Thursday, February 21, 2008

Long Time No Blog

Hi guys. Sorry to keep you anxiously waiting for a new post; it's been a CRAZY couple of weeks here in J'lem, and since my computer has been broken (though it will hopefully be fixed very soon) I've been unable to spend a lot of time posting about everything going on. This week has proven to be way more interesting and a much better week than last, so the focus of this post will be on the last few days.

First of all, Steph, Erin and I led our morning service this past Monday. We all felt really good going into the service, and I am happy to say that it came out way better than any of us could have imagined. I did a lot of singing, including some new (to me) Nusach, some of my favorite pieces, and some congregational favorites. I took a risk and sang the Debbie Friedman Mi Sheberach, which everyone loves EXCEPT Eli Schleifer--after the service he congratulated me on a job well done and told me I could throw the piece out a very high window--that's our Schleif! Also, my friend/neighbor Nicole delivered her d'var torah, which was incredibly smart and meaningful, and it made our service complete. I was also so proud of Steph and Erin; they had this one chance to put together a great service, and they did it with flying colors. Their hebrew was great, their teaching moments were unique and useful, and the the Nusach they were risky enough to lead turned out beautifully. I am very proud of both of them, and it was such a pleasure to be a part of their team :)

At our review later in the day, all of us recieved nothing but compliments and simple constructive critcism. I am happy to say that all of the review panel was thrilled with my parts of the service; Gingy mentioned he could tell a huge difference from the beginning of the year, and Tamar (the assistant director of the cantorial program) mentioned that my service leading was the kind that made people want to be Jewish. Both of those comments, especially the latter, were so great to hear--I really feel now like I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing with my life. The chances to lead a community in prayer, whenever it may be, make every struggle and hardship of this year completely worth it. I realized the other day that nothing makes me happier than singing Jewish music with a community of people, and leading that community in praising and praying to Gd. It's an incredibly beautiful thing to realize that you are GOOD at doing what you love to do--it's something I hope I never take for granted. I give y'all permission to smack me if I turn my positivity into a divatude :)

Tuesday, we woke up to the second snow storm in Israel in the last month. It's rare that Israel ever gets snow, and we've gotten it twice now! The snow was sadly gone by the end of the day, but we got to sleep in (yay for late-start days!) and once again see how beautiful J'lem is in the snow.

Yesterday, as part of our Israel Seminar class, we had the chance to go out into the streets and talk to real Israelis about topics that matter to them. We were encouraged to talk to people in cafes, bookstores, shops, etc and ask them questions about what it means to them to be Israeli and the future of Israel. When we met in the morning for our introduction to the day, I had to admit that I was terrified about the day; I don't like talking in my good English to strange Americans, and I was supposed to go out and talk in my mediorce (at best) Hebrew to strange, pushy, mean Israelis.

It was helpful that we began the day not in the streets of Jerusalem, but in an average Israeli high school. The purpose of going to the school was to talk to the kids in English about their lives, their schooling, their parents, their future army careers, etc. When we arrived, there was a class of kids learning Israeli dances in an outside courtyard. Right away, the kids ran up to us, grabbed our hands, and forced us into their circle to dance with them. They didn't care who we were or what we were doing--they didn't care if we spoke great hebrew or had good dancing skills. All they cared about was sharing their joy and spirit with us and welcoming us wholeheartedly into their community. Aside from laughing and dancing, we were experiencing real Israeli culture and seeing a side of Israelis we don't usually get the see. Israelis, once you are able to get past their tough skins, are actually kind and joyful people. It was nice to be reminded of this and actually experience it firsthand, and I know that this was one of those year-in-Israel moments that I will never forget.

After the dancing and discussions with the high schoolers (and the reminder that I am SO HAPPY that I will never have to be in high school ever again) we were dropped off on Hillel street, in the middle of downtown Jerusalem, to begin our discussions with "real" Israelis. It took me awhile to gather up the courage to speak to anyone (and thank goodness PJ was there to help me get things started.) After chatting it up in a cafe, Steph and I went to talk to the woman who waxes our eyebrows; she is Israeli and always chats us up whenever we're in there, so we figured we could ask her some questions. So, I had an eyebrow arch while Channi talked about life as an Israeli. Her hebrew is very fast, and it was hard to understand her, but she happily talked to us about her life, her family, her struggles and her hopes for the State of Israel. Israelis are amazing like that; once they know you and can trust you, they will gladly tell you anything you want to know about their lives. Unlike the USA, in Israel you can ask personal questions, even to those you barely know, and people will give you honest answers. If you can get past the fear of being too personal, you can learn some very interesting things about people.

