Friday, December 26, 2008

No Words

Last Friday night after services, I wrote a long, sad and bitter post about the situation going on in my home synagogue right now.
A situation that I'm not comfortable sharing in this forum, for a number of reasons.

My post didn't include this person's name, to protect her identity to those who come across this blog incidentally.
It felt silly, even wrong, to refer to this person as "my cantor."
She is so much more than just that.

My post talked meanly about the person/people who made this decision.
A decision they needed to make.
My words were mostly out of the anger and loss I am feeling right now.
Words that could never change the decision, words that would only bring sadness to the people who might have read them.
Therefore, I didn't post the blog. I didn't even save it.

There aren't enough words to describe the sadness and anger this decision has brought into my heart.
The selfish worries for my own future--a future that I thought would always be secure--that are running rampant through my head.
The void that will forever be with me, now that my synagogue is no longer my home.
If this person isn't there, it can't be my home.

And that's the hardest part of all, because so much of my life is still there.

And yet, despite all of my anger and sorrow, I feel the need to share this.
To share something that tells this person how much she means to me and to the congregation.
Had she been given the proper goodbye, I would have shared this poem with her so the congregation could hear.
But since she wasn't given so much as a goodbye, I'll leave them here so everyone I love, including her, can read them.
These words have been with me for the last 10+ years, as long as I've known this person. They capture so beautifully her work at the synagogue, and the gifts she has shared with me and so many others.

To this person--you know who you are--I love you with all my heart.
Thank you for being my mentor, my teacher, my ema #2, my friend.
Thank you for sharing your music, your soul, with me.
Thank you for teaching me the true meaning of success.
This poem is for you, because you have done all of these things and so much more.


What is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, December 18, 2008

V'Shamru

I wanted to share a recording of one of my pieces from my Shabbat Reform Workshop final this morning. It's a setting of V'Shamru by Maurice Goldman (even though the beginning is cut off...)

I haven't been good with keeping up with the blog as of late, I know...but I'm hoping this recording makes up for it. I'm very proud of this piece; not only is it very difficult to sing, but I've worked tirelessly with it to make it the best it can be. Though it's not perfect, I'm very happy with how this turned out. It was one of those moments where everything just clicked into place, and I knew with my entire being that I was doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.

Enjoy...the next time I blog will be from St Louis!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

Sometimes I am overwhelmed, in the best possible way, by the acts of kindness I encounter every single day. Living in New York City, it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life and to see only the ugly that this world has to offer. I am so very thankful for the people in my life who remind me that kindness is a virtue, and that goodness does indeed exist in our world.

We read in Pirkei Avot, "On three things the world stands: on Torah, on avodah (worship/work for God) and on gimilut chasadim (deeds of loving kindness.)" Each of these three pillars of the Jewish faith could easily stand on their own, but really, they each blend into one another so easily when we talk about deeds of loving kindness. We are reminded of kindness many times in Torah, and our worship allows us time to pray to God for those around us who are in need of prayer. When we pray to God on behalf of others, even if only once in awhile, we open ourselves up our own acts of kindness.

One of the most beautiful things about my spiritual journey throughout the last year and a half has been the opening of my eyes to acts of kindness. While I'm not always quick to show it, I am genuinely thankful for the ability to recognize this kindness. In the last few months, so many people have reached out to me in the form of kind words, gifts, and/or support. To all of you, thank you so, so much--for loving me, for opening yourselves up to gimilut chasadim, and for making me a kinder person through your thoughts, words, and generosity. Whether you realize it or not, you are each an example of living, breathing Torah, and you help to carry on all three of these pillars of our Jewish faith. You also remind me, in whatever ways I am able, to extend the same kindness towards others. Your actions make ME a better person in the eyes of God and Jewish tradition.

There is no better gift you can give me than that.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am so happy to be back in the United States for Thanksgiving. While we had a wonderful time last year, it's so nice to be back in a country that appreciates turkey (and knows how to properly cook it) and knows what the meaning of the holiday is all about. I am thankful for a lot of things this year, especially for the gift of the family and friendship I've inherited through Steph and her family. I'm spending this Thanksgiving in Reston, Virginia, just outside of DC, and while I'm sad to not be at home this year, I'm so lucky and happy to be surrounded by people who are so loving and caring towards me. Special thanks and gratitude (that's the word of the day, according to Steph's mom) to the Schnitzer family and the Clark family, for welcoming me so graciously into your homes and families.

Wherever you are today, take a moment to appreciate those whom you love and all of the gifts we all possess. I am thankful for you all and love you very much!

And, since I love her, I leave you with a prayer written by Naomi Levy (by the time I graduate y'all won't need to buy her book, since I post so many of her prayers right here!) Steph is going to read a modified version tonight at her dad's thanksgiving table. Enjoy your turkey!

A Thanksgiving Prayer

By Rabbi Naomi Levy
For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
Without fear,
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fake it 'til you make it?

I love what I am doing with my love. 100%--truly madly deepy, can't think of anything else I'd rather do with my life--LOVE what I do. I love the challenges I encounter, the pressures of a million classes and 2 jobs and the upkeep of an apartment and life as a singleton.

With that said, I'm coming out of the 2 most exhausting weeks of the year thus far. And when I say exhausting, I mean it in every sense of the word.

I had a conversation with my friend Nicole the other day. Nicole is a second year rabbinical student in Cinci, who lived downstairs from Steph and I last year. We're still good friends, and had a great time catching up. But we both admitted that it feels as though we're drowning in work, and while there is plenty and then some to do, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all. And even when you don't do it all, it's hard to do what you DO do (confusing, anyone?) to your best ability. I've spent the last 2 weeks feeling as though I've half-assed my entire life in order to just keep up with it all. I've done nothing to the best of my abilities and have barely gotten it done in the process. I hate when I feel underprepared or rushed or as though I didn't give 100%. I hate knowing that I could have done better had I been more prepared. I hate feeling as though I've let everyone down and looked like an idiot while doing so. Most of all, I hate the feeling of being pulled in a million different directions, with everyone wanting more and more and me not being physically, mentally, or emotionally able to give them what they want.

OK, so that last statement might have been a little over the top and egocentric. No one in my life--professors, rabbis, congregants, family--has complained about any of the work I've done...it's all in my head. Like most of us, I am my own harshest critic. I want to be one of those people who is on top of things all the time (like a few of my classmates who I will never completely understand.) I just don't get how they can manage it all so well while some of us are left drowning just trying to stay afloat.

It really hit me last weekend when I was in South Bend. I LOVE every aspect of my job there, from the rabbi I work with to the fantastic community of congregants to the area in general. Getting there is exhausting--2 airplanes and 3 airports in the course of a day. Then, I always feel a little rushed to work with the rabbi and/or the accompanist to put the service together. By the time I actually co-lead the service, I am completely exhausted. I have not to this point been able to sing a Friday night service to the level I know I can; there are always silly mistakes and forgetful moments that come from just being tired.

This past weekend, Eric was out of town, so I organized and led services on my own, with the help of our wonderful accompanist Steve. I had all these amazing visions and preparations for a beautiful Shabbat in Song Friday night, and it was so disappointing to watch my plans crumble as I sang things badly, tripped over the reading I'd chosen, and stammered my way through my own words and thoughts I added into the service. I also forgot to read half the kaddish list, which is a much bigger deal than it may seem (if you went to services only to hear your loved one's name read, wouldn't you be pissed that it was left out?) It didn't help that I was also in the middle of a nasty head cold and on cold medicine, pushing my voice through a sore throat.

