I am in the midst of celebrating my 3rd Shabbat here in Jerusalem. Shabbat here is a very special time; there's a very unique spirit in the air that lives from Friday night until Saturday night that you just don't feel often enough in the States, outside synagogue walls. The spirit is hard to describe, and maybe it's just the absence of construction workers and rude cabbies that occupy my neighborhood during the week, but the city has a radiant and glowing essence on Shabbat. It's quickly become my favorite time of the week, where I spend wonderful time with my classmates at dinners and services and I take a bit of quality time for myself as well.
We've had several different services this week, with various members of the faculty, board of directors, and alumni welcoming us to the "College-Institute" (as David Ellenson, president of HUC-JIR calls it.) Services last night and this morning were absolutely beautiful. Last night I was able to hear Cantor Eliyahu Schliefer sing for the first time, which for any cantor-in-training is an amazing experience. Cantor Schliefer, the head of the cantorial program at this campus, is considered to be "Yoda" because of his extensive (a vast understatement) knowledge of liturgical Jewish music. It's obvious that he takes his job as both cantor and professor very seriously and has incredibly high expectations for his students. While the thought of studying under him is very nerve-wracking, I am incredibly honored to be given the opportunity to do so. I also helped to lead a sing-along last night at dinner, which got everyone, students, faculty, and alumni up and dancing and having a wonderful time. It reminded me how much fun Shabbat can and should be.
This morning, Cantor Tamar Havilio and Rabbi Michael Marmur (the Dean of this campus) led lovely services in the Blaustein Auditorium, which has beautiful glass windows that overlook the Old City. It's truly awe-inspiring to be able to pray and sing directly to the Old City while being surrounded by my new HUC family. Tamar's voice is very expressive and emotional, and what I like most about her is that you can tell she's actually praying, not just singing a bunch of words in hebrew. As of now, she and I seem to be in-sync as far as service repertoire is concerned; from what I can tell, she likes to mix the old and the new and help her congregants find various ways to reach Gd through prayerful text and music. She sang lovely solos and gave us plenty of opportunities to sing and pray along with her. I am excited to get to know her as a teacher and cantor, and I am hopeful that she will share the melodies she uses in her services with all of us.
The title of Steph's latest blog is "My Heart is Full." I have to say that those words reflect exactly what I am feeling right now, in the midst of a beautiful Shabbat with all of these amazing people. My own heart is full of many emotions right now; the peace from Shabbat, the excitement and nervousness of starting ulpan tomorrow, the love for my family and friends here and at home, the appreciation for this opportunity to live and study in this beautiful city, and a million other things. As cheesy as it may sound, I know that this time in my life is all the evidence I need that Gd is here, with me, always.
As always, my love and prayers go out to everyone. Shabbat Shalom!