The whole day was a lesson in anthropology and learning about the lives of people who built their lives here. It was incredibly special for all of us.

Anyways, I'm off to my Israeli art song class. I really hope everything is well for you, and that I'll be able to post more often in the near future. Keep your fingers crossed that my computer can be fixed and I'll get it back with all of my music, pictures, videos, and programs. Miss you and love you all!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

2nd Semester

Since it's past the beginning of my 2nd semester of cantorial school, I figured it was time to give you all a rundown of my new schedule.  Last semester was a blast from the past, where I studied Bible, Nusach, and Jewish music history.  Now, we've returned to the common era, and we're talking more and more about contemporary worship practices and the music found today in Israel and in the American Reform synagogues.  I'm actually 100% excited for this semester, and the new set of challenges it will bring--I will be learning music by the bucketful, continuing my journey through classical Jewish liturgy, reading, writing and speaking modern hebrew, and gearing up for my adventures to Belarus and to Prague in the spring.  

My schedule is just as jam-packed and busy as before.  I'm still taking hebrew everyday, along with a Biblical Grammar class on Sundays.  This semester, I promised myself that I would really hunker down and try to give my hebrew the attention it needs and deserves.  So far, I'm staying on track...just keep reminding me to study my verbs and vocab!  I'm also continuing with Liturgy, where we'll be leaving the morning service and getting more and more into the Shabbat and festival services.  Also still on the ballot from last semester is Cantillation; I'm a little worried about this class, as we're going to be studying the other 5 systems of trope (there are 7 systems altogether: Torah, Haftarah, Esther, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.)  I had plenty of trouble learning just Torah and Haftarah last semester, so I'm a little afraid about more than doubling my workload in this class in one semester.  But, Eli is an amazing teacher, and he'll work with me.  They might not all be perfect by May, but I'll be happy if I have a good sense of them all by then; thank goodness there's a table with musical notation in the back of my Cantillation books!

This semester I have 3 new classes, which all look fantastic thus far.  First I have Israeli Pop, Folk and Rock, where we'll study modern Israeli music and the social contexts that lie within it.  I'm actually pretty psyched for this class; I've been looking for ways to build my Israeli music collection and learn about the history behind it.  Our professor seems great--she is a doctoral student at Hebrew University, writing a dissertation on Z'mirot, or songs sung on Shabbat.  She's given us CDs and requires us to go to at least 3 concerts throughout the semester so we can experience modern Israeli music firsthand.  Cool, huh?

Then, on Tuesdays, we have what is called Cantorial Workshop, where we learn about the pieces used in the modern American Reform synagogues.  We spent our first lesson singing through pieces in Gates of Song, the musical companion to Gates of Prayer, one of the prayer books used in the Reform movement (that is slowly making its way out, thanks to Mishkan T'fillah.)  The music from GOS itself is still very relevant and useful to cantors no matter which prayer book your congregation uses.  We'll also be singing our way through The Complete Shireinu, the latest and greatest Jewish music songbook on the market right now, and a packet of other music Tamar has put together for us.  The goal of this class is to get us ready to serve our congregations next year, to give us the musical tools we'll need to survive our jobs as "real" cantors.  We're each responsible for learning 1-2 solo pieces a week, so my repertoire of Jewish music will grow and grow and grow, which I am excited and ready for.

Thursdays, we study Israeli Art Song (a fancy way of saying Israeli classical music songs.)  This course reminds me a lot of an American music history course I took my freshman year at Mizzou; we look at the history, structure, form, harmonies, etc. of the piece and try to get a deeper understanding of it in context.  So far, it's been very interesting, and the music we're studying at the moment ties into some Western music history I've studied in the past.  

