Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lots of Pictures!

I know, 2 posts in less than 2 days! There's been a lot to write about, and a lot going on recently, like our class trip to the Galilee and Golan Heights and the beginning of Sukkot (yay for more holidays!) I thought that rather than just writing about our adventures, I'd present a "slideshow" of sorts, so you can see some of the neat things we did. These are also in chronological order, to give you an idea of our itinerary.

The theme of our trip was "The New Jew." This term refers to the groups of people who came to Israel in the late 19th/early 20th centuries who helped create and form the State of Israel. These people were not interested in being the stereotypical, religious Jew who came to Israel at the end of their life to die; they wanted to work in agriculture, spread the ideas of Zionism, and create LIVES in Israel for themselves and others like them.

This first picture comes from the neighborhood of Rosh Pina, which was the first Jewish settlement outside of the 4 "holy" cities in Israel: Jerusalem, Tiberius, Safed, and Chevron. It was built in 1882 by 30 families from Romania. Today, it's a beautiful area with cute restaurants, B&B's and artists' shops.

The next picture is the ark of the synagogue in Rosh Pina. Baron Rothschild helped the settlers of Rosh Pina to finance the settlement and building of new homes and agricultural areas. The settlers demanded that before Rothschild build them new homes, he build them a synagogue. This is the original synagogue that was built around 1900.

After some time exploring and shopping in Rosh Pina, we went rafting on the Jordan River (yes, I, Tracy Leigh Fishbein, went rafting---and it was seriously one of the greatest, most fun things I have ever done. I didn't want my camera to get wet, so sadly I didn't take it) and then went to Karei Deshe, the youth hostel that was hosting us for the duration of the trip.

The next day, we set out on a walk-through/hike around Tel Dan, HUC's archaeological digging site, where it is said that the first temple outside of Jerusalem was found. I guess it was interesting for those who like archeology, but for me the best part was walking around in this wading pool, feeling the cool water between my toes and hearing the birds happily chirping around me. We also saw a lot of avocado trees, and you'll be proud to know that I resisted any urges to pick and eat the avocados. While I wasn't crazy about the historical significance of the site, the scenery was beautiful and it was an easy, fun (gasp!) hike in nature.

After Tel Dan, we went to Har Bental, a lookout site that looks out at the border between Israel and Syria. I'd been there before with Birthright, so it wasn't all that exciting, but the view was beautiful and the clear mountain air felt amazing. We then went to hear a discussion on the Golan Heights with a woman who'd made Aliyah specifically to Northern Israel. She talked about protecting the land from the Syrians who want it badly and why we should fight to keep it. It was interesting, but political discussions aren't really my thing (one of the major reasons I could never been a rabbi) and we were all tired.

That night we had a very fun Israeli style BBQ (greasy chicken kabobs and lots of delicious grilled veggies) and then had an Israeli song sing-a-long, complete with accordion and guitar. We were all up singing and Israeli dancing and having a great time. This picture is of Brad, David, Jorg and Josh after lifting Lyle up in a chair, Hora style. So much fun!

We were lucky that our hostel was right on the shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee.) On our last day at Karei Deshe, a few of us went down by the water and took pictures. It was beautiful so early in the morning, with the sun making sparkles on the water.

Me, Aimee, Andrea, Rachel, Nicole and Sara playing around by the water.

Tuesday morning, we drove through the town of Metula, the northernmost city in Israel, right at the Israel/Lebanon border. We had a discussion on Israel/Lebanon politics at this lookout point with our amazing teacher, Paul, who I am currently in love with. The picture shows the very clear difference between Israel (trees and houses) and Lebanon (mountains, dust and small villages.)

After our discussion, we went to Tel Chai, where a group of settlers lost their lives fighting for their land, and then onto Kiryat Shemone, a town in Israel that is continuously attacked by Lebanon whenever there is war or fighting. We met with a resident psychologist who deals with terror victims in bomb shelters. She led a very interesting discussion on the devastating effects of living through war and the dramatic life changes that happen during and after a war occurs. It's very sad to hear the stories of some of these normal people who can hardly function after losing family members, friends, homes, etc, but it was a good discussion for all of us to hear. As Jewish clergy people, we will be dealing with trauma on a regular basis, so learning how a professional handles such situations is helpful for us.

Before we headed back to Jerusalem, we made a stop at the Kinneret Cemetary, where many famous Israelis are buried. Naomi Shemer and the poet Rachel are both buried here, along with Zionist Moshe Hess. We tied up our discussions on the history of the Golan and the New Jew, had a short Mincha service, and headed back to Jerusalem.

