Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trial by fire OR that time I did a baby naming and a funeral in one weekend

Hello again world,

Well I clearly must be procrastinating something (YESS), so here's another blog entry. I have had a bunch of "Becca becoming a rabbi" moments this year. Having a student pulpit that I go out to once a month really makes a difference because you get real life rabbi experience.

So two weekends ago I was out at my pulpit. I was excited and nervous to go because I was going to do my first baby naming (a ceremony done for Jewish baby girls to welcome them into the covenant/Jewish people and giving them their hebrew name). I was so excited to get the opportunity to be part of such a beautiful and meaningful moment, but of course I'd never done one before so that was nerve racking. Baby namings for girls are more flexible than the bris, the ceremony for baby boys, so I had a while to plan and prepare.

Then on monday or Tuesday before I was going out to Yuma (where the congregation is) I got an email that one member of the congregation's body was starting to shut down. She was 90, and had not been doing so well for a while. I didn't want to start preparing for a funeral because I didn't want to curse her in some way, but at the same time I had never done a funeral before, so the though caused me some anxiety. I am making it sound all about me, which it wasn't of course, but this is my blog so I'm telling you how I felt/events from my point of view. I hoped that she would stay alive, but it seemed like her time had come. It did on that Wednesday.

I was going out on Friday to Yuma to do a baby naming and a funeral. To lead a congregation that experienced so much loss recently, and to somehow try and bring the appropriate amount of joy and sadness to the appropriate times. That was my goal going into the weekend, to bring happiness and enthusiasm and all of the joy that a baby naming deserved on Saturday night, but to also bring the solemnity and sense of loss out during the funeral. I wanted to honor both events and have the congregation meaningfully experience both events (along with some fun shabbat services).

It was almost as if this was predestined, because the torah portion fit so beautifully with life. The Torah portion was Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. The portion starts off with Sarah's death, but not much later we have the extreme joy of her son Isaac when he finds his wife (Rebecca) and they fall in love. There was happiness and sadness and Isaac experienced both not one in exclusion of the other. The love he found with Rebecca helped him take comfort after his mother died. It was so powerful to me that these two  events took place within such a short span of time in the Torah portion just like the baby naming and the funeral. I took a lot of strength from the Torah portion going into the weekend. I referred to it many times over the course of the weekend, using different aspects of it both in my dvar torah and the eulogy I wrote.

I was very thankful to be at HUC with so many rabbis around to help me put together a funeral. We haven't quite gotten to funerals yet in our curriculum (it's starting this week), so I knew nothing. What really struck me during the funeral was the responsibility/pressure/honor that I had to represent this woman who died. I hoped that for her sake I did a good enough job, that I gave her a proper send off (to where ever it is that people go after they die). It is such a heavy responsibility, but it is also powerful to be able to help and to use the beauty of the Jewish tradition to bring meaning and comfort, etc to those who need it. Becoming a rabbi is something really special, and I forget that sometimes.

I got really corny in this entry, but I mean it. The weekend was intense and spiritual for me, and I hope that my congregants felt that too. The baby naming was so fun, and the little baby girl was ADORABLE!!! The funeral was well a funeral. And heck now I got two firsts out of the way. I think it will always be nerve racking to do a funeral, but not quite as scary as the first time. I'm grateful for the experience, and I think I did a good job.

How crazy is that??? A baby naming and a funeral in one weekend. It's like one of those stories that you hear in rabbinical school but doesn't actually happen (or at least not until you actually become ordained).

And if you are interested here is a video recording of the d'var (speech) I gave that friday night. I had to record it for a class (I think the delivery was better when I actually gave it on friday night, but you get the idea.


and I'm off...

updating fail...high holiday edition

Well Hello World,

I have been awful about updating. It's not because stuff hasn't been happening, a lot of things have happened that I want to share...I think I just get frustrated with trying to express them in this blog format. Talking is definitely my preferred way to share my experiences (which is probably why I write the way I talk). I have had a bunch of interesting/powerful experiences since the high holidays and during the high holidays, but the idea about writing all of them in blog format is exhausting. I know I'm being kind of a tease and I apologize.

Anyways it feels weird to talk about the high holidays now since they were almost 2 months ago, but I had to write the reflection piece about them for school so I thought I'd share. So here are some of my thoughts on the high holidays and leading them for the first time...

Since the High Holidays I have thought a lot about how I did, and my general feelings on the services I lead.  I know leading up to the high holidays I was super nervous. I prepared a lot, and I stressed a lot. I learned a lot of high holiday nusach (melodies) and spent a considerable amount of time working on sermons.
            Rosh hashana went ok. I was so nervous that it got in the way of me leading the service to some extent. I realized after Yom Kippur and leading everything then how important it was to be confident and composed (or at least appear that way) while leading.  The little things I didn’t do well, like make sure I was projecting and not trailing off at the end of my sentences so that people couldn’t hear them, made a big difference. I think what I will remember most about my Rosh hashana experience was that a woman had a seizure during my sermon. She ended up being fine, but it was a bit jarring.
            Yom Kippur was much better that Rosh hashana. I felt more comfortable leading and that helped me do a better job. One thing that I struggled with on Yom Kippur and whenever I lead services at my pulpit, is feeling spiritual or like I am praying. I had one fleeting moment of awe and spiritual connection over the course of Yom Kippur, which is usually filled with meaningful moments for me. This moment was right before I started to sing Kol Nidre. I had been practicing, but I was nervous because people put so much emotional value on this moment. I felt a bit in awe that I was the person who could lead this for them and enable them to have this moment. I also felt nervous hoping that my words would be accepted somewhere up where all the prayers go.
            For next year I have 2 major improvements or issues that I want to work on. The first is the melodies. I learned a lot of high holiday nusach, but then found it was a barrier to other people who wanted to participate because many of them did not know the nusach. For next year I would ideally like to have a workshop or something to teach some nusach so that more people could participate. What will probably happen because I don’t anticipate having enough time at my pulpit to do that would be to do less nusach. High holiday services are not about me showing off my knowledge of nusach and Hebrew, it’s about how the congregation experiences the services and how I can enrich that experience.
            The next improvement is from Yom Kippur services. In the afternoon/evening service I was running way ahead of schedule and I ended up having to flip back to the “additional prayers” section and do a lot of English reading. I thought it was super boring, and not very meaningful. What I would like to do for next year is do some kind of reflective text study. It would take up time, but not be as dry and boring as reading page after page of English readings.
            I would like to figure out other ways to make the service less dry. I think the Shabbat services I lead are dynamic and fun, but it is hard to do when people are unfamiliar with the liturgy and the tunes, which is the case during the high holidays. I am hoping that the new machzor (prayer book for the high holidays) might help a little.     
Yeah so those were my reflections. What a crazy time that was...I'm glad its over. Although I have had some other stressful experiences at my pulpit, life really knows how to keep things interesting. More on that soon :-)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

something to remember

Well Hello again...

Look at me writing a blog entry within a week of the last one...

Anyways I had a little piece of inspiration/direction i wanted to share with you...

So to set the scene: I just got back from these community selichot services. These happen at night after shabbat ends, during the shabbat before the high holidays. You say sorry, you ask God to forgive you/answer you, and some other stuff (I'm not a selichot expert). The program I went to was super cool it was a combined effort of four different communities, 2 synagogues and 2 minyans. They got together and there were various learning sessions, before a very musical and beautiful selichot. I am impressed at how the Los Angeles Jewish (or at least Conservative Jewish) community is able to get together.

Ok so to the point: I was introduced to this rabbi, I'm pretty sure her name is Shawna, but I can't remember her last name (but she's fabulous). I had been told about her before, because apparently according to multiple people, we look a lot alike. I could kind of see the resemblance, I could be a family member...So we were talking and I was saying something dumb about being nervous about my high holiday pulpit. And she dropped some serious wisdom that I am going to try and repeat to the best of my memory:

She said that the role of the rabbi during the high holiday season can best be described by the word "devek" (glue, something that binds). It is your job to help bind the community together in this prayer experience, this is not about you, this is not the Becca show. It doesn't matter how your voice sounds, or how brilliantly you speak, that's not the point. It is about how you connect your community together and to the words they are saying. You are not the Torah, it is your job to connect them to the Torah. You are not God, it is your job to connect them to God, etc. You are serving the community, you need to be the glue.