Also this semester, I will be singing 2 services (or 3, if you count the Kabbalat Shabbat I co-lead last week), writing several papers, continuing with my wonderful voice teacher, gathering documents to give to the Russian translators before we leave for the FSU Pesach Project, fixing my resume/researching/phone interviewing for jobs for next year along with all of the other little things that I know life will throw at me.  It'll be busy, that's for sure, but I'm hoping I will grow and change and learn a ton in my last semester here.  It's scary to think that in 4 months, I'll be permanently back in the US and my year-in-Israel will be over.  I'll enjoy every minute I can of the time I have left, that's for sure!

Hope all is well in the U S of A.  Missing you all and sending loads of love from J'lem!  

Friday, February 8, 2008

An Emotional Week

Hi All.  It's been an emotional roller-coaster of a week here in Jerusalem, for a lot of different reasons.  I think I've cried, laughed, been angry and mean, been anxious and afraid, been calm and peaceful, and even more, all within the last 5 days.  Sometimes a week is just like that, though I think feelings seem to intensify living in a place like Jerusalem and being a part of a group of people like the HUC students.  

The week started off with a terribly sad announcement from my friend, rabbinical student colleague, and personal trainer, Dave.  For reasons I don't feel comfortable writing on here, he and his beautiful family are leaving Jerusalem to return to San Francisco on Tuesday.  I am heartbroken by this, for several different reasons, and it has been bothering me a lot more than I care to show or admit.  I know he is making the right decision for himself and his family, but I can't help thinking about what a shame it is, and how sad it will be, to send him home.  Please keep my friend Dave and his family in your thoughts and prayers--they need them more than I could ever describe on this blog.

Then, later that same day, I got up from my desk at home, tripped over my computer chord, and sent myself AND my brand-new computer crashing to the ground.  I have a large bruise on my left leg, and my computer is pretty much dead.  From what Adam was saying, it sounds like I need a new hard-drive, which means I have lost all of my music, papers, and pictures from this year.  It is also incredibly expensive to get computer parts in this country, and equally expensive to ship my computer back to the States, so it puts me in a terrible financial crunch.  It also means that I will not have many of the pictures (though, thank goodness for Facebook, which has allowed me to upload many of them onto the internet) that I took this year.  Go figure.  When I told my mom about this on Tuesday, she said that she was glad my computer was hurt and I wasn't; I jokingly replied that I wish I would have been hurt instead of my computer.  Health insurance pays for broken bones--it won't pay for a new hard-drive :(

Anyways, on the more positive side, Cantor Bruce Ruben, the head of the School of Sacred Music on the NYC campus, along with Cantor Josee Wolff, who is in charge of job placement for cantorial students, have both been on campus this week.  We've had a week full of meetings, dinners, interviews, and a special recording that was made this morning which is sent to potential employers for next year.  It's been stressful and busy, but also wonderful to get to know Bruce and Josee.  They are great people, who genuinely care about us (Bruce himself offered me his own Tylenol yesterday, after noticing that I wasn't feeling well--it was so nice of him.)  We've been discussing what the next 4 years of school will be like, and it's a little overwhelming to think about.  I will have a full schedule of classes AND a job at a congregation where I will be a cantor for real; it's a little intimidating and I am a bit afraid of how I will handle it all, but I'm also very, very excited.   I love being on the bimah and singing Jewish music, and I can't wait to have the opportunity to do so in a congregation and be seen as THE cantor.  Pretty cool!

Anyways, a million other things have happened since my last post, but I am totally wiped out and ready for a Friday afternoon nap.  I have a quick meeting with Erin and Steph about our service that is on February 18, and then I plan on taking the rest of my shabbat to hardcore CHILL OUT.  I was invited to dinner at Michelle's house, but I think I am going to stay home, rest and make some mean mushroom barley soup in lieu of joining her and my other friends.  I think some quality "me" time will be just what the doctor ordered, and I'm hoping I can get over this nasty cough/cold/sore throat thing that I've developed.   

I don't realize sometimes how incredibly lucky I am to live my dreams and to have a passion that I am inspired by and decided to follow.  Despite the obstacles of this year, despite illnesses and homesickness and all of the other millions of things I complain about, I am so fortunate and so lucky to be here.  