So, that's our trip in a nutshell. We're now on our Sukkot break, so we have 10 days off and lots of time to relax. Steph and I, along with a lot of friends, are leaving for a trip to Sinai, Egypt early Sunday morning. We're very excited to lay in the sun, drink fun cocktails, and just relax before our school year really starts October 7. Until we leave, we are unpacking from our first trip and repacking for our second, doing loads and loads of laundry, and watching A LOT of Grey's Anatomy (Steph got me hooked---I'm all caught up on seasons 1&2, and I'm working on season 3...she has the first episode of season 4 downloading onto her computer right now.) Special thanks to my roommate for getting me addicted to Seattle Grace Hospital and Dr. McDreamy, the love of my life :)

And on that note, I will close here. Much love to everyone, and please keep your emails coming...they make me very happy!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yom Kippur

The windows of Blaustein Hall, which overlook the Old City of Jerusalem. HUC holds High Holy Day services as well as some shabbat services in this room every year. The picture really doesn't do justice to the view of the Old City or the ambiance of the room during services, but it gives you some idea of the "cool factor."

Yom Kippur in Israel is a totally different experience than in any other part of the world. The whole country stops to observe, even in the more secular areas like Tel Aviv. The handful of shops that are open on shabbat in Jerusalem are closed, and there are literally no cars on the streets. Children can and do ride their bikes and play games on normally busy streets and highways without fear of getting hurt. It's a bit eerie, especially when you come from the US, where life always feels like normal on Jewish holidays.

Sadly, I was not one of the kids riding my bike and playing games in the middle of the highway on YK. Steph and I hosted a student from Tel Aviv University who was in J'lem for the holiday, who was very sweet. She helped us prepare a quick "last supper" for our friends before the 25-hour fasting period began, where we made homemade lentil soup and friends brought potato burekas, tuna salad, and desserts. After dinner we had Kol Nidre services, in which we sing a melody to beg Gd to consider the promises and vows we made during the year null and void if we truly tried our best to achieve them and couldn't.

Yom Kippur morning services were lovely, though very hot (the windows let in a lot of sunlight.) My favorite part of the day was actually the Martyrdom and Yizkor (Remembrance) services. Eli and Rabbi Wilfond (AKA Gingy) created the Martyrdom service as a way to remember those Jews who died fighting for their rights to be Jewish. The service was comprised of readings in English and Hebrew that told the stories of the people who never had their own opportunity to tell them. It was a beautiful segue to the Yizkor service, where we remember those in our families and social circles who have passed on, particularly those who we've lost this past year. Gingy was the perfect leader for these services; he has a very gentle and sensitive approach to leading services and you could tell he put his heart and soul into remembering those we've lost. He's my favorite of all the rabbis here and I'm hoping to have the chance to really get to know him this year.

As special as YK is here in Israel, I didn't feel as though I got as much out of it as I do at home. I'm realizing what a challenge it is to be both a Jew and a Jewish leader at the same time. As Jewish leaders, we're responsible for both leading others in prayer and praying for ourselves at the same time. On one hand, it's easy to forget the meaning of the prayers and just sing the notes on the page; on the other, it's easy to want to forget the music and just pray. Cantors have to do both in order to be successful; we not only have to know the notes and rhythms, but connect to the text on a personal level. To add another layer, as a voice student (especially one who is learning to be confident as a singer again) I am thinking of the technical voice things I need to remember. I'm realizing that to be a cantor is to think of and do a billion things all at the same time. It's not easy, and can lead to insecurity. Is it right to be thinking of the things YOU need to do instead of the original purpose of doing them in the first place? It seems selfish to me, even though it really isn't, and it's something that all Jewish leaders struggle with, whether cantors or rabbis.

BTW, I'm not saying that reaching that magical combination never happens; if it didn't, I don't think any of us would be here now. It's those times that we do get it right, when everything clicks, that we can be spiritually confident both as Jews and as Jewish leaders.

I am now stepping off my soapbox. Love to everyone!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kol Tuv

It's been another busy week here in the J'lem. We're all still processing Rosh Hashana and attempting to prep for Yom Kippur, in whatever spiritual, mental, physical and for some of us, musical ways we can. We're also gearing up for our class trip to the Galilee and Golan Heights next week, followed by Sukkot break. There's lots to look forward to and lots to keep us busy until then.

As HUC students, we are all required to participate in 2-4 hours of community service projects every week. There are a plethora of choices when it comes to which community service projects you want to participate in; a few of the favorites include a program pairing students with Ethiopian Jews in Israel, volunteering at the HUC gan (kindergarten), tending a garden in Jerusalem, singing in the Hallel community choir, and many, many more.

