Sunday, May 25, 2008

תודה רבה לכם

On June 17, 2007, I started this blog with this first post. It was a collection of thank-you's I needed to give to so many people who helped me along the way to BEGINNING this journey. Now that this part of my journey is over and I am back in St Louis, I feel the need to write a new list of thank-you's, to show my gratitude to those who have loved me and helped me through this year so graciously. So, in no particular order...

Nancy--Thank you for being my 'mom' this year; for yelling at my landlord and the electric company on multiple occasions, for holding my hand through Weight Watchers meetings and the services I was so nervous to sing this year. Thank you for the hugs and encouragement. Thank you for being YOU and for loving all of us the way you did. I will miss you and I hope you'll keep in touch.

Judi--I have to admit, that when I left for Israel, one of my biggest fears was that I'd get stuck with a voice teacher who wouldn't speak a lick of English and our communication would be so bad that I'd want to give up singing entirely and run home and hide. Luckily, from the moment I heard that kind British accent over the telephone, my fears were instantly calmed and I was confident we'd work well together. I've already thanked you, I know, but I just can't thank you enough for being there for me, listening to me complain about the program on occasion, and giving me back my confidence as a singer. You are the best and you will be missed.

Dave and Gal--There are no words to describe how incredible you both are, and how you have truly changed my life for the better. There is no way I could have lost my 73.9lbs (thus far!) without you--I dedicate this chunk of my weight loss to both of you, and you will always have a place in my heart and in my soul as I continue to live this healthy lifestyle. THANK YOU. I will continue to send prayers, love, good energy and anything positive I can muster your way. Give kisses and love to Dahlia and soon, to Tikva, and keep giving that baby girl everything she needs to thrive. I'm excited to sing with her--loud and strong and from the belly--someday soon :)

Eli--Thank you for being your brilliant self, and for believing in my talents and abilities even when I wasn't so sure. Thank you for teaching me humility and strength and for showing me how to be truly Jewish and human. It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you, and I look forward to seeing you and learning many more precious lessons in the future.

Rabbi Franken--I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to see you 3 times in Israel this year. I will always remember hanging out with you in J'lem and singing with you on Shabbat when you were leading the trip in January. Thank you for always taking the time to think of me and make sure I was included and invited wherever you were. I wish you the best of luck at your new pulpit in Boston--we will all miss you at Temple Israel! Please keep in touch and come visit the Big Apple!

The Sanger Family--I am lucky to have so many people on both sides of my family who all love me and cheer for me and do everything they can to help me. But all of you have gone above and beyond your duties as aunt, uncle, and cousins and have helped to make this year so special for me. Thank you for everything--for sending me clothes and presents, for helping me with taxes and apartment searching and taking care of the little things. Thank you for asking all the right questions, for cheering me on, and for loving me like your own daughter and sister. I love you all and I am so lucky to have you.

Nicole--We were so lucky to have you as our downstairs neighbor and friend. I will always remember our window-to-mirpeset chats, Yahtzi games, and dinners together. Thank you for everything you've done, and for always having the right amount of chocolate in your apartment to fulfill our chocolate cravings. You continue to amaze me with your ability and talents--please remember how special you are and how much you have to offer this world. I know I am going to hear great things from Nicole "Noa Tzippora" Roberts.

"Shutafah", "Stacy", "Woman", "Achoti", Steph--I knew from the second I talked to you on the phone last April that we were going to be good roommates. I had no idea, however, that we would become such good friends and sisters this year. There is no way in hell I could have made it through this year without you being my support system, laughing buddy and cleaning lady (haha.) You are an amazing, strong, talented, intelligent and incredible woman, and I hope you know how much you've meant to me this year and how I will always remember the times we had. Together, we survived 12B Lincoln and a YEAR in ISRAEL, and I wouldn't have wanted to survive either with anyone else. Love you.