I love the ability I have to create a warm, lovely service environment. I've always been praised for my sincere warmth on the bimah, something I take great pride in. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was struggling to keep positive energy in the chapel as I was leading services. I was bored myself, so I can imagine how boring the service must have been for the congregation. So the service leaves me wondering: How, when you are exhausted and sick and alone on the bimah, do you create and sustain the positive energy needed for a Shabbat service? I never learned how to "fake it", since I've never really needed to, and I don't really want to have to fake it on the bimah. Prayer to God should never feel contrived or artificial.

This was so surprising to me, given that I love what I do and I love the people I was doing this with. I guess that's the purpose of a student pulpit; to learn these things that being a cantorial soloist or classroom student can't teach you. I do, however, want to be able to go to South Bend and be pleased with my Friday night service. I'm hoping that happens sooner rather than later.

Thank goodness I have this weekend to relax a little bit, to recharge and reconnect with myself and those I haven't been able to connect with throughout the last 2 weeks. This is why I love Shabbat, even on a rainy, cold day like today.

Shabbat Shalom.

Weekend With Steph

Stacy and Trephanie together again :)

Of all the amazing things that happened last year, one of the best was meeting my wonderful ex-roommate and now member of the "best friends club" Stephanie. Y'all got to know her quite well last year, I know. One of the hardest parts of moving to NYC was knowing that Steph wasn't going to be here; it was so strange being at HUC and not having her in my Hebrew class and Jewish History class. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't miss having her around, to laugh with, to bicker with, to talk to, and to cook for (ha ha Steph...) She really was the greatest person I could have asked to live with last year, and I am so happy that we've maintained a close friendship since we've been living halfway across the country from each other and not in the same tiny, disgusting apartment in Israel. Stephanie Erin, I adore you!

It is fun, however, to be able to go and visit each other from time to time. I went to Cinci early September, and Halloween weekend, Steph graced me with her presence here in NY. Her stepfather, who is a cantor in Baltimore, and her mom brought a small group of confirmation students for a Jewish themed weekend in NY, so Steph decided to use some frequent flyer miles and come as well. She flew in on Thursday night (the beginning of the HUC weekend) and was met by Julia at the airport. The two of them came back to my apartment while I was at work and ordered dinner, which we ate together when I arrived back home. I so loved coming home to smiling faces and laughter; when you live alone, it's such a treat to be greeted by people once in awhile! We spent the night exactly as we would spend Shabbat in Israel; eating (of course), watching Grey's Anatomy, talking about doing homework while not actually doing any homework, and laughing at the crazy events going on in our lives.

Friday, we woke up, showered, grabbed brunch at the delish little cafe close to the subway, and headed out to Brooklyn to hang out with Julia a little more. Julia was hosting a Halloween-themed housewarming party that Sunday, so we went to help her bake pumpkin cupcakes and get her apartment ready for the soiree. We had a wonderful time and ate WAAAAAAAY too much frosting, cupcakes, candy, and Pirate's Booty (my fave new snack...)

Pumpkin cupcakes! Aren't they cute?

A ridiculous picture of Julia and I as the cupcakes were baking

We left Julia's to meet Steph's fam and the confirmands for dinner near B'nai Jeshurun (the same beautiful synangogue we went to for Simchat Torah), where we went for Shabbat services. I can't tell you how great it was to see Steph's mom and her husband Sunny again! I fell in love with Steph's mom last year, as we chatted on Skype and became Facebook friends :) She's adorable, and it was soo good to see her and to talk cantor-talk with Sunny. Dinner was delicious, even though we had to race out of there to make it to services in time. After a beautiful service, we went to a cute diner on the Upper West Side with friends.


Dinner #2 on the Upper West Side. From left to right: Becca, Jen, me, Steph, Marc, Julia (she's the only one who dared to dress up)

We then headed to the Village to experience the annual Halloween Parade. OMG--I have NEVER experienced anything like it in my entire life. TONS of people (it wasn't comfy) in outrageous costumes, imbibing entirely too much alcohol while waiting for a parade that you couldn't even see due to the horrendous crowds. But--there's nothing in the world quite like it. We saw a plethora of amazing costumes--everyone from Borat to Sarah Palin to Ghostbusters--and EVERYTHING in between. It was crazy, and while I'll probably never do it again, I'm glad I was able to experience it this one time.

I'm not quite sure what this guy is supposed to be...God, maybe?

Borat!! We laughed for about 10 minutes when we saw this guy, but couldn't get up the nerve to take our picture with him.

Wow.

After finally getting home (the subway close to us were blocked off and we went through 4 cabs before we could find one to FINALLY take us home), Steph and I went to sleep. We woke up Saturday and headed to Times Square, close to the cute Stardust Diner where we ate brunch. The Stardust is SO MUCH FUN! Broadway wannabes work as waiters and waitresses, and sing Broadway songs while you eat. It's overpriced and touristy, but I don't care and will be going back many times over the course of the next 4 years. We then decided to catch a movie, which was fun (Steph's been to NYC a few times, so the need to do touristy stuff wasn't really an issue.) After that, we went to the TKTS booth, my favorite place in NYC, where we landed half-price tickets to The Little Mermaid! Before the show, we met up with Steph's mom for an early dinner, and enjoyed some mama-time.

At dinner with Steph's mama. Doesn't she look like she's our age?

The show was fantastic! As a self-proclaimed "Broadway Baby", I wasn't all that impressed with the music, but the spectacle of Disney shows always amazes me. There wasn't a minute where I didn't believe they were underwater, and the costumes and sets were amazing. After the show, we were able to meet some of the cast and get our programs autographed. It was my first time ever meeting a cast of a show, so it was totally amazing for me. I was a happy girl :)
The obligatory poster picture

Getting my program signed? Heaven!

The show was fantastic! As a self-proclaimed "Broadway Baby", I wasn't all that impressed with the music, but the spectacle of Disney shows always amazes me. There wasn't a minute where I didn't believe they were underwater, and the costumes and sets were amazing. After the show, we were able to meet some of the cast and get our programs autographed. It was my first time ever meeting a cast of a show, so it was totally amazing for me. I was a happy girl :)

Sadly, Steph had to leave NYC very, very early on Sunday morning to make it back to Cinci to teach. We woke up at 4am and hopped a cab to LaGuardia, where we said goodbye for now. It wasn't too sad of a goodbye, however, because Steph and her families kindly invited me for Thanksgiving! Since I'm not able to go home, I'll be hopping a bus to the DC area to spend the holiday with her. I'm so excited to see her and to attend the myriad of festivities going on throughout the weekend. Yay!

Like I said, it's so strange to be at HUC without Steph around. These times, when we can be together and feel as though absolutely nothing has changed (even though our entire lives actually have changed) make me realize just how special Steph and our friendship really is.

Steph, come back!!!!
And this time, don't leave!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Where I've Been

I'm sorry for the lack of updates as of late; it's been such a CRAZY couple of weeks around here, full of good friends, lots of work, long days, preparations, etc etc etc! I had a huge assignment due for my Bible class, which was actually really helpful and interesting. We were to create an annotated translation of any passage from the Tanach. So, not only did we have to translate our portion word for word, but we had to consult several different Bible translations, looking for and explaining inconsistencies and why we translated the way we did. I have a strange love of translating Torah; to this day, I'm still so proud to have the ability to translate these words, to decipher the text in it's original form and decide for myself what it really means. Also for my Bible class, each one of us is required to present a translation and lead a short discussion on whatever parsha we're studying for the day. We've just moved from Torah to the prophets, and I was supposed to read and translate some of the book of Joshua this past Thursday. I have to admit that I have a slight fear of leading a discussion on the Bible or any area in the Judaic realm, especially amongst the intelligent people I go to school with. It's so good for me to do this, even if it terrifies me, as leading Torah study will probably be an important part of my job once I am invested. We ran out of class time before I was able to present, so I'll present on Tuesday and let you know how it goes.