It sounded more brilliant when she actually said it. But I am grateful for her reality check. I have found it very easy to forget this idea, it is easy to make it all about you as a rabbi. How did I do? Did I sound good? Did I say something smart? Me me me. As this rabbi helped me to remember, that's not the point. That's not my job. My job is to help the community have a meaningful experience and connect them to their Judaism. It's not about how smart I can sound when I give my sermon, but instead how can I connect people to the holiday through my sermon. Rabbi as glue. I  like it. It's definitely something I will be thinking about as I leave to lead my first Rosh hashana services. (ahhh)

Shana tova!!! May you have a meaningful high holidays whether you are acting as a prayer leader, or a prayer.


Monday, September 19, 2011

now that I live in L.A...

Hey world,

So I haven't been good at this whole updating thing, but I'm back for now.

So gosh, a lot has happened in the past two months since I last wrote here. I drove across country with my dad, which was pretty fun. I have to say the USA really has some interesting and beautiful places. I really enjoyed Utah where we hiked arches national park and bryce canyon. I highly recommend them. It was cool to drive across the US and get to see lots of new things. Why did I drive? Because I moved to Los Angeles to continue rabbinical school. wooo.

So yeah I've been living in L.A for about a month and a half now. I really like it so far. The one thing I HATE is driving here. It's super scary. Seriously. If you've ever been in the car with me driving here you will see how it affects me. Other than that, I am loving it. The weather rocks!! The beach is super close. Lots of friendly people. Also lots of kosher restaurants and a great Jewish community. I've been really impressed. Woo Cali.

So the past month I've been in school, year 2 of this whole thing. It's been pretty good so far. We have some Jewish studies classes and also some professional development type classes like homiletics and education. My expience thus far has been positive. I really enjoy my mishnah class that I am taking with a few classmates, we are studying ketubot. more on that later, maybe :-)

So the other big thing is that this year I have a student pulpit, meaning that once a month I fly out to a small Jewish community in Arizona and I act as their rabbi for the weekend. So last weekend was the first time I visited, it was super exhausting, but really great. I lead services, I gave a short d'var (sermon kinda), I led a torah study, havdallah, visited a congregant in a nursing home and helped teach Sunday school. whoa. The community was really friendly and welcoming, and I'm excited for this year to build a relationship with the congregation. I am currently really stressing because the next time I go, in a week and a half (ahhhhhhhhh) is for rosh hashana, and I'm nervous to lead those services. ahh. ahhhhhh. Which maybe is why I'm procrastinating and writing this blog...(although I have done all my hw for tomorrow so there).

Yeah so life is good. My friend came to visit this past weekend so we did some touristy stuff like hike up to the hollywood sign, or well as close as you can get to it. I got kinda burnt, oops. We also went to venice beach...awesome people watching.

So yeah that's about it for now...Just a short update.

Good night!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

camp and stuff wooo

Hey World,

So apparently my triumphant return to blogging was not as triumphant as I'd hoped, or well yeah I meant to start writing regularly again which didn't happen. I'm not going to make any promises, but I thought I'd write an update.

Right now my life is in such transition, and I'm getting a little tired of all the change. I got back from camp (more on that in a bit) 5 days ago, and in a day I am setting out on a road trip across the country to my new "home" in L.A....This is all after I just came back from the year in Israel. Where do I live?? Where is home? gahh. I am really excited about Los Angeles though. I think it will be a nice change. I am ready to settle down there for a few years (hopefully, but you never know right?).

So yeah I spent the last month working at Kutz camp, which is a camp for Reform Jewish teens in NY. It was awesome, I enjoyed it immensely. Not to say that it was easy, but the people I worked with and the participants (that's what they call the campers because camper sounds too juvenile or something) I interacted with were great!!

At Kutz the participants choose majors that they spend 2-3 hours a day (except Saturdays) focusing on. I had the pleasure of teaching the Torah Corps major, which is Jewish studies stuff. Basically I was given the freedom to teach whatever I wanted about Judaism to these people who CHOSE to learn. I ended up at Kutz after a friend at HUC told me that she had "the perfect job for me", and I applied and got hired. Seriously though this was the perfect job for me. Why? I LOVE Jewish texts and studying texts/discussing Jewish topics (surprise haha) and I got to take this love I have and share all the interesting stuff I have learned and am passionate about with a captive and enthusiastic audience. While the Torah Corps major was small (6 people) we had a great group dynamic and a lot of awesome discussions.

I based my curriculum off of three themes/strings/whatever. One was stories in the Talmud. I wanted to share my love of Talmud with the participants in my major and I thought this would be a great way to do so. While the Talmud is not very accessible, I find that many of the stories in the Talmud do have some universal themes or at least interesting discussion topics embedded in them. One day we did "rabbis with laser vision day" and did two different stories with rabbis who ended up getting mad and destroying things with their eyes. etc.

The second string/theme/whatever was "why do we do what we do" and looking at various topics in Judaism/Jewish law and how they've evolved and how as Reform Jews we can relate to them. So we did a day on kashrut and conversion, and one on tattoos and more. We even had a day where we did a mock beit din (mock trial type deal) and argued about instruments on shabbat, complete with some crazy "witnesses".

The third string was looking at the weekly torah portion. There's some good stuff in the Torah over the summer...oh and all year long. woot.

Then on top of that I taught a minor each week. Participants take 2 minors each week and they can either be for one week or all session long. Minors are each an hour long. I taught some fun minors also. It was great to teach and also meet more of the participants. I taught 3 different ones. The first week I did a prayer minor, with mixed results. I would say we had some awesome conversations and talked about God and lots of heavy stuff, we did some about prayer, it was a good time. Week 2 I taught "women in the Torah/Talmud" surprise surprise I had a group of girls (or should I say strong women, because they were). While for the most part women are pretty week in our Jewish texts there are a few kickass women out there. Like Yael, Bruriah, Vashti, maybe even Lilith? Woo girl power. Then week 3 I did a "superpowers/supernatural" minor which was inspired by the day in my major about rabbis with laser vision. There is so much interesting and crazy stuff in the bible and Talmud, etc, it's ALL there you just need to know where to look/have a good teacher to help. Oh man I love this stuff.

Aside from all the teaching I was part of the program team, and it was so fun to work with all the other major teachers and bounce ideas off them. I kinda wanna go back to camp. I guess not only campers get camp sick :-)

(editors note: the following is a rant about prayer, just so you know haha)
While things were great at Kutz one aspect I struggled with were the services. Are we surprised? hah. It became kind of a joke in my major about my dislike of certain ways of doing things in services. Here is what I realized, while I don't love reform services (as I've said many times) I can have a meaninful prayer experience in a Reform setting if it follows certain criteria. There are some great melodies the Reform movement uses during services that I really enjoy and I am happy to sing. What gets me pissed is when prayers are skipped without any mention or acknowledgment of their (1000+ years of) existence. I like to pray completely in Hebrew and there are many of those great Reform melodies that are completely in Hebrew. I think when people put too much English in services it is taking away from them. Yes I understand the use of English in services to make them more accessible, but in my ideal world this wouldn't be necessary. I also dislike the use of "themes" during services. I think using lots of readings in between prayers that don't really connect or deepen the understanding of those prayers are just taking away from the service. I would always say that the service/the prayers should be the theme of the service. The service is not about how much you love camp, or how awesome nature is, it is about the prayers. I think in the reform movement we need to give the prayers more credit. I don't think we need all these gimmicks and readings and power points to get people to connect to prayer, I think with the right amount of effort we can have people connecting to prayer. Of course not everyone will connect to prayer, but lets give them a chance before putting all of these distractions in front of them.

Whoo, what would my blog entry be without a rant. I'm sure people will disagree with me, but oyyy themes during the service drive me nuts (along with other things). Also if people skip prayers because the service is getting too long, why don't you just cut down on the many english readings/english songs that add time to the service instead of cutting out a prayer that is a part of our tradition and has been so for at least a 1000 years.

So I'm gonig to wrap up now. In summary: Kutz was awesome, and I get fired up when talking about prayer. The end.

Stay tuned for my road trip updates, woot.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Triumphant return?

Well hello world,

This post is coming to you from the diaspora. Oh Israel how my heart yearns...

It has been almost 2 months since I have last blogged. Yikes! I remember feeling really proud of myself in April when I realized I had managed to keep up a rather consistent blog for the entire time I was in Israel. I got so close...

A TON has happened in the 2 months that I have been on hiatus from the blogging world. I'm not even going to try and cover everything because that would take me forever and you would probably have a novel on your hands. So I will give you a summary, maybe some highlights, we'll see how it turns out.