To my family and friends outside of Israel, thank you for thinking of me, consistently reading this blog and adding comments, putting up with talking to me via my terrible Skype connection, sending emails, postcards, and letters, coming to St Louis over winter break to see me, pulling me through my worst ruts while I was in Israel, and for all the other little things that are too numerous to mention. I love you guys, and you were right along with me on this journey the whole time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The End of the Beginning


My finals are over. My papers (except for my Liturgy and half of my Israeli Seminar paper) are typed. All of my stuff is in boxes to ship or packed in suitcases. The apartment is clean. My sheirut is coming at 7am to pick me up. Physically, I am ready to leave Israel.

And yet, I am laying in my bed at 1:30am, unable to sleep or comprehend all that is happening. In just a few hours I will be gone from Israel for good. This isn't a 2 week visit home, this is for real. I am really leaving this place.

This place where I have struggled and worked and sang and laughed and cried and fought. This place where I have learned the value of a Jewish homeland and the people who have fought and are still fighting to protect it. This place that has allowed me to grow (and shrink!) and flourish and discover amazing pieces of myself that I never knew exisisted. This place that allowed me to realize the importance of knowing and appreciating who I am.

All week long, amid frantic packing and studying and paper-writing, I've been thinking about the girl who boarded the plane on June 27, 2007. She certainly wasn't the same girl who is sitting here typing right now, for so many reasons. So much has happened as a result of me being in Israel; so much of me has changed, inside and out, and it makes me so proud of myself. So proud of how hard I've worked and how far I've come. So proud of what I've chosen to do and where I've chosen to study. So proud of my place in the Jewish people and in Israel. It's really amazing. I have to say, though, that the changes I've made worry me a bit. Can I come back to the States and maintain this new person who I've come to like so much? Will I fit in to my old life the way I used to? Can I handle going back to where I've come from, with it's own set of challenges and struggles, to sustain my "Israel-self" without falling back into old bad habits?

I honestly don't know. While my self-confidence has skyrocketed this year, I still struggle to be wholly confident in the future, in what I can be and what I can do. I do know, however, that I will have the right people alongside me all the way--just as I have this year--with their help, love and support, I will continue to work to build and sustain the Tracy I want to be; the Tracy I became this year.

This is nowhere near the end of my journey, in life or in cantorial school. This is just the end of the beginning, and I have tons to look forward to. But it still makes me terribly sad to be leaving this amazing place, that for me holds more than just Jewish history and spirituality. I will always look back and think of the person I was and the person I became this year and appreciate this place so much more simply because of that journey.

I am so blessed and so lucky to have had this opportunity.

In fact, I think I might just be the luckiest girl in the world.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I am writing this post because 10 years from now, when I am happily working as a cantor in a wonderful congregation, I want to look back and roll my eyes and laugh at the week this institution is currently putting us through.

Consider yourself warned--this one ain't gonna be pretty.

First, I don't understand why 4 of my professors have put material onto their final exams that we have not yet studied or talked about in class...does something seem wrong with this? Are they looking for us to do badly on our exams?

Second, I am a FOOL for thinking I could manage finals, saying goodbye, packing, cleaning, shopping, and preparing to leave Jerusalem all in the same week. It's all going to get done because it has to get done...but it seems endless and a huge burden.

Third, I am in a constant state of mind-numbing exhaustion. Trying to get everything done and feeling overwhelmed all the time makes me want to do nothing but sleep.

Fourth, if one more rabbinic student brags to me about being done on Wednesday, or complains about feeling overwhelmed, I swear I am going to do something terrible to them. A bunch of people are going to a local bar to celebrate being done tomorrow, while the cantorial students (lucky us) have a final on Thursday. Our hardest and most intense final, I might add. So we'll be in the library or at home, studying out happy little asses off while everyone else is toasting to a great year. I love my rabbinic student colleagues, but I wish they'd respect the fact that they're not the only ones on campus...

(I promise none of the above bragging or complaining applies to my roommate...she's wonderful, especially because she loves me even when I am grouchy and mean, as I am right now.)