I've also been busy preparing music for both my Reform Shabbat workshop and my Traditional Shabbat workshop. For the Reform workshop, we're allowed to use music, but are expected to have our pieces prepared to performance level (as if we were going to use them in a service.) It's a tough expectation to meet, as we don't always know the background of the piece or how it's supposed to sound until after we've sung it. It takes a lot of prep work and requires us to really learn about the text of each of the pieces. I'm learning a TON of good music in this class, and it's taught by the incredible Cantor Benjie-Ellen Schiller, so I can't complain too much. For our Traditional workshop, we are usually required to sing the nusach straight from the prayerbook, which requires us to practically memorize the pieces. It's much easier said than done, but again, the class is fantastic and gives me a good sense of the traditional melodies and how they relate to the texts. Luckily, our professor is so sweet about our mistakes and will help us out whenever we need it.

I am also beginning to prepare for my practicum, which will take place on January 21. The School of Sacred Music (SSM) requires all 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students to give one or more practicum a year, where we sing a part of a service either in a traditional or Reform manner. Everyone has a theme that is assigned to them by the faculty of the SSM, adn the themes vary between Shabbat, High Holy Day, and holiday liturgies, and sometimes focus on certain periods of Jewish music that are secular. They take place on Wednesday, so part of our job is to make the listener feel as though they are actually in a real service. For example, the theme of my practicum is traditional Shabbat morning, Shochein Ad through Tzur Yisrael. Besides singing the nusach well, I also have to make the audience (SSM students and faculty) feel as though it really is Shabbat and we are really praying these prayers. It's a scary task to take on, especially when I'm not comfortable or very familiar with traditional nusach; it's a completely different style of synagogue singing than what I am used to, and I will be singing in front of a panel of faculty who all know the style so much better than I (which I guess they should.) After the practicum is over, the entire SSM gathers for lunch and the students giving the practicum are given comments and feedback by all the faculty members. Usually, many members of the faculty are very nice, though oftentimes they are very picky and tell it like it is; if they didn't like your practicum, they will not be shy about it.

Scary!!!

Anyways, in addition to all of my school stuff going on, I am spending this weekend at my pulpit in South Bend (and actually writing this from my wonderful host Posi's computer!) This weekend, I played both cantor AND rabbi, as Eric was out of town. I always forget how much work is involved in planning and executing a service, but overall, everything went well. I led the services and gave a short d'var torah this morning, making parallels from the Torah portion to where our country is at the moment, right after the presidential election (GOBAMA!!!) Everything went over well, though not perfectly. I'm just happy my congregation was happy.

So, that is why I haven't done much posting lately. I've had a few things going on! I want to write a blog about and share pictures from Steph's visit, which was so much fun, but that will have to wait until I'm back in NY and have written my paper for Jewish history, due on Tuesday (Have I started it? What do YOU think? I have mastered the art of procrastination quite well!)

I really hope everyone is well and happy. I can't wait to see you when I'm home for winter break (Dec 25-Jan 3.) I'll post pictures soon, I promise!

Shavua tov.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Barackin' the Vote!

My absentee ballot, proudly stamped and mailed into Missouri last week.

Just a quick post to remind y'all to exercise your right to VOTE in tomorrow's big election. With the shape our country is in, we need CHANGE, and we need it NOW.

And since I'm not officially a cantor yet, and because this blog in no way, shape, or form is affiliated with my congregation or with Hebrew Union College, I am able to say the following without reservation:

GO OBAMA!!!
However you may lean politically (and I do mean that sincerely), may it be God's will that you vote in this election with all your heart, all your mind, and all your best judgement. And may God continue to watch over the United States of America, and lead all of us in the right direction from this point forward.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Procrastination at it's Finest

This is what happens when cantorial students don't want to do their homework...

You can thank yearbookyourself.com for the lovely images.

Procrastination is indeed an art form :)

Jew 'Fro!

Circa 1982...if only my hair were curly...

Jeri-Curl...I love the Michael Jackson look! And seriously, if I really looked like this, the boys would be ALL OVER ME.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Simchat Torah

An old picture of B'nai Jeshrun, without a ceiling

Last night was the beginning of Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday where we read the last bit of the Torah before rolling it back and reading from the beginning again. It's a holiday that celebrates the Torah, celebrates Judaism, celebrates new beginnings and Jewish life and the goodness of celebration. For someone like me, who appreciates both the chance to start over and the excitement of the book of Genesis (I know, cliche, but I can't help it--I love the stories!) it's a wonderful holiday.

After spending a wonderful day in Jersey with the C-Squad and Vicky's wonderful family, we hopped the train(s) to get back to the city to celebrate Simchat Torah. A bunch of HUC'ers were going to B'nai Jeshrun, a huge "reformative" synagogue in Manhattan. I was excited to go, mostly because it's the synagogue where Keeping the Faith was filmed (one of my all-time favorite movies!) The rabbi is Sephardic, from Argentina, and led a somewhat Sephardic style service. Traditionally, there are 7 hakafot (Torah processionals) on Simchat Torah, meant to celebrate the Torah and give everyone a chance to touch, dance with, and sing to it. Well, BJ knows how to rock on Simchat Torah; they have the 7 hakafot, each about 45 minutes long, with tons of loud music, singing of niggunim (songs without words) and the passing of all of their Torah scrolls. There were SO MANY PEOPLE there, of all races and ages and shapes and sizes. It was really remarkable to see everyone celebrating the Torah and having so much fun. I even got to carry the Torah for awhile as I danced and sang with my friends and Jewish brothers and sisters.

After dancing and singing our way through the first 4 hakafot (I'm amazed--with the amount of people there and the crazy, relentless excitement there--that I lasted that long...but it sure was fun!) we decided to make a break for the closest bar to end our evening with a drink. We ended up at a bar called the Blue Donkey, where our Jewish bartender (only in NYC would you find a Jewish bartender from Detroit named Eli who wished us all a chag sameach) gave us free whiskey shots in honor of the holiday. You'll all be proud to know I knocked back the shots with the best of my male (and one female...rock on, Vicky) counterparts!

After the bar, I had my first experience with another NY speciality, Tasti De-Lite. I'm happy to know that Tasti De-Lite is neither tasty nor delightful, expensive, and full of God-knows-what chemicals that make it taste the way it does. I won't be eating it again any time soon.

So, I had a wonderful holiday, and a fantastic last hurrah before school starts up again tomorrow (ugh.) I think this break was really, really good for me. I didn't get nearly enough work done, but I was able to see some of New York City and learn to appreciate it for what it is. I'm slowly learning how to love it here, how to navigate the subways, how to act like a New Yorker without actually becoming one, and how to find my place here. I think things are starting to look up; AND my first paycheck is coming soon, which means I'll be able to replace my lost iPod, which will help even more.

I hope everyone is well...lots of love from the Big Apple!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fun NYC Weekend

One of the best things about break is the time and ability to run around New York City, discovering the amazing things that this city has to offer. It is especially fun to discover the city when one of your best friends comes to visit and discovers it with you! I was so excited when Jane and I made plans for her to come and stay with me this weekend. She was my first official visitor and we had a great weekend. Unfortunately she could only stay from late Friday night until Sunday afternoon, but we made the most of what NYC has to offer the entire time she was here (especially on Saturday!)