Shabbat shalom u'mevorach.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Fantastic Shabbat

The cantorial students a few weeks ago at our Cantor's Concert: Julia, Vicky, Elana, Michelle, and me.

For the last 3 shabbatot, I was lucky enough to be at home in St Louis, celebrating shabbat with my family and friends at Temple Israel. As wonderful as it is to be at home and with my family, shabbat is never the same anywhere in the world as it is here in Jerusalem. I've talked before about what the city is like around shabbat; quiet, warm (even with snow on the ground!), friendly, and radiating with spirit. This shabbat was particularly beautiful, as it was the first one back together as a class after winter break following our trips to the States and elsewhere, and was the conclusion to our yearly colloquium. We spent much of colloquium focusing on building communities within our congregations, and to see our HUC community celebrating shabbat together after such discussions was really nice.

Shabbat began with a Kabbalat Shabbat service that I led, along with my friends Marc, Evan, and Tami. I was incredibly nervous (just ask my roommate) to lead this service, mainly because Bruce Ruben, the head of the School of Sacred Music at HUC, was in attendance (it also didn't help that the music and Nusach I needed to learn over winter break was accidentally left in J'lem while I was in St Louis, so I learned everything this week, after travelling and schlepping through the snow and slush.) Anyways, I was pleasantly surprised when the service turned out extraordinarily well--the 4 of us worked very well together, and my service partners really helped to calm my nerves. We received many compliments from our class and all of the faculty from the various stateside campuses that were there. It was a really, really nice way to ring in Shabbat.

After services, my friend Lea and I were picked up by our Biblical grammar professor, Yossi, to join he and his wife Natti for shabbat dinner. I love when HUC faculty members open their homes to us; not only do we get to enjoy home hospitality and a home cooked meal (a real treat, honestly), but we also get to know our professors as human beings, outside of the classroom. I knew very little about Yossi before this dinner, but I am now happy to know about his lovely family and his life outside of HUC. I also made fast friends with his cat, Yoshco, who leaped on my lap when I sat down and parked himself there for the majority of dinner. I don't normally like cats, but Yoshi was sweet and gentle and it was actually kind of nice.

Saturday, we had required services at HUC, where Cantor Evan Kent from Los Angeles helped Eli lead the service. He has a beautiful voice, and is such a warm, caring, wonderful person. We were also lucky enough to witness a Bar Mitzvah, which is a rare occurrence on a Saturday at HUC (most people have their ceremonies on Mondays or Thursdays.) The boy was Israeli, and he was SO CUTE and SO GOOD. He had a gorgeous voice, and I think he chanted his Haftarah portion waaaaaaay better than I'll ever be able to.

After services, I came home for a few minutes before I went to Erin and Batya's to celebrate their daughter Carlie's 2nd birthday. They invited all of the HUC families with children, so I spent a couple of hours with the kiddos, playing with all of Carlie's new toys and laughing at the crazy things that always happen when you have four kids all under the age of 5 together in a small space. It has been so much fun watching these kids grow up the last 7 months; all of them are still young enough that they significantly change, physically and mentally, within a year. And, Carlie had a blast at her party--she totally knew it was her birthday and had a blast soaking up the loads of attention we were all giving her.

PJ (Carlie's "Uncle Be-bo") and I, along with a very squirmy and excited Carlie, playing with her new markers and coloring book.

Hanging out with Noah, Laura and Julie's adorable son. He just started walking, so watching him toddle around is quite possibly the cutest thing in the entire world.

Anyways, Shabbat ended with a beautiful Havdalah service at Julia and Elana's apartment with Elana's family and the other cantorial students. Elana's parents wanted to meet all of us, so after the Havdalah ceremony we spent some time sipping spiced cider and munching on the delicious noshes that Elana served. It was a wonderful way to end a busy and memorable Shabbat, full of friendship and spirit, just as it should be.

And now we're getting back into our routine of classes, homework, reading, tests, field trips, etc. etc. etc. I'm looking forward to this semester, as it is focused almost entirely on hebrew and music, and I am hoping to spend some time traveling outside of Jlem. There's so much left of Israel that I haven't discovered yet, and I only have 4 months left to go! Anyways, I am off to a meeting and reflection group, and then we have choir this evening. Hope everyone is well--I am thinking of you!