Anyone want to share a bottle of wine and some kind of delicious, fattening American food with me when I get home on Saturday?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Let It Begin With Me--HUC Remix

My friends Jen and Evan created this song for our last Shabbat (16 May 2008) as a class at the HUC-Jerusalem campus. I haven't been able to get it out of my head yet! The words are as follows:

Cafe HaFuch
best damn toast in town

Walking the Bible...
Jerusalem Days
Stop the bus, I really have to pee!

Oh, my own life - I'm not allowed to control,
because to HUC - I sold my soul...

George W.
George W. Bush
Can you come again next week?

So we
we can
have take home finals
we promise we won't cheat.

Women's Torah
Women's Torah Commentary
Just 10 years too late

Oh, my own life - I'm not allowed to control,
because to HUC - I sold my soul...

I'll see you at 12:15

Cantors, Rabbis, Educators
Rabbis, Educators, Cantors
Educators, Cantors, Rabbis
We're all going to be..

Oh, my own life - I'm not allowed to control,
because to HUC - I sold my soul...

Let It Begin With Me

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Craziness's finals week. Which means all of us are stressed beyond belief with more things to do than time to do them. And many of us are leaving on Friday, adding yet another layer of stress to our already jam-packed brains. Most of us are in foul moods much of the time, causing us to snap, yell, scream or simply not speak to one another. It's great fun...more fun than I could ever describe.

However, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And sometimes, even the darkest tunnels have windows. I just finished singing my chazanut final, which went remarkably well. I've struggled with my piece all semester (Ki K'shimcha by Zavel Zilberts,) threatening on more than one occasion to rip up the paper and throw it out the window, but I persevered. And I'm so, so happy I did. Not only is it a beautiful piece, but I learned so much about chazanut in general from it. It also reminded me that sometimes the things we struggle with the most turn out to be our greatest successes, which in this crazy time of the semester is a much needed and appreciated reminder.

I don't know what happened in that room a few minutes ago, but I took that piece and I conquered it. And that feels pretty damn good.

There's so much more to write about right now; it's an emotional time for all of us, though we don't have time to think about it with finals and papers and packing. In 5 days, I am leaving Israel for good, and while I am excited to see everyone back home, I am also incredibly sad to leave here. Go figure that I became really comfortable in Israel this semester; now that I am happy here, I have to leave and return to a life where I don't know exactly where I belong. And I have to start thinking about life in New York City, which is 100 times more terrifying than the thoughts I had of living in Israel this time next year.

Please be patient with me when I come home...I am so excited to see you and spend the summer with you, but it's going to take some major readjusting as I settle back into life in the States and get ready for the next piece of the adventure in NYC.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Old City

The entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem from the new (and wonderful) Mamilla Mall.

I haven't spent a whole lot of time in the Old City year--probably not enough time. It's a busy place, with lots of people, lots of haggling, lots of Jews and Arabs and Christians and Armenians. As beautiful as it is to see, it's also very confusing and easy to get lost in the little side roads that seem to lead you nowhere. It can be more overwhelming than worthwhile at times, especially on days where it's hot or very crowded.

This past Wednesday, our last Israel Seminar ended early, so instead of doing the thousands of things I need to be doing, I decided to go gift shopping in the Old City. My friend Ari knows a guy in the Arab shuk who sells cheap and nice t-shirts, so I wanted to pick up some things before I left. I had every intention of just going to buy some t-shirts and maybe peruse the Arab shuk a tiny bit, and then I would come home and do work. Instead, I ended up spending over 3 hours walking around, talking to store owners in hebrew, spending money and time I don't have, and visiting the Kotel for the last time this year.

The Jaffa Gate entrance, that leads you into the Christian Quarter of the Old City.

