking around to look at the different Chanukkiyot also, there were even tours happening with lots of little kids (mostly Israeli). Instead of driving around and looking at the pretty christmas lights in America we walked around and looked at the menorahs (it's just easier to type than chanukkiyah). It was really magical. It felt like we were really in the Jewish homeland, this is what is so special about this place that Jews can really celebrate the holidays together and light menorahs and not have to fear for their safety, or be the only one on their block with a menorah burning.

I'm getting all gushy, so lets take a picture break (these are all pictures I took walking around the old city):

Yay done.

We also walked around Mamila which is this new (like 2 or 3 year old) shopping center. It felt weirdly American there, I think because they had put up all these lights. Yes the lights were blue and white, but it still seemed kind of christmas-y or something. I overheard two people commenting on these lights (in Hebrew) both said something about how this is how it feels like outside of Israel/in America during this time of year. While there is nothing inherently christian about using the little "twinkle lights" it did feel a bit foreign here. Just something interesting to think about... To be fair they were very pretty. OOh look another picture:

It was prettier in real life, but you get the idea...

So after all this walking around we stopped in a bar for a drink. As we were leaving these very religious looking men walked into the bar. It was really odd to see a bunch of black-hatters coming into a very secular bar. It turned out they were coming in to encourage people to light chanukkah candles and they even brought a bunch of Menorahs with them. It was fascinating because even though we were at this secular bar (I don't think anyone was even wearing a kippah in the bar) they were very respectful of these men. One of the bar tenders, when asked, even lowered the music while one woman lit the candles. The people working at the bar didn't try and kick the men out or anything, there was this weird tolerance going on. It was definitely a very "only in Israel" moment.

I feel like in America if someone came into a bar and tried to get people to do something religious they would be kicked out in two seconds. Here they were accepted. Religion here is so weird. The role that it plays in society is just so different than anything I have experienced. It is partially (I think) this mixing of religion and culture and how parts of the Jewish religion have become part of the national culture and it is hard to separate the two. It fascinates me...

It was a lovely night.

So I have today and tomorrow off of school for Chanukkah. It's been nice. It makes me wish I had less class so I could have more chances to explore. Maybe just one day less a week? I think that isn't too ridiculous to ask :-)

So now I am going back in time, or more like just out of chronological order. I just wanted to add that I had a lovely shabbat. I chanted Torah again. I really like to chant (leyn is another word for it). It is just so cool to read out of the Torah like that, and I really want to get better. Right now it takes FOREVER to learn an aliyah (a section of the text), I want to get better so it won't take me as long and I can read longer aliyot. The meals were great too. I had some great lasagna for dinner and sesame noodles and latkes and lots of stuff for lunch. I even played some dreidle with lentles.

Life is good. I can't believe it is already day 5 of chanukkah, crazy! I need to go eat some more sufganiyot (esp the ones from roladin, they are kinda more expensive but sooo worth it, drool).



ps I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fire that is happening in northern Israel right now in the carmel area. It was only just put out, for the most part, today, after burning for 4 days. It devestated a large part of the north of Israel and took more than 40 lives. Part of the problem was that everything is so dry because it is supposed to be raining and it still hasn't rained. I don't think I've ever prayed for rain with such intention before. Here is a website if you would like to make a donation to help the relief efforts:


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nes Gadol haya po!! (נס גדול היה פה)

Hey World!!

So tonight is the first night of Chanukkah! Let me take you back a few years...

When I was younger we were not allowed to own movies, or I guess my parents just refused to buy them for us. However there were 2 movies that my parents (I feel like this was my mom's doing, but I'm not entirely sure) allowed us to own, or decided that we should have around. One was the animated haggadah, a clay-mation passover story, and the other was the rechov sumsum (Israeli version of sesame street) Chanukkah video. As you can tell I was being "brainwashed" from a young age :-)

Needless to say I know those videos pretty well.

In the chanukkah video there is this one sketch that is this fake game show about chanukkah. There are three contestants, one of which is the Israeli version of big bird, who is a porcupine named Kippy ben-Kipod. So blah blah they are asking/answering questions and then we get to the final question which stumps all the contestants. This question is "The last letter of the Dreidel is different in Israel and in America, what are those 2 letters?" None of the contestants know, so what ends up happening is the person in the role of "Vanna White" gets pissed and tells everyone the answer (and then it gets confusing because she won the gameshow she words for).

(if you want to see the video, or relive a piece of your Jewish childhood:

So yeah outside of Israel the letters on the dreidel are the first letter of the hebrew words that mean "a great miracle happened there" but here in Israel the last letter is different because instead of saying that it happened THERE it says it happened HERE (nes gadol haya PO). So while I have known this for a looooong time, I have never actually been in Israel on Chanukkah to be able to use the different dreidel. I am actually really excited about this. It is cool to be HERE and not there in some sense.

Another cool thing is that there are menorahs ALL over the place. In many intersections or in front of stores or on top of buildings there are large (electric) menorahs. It's really cool. There are also menorahs made of lights that are hung up on lots of the lamp posts on busy streets, like the one I live on. Part of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is to show it in public in order to "publicize the miracle." At home we have an electric menorah that we put in our window and then light our other menorahs inside. Here I have started to see a bunch of menorahs (not electric) outside on people's porches. In order to keep the wind from blowing out the candles they all have these glass boxes they put over the menorah. I'd never seen that before, but it makes a lot of sense.

There are sufganiyot (Jelly doughnuts) everywhere. It's really nice. Also Chanukkah in America is totally overshadowed by the holiday season/christmas (which makes sense) so it's nice to be in a place where it gets ALL the attention and not in the same consumer-centric way that happens often in America.

I went to buy a cheap-o chanukkiyah today so I can light it tonight. They are selling them everywhere. I found some in a drug store. Ohhh Israel.

Happy happy Chanukkah! Eat lots of oily stuff.