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 :-)