The Arab Shuk

In the t-shirt shop, I was treated to Turkish coffee and water (not uncommon when a store owner likes you) by the two brothers who own the shop. One of the brothers, the one who was not making my t-shirts for me, decided he was in love. He hugged me several times, kissed me on the cheek several times, and tried more than once to kiss me on the lips. Finally, I told him "Yesh li chaver!" (I have a boyfriend!) and he pretty much left me alone. He did tell me he was in love with me and that I needed to come back before I left. In America, this situation would be classified as sexual harassment, though here in Israel, it just isn't. There was nothing offensive about what he was doing, and though I was a little uncomfortable, I guess I've come to learn that things like that are just customary here. I'm sure my hardcore feminist friends would disagree with me, but at the very least it made for an interesting visit to the Arab Shuk.

My proudest moment in the Shuk was when I managed to buy a pashmina for 50 shekels (about $14) instead of 120 shekels. I really hate haggling, as I have a guilty conscience and I really don't want to offend anyone by offering too little money for their goods--especially here, because I don't want to be a disrespectful American who tries to take advantage of a struggling Arab salesman. But, I have learned that there is a polite way to haggle and get what you want for not more than you're willing to pay. The trick is to simply say 'thank you' and walk away when he quotes you the price, even if he's lowered for you a time or 2--he will usually call you back into the store with a significantly lower price that HE set, one that is usually fair for both of you. So, after I politely said 'no' to paying 120 sheks for the pashmina, and once again saying 'no' to his offer of 90 sheks and walking away, he called me back and offered 50 sheks, which I was happy to pay. It felt like a very powerful, yet fair way to get what I want for the price I am willing to pay.

After too much fun in the Shuk and surrounding shops, I found my way into the Jewish Quarter. I hung out for a bit, doing a little more shopping and going to visit the Kotel.

Welcome to the Jewish Quarter!

Believe it or not, until Wednesday, I had not prayed at the Kotel all year long. I remember my first visit to the wall when I was here on Birthright that really shaped my opinion and perspective of the wall. Growing up in Jewish America, you hear non-stop that the Western Wall is this amazing piece of Jewish History and spirituality. Upon my first visit in January 2004, I surpringsly walked away from the wall thinking "Really, it's just a wall..." It's just the stones of a retaining wall that protected the 2nd Temple. There's something beautiful about the fact that it's still here, and still belongs to the Jewish people, so historically I think it's a wonderful thing. But I've never felt a strong spiritual connection to the wall and everything it represents for the Jewish people.

There's also the issue of gender inequality at the Wall. In the 1960's, the Ultra-Orthodox community decided to revolt against the new-ish Progressive movement in Israel and seperate the wall into men's and women's sections. In Orthodox Judaism, women are prevented from participating in any of the service leadership, including reading Torah--some communities go as far as to outlaw women's singing or voices within the service (this makes me so angry I can't even elaborate.) In fear of the Progressive Jewish movements that not only allow but encourage participation by women, the Ultra-Orthodox community put a mechitza, a seperating wall, between the men and the women. The balance of space at the wall is about 75% men to 25% women, resulting in an overly crowded space for women that makes it difficult to pray or even get close to the Wall.

I don't consider myself an ultra-feminist by any means, but this isn't fair. And it needs to change. There have been efforts by some communities to pray in a mixed fashion with both men and women at other parts of the wall, which are actually beginning to work, though I think it will be a long time before a women can stand at THE Western wall and legitimately read Torah.

The Western Wall from the plaza--it's hard to see the mechitza from this picture, but it's there.

But anyways, I went to the Kotel and once again, it was just a wall. But I tried to pray anyways, for Jerusalem and Israel and the amazing experience I have had here. My real prayers, the significant ones, will be saved for our last Shabbat service, tonight, when we'll gather as a class for one last t'fillah in a beautiful, progressive environment.

Notes stuck between cracks of the wall-many people place their most important prayers into the cracks of the wall.

My last view of the Kotel Plaza this year

So because I got nothing done on Wednesday, I must leave you to accomplish much of the work I still need to do. I will be home a week from tomorrow, so I am filled with emotion and worry and nervousness as the semester wraps up...but that's another blog for another day (expect one, as soon as I need a break from paper-writing and too much studying.)

