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!