1. So I left off at the beginning of Passover. So after the seders I went to Jordan. wooo. I went with two other classmates/friends, one of whom will be my roommate next year and the other of whom I will be working with this summer! So first we spent shabbat in Eilat and we got hosted by Chabad. We got set up with this really nice family and the experience was very positive, which wasn't what I expected. We had the whole dinner in Hebrew, and talked about a lot of different things, learned a little Torah. We didn't tell them we were studying to be rabbis because we were nervous about their reaction, but really they were great people. I think there is so much negativity that comes from both sides, but not everyone that disagrees with you is a bad person. Maybe someday we will all be able to get past our disagreements, or still disagree but in less violent ways and we can all sit around and eat shabbos dinner together. This was pretty close.

Yeah so Jordan was cool. We went to Wadi Rum and Petra. I actually liked Wadi Rum better out of the two. We hired this awesome beduin guide to take us around and we did lots of hiking. It was super fun and so beautiful. Since it was still passover we brought some matzah and stuff into Jordan, which was pretty hilarious. mmm matzah (yuck).

2. Uhh lots of stuff? Life was busy after passover. Finals were starting, papers were due, I had more friends move into town. Everything was really really great, and a lot of what I thought about was how soon I was leaving and how badly I did not want to go.

3. Yom hashoah- holocaust remembrance day. So during the day we had a special ceremony for holocaust remembrance. The most moving part of the day was definitely the siren. At 10am a siren sounds all across Israel and everyone stops for the minute that it sounds. Cars pull over to the side of the road and drivers get out. It was really powerful to see this happen. We were standing out on king David st and the siren went off and people really did get out of their cars. There was such unity in that moment of collective remembrance. Even though there are Jews who did not lose family in the holocaust it is still a tragedy of our people (yes a people, more on that in another entry later). It was also powerful that there was a place where Jews could collectively remember is such a fashion, and where the nation could stop for that minute. I don't know if something like that happens anywhere else in the world.

4. Yom hazikarom and Yom ha'atzmaut- Memorial day and independence day. In Israel the day of remembering those who have died fighting for the land of Israel and Israeli independence day come one right after the other. There is a special transition ceremony that ends memorial day and starts independence day. I was lucky enough to get tickets to go see this ceremony during the dress rehearsal. It was so interesting how these state holidays have been ritualized and have a strong ring of other Jewish rituals. The line of Israeli and Jewish is very strange, something I continue to ponder over. Anyways this ceremony consists of having people light torches and lots of singing and dancing and fireworks at the end. I'm sure I had lots of interesting thoughts, but I just didn't write this entry soon enough.

So then real memorial day (the rehearsal was about a week before) was actually the saddest day I've experienced in Israel. I went to a ceremony at the beginning of memorial day at the western wall. They have different soldiers come in and people speak in honor of those who have died and then a kaddish is said. There was also a siren at night where everyone stops like the one on yom hashoah. It was chilling again. The thing about memorial day in Israel is that most people have been closely affected by the violence. When the vast majority of the population has been or is a soldier in the army this stuff hits extremely close to home. This was also a day that I felt the most disconnected with Israel, I felt distant because I could not relate to this sadness. I could and did try, but it is so far from my realm of experience (thankfully) that I couldn't feel like a part of the collective. There was also another siren the next day and HUC took us to a ceremony at a local high school. The whole day Jerusalem seemed pretty quiet and somber, it was intense. Especially compared to American memorial day (which I was around for), I went to a bbq and played bocci and there were sales.

So the strangest thing happens at around 8pm after memorial day when it officially becomes independence day. Israel as a whole has one of the most extreme mood swings ever. It goes from very sad to jubilation in a matter of minutes. Right around 8 or 9 I started hearing fireworks and loud music and the city (and probably the whole country) came alive. It was wild!! I had a great time. There was so much fun stuff going on around Jerusalem, and everyone was out in the streets celebrating. I guess that's what happens when independence is still something you can't take for granted and is challenged all the time, you have that much more reason to celebrate your independence. The next day (it is still independence day) Israel becomes a bbq. No but seriously. Everyone is bbqing. It was wild. Walking past one of the parks in Jerusalem and it is PACKED with people bbqing. I went to a bbq and then went to the New Israel Museum because it was free for the holiday, woot. It was a fun day. Israel is incredible.

5. End of school. Finals were not stressful, because I was already so stressed about leaving Israel. There were a bunch of closing activities we did as a class, and it was interesting to think back on the year and how much we have gotten to know one another. We went from not knowing one another to knowing too much about one another. Especially now that I am gone I realize what a special community we had. I am happy that the Jewish world is small so I know I don't have to go to long without seeing all my buddies.

6. Lag ba'omer. So the omer is the period of days that is counted between passover and shavuot. These days are supposed to be sad, so traditionally people will practice certain customs related to Jewish mourning, for example not cutting one's hair or shaving. Traditionally people don't get married during the days of the omer either. So lag ba'omer, or the 33rd day of the omer is a break from the sadness and it is a festive day. It is customary to build bonfires. So let me tell you, dang, it was crazy. I think people stow away wood all year in preparation for this day. There were HUGE bonfires, and lots of them were in stupid unsafe locations (oh Israelis). I went with some friends to the big park in Jerusalem and walked around watching all the fires. It was also cool because religious and secular people alike were celebrating and burning lots of wood. There are fun things about Jewish holidays that both observant and non-observant alike can appreciate and enjoy (I think this is true for all the holidays, so let's make it happen in our communities in America!). But yeah it was wild. There was so much fire everywhere. A pyromaniacs dream come true!!

7. Leaving. I left Israel May 24th. I definitely left a part of me there, but not enough because I am here in my room in Belmont. While I was very sad to leave my friends I had made there I was also extremely sad to leave the land of Israel. I have developed such a strong love of Israel despite all the complicated and challenging things that happen there. It sucks, I feel like I have gotten myself into a long distance relationship, and I am not a fan of those, but unfortunately at this time I can't go back, so I'm stuck because I refuse to end things with Israel. I miss it so much.

8. Life after Israel? Definitely a little bit of culture shock being back. For one thing there have been a few occasions where I was maybe a bit too blunt with my friends. Sorry guys if I offended you, but what I said was the truth. I think Israel is smarter in that way, I enjoy the ability to say what you actually mean instead of beating around the bush and sugar coating everything. I also had some weird times at the grocery store, it was too easy to shop, so much English haha. I am still adjusting, like the whole getting mail on Saturday--what life doesn't stop on saturday? American Sundays. Blue laws. etc

9. Shavuot- the only major Jewish holiday that I have yet to spend in Israel. I was pretty sad about this because the holidays are so spectacular in Israel, sigh. Also two day yom tov, what's up with that? So Shavuot celebrates the Jews receiving the Torah (it's also linked to the festival of the first fruits), and there is a custom to stay up all night studying because there is a story that says the Jews fell asleep while they were waiting to get the Torah so we have to make up for it. So I ended up going to this study session thing in brookline and it was super cool. There were a lot of good people there. It also gave me hope that there are fun, young communities of Jews outside of Israel. Yeah I learned some good stuff, oh man I love text study. Also check out exodus 24, there is some trippy sh*t in there. I also ran into my friend from youth group stuff in high school, so that was cool. See? Small Jewish world.

10. This past weekend was the gay pride parade in Boston. I had gone to Jerusalem pride last summer so it was interesting to compare, especially to a place like Massachusetts where gay marriage is legal. Also while there were protests of each parade/march it was less frustrating here in Boston because the protesters were Christian, while in J'lem they were Jewish which was more offensive to me because I identify as Jewish and I don't want to be associated with intolerant people like that. I don't think that's what Judaism is about. It was also raining during the parade this year which was super lame. Honestly Boston? It is June why is it still so friggin cold.

11. I go off to camp on Wednesday. What??? Yeah so many transitions are happening so fast, it's crazy. I will be at camp for a little over a month and then back to Belmont for a few days and then off to L.A (road trip wooo). Life is crazy.

Ok those were some highlights of the past two months. I was inspired to start blogging again, so we'll see how this goes. I mean I am still becoming a rabbi, so the blog name is still appropriate, and I don't plan on changing my name any time soon...

Good night


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This year in Jerusalem!

Hey World,

First off (to those celebrating), hag sameach, woo passover! Passover is one of my favorite holidays, if not my favorite, but to be fair I love them all.

This year for Passover I put on my own seder in honor of my mom coming to visit. It was a crazy few days of cleaning and kashering and then cooking in preparation for it. I had 11 people over, and I cooked enough for about 20 haha. I'm still eating left overs.