Friday night was a very relaxing night at my apartment. Her bus didn't arrive until after 8pm, so by the time she picked up her bags, we made it on the subway and back to my apartment, it was after 9 and we didn't want to hike back to the city. So...we had a lovely Shabbat and ordered food from the restaurant down the street that I love and sat and talked until almost 1am. That's one of my favorite things about old friends; I love the very first good talk after not seeing each other for awhile. It reminds me that no matter what's happened or how far apart we may be, good friendships will always remain strong.

Saturday, however, left us very little time for conversation! We left the apartment early to head to Canal Street in Chinatown to hit up the stands of knock-off purses and accessories. We were determined to each walk away with something, and spent many hours perusing the stands of "Goaches" (fake Coach bags) and "Puh-radas" (Pradas.) We each found our "Prada" bags, complete with real Prada labels the cute Chinese ladies sewed on for us. Mine is red pleather, and I ADORE it, even if there is a tag on the inside that says "Made in China." We also sprayed ourselves with perfume, played with the fake Chanel sunglasses on display, and found cute cashmere scarves. Mine is a Burberry, of course. OK, so it's not real Burberry, but it is 100% cashmere, and I kind of love it. But don't tell anyone else...

Welcome to Chinatown!

The vendors on Canal Street

Jane and I playing around with our gangsta sunglasses

The real Chinatown, a few blocks away from the madness that is Canal Street

Showing off my purchases: my pretty Puh-rada bag who I lovingly refer to as "Blanche", after the Golden Girl, and my Burberry scarf. I forgot to mention that I have rainboots that match the scarf, thus the reason I needed to have it. Love it!

After our shopping extravaganza, we were starving and looking for lunch. We thought about sampling the delicious Chinese goodies in Chinatown, but were slightly afraid of getting food poisoning and/or not being able to read the menus. So we decided to hop over to the next neighborhood, Little Italy, for one of their delicious lunch specials. We had lunch at a place called Caffe Napoli, smiling at the reminder of the restaurant in STL with the same name. It was a fantastic outdoor lunch, with good people watching and fantastic Italian bread. Afterwards, we strolled around the neighborhood and enjoyed delicious mini cannolis from "The Cannoli King." It was a tasty way to relax and enjoy the best Little Italy has to offer.

A not so great view of Little Italy, taken from my seat at our table. It really is cuter than the picture can describe.

After lunch, we wandered around a bit trying to find the nearest subway to take us to Union Square. While wandering, we realized we were in SoHo, a trendy, funky neighborhood full of young people and NYU students. We walked around a bit and stopped by some jewelery stands to buy handmade earrings which were on sale 4 for $10. I love all 4 pairs I bought, including a pair of shiny silver leaves that are "very chic" according to the woman who sold them to me. From SoHo we kept wandering, all the way to Union Square! There, we bought delicious honeycrisp apples (have you tried them yet? The BEST apples in the world, I swear...) and pears and Obama buttons. We stopped at Starbucks to rest our tired legs--I think we walked at least 3-4 miles that day--and plan out the rest of our day. We decided to see what was on sale at the TKTS booth in Times Square, which sells same-day tickets to Broadway shows for up to 60% off. We hopped on the subway and found TKTS, where we waited in line for about an hour only to land great seats to Spring Awakening, a new-ish show about young love in late 19th century Germany. I'd wanted to see the show for a LONNNNNNG time, and I was so excited!

And I was right to be excited. The show was OUT OF THIS WORLD good. Really, really fantastic. The show itself is dark and sad, though the music is incredibly beautiful and full of energy and spirit. The cast was also great, especially for not being the original. I think I might have a new musical obsession; I love musicals, as they tend to be my escape from Jewish music (I need one of those once in a while), and I've been waiting anxiously for my next favorite. I think I found it!

BTW--Spring Awakening is coming to the Fox in February---go see it! You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Jane and I waiting to get into the theatre, right before Spring Awakening.

After the show ended, Jane and I talked about it all the way back to Astoria, where we went to sleep after a very long and fantastic day.

The next morning, we woke up early and packed Jane's things for one last jaunt around New York City. We decided to hit up The Dakota, where John Lennon was killed. It's really not much to see, just an apartment building that tourists aren't allowed to go into, but it was cool nonetheless. A few feet away, in Central Park, is Strawberry Fields, a small monument dedicated to the life of John Lennon. Again, it's not much to see, but the idea of it is very cool. We walked around a bit and took some silly pictures before heading off to find a good brunch spot.

The Dakota, where John Lennon was shot and killed

Strawberry Fields. It's hard to tell from the picture, but the word 'Imagine' is written in the very center of the circle. It's supposed to be a very peaceful place and monument, but due to the huge number of tourists who want to see it, the peacefulness is somewhat disturbed.

Me and Jane in Central Park (I promise there are fresh clothes under the jacket and scarf.)

After wandering aimlessly for a good brunch spot, we decided on Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. I know, not very New York, but the good places around the area were too expensive for our tastes. So we ate a quick but yummy brunch before hopping the train to get Jane back to Herald Square, where the bus would take her back to Boston.

Overall, it was a great weekend, complete with fake designer handbags, tons of wandering the streets and getting lost on subways (we ended up in Harlem on Sunday morning--an adventure for sure) and tons of good food and friendship. I loved having Jane, and am equally excited to welcome Steph Clark and her mama at the end of this month, my dad in January, and Mike and Joey in April. I'd love to have YOU as well--my couch is always open and very comfy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

High Holy Day Review

Well, the High Holy Days have officially come and gone. We haven't yet celebrated Sukkot or Simchat Torah, but this year I was only responsible for singing for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I have to admit that I'm incredibly relieved they're over, not so much for the heavyness or importance of the days, but because the fear and trepidation of my first set of holidays as cantor are officially over. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted, and life can once again return to normal (though I'm still trying to figure out if life will ever be "normal" as a Jewish leader...)

Yom Kippur services went really well, and despite some musical mistakes, I felt much, much more calm and competant on the bimah. Kol Nidre (the evening service that begins Yom Kippur) went especially well. At the end of the service, the rabbi thanked me in his closing announcements, telling the congregation how pleased he was to be working with me and how much I brought to the service. It was really, really nice of him to say, and really nice to hear. After the service was over, I thanked him for his kind words, and he said, "well, ya kinda earned it..." I'm glad he was pleased with my addition to the service and the mood we both created together. I'm even gladder to be able to work with Eric; he's been a pleasure to work with, and he never seems to mind when I ask him a million questions (even the silly, obvious questions.) I love his insights and anecdotes, both during services and in those moments when we're working together one-on-one. He has an energy that I very much need and appreciate, and in my opinion, we balance each other out well on the bimah.

One of the most meaningful moments of Yom Kippur came during Kol Nidre, when instead of singing the typical Debbie Friedman Mi Sheberach (a prayer for healing), I led the congregation in Leon Sher's Heal Us Now. It's a really beautiful piece, despite it's potential for cheesyness, and the congregation LOVED it. As I sang it, I couldn't help but think of those I love who needed the prayer: The Spinrads, their friend Toney, my Aunt Evelyn, my mom, and others. It totally, totally changed the way I sang it, and even I was almost moved to tears. I'm glad it went well, and I'm hoping to use it every now and then as a nice change of pace on Shabbat.