Excited to see you all!

Bushie's Back

A sign on the campus of JTS--this is the real reason I applied to HUC as opposed to JTS :)

These signs have been all over Jerusalem this week--right on, J'lem!

The security blimp that I can see every time I leave my apartment. I wave to it every time I am unlocking the gate at HUC--I'm sure Bushie appreciates my friendliness.

In the 8 years George W. Bush has been president of the United States, he has never once visited Israel.

Go figure the year I am here, he comes not once, but twice.

No one is exactly sure what he's doing here, or if he'll do anything all at to help the peace process, but one thing is for sure: he causes a giant mess every time he comes. Once again, the streets are closed, HUC is closed, helicopters circle our neighborhood constantly (and wake us up too early on our one day to sleep in) and security guards stand on every street corner.

I really shouldn't be complaining too much, since besides the traffic jams I really haven't had too many problems with his visit, but it's still a headache. And I have too many other things to worry about than crossing the wrong street (acc. to the security guard last night) or staying out of the watchful eye of the security blimp that hovers around the King David Hotel.

I have, however, told every non-American faculty member/person I know in Israel that I DID NOT vote for that man. Just so the Israelis don't blame me for him being here.

Thank goodness he'll be gone just in time for my last Shabbat in Israel, and our last, special Shabbat before we all go to our respective campuses. Where did this year go?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Morning Prayer

Just some beautiful words from Rabbi Naomi Levy that help to make the mornings a little easier.

A Morning Prayer

There are so many things I take for granted. May I not ignore them today.

Just for today, help me, God, to remember that my life is a gift, that my health is a blessing, that this new day is filled with awesome potential, that I have the capacity to bring something wholly new and unique and good into this world.

Just for today, help me, God, to remember to be kind and patient to the people who love me, and to those who work with me too. Teach me to see all the beauty that I so often ignore, and to listen to the silent longing of my own soul.

Just for today, help me, God, to remember You. Let this be a good day, God, full of joy and love.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Busy Week!

It's been a crazy week around here! In addition to Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazaikaron, and Yom Ha'atzmaut (and all of the appropriate observances and celebration included within the holidays,) we also had our Women's Project concert with the JTS 'Cantorials' and we took a Kitah Bet field trip to Hadassah Ein Kerem and the village of Ein Kerem to see the Chagall Windows and learn about Argentinian Jewry. It's been busy, but so fun and memorable for all of us.

Monday night we had our presentations of the music we've been studying with the JTS cantorial students. We divided up into 5 groups, with 1 HUC student and 1 or 2 JTS students per group, to study various rites of Israeli Jewish music. Shoshana and I studied Yemenite music together with our teacher Elisheva. Working with Elisheva was an interesting and frustrating experience; a true Yemenite Israeli, she was loud, pushy, impatient, and demanding. She taught us beautiful music, but spoke virtually no English, so we didn't learn much about the music or text we were singing. Nevertheless, working with Shoshana and the other JTS girls was a wonderful experience, and we now have friends and colleagues for the rest of our lives.

The concert itself was wonderful. We sang in a hidden outside courtyard to a small but gracious audience, including our professors, Ruben Seroussi (a famous music historian and professor at JTS,) and some students from both schools. It was amazing to see and hear our peers sing and dance to the beautiful music they learned. Shoshana and I sang a medley of pieces in both Arabic and Hebrew (songs in Arabic are traditionally for women, where songs in Hebrew are traditionally for men.)

Shoshana and I talking about our Yemenite music

Shoshana and I during our medley--I probably had just screwed up the Arabic I worked so hard to learn!