It's been really special so far to be in Jerusalem for passover. As every year at the end of the seder we sing "l'shana haba'a b'yerushalaim" or next year in Jerusalem, and my prayer from last year came true. Passover was also, in the time of the temple, a pilgrimage holiday, so the idea was that everyone would come to the temple in Jerusalem to offer their passover sacrifice. So it was cool to be in the place where historically people would come on pilgrimage, and many people still do come on passover, Jerusalem is full of tourists!

So during passover day (Tuesday) I went to services at Kedem, as usual. They were lovely. I really love singing hallel. One other thing I have really come to appreciate are the calendar markers in Judaism, whether it is the special insert you say on rosh chodesh, or different prayers that change with the season. For example for half the year during the section of the service called the amidah, half the year we say a line that has to do with having the rain fall "mashiv haruach u'morid hagashem" and the other half (although I think it's only in Israel) we say morid hatal, which is the prayer for dew. The first day of passover is when you switch from the rain one to the dew one. There is also a special prayer for dew that you say during the service. I just found it so cool, I remember at the beginning of my year here when we were doing the dew line and then switching and it is interesting to come back to it and think about where I was then vs where I am now. I love this stuff.

What else...last night I went to the kotel (western wall). I'm not such a fan of the wall to be honest, but I went because it's passover and this is what the Jewish people used to do, and I had the opportunity so I wanted to take it. People pray to be here and I'm here. It was cool to be there and see all the people that had descended on Jerusalem. I saw a fair amount of tears in the women's section. I had an interesting run in with a woman who asked to use my cell phone. She needed to call a cab so I let her, and then we were talking and she wanted to give me food (Jewish haha), but before she did she asked me if I was religious. I didn't really know how to answer, so I said "yes?" She asked me if I said blessings before I ate because if I didn't then she couldn't give me the food. Super frum. I said a blessing before I ate the chocolate, so we are both good. woo. It was just not something I'd heard before, but I don't spend a lot of time with super religious people so I guess it makes sense. Israel is a wild place/Judaism is a wild religion. I love it.

So now I'm on vacation. Life is good. Passover is lovely, and super easy here because everything is kosher for passover and there are all these restaurants open. Good stuff.


ps this is my fave passover video/parody thing that I've seen this year, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_RmVJLfRoM

Monday, April 11, 2011


Hey World,

Another post?! Yes, but I have something I actually want to say.

So I finally got around to reading Dr. Daniel Gordis' piece about American Rabbinical students and their relationship towards Israel. http://danielgordis.org/2011/04/01/of-sermons-and-strategies/ The article and especially the comments left below the article were very disturbing to me. I don't really understand the climate that has developed in the American Jewish community over the past year, while I am here in Israel, but frankly I am scared to go back to it. While I think it is important to support Israel, and while I do love Israel (if you read my blog you know this), I do think that it is important to have a nuanced and complex relationship with Israel, because Israel is a nuanced and complex place. To me this means being critical sometimes. Tough love. I will always support Israel's right to exist and I think it is so important for us Jews to have a homeland, but that doesn't mean we can turn a blind eye to the Palestinians, and to the other people that are suffering on behalf of the Jewish homeland.

It isn't just the American Jewish community that is the problem. Just last week J street was deemed to be "Pro-Palestinian" by an Israeli Parliamentary committee. Since J street does not offer unconditional support to Israel, in the eyes of the Israeli government it is not pro-Israel. I can't even tell you how frustrated all of this makes me. To expect unconditional support is ridiculous. Even as a Jew of the diaspora I believe that I have a right to speak my mind about what is happening in Israel. If you want my unconditional support, Israel, you need to start behaving like you want it. I am not only talking about "the conflict", I am also talking about some of the b.s laws that are being enforced by the rabbinic courts. For example this whole issue of mesorevet get, where the husband leaves his wife trapped in a marriage, and there is nothing she can do. Along with others.

While there is a lot I am critical of, this does not make me anti-Israel. I am critical because I care (a lot). I want Israel to be the amazing place, and the" light to the nations" that I know it can be. I want Israel to be blameless and perfect so badly, but that's not the reality at this time. I think that by being vocal and having a generation of young Jews who are vocal about both their praise and criticism, we can help Israel improve itself. Instead of accepting everything that goes on, maybe by being critical we can help change some things. Maybe this is overly optimistic, but no one ever brought about change by staying silent.

I have really loved living in Israel this past year. It is so amazing to have a place like this for Jews. A place where Jewish holidays are national celebrations, and where Jewish culture is lived all the time. It's really beautiful. I think Dr. Gordis was aiming his criticism more at rabbinical students who flat out deny Israel's right to exist, and I think that it is scary to think about future rabbis who are actually anti-Israel, but honestly I don't think there are that many of them. I think that Dr. Gordis has decided that certain rabbinical students' actions makes them anti-Israel, when in fact they just have a more nuanced and complex relationship with Israel. For example the case cited about a rabbinical student having his birthday in Ramallah.

One of Dr. Gordis' suggestions to help "fix" this situation is "could we find the funding to place academically superb and unequivocally Israel-supportive professors in the schools that want them? " Sure put professors that are supportive of Israel, but all being unequivocally so? See the arguement that I just made above.  Also by sheltering future rabbis I don't think you are being much of a help to the future generation of Jewish leaders.

I think that by expecting unconditional support of Israel it alienates more people. Let's say you are someone with minimal Israel education, and has maybe come on a birthright trip or something so you have seen the happy amazing side of Israel, but not the more complicated and confusing parts, and then you come to live in Israel for a year as part of your rabbinic training (or just life) and you come into contact with the most challenging parts of Israel (whatever those might be for you). How can you deal with those? I think there needs to be some preparation. Israel education in America needs to prove that Israel has a right to exist and is an amazing place without ignoring the realities of the state. How exactly to do that is a great question, and one I am going to be struggling with for a while. I don't want to turn people off of Israel, Israel has enough haters, but at the same time I refuse to lie and I refuse to ignore the complexities of the situation here.

As a fellow rabbinical student and encounter buddy said (I feel weird using names on my blog, so I won't. ALSO I'm paraphrasing) she highlighted the fact that as Jews we struggle with difficult texts all the time. Every year we read about the binding of Isaac, and struggle with the complexities in the story. We read about God being angry and seemingly far from perfect, and we struggle with that. If we spend our lives struggling with difficult ideas that are put forth in our text, so why can't we struggle with the difficulties that exist in the reality of the state of Israel? It is not black and white, and I feel that it would be dishonest of me as a Jew and especially as a future rabbi to portray the situation as such.

whew. I hope that made sense. I welcome comments on this issue. I think this is something extremely important to discuss, because I think this tension is only going to get worse. I am nervous to see how this will all play out, but at the same time I know that there are many people who feel similarly about this situation, and that this critical and yet also supportive voice will continue to be heard.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

good vibes

Hey World,

First off according to my "stats" for this blog, I have a following in Japan. I'm not sure if this is true, or if it is some glitch. But if you are from Japan reading this blog, consider this a shout out and thank you for visiting. I would love to know how you found me. Also I am hoping for the best for you over there (whether or not you are reading my blog)

Second. I cut my hair off. It's shorter than it's been in a while, and I am LOVING having short hair. It was a necessary change. It's funny how a haircut can really change things.

Third, today I taught my Talmud class, and it was awesome. In honor of passover coming up we studied the 10th chapter of masechet psachim (the mishnah) which is all about the passover seder. I love passover/studying about it so I had a lot of fun with it. I think it is cool that so much of what we do in the seder has already been codified by the time of the mishnah. Even the 4 questions (yes with some changes, but they are still there). I recommend reading it, it's not too difficult, especially if you find yourself a good translation. We had an interesting conversation about what it means to see yourself as if you personally left Egypt and were freed from slavery. How does one do that? Also as progressive Jews should and is our understanding of this requirement different? food for thought...

Fourth, I wrote about this a little bit in a previous blog entry, but 2 weeks ago I went to navah tehillah and we sang part of shir hashirim and I found that they recorded one of the songs we did, which was my favorite one so I just wanted to share it: http://navatehila.bandcamp.com/track/kshoshana So shir ha shirim is a love poem and the chorus of this song is "like a rose amidst the thorns so is my love (beloved?) among the [other] women." awwwwwwwwwwwww.