Like the other cantorial students, I am singing in the community choir to fulfill my community service requirement. We met for the first time last night, and had a lot of fun. The members are a mix of Israelis, Anglos, students from HUC and JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary), and some HUC faculty members. There are around 35 members of all ages, and it's very clear that those who've been in the choir for years really love it. We're going to be singing as much as we can of Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service, which is an extraordinarily beautiful and interesting cantorial and choral piece. I'm very excited to be singing it, along with whatever else we'll be singing this year. It's nice to be back in a large choir again, singing music with people who genuinely love to sing. The members all have tremendous spirit and life and I know I'll have a great time singing with them. Also, the director speaks his directions in hebrew (and repeats them in English), so I'm hoping to pick up a lot of music-related hebrew vocabulary while I'm here. I'm excited!

Starting today, we will be participating in a weeky "class" called Israel Seminar. During this day-long class, we'll be studying modern Israeli culture and history through guided tours, readings, movies, music, theater, lectures, etc. The purpose of this class is to help us experience the whole country (not just Jerusalem) through the eyes of Israelis, in order to break our everyday "Jerusalem Bubble" and get a sense of what the real Israel is like. We have an amazing professor who not only knows so much about Israeli history and culture but also knows how to teach (a rarity in the world of academia, so I've found.) We also purchased a reader which is chock-full of information relating to our site visits and lectures; I'm sure it will be a wonderful resource regarding the many complexities that make Israel the amazing country it is.

Our first field trip for class is coming up this weekend, after Yom Kippur, where we'll travel as a class for 3 days to the Galilee and Golan Heights. None of us knows what to expect as of now, but after our introduction to the course today, I know it will be very interesting and insightful. I also know I'll be rafting (or kayaking...I can't remember), which will be an adventure for me to say the least. More details to come upon our return on Tuesday night.

I feel so blessed to have these amazing opportunities to learn and grow while I'm here. I am finally becoming comfortable in my Bible class (I actually spoke the other day--for the first time--and the professor said I gave a good statement! It was a very exciting moment for me, as lame as that may sound.) I worked with Eli on the Sh'ma Koleinu, which I am singing for morning Yom Kippur services, and we both seem happy with it. I managed to pay our electric bill today for the first time with the help of my friend Jen. I feel like I'm finally GETTING it here; how school works, how life works, how Israelis work--and it makes me realize just how much I've grown throughout the last 3 months. Though I miss everyone and everything back home, I couldn't be happier to be here and to be doing this right now. It's definitely where I'm meant to be and what I'm meant to be doing.

Hope everyone has an easy fast on Saturday...I'm thinking of you!

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Happy 5768 everybody! We're in the midst of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and I am convinced that the best place to feel the spirit and joys of the coming of a new year is here in Jerusalem. As I was walking to shul today, I noticed the apple trees and pomegranate trees whose bright, perfectly ripe fruits were shining as if they were dressed in their holiday best. A woman and her 2 small children offered me a warm and excited "Shana tova!" as I passed them on the street. The whole city has a completely different feel; it's very peaceful, light and happy, as though the air itself knows it's a special time. On holidays and shabbat the whole city literally stops to observe, rest, and be joyful; as much as we'd like to, it's nearly impossibly to feel the same way in the US, where life seems always to be hurrying at it's normal pace.

This past week we've been reflecting on the High Holy Days and their significance to the Jewish people. We've learned the reasoning behind the prayers, Torah/Haftarah readings, shofar sounds, and melodies used in the services. We've taken time to reflect on our own deeds this year, learning that t'shuva (repentance) is so much more than just saying "I'm sorry." In my opinion, true t'shuva is 3-fold; in order to truly be forgiven you must ask and receive forgiveness from the one you've hurt, the from Gd, and finally and most importantly, you must give yourself permission to be forgiven. It's not easy or pleasant, but it's necessary.

Our Rosh Hashana services here were wonderful; the choir sang fairly well, we heard 2 fabulous sermons from 2 fabulous rabbis, the community was joyful and full of kavannah (intention for prayer), and all of this was experienced in a beautiful room with huge windows overlooking the Old City. Our prayer books were the same ones we use at TI, but instead of responsive reading, most of the prayers were read in hebrew. The music was beautiful and a good mix of traditional Nusach, standard Reform pieces (Janowski's Avinu Malkenu, etc.), contemporary songs, and folk melodies, so there was literally something to make everyone happy. All 5 of the cantorial students were asked to sing solos both last night and today, and both listening and supporting each other during this somewhat frightening time (there were a lot of important peoplethere and it was our first real "duty" as future cantors) was wonderful and very special.

The only part that was a little strange and a bit sad for me was when I was sang Michael Isaacson's Ve'ne'mar/Bayom Hahu at the end of last night's and today's services. That piece is one that is used at Temple Israel at the end of every Friday night Shabbat service, and I'm used to the entire congregation singing along. When I sang it last night and today, the congregation did not sing it with me; I was singing completely alone the whole time. I truly missed hearing the voices of Temple Israel singing along.

