In Israel, it is customary to put your Chanukiyah in the window that faces the street so everyone can see it's light. While we were unable to safely participate in this custom, we enjoyed looking at all of them whenever we left our apartment!
Hi everyone! I hope you had a nice ending to your Chanukah celebrations and that you're enjoying the holiday season. It's still sometimes funny to me how it feels nothing like the holiday season here in Israel. Though it's been chilly, our weather is much more like fall than winter and I haven't heard a single Christmas song or seen a single sprig of holly since last December. As someone who admits to being a traditional Christmastime Scrooge, who typically complains her way through December, I have to say that I miss the holiday season--it's strange to not be inundated with the customs of Christmas from Thanksgiving until New Years. I even miss the overcrowded shopping malls I tried so hard to avoid (whenever I wasn't working in one) during the month of December. I guess sometimes you don't realize how much something is a part of your standard way of life until it's gone from you.
In school-related news, the cantorial students began their program of Jewish Women's Song yesterday, which is actually a joint program with the cantorial students from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS,) the rabbinic/cantorial school of the Conservative movement. For the first time in a long time, all of the cantorial students at both schools happen to be women. Because of this, Eli and Marlena (the director of the JTS cantorial program in Israel) devised a program that would allow us to meet and study together, both in a large group setting and in smaller, one-on-one type settings. We had a wonderful first meeting, which began with a beautiful morning prayer service. Each one of us participated, leading prayers in both traditional Nusach and in more contemporary settings. After the service and some delicious Israeli pastries (my hebrew teacher from STL always told me how dangerous Israeli pastries were...she was right!) we jumped into a day of learning about the various rites of Jewish Women's music. We had expert presenters from the Sephardi, Bulcharian, Iraqi, Farsi and Yemenite traditions come in and perform/talk to us. All of the presentations were phenomenal; each woman was not only well-educated in her subject matter, but had a tremendous amount of vocal and dance talent. Many of them also came with songs to teach us, which was very fun and informative.
Everyone's favorite part of the day was the percussion seminar. A famous percussionist and Jewish music scholar came in to lead us in a rhythm session, where we began to discuss how to integrate drumming into our prayer services. A lot of what he talked about in this first session was about feeling the natural rhythms in our lives, and how any melody we sing can be put into those rhythms fairly easily if we allow for it. I am excited to continue this seminar and bring out my inner percussionist; anyone who's ever worked on music with me knows that my sense of rhythm is not the greatest, so this should make for an interesting experience. I am even more excited to play with my new drum...get ready for some amazing drumming action over winter break!
Perhaps the most exciting part of this program is that HUC students and JTS students pair up to study closely with each of the aforementioned presenters. We drew names yesterday, and I, along with my new friend and JTS student Shoshana, will be working with the Yemenite performer to learn about and perform Yemenite Women's song. We are singing a joint concert in April to show-off everything we've learned and to teach the other students about the culture we've selected.
All of us left HUC yesterday in a wonderful mood and excited to begin our studies together. I am happy to be participating in this program not only for the content, but for the partnership with JTS. In the past, HUC and JTS students have had little to no communication (though our schools here are right down the street from each other.) All of the JTS cantorial students are wonderful, talented women, and I am excited to know them and to, one day, call them my colleagues.
Anyways, I am off to begin organizing and typing out notes in preparation for the serious studying that will take over my life during the next 29 days. All of our professors are discussing their final exams with us, and I am quickly becoming overwhelmed with the sheer amount of studying I'll have to do. But, as Jen wrote in her last blog, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as the end of finals also brings me home to St Louis. I can't believe it's so soon, and I have so much to do before then, but I am so happy that it's coming. Wish me luck surviving until then!
Lots of love from Israel, and start thinking of fun things you want from the Holy Land---I am happy to fill my suitcases with gifts and Israeli goodies for you!