And also cause I'm in a sharing mood here is anther song I like. This is going back to the beginning of my blog when I used to share music, oooh vintage...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxtzDL3CEHQ

ok off to spin class. woooo


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

what to do if your animal kicks a rock that breaks a window that breaks a vase?

Hello World,

Happy Talmud Tuesday!! That's not really a thing, I just made it up. However Tuesday is the day I have my Talmud class, AND it's alliteration, so yeah.

Anyways I am still taking a Talmud class with the Israeli Rabbinic Program every Tuesday. This semester we have a different teacher, so the class is very different, but I LOVE it. We are doing masechet bava kamma, which is about damages. While some people may think it is absurd to study about what to do if a cow you have is walking in another person's yard and steps on a rock in a way that it flies up and breaks something, or if a bird is flying and the wind that it's wings make breaks something... I think it's awesome! Yes this has very little, if any practical purpose, and I doubt as a Rabbi I will ever get asked halachic questions like this (if you notice there is no religious significance to these questions, it is purely secular dealing with property), but that's not why I study Talmud.

For me the beauty of the Talmud lies in it's organization and logic. Each sugya (section-ish, argument? hard to translate), is organized in such a genius way. When I first go through to try and figure out what is happening I will open up my Talmud and try to translate. The problem is (which I think where the Talmud loses a lot of people), is that even if you understand every word you probably are not going to understand what is going on. Then I go back and try and see the structure. Who is arguing with who, what quotes are being used to challenge someone's point or to support someone's claim. Within a sugya there are arguments/differences of opinions and then arguments over why the opinions differ, it gets pretty meta at times. After working for a while I will get to a point where I can understand most of what is going on, and then it helps to have a chevruta or a teacher to help further clarify and point out the details that I missed/didn't understand.

This whole process is beautiful to me. I want to share it with everyone. The problem is the lack of accessibility of the Talmud. I have been studying Talmud for over 4 years  now, and it is still  difficult for me. You need to have a knowledge of Hebrew/aramaic, knowledge of different talmudic terms and how the Talmud is structured and patience (until you get really good, which I am waiting for). Yes, there are English translations, but the language is weird, because the language of the Talmud is sparse/they don't use lots of words to clarify what they are talking about because a lot of knowledge is assumed. So yeah the translations are also not very clear, and it is hard to get to the beauty of the text through translation.

This is something that frustrates me when I teach my talmud class. I really enjoy teaching the kids and having discussions with them, but I want to figure out a way to show them this beauty. They don't have enough Hebrew to study in the original, and I'm not sure I could do it in translation. I have fun showing them interesting content (which there is a lot of!) in the Talmud, like all the stories, but the structure and the logic is a really special part of the text and I want to be able to bring that in more.

Give the Talmud a chance! Even the people in South Korea realize its genius (it is studied in schools there, look it up).

Ok the end of my not rant, it is a rant that is positive. Is there a word for that? Probably.

Nezek shalem or chetzi nezek?


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jerusalem is NOT boring

Hello World,

So the title of this blog post is dedicated to the MANY people (mostly Israelis from outside of Jerusalem) who always say how Jerusalem is boring. I disagree. If by boring people are referring to the nightlife, while Jerusalem doesn't have the same nightlife as Tel Aviv, it still has a lot of options. There is downtown and there are many bars and clubs with many different feels. There is also nachla'ot which has some more chill bars, and there are cute places all over. Same goes with restaurants.

If you are not referring to night life there is still a lot to do here. I hope I have made that clear in my blog. Yeah there are a lot of tourists, but there are places where there aren't. Also the touristy places have GREAT people watching, well all of J'lem has that.

The most "boring" day in Jerusalem is probably shabbat if you are not someone who celebrates it. If you do want the shabbat experience Jerusalem offers a plethora of praying options (I still have some I need to go to) and a very restful atmosphere. If that is not your thing, there are restaurants that do stay open, they are harder to find but I know they exist. There is one on Azza st that I walk by a lot coming come from shabbat dinner and it always seems to be hopping.

In addition to all of this the Jerusalem municipality (or something) puts on fun events. For example, last week there was a food festival in the old city. I went there last Thursday night with some friends and it was super fun. There were all these different booths with yummy food set up. At first we tried to find the food in the Armenian quarter and got lost, so we ended up in the Jewish quarter. It was a gorgeous night, and there was a band playing. It was quite the scene. I had this delicious rice dish, I forget what it was called, but dang it was yummy.

So yeah, Jerusalem is awesome.

I had an eventful and lovely shabbat this week. I went to services at navah tehillah (the renewal minyan). Before doing kabbalat shabbat we sang some of shir ha'shirim (the song of songs), which was a nice change. I learned that if you are sefardi you actually sing shir ha'shirim every shabbat instead of the psalms that are used in the ashkenazi version. Good stuff. Then I had dinner at my friends and it was Mexican themed, which was amazing. I think I've mentioned before Israel's lack of quality mexican food, so this really satisfied my craving. They could teach the Israeli restaurants a thing or two about mexican AND it was all kosher, you can have good mexican without meat (or with fake meat).

After that I went to bed knowing I was going to have to wake up around 4:30am. yikes. Why?? To go to bakashot. A while ago during Israel seminar we visited this synagogue called Ades, which is a Syrian synagogue in nachla'ot. It is so cool it even has it's own wikipedia page. They are known for their particular style of chazzanut (singing of the liturgy) that is crazy complex. When we went on Israel seminar we got to meet a Chazzan and he talked to us about the style and gave us a demonstration. He also invited us for bakashot (literal meaning: requests). Bakashot happen during the winter, but super late at night/early in the morning on shabbat. Everyone gathers in the synagogue to sing special songs each week. So I really wanted to go check it out. And finally this week I did.

I'm really glad I went. It was definitely a totally new experience for me. I didn't know any of the songs. Probably because they were all from this syrian/aleppo tradition of music and I mostly only encounter ashkenazi style stuff. The singing sounded very middle eastern (I don't have good musical terms to explain it). I was sitting with my friend above the action in the women's section, which was cool because I could see everything that was happening. The men took turns singing solos, and wow some of them could really sing! It was great to watch. I HIGHLY recommend you go, if you are in Jerusalem when it is happening. There are only a few more shabbats left until they go on haitus for the summer (I'm pretty sure), so get there! People were very welcoming, they came around with coffee and tea, which was much appreciated in the early hours. (If you are interested more in bakashot, the wikipedia article is also pretty good).

So after a few hours of bakashot, I went home and went to bed. I slept through my alarm so I didn't make it to morning services. I was a bit bummed because I like going on saturday morning, but I did need the sleep. Then I got ready and went to a picnic lunch. It was super nice out today so I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it, which was the logic behind having lunch outside. We had the picnic in gan hapa'amon, which is beautiful right now. There are these really fragrant purple flowers in bloom.

Then I went home and took another epically long shabbat nap. Which always messes me up for falling asleep on Saturday night. oy. I forgot to set one of my clocks to the hour ahead and then I forgot that I forgot so I accidentally had an extra hour of shabbat. I was confused why it was so dark, haha oy. I fixed the clock now so that won't happen again.

Yeah so life is good. I'm starting to feel the time pressure, because I leave for America in less than 2 months (May 24th). April 1st marked my completion of my 9th month here, which is nutso. So I definitely feel the pressure to get to everything that I have been wanting to do and putting off. ahhh. and I also have school, haha.

ok homework time...

Shavua tov,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Well Hello World,

So it's weird that a week ago I was writing about the bombing, because it almost seems like it was even longer ago. Everything has returned to normal, maybe except for everyone being more alert, but yeah there is so much going on around me even one week seems like forever...

Speaking of, I know it's been over 2 weeks since Purim and I am seriously slacking, so today I will present to you PURIM, wooooooooooooo.

Purim here in Israel was EPIC. In Israel you have the opportunity to celebrate for 2 days instead of just 1 because there are different days of Purim for walled cities like Jerusalem(called Shushan Purim) and for non-walled cities. Purim started on a Saturday night, so in order to celebrate for both days I left Jerusalem, and went to Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv was insane!!!! Purim is like halloween except better and everyone gets really into it. It was awesome to walk around Tel Aviv with everyone in costume and celebrating. We went to this part of Tel Aviv called Florentine, and there was a HUGE street party going on. Think kind of like the village on Halloween. It was nuts, there were thousands of people in all sorts of costumes and there were different places around the area to stop and dance. It was also just really cool that this huge celebration was happening for a Jewish holiday, something that I don't get to experience in America (well yes the holiday, but not the fact that everyone is also celebrating). There was this sense of community and joint celebration throughout the two days, which I loved.