The next day, Kitah Bet (the best kitah at HUC, clearly!) took a class tiyul to visit the beautiful and famous Chagall Windows. I am happy to have been a part of the reason this trip came into being; a couple of weeks ago, Steph, Julia and I tried to go to see the windows, but they were closed. The next day in hebrew, we told Chen, our teacher, about our experience, and suggested we take a class tiyul to visit them. Chen agreed to this on the condition that Steph gave her presentation on the windows, and so on Tuesday morning, Kitah bet stood under these gorgeous windows as we learned about their history and the artistry of Marc Chagall. There are 12 windows in total, each representing one of the 12 Tribes of Jacob.

The Chagall Windows--the pictures don't really do them justice, but they really are incredibly beautiful.

After our visit at the Chagall windows, we made our way to the small Arab village of Ein Kerem. We walked around a bit before having aruchat boker (Israeli breakfast--which, by the way, I have no idea how I will survive without when I come home...) in a lovely outdoor cafe. There, Lyle and Hannah gave their presentation on Argentinian Jewry (they have both been to Argentina on trips with Jewish organizations, and Chen was born in Argentina before moving to Israel.) Their presentation was very interesting, and having laid back time with my Kitah bet friends was really, really wonderful.
A Russian church hidden in the hills of Ein Kerem

Scott, Lea and I, enjoying our Aruchat Boker and the beautiful spring day spent NOT in Hebrew class :)

Kitah Bet enjoying our Aruchat Boker, with our teacher, Chen.
From left to right: Lauren, Scott, Lea, me, Hannah, Lyle, Steph, Julia, Paul, and Chen

It has been a crazy week, though one which I have enjoyed and will remember for a very long time. I am so torn right now between classes and work, packing and getting ready to leave, and experiencing Israel while I still can, that I am always glad when I can accomplish 2 of these things at the same time! I am also glad that Kitah Bet was able to have a wonderful day together before we are divided up between the 3 campuses next year--these guys are some of my favorite people at HUC, and I will miss our class tremendously next year.

I am sure I will have many more fun blogs in the next couple of weeks, as I continue to keep up the craziness that is my life right now. Can't wait to see you in less than 2 weeks!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Remembrance and Celebration

It's been a very emotional week in Israel, with the holidays of Yom Hazikaron (memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (independence day) which fall back to back of one another. While it was such a strange transition, going from a national day of mourning right into a national day of celebration, it also felt so natural. Israelis believe that those who died for their country would want them to celebrate and embrace the fact that Israel has not only survived but thrived, during the last 60 years. It makes perfect sense to me that the 2 days are next to each other so all Israelis can remember the real reason their friends, siblings, children, spouses, etc. gave their lives.

In honor of the special week, HUC hosted an amazing event on Monday. Instead of regular classes, the whole day was dedicated to Israel. We could choose the classes we would attend, so I chose a class on Israeli children's books, a discussion of the 'Preface to Kaddish Yatom' written by Shai Agnon, a famous Israeli author, and another discussion on how to incorporate the 3 holidays of the week into our synagogues in the US. We had a wonderful lunchtime celebration, with falafel, a picnic, and fun and famous Israeli songs and dancing. We celebrated outside, in one of HUC's amazing courtyards that overlooks the Old City, and embraced Israel and our togetherness as a class.
HUC'ers dancing in the courtyard at the special picnic lunch on Monday

Yom Hazikaron began with another siren, this time at night and only 1 minute in length. I decided to go to a ceremony and a shira bitsibur (sing-along) at the Nature Museum. I arrived just in time to hear the siren, where once again, the crowd of hundreds of Israelis fell silent (if you know Israelis, you know that for them to be silent is a rare occurance.) The mood was definitely somber and humble from then on. The ceremony was lovely and very moving; many people spoke about their loved ones who were killed in attacks or in the army, and special songs were sung and dedicated to them. At the end of the ceremony, the crowd sang a collective Hatikvah in remembrance of the hope and dedication the ones we've lost have given to the State and people of Israel. The sing along was also lovely, though different from others I have seen--most of the time the crowd is loud and rowdy, singing, dancing, drinking, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. This night, however, they simply sang sad and hopeful songs quietly with one man who was playing guitar as they cried and mourned for the losses of their families and their country.