Another meaningful moment came between the morning and afternoon services. The congregation has a tradition of hosting a symposium, where 3 congregants tell their life stories; they speak of their childhoods, their connection to Temple Beth El, their Jewish identities, and whatever else happens to come up. This year, I was able to hear the stories of Mona, Mitch, and Millie. All 3 stories were powerful, but to hear 90-year-old Millie speak was incredibly moving. Her brain is sharp as a tack, and she told us all about her parents, children, and the love she experienced with her late husband. The whole room was crying when she talked about the last year of her husband's life, and how he prepared her for what she'd need to know and do once he passed. She spoke of the love they experienced in that year, complete and unconditional, fully knowing what was ahead, fully understanding how little time they had left. All I could think of was my hope to find that kind of love, to someday be in a position similar to that. While imminent death is never good, to feel that kind of love so completely is a joy I need and want to experience.

Overall, my HHD experience was fantastic. And I'm so, so, SO happy it's over for the year. I'm looking forward to the day when I can think less about notes and rhythms and choreography and logistics and focus wholly and completely on prayer and my congregation. It will come eventually, but for now, the prayer is found within the learning.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Coolest Moment Yet

Forgot to mention that I taught Sunday School music in South Bend this past weekend. The kindergartners needed to learn the Sh'ma, the prayer that affirms to all Jewish people that God is One God. I taught them the simplest melody and explained the text to them. They seemed to understand exactly what I was saying and what the prayer is about. And then, they sang it by themselves, a few times to get it right, the last time with their eyes closed. I have to tell you that hearing a group of 5 year olds, sweetly singing the Sh'ma that they just learned from me, was one of the coolest moments of my cantorial "career" yet.

Just wanted to share.

Back to working on my Yom Kippur cue sheets...there are a lot of services on Yom Kippur!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

L'Shana Tova!

Happy New Year to all of my Jewish friends and family out there. May your 5769 bring you a year of happiness, good health, friendship and love.

I'm sorry I haven't been good about posting this week. Needless to say, it's been a little crazy as I've been feverishly preparing for my first High Holy Day pulpit. Last week was full of music cramming, preparing the Torah portion I needed to read for HUC t'fillah last Thursday (whoever decided to give a 2nd year student 11 verses of N'ztavim the Thursday before her first ever HHD pulpit was completely insane), and packing to head to South Bend for shabbat and Rosh Hashana services.

I am happy to say that both Shabbat and Rosh Hashana services went, for the most part, very well. Erev Rosh Hashana was full of hilariously ridiculous moments on my part, which included the several times I ad-libbed my music (even though it was right in front of me), completely forgetting the tune for the entire Amidah (even though it was primarily Shabbat Nusach and the rabbi was kind enough to bail me out--my mind just completely blanked in the moment) and then singing a bitonal and very interesting HHD Kiddush. Oh, and I was halfway through the Janowski Avinu Malkenu when I realized I wasn't facing the ark as I needed to be (and as the rabbi instructed all of us seconds before I began singing.) I figured it would look silly for me to turn around halfway through the piece, so I stayed where I was, cheating my body slightly towards the ark. I need to figure out a way to behave like a normal cantor even when I'm scared out of my mind.

Hilarity, I tell you.

Rosh Hashana morning went much, much smoother, as I think my nerves had settled a bit. My voice felt clear and strong, the music went smoothly despite some minor catastrophies, and my HHD nusach and melodies felt must more comfortable.

Another funny moment--I realized on Rosh Hashana eve that the prayerbook I was using was the gender-neutral edition. The entire congregation used the non gender neutral edition, so our names for God were a little out of sync. The rabbi and I shared a few chuckles over that one, especially over the RH morning service that had many significant differences.

The best part of RH was that I had family there to share the service with me. My mom, Uncle Stevie, and Aunt Bonnie came all the way to South Bend to attend services and cheer me on. I can't tell you how nice it was to be surrounded by a wonderful congregation that included family and those congregants who have sweetly taken me on as family.

Thank goodness the congregation didn't seem to mind my mistakes (and very few people even noticed.) They really are the greatest congregation a second year student could ask for, as they are used to the student cantor making small mistakes and learning throughout their year/s with them. They are an amazing group of people, who I am falling more and more in love with on every visit. Special thanks to those of you who hosted me, fed me, schlepped me, bought me bobby pins for my new kippah which you so sweetly gave to me, welcomed me with open arms and sweet words, or any combination of the above. I am very fortunate to be a part of your family for the year.

I'm now home in St Louis for the week, to chill out and work on music for Yom Kippur and do some laundry for free. It's nice to be away from NYC and far, far away from public transportation, and also to play with my doggie whenever I want to.

Again, l'shana tova to all of you. Stay tuned for updates as the highest of holy days continue to fall upon us :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Preparations

It's been another crazy week here in NYC. It's beginning to dawn on all of us that Rosh Hashana is less than 2 weeks away, and most of us still have mountains and mountains of music and text to learn in order to fully prepare for our High Holy Day pulpits. It's a huge job in and of itself, and partnered with our schoolwork and jobs it's very busy and overwhelming time for all of us. I've spent many hours in the practice rooms this week, working on music for HHDs and school and fitting in my music theory homework (we have to journal our practice every week, with at least 4 entries and 15 minutes a practice session.) No one is getting enough sleep, there is laryngitis going around HUC, and all of us seem to be running on too much caffeine. It's a wee bit tense around school at the moment.

The 3rd, 4th, and 5th years reassure us that our 2nd year HHD pulpits are the hardest, as we've probably never led HHD's before and we feel the need to cram as much music in the services as possible. They remind us not to go too crazy, that singing some Shabbat nusach is OK and probably appreciated, and to keep it as simple as possible this year. They remind us to, musically speaking, to use what we've got, not to be too ambitious with what we don't yet have, and allow the rabbi and congregation to read certain prayers we've always heard sung. In other words, they're telling us to relax, and as one of my 5th year colleagues told me, to "chill the f**k out." (Did you think clergy never use bad words? Think again...) It's GOOD advice, advice I'm finally beginning to feel OK with even though I am going to keep working until the end.

The Jewish people are currently in the Hebrew month of Elul, the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana, the start of the new year. It's a time of reflection, of repentence, of finding God in both comfortable and UNcomfortable ways. It's helpful for all of us second years to remember what Elul is all about, why we're here, how we got here, and what we REALLY want to accomplish during the HHD's. When we think about things in this way, we realize that singing the perfect B'rosh Hashana isn't the most important thing, and that our congregants probably won't remember whether we sung the right nusach for whatever prayer we're singing. They will, however, remember the moments of services that touched them, that helped them to find God, that helped them to reflect and repent and remember what the HHD's are all about.

I've been spending just a little time every day this week with Naomi Levy's book Talking to God. If you've never read it, I highly encourage you to do so; it's a book of prayers for small moments, both joyful and rough. It's not a HHD themed book, but there are a few of her prayers that have jumped out at me that relate to where I am right now, in the midst of all of these preparations. They remind me to do the best I can and to trust that God will help all of us through this rough patch.
"Dear God, as I pray, day after unpredictable day,
May the voice of my soul spring forth from my lips.
May I turn to You, God, in tears, in laughter, and in song.
And may my prayers be answered. Amen."

"When I panic, God, teach me patience.
When I fear, teach me faith.
When I doubt myself, teach me confidence.
When I despair, teach me hope.
When I lose perspective, show me the way--
back to love, back to life, back to You. Amen."

"You have blessed me with many gift, God, but I know it is my task to realize them. May I never underestimate my potential; may I never lose hope. May I find the strength to strive for better, the courage to be different, the energy to give all that I have to offer.
Help me, God, to live up to all the goodness that resides within me. Fill me with the humility to learn from others and with the confidence to trust in my instincts.
Thank You, God, for the power to grow. Amen."
May your month of Elul bring you to a closer relationship with God, and may your new year be a year of peace and happiness.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thank God I Found This!

