Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our Exciting First Day Back

Believe it or not, it really does snow in Jerusalem! The sleet/snow mix began around 8pm Tuesday night, and continued overnight and into Wednesday morning. The weather man said that Jerusalem received about 20 centimeters of snow (about 8 inches), but unless he was accounting for the rain/sleet, I don't think we got that much. Snow here is different than snow at home; first of all, it's not the light, pretty snowflakes I'm accustomed to--this is heavy pieces of snow mixed with rain that literally smack anyone walking under it as it falls. Also, the snow that accumulates on the ground is not just snow--it's a freezing slush of rain, ice, and snow. As you can imagine, walking in this slush is not fun, and my shoes, socks, and jeans were all completely soaked after my commutes to and from school this morning.

The corner of Moshe Hess and Lincoln Streets, covered in the schmutz.

The second any Israeli hears the word "snow", they immediately take cover in their homes and do not leave until every last flake is gone (my mother would definitely approve.) Because of this, most of the stores, businesses, and schools throughout town were closed today--everything EXCEPT Hebrew Union College. We were a little upset that our program wasn't canceled today, as schlepping through the snow is not exactly what we wanted to be doing at 8am, but we reluctantly made our way to school to begin our 2nd semester with the Annual Colloquium.

The front entrance of HUC

The Academic Courtyard, which is normally green and beautiful

Colloquium is a program that brings professors from the stateside HUC campuses to Jerusalem to meet us and lead us in some programming that deals mainly with contemporary American Jewry. Because of the snow, our Colloquium was cut short today (we ended around 1pm instead of our scheduled 4pm end time.) I would have liked to stay for the whole day; many of the programs dealt with real issues that affect the Reform Jewish communities in America (intermarriage, individual/communal prayer, Jewish education, etc.) and they are a very interesting change from our normal classes. I enjoy having the stateside professors here, including Mark Kligman from the School of Sacred Music who interviewed me when I auditioned last year. The New York-bound students will be meeting with him tomorrow to discuss issues pertinent to HUC in NYC, and I am looking forward to chatting him up a bit about the SSM.

Snow aside, the most exciting part of our day at school was when we received our very own hardcover copies of Mishkan T'fillah, the new prayerbook of the Reform movement. This prayerbook is a very big deal in the Reform movement; it's 15 years in the making and a totally different approach to liturgy than it's predecessor, Gates of Prayer. When you open the book, it is divided into 2 sections; on the right side, you see the traditional prayers in the context of the service. On the left side, there are alternative readings and quotes that you can choose to read or speak along with or instead of the traditional prayers. It allows for many different types of services to suit the different Reform communities. We use it for our Monday morning services at HUC, and the more I get to know it, the more I love it...the possibilities for creative services seem endless! There was a buzz in the room as we anxiously waited in line to receive our copies and thumbed through them before this morning's t'fillah. I am SO EXCITED to have my own hard copy now; I even pulled a Grandpa Sidney and labeled the inside cover with my name and the date--I'm sure he's proud. I can't wait to see what this prayerbook does for the Reform Movement throughout the world.

I am a little too excited about my pretty new prayerbook! Only a Jewish professional (or future Jewish professional, in my case) could be as excited as I was to receive this.

My copy of Mishkan T'fillah (the bright blue book in the center) sitting happily on my bookshelf next to my other books

Anyways, I am off to get a good night's sleep before tomorrow's early start. It's going to be a busy weekend, with Colloquium stuff on Friday (normally our day off), the service I am planning/singing on Friday night, a special service on Saturday morning, and getting ready for our actual 2nd semester classes to begin first thing on Sunday. It's already been a whirlwind since I've been back, and the semester hasn't even officially begun yet!

Continue to keep in touch...lots of love from snowy, schmutzy Jerusalem!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Winter Break

Before I left for Israel, St Louis and home were 2 places I took for granted. I always thought that the STL was mundane and boring, and with the exception of a few choice people and places, the city didn't really have much to offer me. Little things, like driving past the Arch or munching the custard at Ted Drewes (2 of the STL's most-beloved gems) meant practically nothing, and my family, friends, dog, temple, car, dishwasher, dryer, Starbucks, comfy bed, warm & cozy home, and the like were certainly overlooked and under-appreciated.

Until now. Home is certainly where the heart is.

When I arrived to STL 2 1/2 weeks ago, I couldn't have been happier to see/experience the aforementioned things. I ran to the baggage claim at Lambert so excited that my heavy carry-ons felt light-as-a-feather, and I will never forget coming around the bend and seeing my family, my mom, dad, and little brother with huge smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes (even Adam, though he'll never admit it...) It was a defining moment in my life; I knew then that no matter how far I'll ever go, they will always be there when I return and welcome me back with open arms. I know it's cheesy, but it's 100% true.

