Friday, September 19, 2008


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!


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


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!