This might just be the website I need to keep a sense of humor about the subway system. I particularly love the video on the Sept 8 post. Nothing like that would EVER happen in St Louis!

http://subwayblogger.com/

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Accentuating the Positive

The view of the city from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I just typed a whole blog about my honest feelings about living in NYC. It's been another rough week--I'm not the happiest camper right now, and all my fantasies about somehow becoming Carrie Bradshaw have been chucked out the window. And 3 dirty, disgusting rats ran around my feet (one of them ran ACROSS my feet, and I was wearing sandals) which scared the bejesus out of me. But--the blog was negative, boring, whiny, etc. So I am going to switch into positive mode, telling you about the good things that happened this week, as a couple of things did make my life a little brighter.

Yesterday, I had my first adventure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was excited to be there for the first time, even if it was with my bible history class, looking at artifacts from the Assyrian period (would you like to know how exciting our 90 minutes was not?) I had a little while to peruse the museum afterwards, so I went up to the rooftop garden to see the views and the sculptures. There is an exhibit right now featuring a few pieces from contemporary sculptor Jeff Koons. I loved the balloon animals! I'm excited to go back there whenever people come to visit--it will take more than a few visits to see the entire collection and take advantage of all that the museum has to offer.
The Met

One of the balloon animal sculptures by Jeff Koons

Dena and I in front of the balloon animal--I wish the picture allowed you to see my fantastic new boots that, while fantastic, were not the most appropriate footwear for a museum of such grandeur, as the blisters on my feet will tell you.

After the Met, I went to a job interview at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan. On Tuesday afternoon I was telling a new friend who is a 4th year student that I was looking for a teaching job, and he forwarded my name and contact info to the cantor in case she had openings for B'nai Mitzvah tutors. Literally 15 minutes after he sent the email, the cantor called me to ask if I had any interest in teaching a blessings class to B'nai Mitzvah age students. It's not exactly what I had in mind, but it's a job in my field that pays. Anyways, I went to interview with the cantor on Friday, and was given the job on the spot. We're still working out particulars and such, but I'll have a job co-teaching the class with their newest rabbi who was ordained from HUC-NYC last year starting this Thursday. I'll be prepping the students to lead their B'nai Mitzvah services, which is a huge responsibility, but also a huge honor. And it pays well (let's not forget that!) I'm excited to have a job with this large, well-known Reform congregation that isn't too far out of my way after school.

Classes are still going well, and I enjoy several (but not all) of them. My cantorial classes are by far my favorite, especially the ones that focus on repertoire. My traditional nusach class is fantastic, with the wonderful Cantor Faith Steinsnyder. We've been working on traditional melodies of Adolph Katchko, which we're required to perform out of the prayerbook--without music--every week. I also love my Reform workshop, where we study the development of the repertoire in the Reform movement. We are required to sing in that class every time we meet (on Mondays and Wednesdays) and have so far worked on melodies from Helfman (Barechu), Weiner (L'cha Dodi--crazy, but beautiful), and a few "trad" melodies. I love the feedback given to us by our professor Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller in the class, and love talking about the music. The music of the Reform movement--everything from the classical composers to the happy-clappy camp music--really feeds my soul and my love forJewish music. I also really love choir, which is led by the amazing Joyce Rosenzweig, a virtuoso (and I mean virtuoso) pianist and wonderful choir director.

It's exciting to work with these people in such close contact. I love that there are only 5 of us in my class and we have time for lots of personal attention and direction. I love that the older cantorial students have done all of this before and warn us about what's to come and give us helpful hints on how to survive the tough moments. I love that there are 42 cantorial students in the entire building. To give you some comparison, there are 42 rabbinical students just in the 2012 class. It's kind of great to be a part of something small that makes such a huge impact on the Jewish world.

How's that for positives? Lots of them! I'm trying to concentrate on these things, these amazing moments when I remember why I'm living in this crazy city instead of Cincinnati (not that Cincy's a bad place...) I'm trying to focus on the reasons I'm here and how lucky I am to be fulfilling my dreams, even when they come with their fair share of hardships.

It's all worth it. And that's not just lip service. Even though I continue to repeat my mantra on a regular basis...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mantra

I do not hate New York City.
I do not hate New York City.
I do not hate New York City.

I remember studying transcendental and Jewish meditation for a short while before I began cantorial school. My teacher had a method of stating a mantra over and over again, 200-something times a day, with the belief that whatever you were stating would eventually come into being.

I say the above mantra at least 2,000 times a day, especially when walking the streets of the city and when on a crowded subway or worse--the crowded, hot and smelly subway stations.

And last week, my brand new iPod went missing. I had it at school, and when I looked for it again, it was gone. I sent out an email to the student body, faculty, and maintenance staff, and haven't heard a thing. You'd think in a crowd of soon-to-be rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators, someone would turn in a lost iPod, but no. My iPod was the one thing that made the subways and streets bearable; I was able to drown out the track noise, the crowds, the people illegally begging for money on the trains. It's going to be awhile until I can afford to buy a new one, so until then I'll have to sing my own songs to myself or learn how to read on the train without getting nauseous. I guess we'll see.

I have a confession to make: As I was leaving Cincinnati the other day, I was seriously contemplating switching to the rabbinical program so I could move to the Cincy campus. I spent a good 10 minutes weighing the pros and cons, and in the end I decided that just being in Cincinnati was not a good enough reason to abandon my real dream for the next best option. I'd make a lousy rabbi, anyways...I don't care enough about Talmud and my public speaking skills are mediocre at best.

It's been a rough go this week. Being in Cincy made me realize what I'm missing by living here. I'm trying to take the sweet advice given my friends and others here to venture out and try new and fun things in the city, though every time I do I end up wishing I was sitting on my (brand new, finally delivered and comfy and wonderful) couch watching TV. Today I went to Union Square to visit the popular farmers market, which ended up being twice as expensive as my little markets in Astoria and crowded beyond belief. I then made a trip to Whole Foods across the street and ended up standing in line for 20 minutes to walk out with my one little bottle of Fish Oil pills. After that, it was a trip to Trader Joes, which I was so looking forward to, which led to standing in a horrendously long line (it literally wove around the perimeter of the store.) I left my apartment 3 hours ago, and I desperately need a nap or a big glass of wine to chill myself out.

This city is going to take a lot of getting used to. And I am trying--really, I am.

There's a song I learned last year by Israeli pop artist David Broza called Yi'hiye Tov (It Will be Good) that I've been listening to a lot lately. It kind of describes my feelings right now and gives me a little hope that things will indeed improve. And they will, I'm sure--it's just going to take a very long time. Until then, I press on.

And all will be good
yes, all will be good
though I sometimes break down
but this night
oh, this night,
I will stay with you.

I do not hate New York City.
I do not hate New York City.
I do not hate New York City.

Y'hiyeh tov.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'm Alive!

My first Shabbat table in my new apartment

I apologize for the delay in posting. The last 2 weeks have been completely insane, and in many ways I feel busier, more pressured, and more exhausted than I ever was last year. There always seems to be something important that needs doing for school or work or the apartment that has caused me not to be able to really focus on keeping y'all up to date. Anyways, let me give you some sort of an idea as to what I've been up to.