The shira bitsibur I attended in honor of Yom Hazikaron

Wednesday morning began with t'fillah at HUC and a trip to Gymnasia Rehavia, a private school in Jerusalem. After another 2-minute siren, they held a lovely ceremony, where the names of the 137 students and faculty who lost their lives were read out loud. We were also able to tour their memorial hall to put faces and stories to the names we heard read earlier.

The ceremony at Gymnasia Rehavia

Memorial candles at Gymnasia Rehavia that spell out the word Yizkor (Remembrance.)

Wednesday night marked the end of Yom Hazikaron and the beginning of Yom Ha'atzmaut. We gathered at Greg, Lauren and Michelle's apartment for a fun BBQ and to watch the national ceremony on TV. The ceremony was so neat--it transitioned beautifully from remembering the fallen into celebrating the State of Israel. There were speeches by Knesset members, the lighting of 12 torches, each representing one of the 12 Tribes of Jacob, and special color guard and dance performances. We played a game of "Name that Formation!" as we tried to guess what some of the color guard formations were (even from our birds eye angle it was hard to guess some of them!) After the BBQ, we left to go to the apartment of a professor who was hosting a celebration on her AMAZING roof. We were able to see nearly all of Jerusalem from her roof, and there were tons of fireworks and laser-light shows going on. Awhile later, we headed downtown to Kikar Safra for another sing along and dance festival. It was so festive and fun; we were able to sing along to fun Israeli songs and dance in traditional Israeli circle dances. There were tons of people all over (nearby Kikar Tzion, the center of downtown, was so packed with people that we didn't even attempt to visit) and everyone's spirit was joyful and light. It was definitely a fun evening I will remember for a very long time.

Fireworks over downtown J'lem from Sally Klein-Katz's roof on Wednesday night

Folk dancing in Kikar Safra

The masses of people leaving Kikar Tzion on Wednesday night

Steph and I, windblown and happy, after dancing and singing in Kikar Safra

Thursday we had the day off school, so instead of accomplishing the many, many items on my to-do list, we went to the beach! Steph, Ari, Jen and I met up with our Tel Aviv girls to spend some time in Tel Aviv, lounging on the beach and watching the air show as it flew over us. I LOOOOVE the beach in Tel Aviv, and I spent a lot of time just walking around with my feet in the water, enjoying the company of my friends and observing Israeli beach culture for the last time this year. We ended our day together with Mexican food (we finally found it!) and drinks and said goodbye to each other and the amazing day that was Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Jet planes during the Air Show in Tel Aviv

One of the fun kites for sale on the beach

My friends and I at the end of our huge Mexican feast. From left to right: Dina, Steph Mohr, Steph, Ari, Tali (Ari's adorable little sister), me and Shari

The J'lem and Tel Aviv girls together for the last time this year. From left to right: Shari, me, Dina, Steph and Steph Mohr.

Celebrating the State of Israel and honoring those who've given their lives to build this amazing place, has been one of the most humbling and memorable experiences of my life. These days do not make it easy to want to leave Israel, and I find myself becoming increasingly more and more sad to leave in 2 weeks. While this country has it's fair share of problems, it is also the most incredible place in the world--to think of all Israel has accomplished in a short 60 years is inspiring and miraculous. As Zionist Theodore Herzl said, "If you will it, it is not a tale." I think Herzl would be proud to see where Israel has come and where it is going--and I think he would be confident that all of the issues this country faces will only make it stronger and make the people who love it fight harder to keep it.

Happy 60th Birthday, Israel--may you have many, many more.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Israel Stood Still

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a sad yet important day on the Israeli calendar, falling just days short of Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for fallen soldiers) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day, where we will celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary of Statehood.) The streets are beautiful, with Israeli flags swaying gently off many balconies and buildings.