Later that same day, I came back to my other home in STL: Temple Israel. I was a little nervous about coming back to T.I.; I wondered how people would see me. Would the clergy, staff and congregants view me as the same old Tracy, or would they see me as "Cantor" Tracy (a title I do not yet feel comfortable with using.) Would different things be expected of me now that I'm in cantorial school and on my way to becoming a "professional Jew"?

I was thrilled when I came into T.I. and was hugged by an excited Rabbi Feder, and then Rabbi Shook, and then Linda. Walking into Linda's office and seeing her and Ella, with their warm hugs and smiles was a wonderful moment that I will remember forever. Thank goodness that they, along with the congregation at large, saw me for exactly what I was and still am; they saw me as a cantorial student, caught in the strange juxtaposition of knowing slightly more than the average congregant, but still very much a student of both Judaism and of life. I was treated exactly the same as always by everyone, proving once again that I could leave and change and grow without the fear of not being welcomed back in.

After that first day, my winter break was a mad rush of visitors, reuniting with friends and family, singing, home improvement projects, shopping (thank Gd for Lane Bryant and Target!), cooking, rediscovering my favorite American foods and products, and trying to rest and watch as much wonderful American television as possible. There were so many wonderful moments, and for the sake of time and your eyes, I will simply list some highlights rather than discuss every single one. So, in no particular order:
  • Chanukah with mom and Adam the day I got home
  • The Mocha and Music talent show at TI
  • Having Mike, Joey, and Leah in St Louis, all at the same time!
  • Reuniting/taking gorgeous pictures with Rach and much fun (and the pictures are great!)
  • The welcome-home dinners with both my mom and dad's sides of the family
  • Showing my Israel pictures at least 142 times to various people
  • Chanting Torah for the Hebrew School and answering the kid's questions about life in cantorial school
  • Singing on the bimah with Linda--as wonderful as it is to sing at HUC, nothing can beat that.
  • Getting needled by Stefanie, my chiropractor/cousin
  • My very un-Kosher cheeseburger from The Sports Page. BEST. MEAL. EVER.
  • Meeting Stefani, Adam's girlfriend, who is as adorable as they come.
  • Cooking the most Jewish meal EVER and sharing it with my family, Stefani, and Joan.
  • TARGET! You'll be proud to know that I only visited 7 times while I was home.
  • Brunch with the Arnolds and dinner with the Sangers--thank you for being so proud of me and sincerely interested in what I am doing.
  • The many intelligent discussions on Reform Judaism that I was able to participate in, thanks to HUC.
And there were a million other little moments that there just isn't room to list. I had a wonderful trip.

As wonderful as it was to be home, I am also happy to be back in Jerusalem. There is something about Israel that just gets under your skin, despite the challenges and mishaps that are involved with living here. I am struggling with the idea that in 4 months, the year I have been dreaming about and looking forward to is going to be over. I feel like there is still so much that I haven't done yet---my days of saying "I have plenty of time to do that" are officially over. It's also nice to know that J'lem now feels like another home to me, a fact I didn't quite realize before I left for break. I am excited to see my classmates and start classes again, and to see what unravels for us in the next 4 months, in this city where ANYTHING can happen.

I will end with some pictures and a huge THANK YOU to everyone who made my winter break so special. I miss y'all from home already and I can't wait to see you at the end of May. Continue to be well and keep in touch, and know how much you are loved all the way from Jerusalem.

The cake my dad brought to dinner with his family

Bettina, me and Leah waiting for our table at Bailey's Chocolate Bar

Mike and I at the chocolate bar, with our huge pink roses

Me and my men! From left to right: Adam (my brother) Andrew (good friend from high school), Joey and Mike (friends from California), Bryan (cousin)

Trace-O and Lee-lah together again! I was sitting on her lap while trying desperately not to squash her.

My family and Joan, after eating the most Jewish dinner ever.