So the next day (the Jewish day starts at sunset so we are still on day one of Purim, aka regular Purim) I went to Holon to see the parade they have there. Appartently it is a huge attraction because it was super crowded. The parade was clearly aimed at younger kids, but again it was fun to be in the crowd celebrating together. There were lots of cute little kids in costumes. I also think I got sunburnt.

Then after that I went back to Jerusalem with my classmates. I was home for about an hour and then there was a Purim shpiel (funny play for Purim) at school. It was fun to laugh with my classmates and see everyone in their fun costumes. My costume was basically this ridiculous red wig...here's a pic (I've been told it suits me and I should cut my hair like that but I don't think I'm going to).

After the Purim Shpiel, we all trekked out to a bar in the center of town for a Megillah reading (megillah or more specifically megillat esther is the scroll that the story of Purim is written on and a big part of Purim is hearing it read). Yep in Israel you can do a Megillah reading at a bar. HUC had arranged it, so a bunch of my classmates along with some Israelis read megillah there. Next year I would really like to read megillah and learn the trope ,it sounded really nice.

After being at the bar for a bit I met up with some friends at the shuk. Yes the shuk that I am obsessed with with all the fruits and vegetables. BUT it has been turned into this dance party. There were a few djs and a bunch of people dancing. It was cool to see the shuk at night and in such a different light. Almost none of the actual stands were open and yet it was filled with people.

Then afterwards (yes this was a looongggg day/night) I went with a bunch of friends to the Hebrew U purim party. I feel like I have been saying that everything is cool/awesome, and it's true and so was the Hebrew U party. There were sooo many students crammed into this space. Hebrew U/the planners of this party had rented out a parking garage and turned it into a really large dance club. There was great music and lots of people. I even ran into my bro there (he is abroad studying at Hebrew U for the semester). Then at some really late hour I went home.

The next morning I got myself up to head to another Megillah reading (if you want to fully observe the mitzvah of hearing the megillah read you need to hear it twice during the holiday once at night and once during the day, technically if you are celebrating 2 days that means you need to hear it 4 times...). Anyways, I went to the women of the Wall's megillah reading because a friend was chanting there. There are actually a bunch of women's readings where women chant instead of men. In more traditional circles when women chant only other women can hear them because it is considered immodest and also problematic for other reasons for a man to hear a woman singing. But despite this there are many women who do chant because Purim is also seen as a woman's holiday because one of the major heroes of the story is Esther (a woman what what!!!). While there are many mitzvot that more traditional/orthodox Jews argue are only commanded for men, hearing the megillah read is one that is for both women and men, which enables women to be able to chant megillah in a way that is fully in accordance with Jewish law. While a woman leading a service can be more "controversial" a woman reading megillah isn't.

Then I met up with some friends and we explored the downtown area (by ben Yehuda). There were a few street fairs which we went to. There were costume contests for the little kids (ADORABLE) and face painting and people performing. Here are some pictures:

OMG it's spider man!!!!

(band playing on Shushan St on Shushan Purim! Shushan is also where the purim story took place)

Sooo after that I went with some friends and we wandered to nachlaot. Nachlaot is a part of Jerusalem, and I am obsessed. It is THE BEST. If/when I live here again I will definitely get an apartment in Nachlaot. It is right by the shuk and it is a beautiful/funky neighborhood and a lot of cool young people live there. There are some great bars there and just a lot of fun/chill stuff seems to be going on there...

In nachlaot we stumbled on this big dance party in this courtyard type area. People were just jamming out, there were a lot of cool artsy costumes. I think I saw the best/most creative costumes at this party. There was also a drum circle happening right there. The day was gorgeous and it was just perfect. Well minus the fact that I was exhausted from all of this celebrating.

So to sum up. Purim was amazing. 2 days of Purim is hard, it's like a marathon of partying, but it was great. I LOVE celebrating the Jewish holidays in Israel and this was one of my favorites. Purim is one of the less "religious" hoidays because it isn't a yom tov so you can (even if you observe yom tov) still spend money and cook and use your cell phone and all of that. So in Israel that means that everyone celebrates. It's a great excuse to get dressed up and party. It is Celebrating the survival of the Jews even when people were trying to destroy us. Fun times.

My parting (student) rabbinic advice is, COME CELEBRATE PURIM in ISRAEL. Do itttttt. It's the best. Seriously. I don't think we have enough fun with this holiday as a whole in America. Let's change that. There is no reason why Reform Jews (or any Jews) can't get into this holiday. It's fun, theologically it's not so difficult, and all you have to do is hear the megillah and eat and be merry. woooooooooooooooooooo

Happy almost daylight savings time in Israel (it starts tomorrow night)...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Hey World,

It has been a while since I have updated. I owe you an entry about Purim (which was amazing), but right now I am not in the mood to talk about it.

Today there was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. A bomb exploded near the central bus station injuring over 30 people and killing one. I was in class when it happened, and we all found out basically through people who were using their computers in class seeing the news. We were listening to this really interesting speaker who is a leader of the social workers strike that is taking place in Israel, but after people found out no one was fully paying attention. Everyone was getting and sending phone calls and texts to make sure people we know are ok/ to tell people who were worried about us that we were ok. Everyone in my HUC class is ok, thankfully.

This was not something I expected to happen while I am here in Jerusalem. There has been relative quiet for the past few years, so I was convinced that this would continue. To be honest I think it might be scarier for Israelis than for me because this reminds them of what happened during the second antifada (where there were bombs in crowded areas quite frequently), which I was not here for.

The violence two weeks ago now in Itamar where a family was brutally slain by an arab-palestinian was tragic to me, but it didn't hit me in the same way. Settlers are more removed from my day to day life and their actions (I think) are much more controversial than people living in Jerusalem. That is not to say that I don't think what was done to the family in Itamar was absolutely horrible, but just that it was more distant for me. Violence in the settlements is awful (both the violence towards the Jews and towards the Arabs), but it is farther away from my reality.

Jerusalem...I live here. It's not that I feel particularly scared, more just shaken up. The uncertainty is also what is getting to me. I want to know who the bomber was, what organization he comes from, and if I now need to expect further violence. I hope not, but I don't know. I really hope this in an isolated incident, but it is impossible to know that now.

Most of all this bombing just makes me extremely sad. I am sad for the people who were killed and seriously injured and even those not so seriously injured. I am sad for an end to the period of silence in Jerusalem. I am sad over the anger that I have seen and heard coming from Jews, not that they shouldn't be angry (heck I'm angry), but that the anger is being generalized to all Palestinians. People are saying, and THESE are the people we want to make peace with?? We don't even know who the people behind this are, the Palestinian Authority has condemned the bombing so I'm going to assume they are not behind this. The blind rage that is resulting from this makes me sad (this is not to say that everyone is reacting this way at all, but there are people). I am sad for the people who are now too scared to take a bus. I am sad for everyone affected negatively by this happening.

Maybe this disruption of the silence will cause more people to think about the situation. When it is quiet it can be easy to forget what is going on, but maybe this will help bring some more urgency to the peace talks. I think that this was a horrible horrible thing that happened today, but if we can get some good out of it somehow at least we could give the huge black storm cloud a small silver lining...

I dunno. It's strange how life goes on.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by today's events. I am hoping for the best.


ps thanks to everyone who called/texted/emailed/facebooked to make sure I was ok.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Hey World,

So this past Sunday was my birthday. I know it's rude to ask how old someone is, but since no one asked, and since we are in Israel so people ask "rude/blunt" questions, I will tell you: I turned 23, woo.

Actually 23 seems like a pretty anti-climactic age. 22 was scary because it represented being a "real adult" because I was going to graduate college, and I was no longer the party age of 21. Nothing really scary comes with turning 23 for me. I feel 23, but at the same time I don't. Age is strange.

What else...I taught again on Sunday. It was good times. We did Honi the circle drawer through skits. One story about Honi that is popular is the one about how he sees some dude planting a carob tree, and Honi asks him why he bothers because he is not going to live to see it bare fruit (because that takes 70 years). The man replies that he is planting for his childrens children who will be able to enjoy the fruit. Then Honi falls asleep for 70 years (but he doesn't know it), wakes up and sees the tree with fruit and everyone is happy and yay. Nice story right? You can talk about philanthropy and environmentalism...BUT while most people end the story there that is not the end.