Last night, Steph, Nicole and I watched the annual Yom HaShoah ceremony that occurs at Yad Vashem (Jerusalem's Holocaust Memorial,) which is televised for the whole State to see. It was a somber event, of course, with a children's harmonica choir (very interesting,) addresses by both Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, and 6 survivor speeches, one for each of the 6 million Jews that were killed. The ceremony was entirely in Hebrew, so it was hard to understand much of what was being said, but the most moving part was hearing the survivor's stories (which were subtitled in English so we could understand them.) The survivors all moved to Israel, so along with their stories we heard about their contributions to the State of Israel; all of them were involved with the creation of the State in some way, shape or form. One of the survivors was single-handedly responsible for photographing the Eichmann documents, which proved the Eichmann was 100% guilty for the crimes he committed during the Holocaust. The trial was the major turning point in Israeli Holocaust discussion and education; a huge step for both the survivors and for the State herself. These survivors are as much a part of Israeli history and independence as Theodore Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, and the like.

This morning, a few students put together a lovely morning service in honor of the day. I sadly missed most of it, due to a sudden case of pinkeye, but I made it just in time to hear the end of the Torah service and to say Kaddish Yatom, the mourner's Kaddish, that was written specifically for the Holocaust by famous author Elie Wiesel. After the service, we went onto King David Street to wait for the siren, the 2 minute period of time where the entire State of Israel stops whatever they are doing to remember the victims and heroes of the Holocaust.

The siren was an event I was very much looking forward to experiencing in Israel, simply because there is nothing like it in the United States. As we stood on King David Street, one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem, I kept thinking about how the people would react; would they really stop their cars, stop the construction, stop dead in their tracks as they walk to school, work, etc.? The answer was YES. As soon as the alarm sounded, the cars stopped and their passengers got out and stood silently next to them. The construction on the street came to a silent halt, except for the machine that did not turn off. The people walking hurriedly down the street stopped with their heads down in honor of the dead. It was an eerie and beautiful kind of silence (with the exception of the construction) that filled the Jerusalem air with respect and honor for 2 whole minutes as Israel stood still.

And then, all of the sudden, the siren stopped and life went on as normal. People got back into their cars, kept walking down the street, picked up their jackhammers and went back to work on their cranes. Just like that.

We made our way back onto the HUC campus for a joint ceremony with the Israeli rabbinic students, which featured a liberal rabbi who survived the camps in Poland. Much of the ceremony was in hebrew, and I was feeling pretty terrible from my cold, so I don't remember much. The most meaningful part of the ceremony, for me, was the Rabbi's recitation of Eil Male Rachamim, a prayer that asks Gd to keep the dead upon/under Gd's wing and take their soul(s) into eternal life. I've heard this prayer sung several times, as it is always recited in Jewish funerals, but to hear a survivor recite it with his strong tenor voice was a very, very powerful moment.

I expected today to be a very solemn day, and the evening before/morning of both were. However, I was surprised by how quickly the day seemed to go on as normal. I guess that's just Israel doing her thing, going on with her life despite the hardship and tragedies that have occurred in her history. In a way, it's beautiful; the idea that this country will continue to live and to thrive with the 60 years of strength and courage she already has under her belt. On the other hand, it doesn't seem like enough time was spent honoring those who perished, though no one knows the real meaning of "enough." Just another set of opposites that I am left questioning and thinking about in my last few weeks here.

I leave you with a passage found in Mishkan T'fillah, adapted from the writings of survivors Elie Wiesel and Albert Friedlander:

We begin--with silence.
The silence of death:
the silence after destruction;
there are times when songs falter,
when darkness fills life,
when martyrdom becomes
a constellation of faith
against the unrelieved black of space about us.
There are no words to reach beyond the edge of night,
no messenger to tell the full tale.
There is only silence.
The silence of Job.
The silence of the Six Million.
The silence of memory.
Let us remember them as we link our silences.

זכרונם לברכה
May their memory be for a blessing.