The highlight for me, however, was a prayer we sang towards the beginning of the service. While I've always enjoying singing this particular arrangement during rehearsals, I'd been overlooking the meaning of the hebrew text. I came to realize, singing this prayer this morning, that these words fit my life perfectly right now. Looking out the windows to the Old City of Jerusalem, keeping old family and friends in my heart as I am surrounded by new friends and family, it is difficult NOT to be filled with the emotion, awe , and truth of these words. To everyone who has allowed me to realize this, thank you--it's truly a gift and a blessing.


How greatly we are blessed
מה-טוב חלקנו
How good is our portion
ומה נעים גורלנו
How pleasant our lot
ומה יפה ירשתנו
How beautiful our heritage

May it be God's will that all of us are able to sing these words with meaning and significance in the coming year. L'shana tovah um'tukah (To a good and sweet year.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

I'm still here!

Hi guys, sorry for the delays in posting this week. It's been a very busy week, as we've officially begun our studies as cantors/rabbis/educators. While I know the content of my classes a bit better now, I've discovered one thing for sure: We will be BUSY this year...very, very busy.

My days begin with a heaping dose of hebrew, though it's much more challenging now that I'm in the higher kitah. Our teacher is wonderful, and while I love her the class itself is a lot more difficult than my class this summer was. Our teacher speaks all in hebrew, which takes a great deal of concentration to understand. I'm hoping that I can stay in the class and it will get a bit easier as the year progresses, but right now I'm struggling to fully comprehend both what Chen, our teacher, is saying and also the pages she assigns us for homework. We also have a Biblical Grammar class once a week, where we concentrate specifically on the hebrew found in the Bible.

I also have a Bible class 3x's a week, where we read and discuss the Tanach, an acronym for the Torah, Nevi'im (prophets) and K'tuvim (writings) that make up the hebrew bible. So far we've analyzed the beginning of the Creation story, and I am having a lot of fun with it. I've never taken many opportunities to study and discuss Torah this way, and though I'm not totally comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions yet, I really enjoy reading and translating the hebrew itself and finding a much deeper meaning of the words than I've ever known.

Yesterday we had our first Liturgy class, where we'll learn to become comfortable with the liturgies of Shabbat, morning services, and some of the holidays. The goal is to help us understand the various prayers, how they're placed where they are in the service, and how/why certain Jewish groups have chosen to remove some of the prayers from their worship services. We're also going to be tested over our ability to read out loud and translate some of the the prayers used in the newest Reform siddur (prayer book.) Our professor for this class is great; he was my leader for our Jerusalem Days series, so we've established a good relationship. I feel very comfortable with him and he is incredibly supportive of all of us (not to mention an excellent rabbi/professor) so I'm excited to be taking his class.

The above classes are our 'core' classes, the classes that every student takes regardless of which program they're studying in. I also have cantorial classes, meant for just the cantorial students (though some rabbinic/education students also take them because Eli Schliefer, our professor/director of the program is an incredible teacher.) However, in lieu of most of our cantorial classes this week, we've had choir rehearsals for and lectures on the High Holy Day music. We did have our History of Jewish Music class this week, in which we had to define what Jewish Music really is. This was interesting and tricky, since every Jewish community throughout the world has a different style and use for Jewish music. I'm excited to figure out how Jewish Music has evolved throughout time and in the various movements of Judaism, and even more excited to be taking the class with Eli, who is THE expert in this subject.

After the holidays, we'll begin our Traditional Nusach and Cantillation classes, also with Eli.

I've begun to see why so many people have been warning me about the obscene workload I'll be facing this year. The workload is heavy but bearable right now, and it's only going to get more intense as the year progresses (and as the years progress in the program.) Cantorial students spend a lot more time on campus than the other students, either in classes or coachings, or just practicing the gigantic amount of music we've already received. We also have a lot more information and activity being thrown at us at all times, which requires extreme concentration and organization skills (neither of which are my strong suits...) Our schedule is stressful and exhausting and overwhelming at times, but we love every minute of it.

Please remind me that I said that during the times when I'm pulling my hair out from too much work this year...:)

Oh, and take some time to tell your Rabbis, Cantors, and Jewish Educators how much you appreciate them. I can now tell you from experience, it ain't easy studying to be or actually being a Cantor! It requires a lot of work, study, prayer, and heart, and while it isn't always easy, it's certainly always meaningful and completely worthwhile.

Much love from the J'lem, and if I'm not able to post again before Wednesday night, I wish a Shana Tovah (Happy New Year) to everyone, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and meaningful 5768.

ל'שנה טובה ומטוקה!