We began last week, our official first week of classes, at a HUC-NY community Kallah, a gathering at Camp Kutz in Warwick NY. It was a wonderful 3 days of learning, singing, prayer and bonding with this new group of people. Every year there is a theme to Kallah, and this year it was gender. We discussed several important issues facing the Jewish community which involve gender, including the role of women in Jewish professions (the ratio of women to men in Jewish professions is substantially growing, to the point where we are vastly outnumbering the men) and how to bring the men back into the Reform movement (many have become very non-participatory in the last few years.) We also dealt with issues of sexuality, both with including the LGBT community in synagogue life and how to address our own questions of sexuality in relation to Judaism and our professions. It was a very interesting few days, and I am happy to share what I've learned if anyone is interested. One of the most interesting parts was a meeting with Sally Priesand, the first woman ever ordained from HUC. It was an honor to listen to her speak and to hear a small piece of her story. We also began our classwork at Kallah, interspersing our classes with sessions on gender issues.

Me, Elana, and Julia hanging out at Camp Kutz, anxiously awaiting our weekend of gender issues

One of the most interesting moments of Kallah was a men-themed Ma'Ariv (evening) service. As we entered the outdoor theater, we were told to sit in the middle section ONLY if we identified with the 'male' gender. If we did not, we were asked to sit outside the middle section. Once the service began, one of the leaders (a male, of course) asked those of us sitting outside the middle NOT to participate in most of the t'fillah so the men's voices could be heard without being drown out by the women's voices. Well, you can imagine the response that this announcement received as the women quietly watched the service go on. Many people, women AND men, got up and left the crowd entirely out of anger, refusing to be a part of a service like this. I decided to stay and watch and observe what my male classmates considered to be a "men's service." There was lots of chanting and drumming and many people told stories of their fears and proud moments. It was a lovely service which would have been made lovelier had I been able to sing along. Anyways, I figured out pretty early on that the service was not just a service, but an social experiment to see how the community would respond. Afterwards, our community had a long discussion about how and if the service worked, and LOTS of people had a LOT to say. What struck me the most was remembering the way it felt to attend services in Israel, sitting in a balcony or behind a separating wall in a section specifically for women, where we were sometimes not allowed to sing anything at all. It was so strange to experience this in America, particularly in a Reform setting, particularly in a College that trains Reform Jewish leaders. If someone had told me at the beginning that this was an experiment, it would have been fine with me--I just wish it hadn't been during prayer time, when I'd come in expecting to have time with God and instead was left with nothing. If anything, it was very interesting and led to some great discussion and thought.

We got back from Kallah last Tuesday and jumped right into our classwork at the HUC building on Wednesday. I'll explain all of my classes in a later blog, but I'll say that our days go from 8:40-3:05 Monday through Thursday, with the exception of Wednesday mornings which begin at 8:15 and Thursday afternoons which end at 4:45. They're long days, longer than they sound, often filled with meetings or study sessions during lunchtime, so we go all day long without a break. We do not have classes on Fridays, since so many students need to use the day to travel to their student pulpit jobs. Speaking of which...

Friday led me to my first weekend at my student pulpit in South Bend, Indiana. I arrived in South Bend around 1pm, where I was taken directly to the temple to meet with the rabbi. He is very, very nice, with lots of energy and excitement about being a Jewish leader. Both Friday night and Saturday morning services went well (though I need to work on keys with the accompanist and the rabbi who plays guitar.) The community was also WONDERFUL, and I have invitations already to 6 break fast meals on Yom Kippur. Everyone was so warm and welcoming and made my first weekend there really nice. I also had a chance to sit with the rabbi to go over High Holy Day services, which was relieving and helped me to get a better idea of exactly what the HHD's will ask of me.

After South Bend, I took a little road trip to Cincinnati to see my friends at the Cincy campus of HUC. It was a FANTASTIC, though all too short time with them. Steph and Ariel planned a big dinner in my honor for all of my favorite Cincy people, and it was so wonderful to catch up with and laugh with my friends again. After dinner, we went to a cute little park to see a big fireworks display over the Ohio River, and then to Cincy's favorite ice cream shop, Graeters. It was so delicious and a lot of fun. The next morning, we had a quick breakfast at First Watch (so good to go back there--I went about once a week all summer and have been missing my Healthy Turkey omelet) before I headed back to South Bend to catch my flight to NYC. It was a great end to a really, really good weekend.

Steph, Ariel, me and PJ waiting for the fireworks

We finally got a good shot!

Fireworks over the Ohio River

Anyways, this week it was classes as normal, ending with an all-school BBQ on the roof of the building. It was nice, though I am totally and completely exhausted and so, so, SOOOOO ready for my 3-day weekend. I don't have any major plans, though if I recover a little from my head cold I'd like to go to the famous Union Square farmer's market on Saturday morning. Farmers Market's are my own personal heaven, so I'm excited and hoping I can recover in time.

So that basically covers my last 2 weeks. I told you it's been crazy! I'm still adjusting, still learning this HUGE city, still cultivating my love/hate relationship with it (I'm currently in the not-so-good stages), and still trying to find some balance in my over-scheduled life. It'll all come in time, I know. Thank goodness for my 3 day weekend :)

I'm hoping to keep posting on a regular basis once I am accustomed to my new schedule. Thanks for sticking with me! Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Fun NYC Day

Yesterday we 2nd year students participated in another day of Orientation, though this time slightly different. This was our orientation to New York City, which got us out on the streets and into some of the more interesting parts of the city. It was a really wonderful, though completely exhausting, day.

We began our day at Temple Emanu-El, on the East Side, near the famous Plaza Hotel and Park Avenue. This is the synagogue where all HUC New York students are ordained or invested at the end of their 5 years. The main sanctuary is completely breathtaking; colorful mosaics, pillars of marble, beautiful stained glass windows and adornments (it reminds me a lot of the New Cathedral Basilica in St Louis, for those of you who are familiar with that.) Some of my classmates jokingly called it "The Church" because it definitely resembles a church more than a synagogue, but it is beautiful nonetheless. Emanu-El treated us to breakfast and a meeting with their senior Rabbi David Posner. Rabbi Posner is a character to say the least, but the speech he presented to us was very moving and inspiring. He talked about how the most important quality a Jewish leader can have is rachmanut, mercifulness. He mentioned that to be compassionate, loving, and kind to your congregants and to yourself is the best way to make a name for yourself in your Jewish community. For someone who struggles with the academic side of Judaism, and who is scared to death to be in this intense HUC community, it was exactly what I needed and wanted to hear. After breakfast, we spent some time in the amazing sanctuary, where we wrote letters to ourselves that we will read on the day of our ordination 4 years from now. It was an incredibly emotional thing, thinking about the cantor I am now and the cantor I will be in 4 years (or in 40 years, for that matter.) I know I will have chills and probably tears when I read the letter on that amazing day in May 2012. It's really not nearly as far away as it feels.

Then, we headed off to spend some fun time in NYC. We had the option of either going to the Central Park Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the waterfall exhibit on the East River. Originally, I wanted to go to the Met since I've never been, but decided that the waterfalls would be different (and they're closing in October, unlike the zoo or the Met.) So we took the subway to almost the Brooklyn Bridge, where we walked along the Greenway (though there is nothing 'green' about it,) looking at the unimpressive waterfalls until we reached the South Street Seaport. The Seaport is a touristy area, with a mall and lots of child-friendly shops. It kind of reminded me of Navy Pier in Chicago, without the huge frightening ferris wheel. We had lunch there and walked around a bit. Then, it was time to hop back on the subway to go back to HUC.