Then end is that Honi goes to his house and tries to convince people it is him, THE Honi. No one believes him because it has been 70 years. So he goes to the house of study where he was and still is a big deal. He even hears them referencing him, but when he reveals his identity no one believes him, and they don't show him the proper respect. Honi gets depressed and prays for mercy, and God takes his life....Kind of a downer. Imagine if they included the end of the story in all those times we read it to the little kids in religious school. Yikes.

There are other stories like that, that have similar dark endings that we conveniently chop off. I do think that you can learn from the story not as a whole, but it is interesting when you get the whole picture. Things become more nuanced. Just like the tanur achnai (the oven of Achnai story). People die at the end of it...

Anyways enough about Talmud. I was craving shakshuka all day today, so I made some for dinner. Soooo good. It's tomatoes and spices and stuff and then you cook eggs in it. It's an Israeli thing. Come to Israel and I'll take you out for some good shakshuka.

I don't know what else...life is good. Tuesday talmud class is good. The gym is good. I'm just so exciting right now haha.

Oh also as un-pc or whatever as people say this song is, I CANT STOP LISTENING TO IT. IT'S SO CATCHY. It's the new lady gaga song...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4a8QtvOkBQ&NR=1&feature=fvwp

and I'm off.



Thursday, February 24, 2011

what a beautiful day!!!

Hey World,

Today is absolutely beautiful here in Jerusalem. If I thought it was gorgeous out yesterday, today is even better. I am having one of those "life is such a gift" days (or IFLML). It's just been great.

First off I finally got my wallet back. I lost it/left it on the bus when we were coming back from our trip down south. I got really lucky because someone found it and called someone at HUC and got in touch with me. Nothing was missing, and the guy was super nice. So thank you Israeli guy who returned my wallet to me. You are the best. I hope you get lots of points for your good deed (either here or in Olam haba, the world to come, depending on what you believe)!!

What else, well today I went to the shuk. It is such a pleasure to walk around the shuk and all the more so when it is so beautiful out. I still love the shuk. so much. Right now persimmons are in season and they are my new favorite fruit. If you have not had a persimmon, I order you (as a future rabbi haha) to try one. But seriously the are AMAZING.

At the shuk there was this really awesome band playing which I stopped to listen to for a bit. They were so good! It was a sax, a drum guy, two guys on some kind of mandolin type thing that sounded really beautiful, and one other instrument that I forget. Great music!!! It was also cool to stand in the crowd and see the people dancing. These moments are what I think of when I ask myself why I love Israel.

I dunno what else. Life is good. I'm going to go back outside now.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

South Tiyul!!

Hey World!

So after being on encounter and feeling pretty down about Israel, I went with my class on a trip down to the south and rediscovered my love for this place. Israel lets me down, but it also impresses me and is a place that has a lot of meaning for me. Confusing.

So the trip...We left on Wednesday and headed down to this development town called Yerucham. There really isn't anything exciting there, I guess the noteworthy thing is that it is becoming a better place to live after it was formerly a place that new immegrants were shipped to and just wanted to leave. I dunno...

For the entire trip we stayed at Kibbutz Yahel which is a Reform kibbutz in the negev. It's a really nice place. Being in the desert was awesome. It is sooo beautiful with all these looming mountains and different colored rocks. I recommend it. It was also nice to be in a place where Reform Judaism is accepted and used. Jerusalem is really religiously intense, so it was nice to be outside of J'lem in a more relaxed environment.

Thursday of the tiyul was my favorite day. We had the options of two hikes, and I chose to hike Mt. shlomo, which is one of the hardest hikes in Israel. It was soooo fun. The views were AMAZING, and it was a challenging hike, but not so challenging that I felt like I was going to die. There were lots of obstacles and things we had to climb on both up and down. Everyone was really supportive and encouraging, so that was also cool. I highly recommend it.

Also down in this area there is the Yotvata headquarters/factory thing. They make milk and chocolate milk, etc. So we stopped there after the hike and also one other time. They have great ice cream there, and chocolate milk, but you can get the milk from them most places around the country. In Israel (I'm not sure if there are other places you can find this) they have chocolate milk in a bag...it sounds weird, but it's awesome. mmmmmmmm

Then on Friday we went to Kibbutz Lotan, which is this really cool environmental/Reform kibbutz. They do a lot of cool work there in terms of trying to be environmentally friendly. They even make houses out of used tires and stuff, so they can reuse their waste. While we were there we had the option of doing different projects. I helped to plant some vegetables for their garden. We tried to plant them following the way it is said you are supposed to do it in the Mishnah, which was interesting. I don't know how many restrictions people have who plant/farm in the land of Israel, but there are a lot of interesting directions about it in the Mishnah. Good stuff...

After being at Lotan we drove down to Eilat to go snorkeling/have some beach time. The weather was wonderful!! I laid out in the sun and got some color. It was crazy the temperature difference between Eilat/where we were staying and Jerusalem, even though the drive is only about 3 hours!

After Eilat we drove back to Yahel to get ready for Shabbat. We had services at the kibbutz that were lead by some HUC students, and then we had a lovely dinner and some z'mirot singing (my favorite!!!!!). Afterwards I also played some bananagrams (good times).

Saturday was also very relaxing. We had services outside in the desert which was pretty cool. It was so beautiful to look around at everything. There is something very spiritual about the desert. I also read Torah (3rd week in a row!).

We had some interesting study sessions on Saturday also, and then when shabbat ended we boarded the bus to go home to J'lem. It was a great time! I think it is so important to get out of J'lem every once and a while, it is kind of like in NYC where everything is just so intense (obviously in a different way) and it is necessary to get out and breathe every once and a while.

What else?? My fam fam is here. Well part of it. My Dad and step mom and step siblings are all visiting Israel (and my bro is here studying abroad) so it's been fun to see them, even though school gets in the way.

I also taught my Talmud class on Sunday. It's a new group of kids with some of the same but a lot different. I taught together with the other teacher and next week we are going to split up, so I am waiting to see how my class will look. I taught this text (b'rachot 62a) that was pretty racy. Well kind of. It is about these students who followed their rabbi/teacher into the bathroom to learn the proper way to go #2. When challenged as to why they dared to that they say "It is torah and I must learn it." We talked about what the limits of Torah is, and if you believe that torah means all learning, is there Torah in the bathroom? I think it's an interesting question. We also talked about the limits of learning, is it acceptable to go as far as violating your teacher's privacy in that way. What if they had just asked their teachers? There are lots of good questions that are raised by this text.

What else...today I just got back from an army base. As part of our Israel seminar they took us to an army base and we talked with some soldiers. We went to the paratrooper unit, which is one of the elite units in the army. It is hard to get into, but it's kind of funny that they have a paratrooper unit since they haven't had any paratrooping operations since 1957. It was interesting to talk with them, and see how proud and dedicated they are to Israel and to the military. At the same time I can't be 100% positive about the military since they do some not so great stuff in parts of the west bank. It's not the unit we met with, and I don't know how many people are actually responsible for treating people shittily, but it still happens. I would be interested to go to another army base, where it's not the elite soldiers, and see the differences, if there are.

Um yeah that's about it. Oh except...today was GORGEOUS weather-wise. Oh man. What a beautiful day to be alive and in Israel...



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Encounter, take 1

Hey World,

So last Thursday and Friday I went on this trip called encounter, which takes current and future Jewish diaspora leaders into the west bank to hear Palestinian narratives. Or to quote from their website (encounterprograms.org): "Encounter is an educa­tional orga­ni­za­tion dedi­cated to providing global dias­pora leaders from across the reli­gious and polit­ical spec­trum with expo­sure to Palestinian life."

One of my goals that I had from the outset of this experience was to write an awesome blog entry about it. I wanted to go, absorb as much as I could (while still being critical), and then share it with people who don't have the opportunity to go on encounter. I set the bar high, I might write 2 entries, because this experience and these people deserve that.

While being in Israel, it can be very easy to forget the conflict is even happening. It is not a part of my everyday reality, I go to school, maybe the gym, hang out with friends, and none of that is effected by what is going on in the west bank. Even though this is the case, there are people (on both sides of the conflict) who have to deal with a lot because of this situation. This is a reality, and I wanted to go see what some Palestinians had to say for themselves.

I was definitely nervous for the trip. I wanted to go on it because I had an easier time than I want to admit, to being overly critical of the Palestinian Arabs, and dismissing their claims, because they are "the other." I knew this was wrong, so I wanted to challenge myself as a person and also as a future rabbi to go on this program and really see what was going on and see individual people and hear their experiences. It is hard to deny some one rights when you have sat with them face to face and talked to them on a person to person level.