The Noah-dog, deep in thought

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

This is what happens when the president of the U.S. visits Jerusalem during finals week

So, in addition to the other millions of things we have to accomplish by Thursday afternoon, when the hell that is finals week is finally over, we're also forced to deal with a very important issue to the State of Israel this week: the visit of President George W. Bush. I will try to leave my personal issues with Bush aside for the meantime, but I have to say that his visit occurs at a most inopportune time for HUC students. The following things will occur once he arrives tomorrow afternoon:
  1. Bush and his staff are taking over the King David Hotel, the Dan Panorama Hotel, and portions of other hotels close to where I live in J'lem. Because of this, many of the streets close to me are going to be closed down to both cars and pedestrians. In order to get from home to school (a literally 2-minute walk) we have to carry our Passports and apartment leases and will be subject to security checks whenever we leave our apartment.
  2. Also, because the streets are closing, the Nesher taxis that on a normal day would happily take us to the airport, are not going to be running on their normal schedule (if they are running at all.) Therefore, those of us who desperately want to go to the airport on Thursday may not be able to get there. Apparently there are other private taxis that will be running, so I'm staying hopeful that we'll all get to where we need to go, but it's a major pain in the neck. There may also be problems for those of us leaving Israel on Friday (thank goodness that's not me) with flights being cancelled so Bush can leave.
  3. Also because of the street-closings, HUC is going to be closed on Wednesday and Thursday. Yep, HUC will be closed for the last half of finals week. Our administrators have been hard at work trying to find either alternative places for us to take our exams, or alternative ways to give us our exams. So, my liturgy exam tomorrow morning is now going to be at some other place that I've never heard of, and my Biblical grammar final is now a take-home final. AND (this is actually a beautiful thing) our Music History test is now at the beginning of next semester, and our paper is also due then. This means I'll have to study a bit over break, and write the paper while I'm home, but it's a HUGE weight off of my shoulders this week.

Also, according to HaAretz newspaper, Israel is spending $25,000 an HOUR to make sure Bush's visit runs smoothly, which is slightly irritating paired with the fact that he probably will just screw up any hope for peace negotiations. But, I said I wouldn't gripe on Bush in this blog, so I'll be done with that for now.

Anyways, sorry to make you spend your time reading about the baligan that is Bush's visit. The whole country is buzzing about it, and it will be interesting to see what happens.

In other, much more exciting news, I found out the other day that I will be going with my friends Ariel and Brad to Baranovichi-Brest, Belarus on the FSU Pesach Project. While I really wanted to go to St Petersburg or Moscow, I am excited for Belarus (just don't ask me how to pronounce the name...I have no clue.) Special thanks to all of you who've already donated to the project in my name...your donations are so appreciated and will help me and my classmates have the experience of a lifetime.

OK, I am off to study liturgy and run some errands. I am SO EXCITED to see you all in 4 days (!) and to spend time in the States...there really is a light at the end of the tunnel, guys! Much love and excitement from Eretz Yisrael to all of you.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy 2008!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2008 brings us all wonderful things, good health, and lots of happiness.

My New Years Eve started as any other Monday, with our morning t'fillah. But this Monday, for me at least, was very different. This Monday, for the first time since my Bat Mitzvah 12 years ago, I was called to read from the Torah. It was a big moment for me; not only did I read from the Torah for only the 2nd time in my life, but I also taught myself the text, translation, and trope (the melody used to chant the verses.) While it was only 4 verses, it was a huge culmination of the hard work I've put into the semester. AND, I managed to only make 1 mistake, forgetting to sing the word "el", meaning "to" in English, in one spot. At the service review a few hours later, I recieved great comments about my "performance" and am very encouraged and excited to read again.

The rest of my New Years Eve sadly went downhill from there. I won't go into all of my ba'ayot (problems), but it's been a traumatic week (many of you will surely hear about it NEXT WEEK when I get home.) I had plans to go to Tel Aviv with Stephanie to visit our friends and spend New Year's Eve with them, but since I've been suffering from horrible headaches and nausea all week, which is supposedly from a "viral infection" (this is what the doctor at the clinic called it, after spending 10 minutes Monday night trying to convince me to take a pregnancy test, even though I repeatedly told him it was impossible that I could be pregnant.) So, I opted out of Tel Aviv, to visit the clinic and get to bed early. I'm really sad now that I didn't go, and I do feel a little pathetic, but there will be other New Years', and I needed all the rest I could get to cope with the craziness that is Hebrew Union College the week before finals.

BTW, Temple Israel people...there was a note in the January Bulletin about Paul Lipzt, the scholar-in-residence at the end of January. GO HEAR HIM SPEAK. He is my Israel Seminar professor at HUC, and not only is he an amazing professor and speaker (with absolutely fabulous stories) but he's also one of the nicest people you'll ever have the chance to meet. You will not be disappointed, I promise.

Anyways, just a quick update during my lunch break to wish y'all a Happy New Year. Home is so close I can (almost) touch it, and I am so excited I can hardly stand it. I get to see Noah in 9 days! I hope he remembers who I am...

Much love from Eretz Yisrael.