Once back, we had a session with some members of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing. One of the most saddening parts of living in NYC is that there are homeless people almost everywhere you go. I pass them everyday as I head to my subway stop in Astoria and again as I walk to HUC in the city. It's heartbreaking to see them, and even more heartbreaking to know that I really can't help everyone (though I try to give something every day, even if it's only a quarter.) The Interfaith Assembly is a program that advocates for the homeless and helps them develop important life skills to make it on their own. They sent 2 speakers to talk to us, both formerly homeless people. One of them, Collin, is just at the beginning of his recovery, moving into a new apartment and working for the IAHH as a speaker and advocate. He gave his very first speech to us, telling his story to an audience for the first time. It was very moving and powerful, and I admire his strength and courage and wish him nothing but the best of luck and circumstances.

This presentation was used as a segue to introduce us to the HUC soup kitchen, a project that is run by students to help the thousands of hungry and homeless in NYC. It is something I've been interested in ever since I first heard of it years ago, and I am excited to get involved as much as I can. We'll see how it goes scheduling-wise, but I really hope I can find time to help cook, serve, or clean up. Whatever I can do I will.

We then had a discussion with a representative from the Muslim community in NYC. She talked a lot about the treatment of the Muslim community after 9/11 and the work she is doing to combat the animosity from opposing groups. It was very interesting and very important, though by that time we were all exhausted and ready for a break.

Finally, we headed to Temple Sha'arey T'fillah for dinner and Shabbat services. TST is where Cantor Bruce Ruben, the head of the SSM, was cantor for 24 years before coming to HUC. The dinner was lovely, as were services. I finally got on the train to go home around 9:15pm, and was home around 10. I fell into bed and pretty much didn't get out until 9:00 this morning. It was, however, a wonderful day and a good break from the HUC crap we've all been dealing with all week.

Today's been a day of errands, laundry, packing for our Kallah which runs tomorrow-Tuesday, and vegging. As much as I love my classmates, it's so nice to be away from them for the day, to remember how much I love 'me' time and do the little things I haven't had time to do all week.

Thanks to all for sending love this week--I've needed it and appreciate it so much. I'm sending it right back to you! Have a great weekend :)

BTW, my classmate Leora took some great pics of the day, so as soon as I get them I'll post them--I really want you to see the amazing synagogue!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Whew!

Orientation has continued all this week, slowly getting us more accustomed to HUC-New York and it's surrounding neighborhood. It's been an exhausting week of lectures, music learning, people meeting, scheduling, re-scheduling, and running around the building trying to make sure all the little logistical things get done. We're all pooped, and I am no exception.

The past two days have begun with a morning of music with Cantor Faith Steinsnyder. She's been giving us an overview of High Holy Day (HHD) music, complete with a binder of tunes to prepare us for our first HHD jobs coming up in late September. There is SO MUCH MUSIC to learn, to master, to understand, that the job is overwhelming to say the least. I'm glad that I already know many of the big pieces (Avinu Malkenu, Sh'ma Koleinu, Unetaneh Tokef, and more) but the idea of standing before a congregation in a MONTH as their one and only Cantor is scary and frightening and totally surreal. It's an exciting challenge to try to master, but with everything we have going on right now, I'm terrified I won't be able to learn all the music in time.

Today, 4 of us decided to buy our books for the semester. As cantorial students, it is traditional to buy the majority of your music books at the beginning of the second year of school. Therefore, my locker at school is filled to the brim with collection after collection of music, from modern composers, old-school composers, and out-of-print and hard to find collections. I also will have a bill that is comparable to that of a piece of good jewelery, which is a frightening thought. Thankfully, my wonderful Cantor and friend, Linda, helped me out tremendously by giving me some music and sending me some more in coming weeks...thanks Linda, you're the best! Having all of this music is just another reminder of everything there is to learn, everything we'll have to do in the next four years. Once again, it's overwhelming to say the least.

I've also spent the week meeting all of the older students, both in the SSM and in the rabbinic and education programs. Many people are very nice, though most are intense and incredibly intelligent. I am trying to remember everyone's names, which I'm hoping will come with time. The 3rd year class of cantorial students seems VERY nice, as does the 4th year class. I don't know the 5th years all that well yet (they don't spend much time on campus--much of it is spent working on their thesis papers and recitals.) Everyone has been helpful, giving us reassurance and welcoming us, helping us open our lockers and find the right people to talk to and get on the right subway. It's nice to have them here, and I hope I can be as helpful to people next year.

Did I mention that NYC is a HUGE city? My burrow of Queens, in and of itself, is huge. There is so much to learn, to figure out, that it's daunting and scary at times. I just know eventually I will wind up somewhere in New Jersey or Connecticut because I took the wrong train, or get completely lost and find myself wandering into the not-so-nice areas of NYC. At least I'll be learning what NOT to do for the future, and maybe spotting some good eateries or shops along the way. Again, thinking positive...

I should add that the area around HUC, Greenwich Village, is incredibly beautiful and fun. There are fantastic restaurants (so I've heard) and cute stores and shops (and a Kmart and Walgreens and Bank of America!) within walking distance. NYU is a really great campus, full of greenery and beautiful buildings. I'm happy that school is in this area, and that I'll have the next 4 years to explore it. I'll take pics sometime and blog about it, I'm sure.

So, the name of the game, at least for now, is OVERWHELM. Eventually it will all get straightened out, I'm sure, but it's going to take time. There's lots to process and lots to do and lots to look out for--but like everyone's been saying, no one in the program has died of overwhelm. At least not yet...

Did I mention that I begin in my pulpit in South Bend NEXT WEEK? Kinda snuck up on me, so guess what I'll be planning in the coming week, once we get back from Kallah???

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Day Back

Hi guys. I was really hoping I'd have some fun and interesting tidbits about the school year to share with you tonight, but sadly, I came out of orientation feeling more DISoriented and disappointed than I expected to. Poorly planned programming, mass amounts of disorganization, and a group of people I'm just not all that excited to be here with. I'm hoping things get better once real classes begin, but for now I'm very ready to throw my hands up and be done with this NY business. I could do the program at Cinci, right?

I did have a chance to spend some quality time with the C-Squad, which is always nice. I'm pretty interested to see if I form new friendships with some of the people I went to school with last year, especially the ones that never gave me the time of day before. I'm going to be optimistic here, though inside I'm highly doubting any new friendships will arise. I somehow want to try to meet people outside of this program, who have nothing to do with HUC or being a "professional Jew." No idea how that will happen, but I'll keep you posted.

In the days before school started, I'd been spending time getting to know my neighborhood and subway system. I live in a wonderful area, full of great restaurants and bars, bakeries, cute shops, and anything I could want or need. My subway is great, too--it's a straight 40 minute ride to school, with 5 minute walks to and from the train stations. In the city, it drops me off right by my bank (which is fab since there isn't a Bank of America anywhere close to me in Astoria) and a huge, 3-level K-Mart. I never thought I'd be so excited to see a K-Mart as I was when I discovered it yesterday. I also have a Lane Bryant about a mile from me, which is a really nice walk when it isn't too hot--and, it's far enough away that I won't go there too often to blow the money I don't have. Always a plus.

I want to write more about the apartment and my neighborhood, but I want to wait until I can take pictures again...I accidentally forgot my camera battery charger, so until it comes, I can't take pictures! As soon as I get it and can take pics again, I'll post pictures and brag about this apartment that I'm beginning to love.

And thank God I love this apartment--otherwise, I'd have run away by now.

I'm sorry this post is so boring...I really thought I'd be excited about today. I'm really, really hoping that I look back at this post at the end of the year and laugh at how silly I was for hating this campus.

I miss Israel.
I miss St Louis.
I miss normal life, without mass transit and obnoxious New Yorkers and an hour long commute to school.

I know it will get better. A routine will certainly help, as will meeting some new people and becoming friendlier with the ones I go to school with. Optimism is the name of the game now, I guess.