We did a lot over the course of the 2 days that I was there. We were mainly in Bethlehem and the area around it. We heard from a lot of different people about their personal experiences living in the west bank, and the hardships that they face. We saw the safety barrier that is being built around areas of the west bank and learned how some people are affected by it. We each had a home stay with a Palestinian family. There was a lot!!

I encountered a lot of people and a lot of viewpoints that were very problematic to me and my conception of Israel and the Jewish people. I am still trying to sort out all of the experiences I had, and come to more conclusions about what I saw and heard and how I will take concrete actions based on these conclusions.

The biggest problem I had while being in Bethlehem was that I could not believe that Jews were treating other people so terribly. As a Jew growing up I was taught to have pride for my religion/culture, I was taught about the accomplishments of Jews and how relative to our size we have done a lot, and won more nobel prizes, etc. I was always taught that being a good Jew, meant being a good person. We have all these laws and expectations for ourselves, and I always thought we were held up to a higher standard. We should be more moral, conduct ourselves better than others. We talk about being "a light unto the nations" (and while this phrase is definitely problematic, and I can address that another time) if we want to say that, than we should act that way.

I did not see this happening in the west bank. At all. For example, we were speaking with this woman Sheerin about her village. She lives in Al-walaje, a small arab village in the west bank. The current plan is for the security wall to be build around the village, totally encircling it, and they only way to get to the rest of the west bank (when the wall is complete) will be to go through a tunnel check point run by Israeli soldiers. The current check points are notoriously unreliable, and can sometimes take hours to get through. This check point will be in addition to the checkpoint in bethlehem that they would have to go through to get into Israel if they are even able to get the permits to get there, which is extremely difficult. If you want to argue that this security is necessary because of what happened during the second intifada, fine, but there MUST be a better way to go about doing this.

Sheerin was telling us about all the ways the wall will affect her and her village. Her house will be surrounded on three sides by the wall, and another house near hers, one of its walls will actually be part of the security barrier and so all the windows will be completely sealed. Her house is on a hill, along with the rest of the village, and from there you can look down at a valley, and it is just a beautiful view. It was breathtaking, I tried to take some pictures but they didn't do it justice. Another tragedy of this wall is that it is going to take away this view.

Sheerin also took us to this one woman's house, whose house will NOT be within the security barrier. She claimed that it is because Israel didn't want to give up more land to have her be within the boarders of the barrier. As hesitant as I am to believe this, there really doesn't seem like a good reason why they can't move the wall a little bit (it really isn't that much at all) to keep her within the village. Instead she is going to be totally cut off, and her house is going to be surrounded by an electric fence. wtf.

I'm not here to argue for or against the wall, I don't yet have enough information to come to an informed opinion on that. BUT even if you want to argue for the existence of the wall, there MUST and IS a better way to go about building it. It just seems like the people who decided where the wall should go were super paranoid, and treating every Palestinian as if they were themselves a suicide bomber. Palestinians are people too, and it disgusts me how they are being dehumanized and restricted by current plans for the wall. This is no way to treat other people.

The first day we went to an elementary school called the hope flowers school, which is a private Palestinian school. We learned about the special counselling services they offer for the kids there. We spoke with Ghada who is one of the leaders of the school, and whose father founded the school. She was speaking about how many kids in the school that have been traumatized by Israeli soldiers. She mentioned that there were kids that had been traumatized by having their houses searched by Israeli soldiers. So again, maybe these house searches are necessary, but I'm sure there must be ways to conduct them that don't traumatize these kids. There are many people we heard from that get scared when they see a yarmulke, or hear Hebrew being spoken. That really broke my heart to hear, but at the same time, after hearing what everyone had to say, I am not surprised.

One of the parts that I think is going to stay with me the most is my homestay. Me and my friend Allie, stayed together at this Palestinian-Muslim family's home. Attalla, was the "man of the house" he and his wife were so kind and welcoming. They were such sweet people. These are the people that I am going to think of when I am tempted to marginalize Palestinian's rights and quality of life, in favor of some policy that will benefit the Jews, but at a cost. They were so warm, and really Palestinian hospitality is incredible.

I left this trip on Friday feeling lost and confused and angry and sad all at the same time. One of the challenging parts of all this was that right after we got back, we had an hour to get ready before shabbat. I went from being in the west bank, to being in services in less than 2 hours. It was especially hard because I felt so let down by the conduct of my fellow Jews who were enacting these policies and allowing so much b.s to happen in the west bank. There is a prayer that we say at every service, called the Aleinu, which thanks God for making us unique as a people. While I was saying it this Friday night I was thinking about how this is not true, and I was praying for it to be true. We should be a good example of how to behave and conduct one's life in a positive way. There are Jews who do things that certainly don't set us apart, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, I pray for our behavior as a people (especially the way we act towards Palestinians) to exhibit this. We are told to be kind to "the stranger dwelling within our midst" and as a whole this is not happening here.

I went to a shabbat lunch on Saturday, and ended up speaking a little about my experiences and getting into an argument. I was still hesitant to share my experiences as I was still processing the whole trip, but I shared some. I was sharing what I had seen, and how bad the situation was in the west bank for many people. One person at the lunch (who had made aliyah and served in the army) was arguing back that actually relative to the other Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon and Gaza, the Palestinians living in the West Bank had it better. While this might certainly be the case, it still doesn't make it OK. Just because the unemployment in Lebannon for the Palestinians is at like 60% or more (I don't remember), doesn't make the 43% unemployment in Bethlehem ok (again not that this is entirely Israel's fault, there are also problems within Palestinian society and government).

I was accused of swallowing the propaganda that encounter had fed me. Which really angered me. I think one of the great things about encounter is that we are presented with many different viewpoints (yes all Palestinian, but different) and we are not told what to think, we are left to do what we want and come to the conclusions we want about the experience we had. Even though I am very aware that some of our speakers presented things with a certain slant, you can't just totally invalidate everything they say because of that, or everything I saw. In addition there is so much propaganda on both sides. He was arguing that the route of the security barrier was carefully planned and thought out for maximum security. Maybe this is true, but then how come when the village of Al-walaje was requesting the route to be slightly adjusted the only reason the Israeli defense gave for the route to remain the same was that if it moved it would be too close to the biblical zoo. That doesn't sound like security to me, that sounds ridiculous. As Sheerin said, the animals are already in cages, what do they care?

A side comment that was made during this argument was especially infuriating to me, even though I didn't respond to it at the time. One person said how it's a problem that Jews love arabs more than they love other Jews (in reference to being sympathetic to the Palestinians situation). GAHHHHHHHH. I'm not sure if he was including me in this category, but seriously? Do you know what I'm in school to do? Do you know that I am dedicating my LIFE to serving the Jewish people? How dare you say that. I wasn't offending that he was implying that I like Arabs, I would say that I decide on a person to person basis, but that is the same for any nationality/ethnicity, etc. I was furious because of the way I felt discredited and how this definitely happens in circles I run in. Once you show sympathy towards the Palestinian situation people will brush you off as a crazy liberal, or as anti-Israel. I think this is partially a coping mechanism because if everyone acknowledged what was happening, it would be much harder to endorse the current policies of the state of Israel.

Just because as Jews we have been persecuted and have had horrible things happen to us as a people does NOT give us the right to treat others like shit. That makes us no better than the people who did that to us. That really bothers me.

This is also difficult because I am not anti-Israel. By making this conflict so black and white it makes it difficult to come to any solutions. One of the things that I said I would like to work on after this experience is to change the conception of Jews who are sympathetic to the Palestinians. We should not automatically be labelled as anti-Israel, or self-hating Jews. I want to be able to express myself in a way that both supports Israel's right to exist and right to protect itself, but that also is critical of the ways that Israel is going about doing this.

While this blog entry has been very negative, I do think that there is hope. The group of people I went on encounter with was impressive. I met a lot of future and current Jewish leaders who were compassionate and thoughtful, and just great people, and we can help shape the way our communities talk about these issues. Also not all Israelis act in the same way, there are Israelis who are also against what is going on in the west bank, and there are efforts to improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians. There isn't enough, but it's out there and hopefully it will continue to grow.

I don't remember who exactly, but one of our speakers said that God put us here together for a reason... He said that when we cooperate and are able to make peace that we will be able to benefit a lot from each other. I thought this was beautiful and hopeful and I would like to end with this thought.

Thank you for reading. I encourage comments/questions/anything, but most of all, if you have the chance GO ON ENCOUNTER. It is sooo important.