Monday, October 27, 2008

Procrastination at it's Finest

This is what happens when cantorial students don't want to do their homework...

You can thank for the lovely images.

Procrastination is indeed an art form :)

Jew 'Fro!

Circa 1982...if only my hair were curly...

Jeri-Curl...I love the Michael Jackson look! And seriously, if I really looked like this, the boys would be ALL OVER ME.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Simchat Torah

An old picture of B'nai Jeshrun, without a ceiling

Last night was the beginning of Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday where we read the last bit of the Torah before rolling it back and reading from the beginning again. It's a holiday that celebrates the Torah, celebrates Judaism, celebrates new beginnings and Jewish life and the goodness of celebration. For someone like me, who appreciates both the chance to start over and the excitement of the book of Genesis (I know, cliche, but I can't help it--I love the stories!) it's a wonderful holiday.

After spending a wonderful day in Jersey with the C-Squad and Vicky's wonderful family, we hopped the train(s) to get back to the city to celebrate Simchat Torah. A bunch of HUC'ers were going to B'nai Jeshrun, a huge "reformative" synagogue in Manhattan. I was excited to go, mostly because it's the synagogue where Keeping the Faith was filmed (one of my all-time favorite movies!) The rabbi is Sephardic, from Argentina, and led a somewhat Sephardic style service. Traditionally, there are 7 hakafot (Torah processionals) on Simchat Torah, meant to celebrate the Torah and give everyone a chance to touch, dance with, and sing to it. Well, BJ knows how to rock on Simchat Torah; they have the 7 hakafot, each about 45 minutes long, with tons of loud music, singing of niggunim (songs without words) and the passing of all of their Torah scrolls. There were SO MANY PEOPLE there, of all races and ages and shapes and sizes. It was really remarkable to see everyone celebrating the Torah and having so much fun. I even got to carry the Torah for awhile as I danced and sang with my friends and Jewish brothers and sisters.

After dancing and singing our way through the first 4 hakafot (I'm amazed--with the amount of people there and the crazy, relentless excitement there--that I lasted that long...but it sure was fun!) we decided to make a break for the closest bar to end our evening with a drink. We ended up at a bar called the Blue Donkey, where our Jewish bartender (only in NYC would you find a Jewish bartender from Detroit named Eli who wished us all a chag sameach) gave us free whiskey shots in honor of the holiday. You'll all be proud to know I knocked back the shots with the best of my male (and one female...rock on, Vicky) counterparts!

After the bar, I had my first experience with another NY speciality, Tasti De-Lite. I'm happy to know that Tasti De-Lite is neither tasty nor delightful, expensive, and full of God-knows-what chemicals that make it taste the way it does. I won't be eating it again any time soon.

So, I had a wonderful holiday, and a fantastic last hurrah before school starts up again tomorrow (ugh.) I think this break was really, really good for me. I didn't get nearly enough work done, but I was able to see some of New York City and learn to appreciate it for what it is. I'm slowly learning how to love it here, how to navigate the subways, how to act like a New Yorker without actually becoming one, and how to find my place here. I think things are starting to look up; AND my first paycheck is coming soon, which means I'll be able to replace my lost iPod, which will help even more.

I hope everyone is well...lots of love from the Big Apple!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fun NYC Weekend

One of the best things about break is the time and ability to run around New York City, discovering the amazing things that this city has to offer. It is especially fun to discover the city when one of your best friends comes to visit and discovers it with you! I was so excited when Jane and I made plans for her to come and stay with me this weekend. She was my first official visitor and we had a great weekend. Unfortunately she could only stay from late Friday night until Sunday afternoon, but we made the most of what NYC has to offer the entire time she was here (especially on Saturday!)

Friday night was a very relaxing night at my apartment. Her bus didn't arrive until after 8pm, so by the time she picked up her bags, we made it on the subway and back to my apartment, it was after 9 and we didn't want to hike back to the city. So...we had a lovely Shabbat and ordered food from the restaurant down the street that I love and sat and talked until almost 1am. That's one of my favorite things about old friends; I love the very first good talk after not seeing each other for awhile. It reminds me that no matter what's happened or how far apart we may be, good friendships will always remain strong.

Saturday, however, left us very little time for conversation! We left the apartment early to head to Canal Street in Chinatown to hit up the stands of knock-off purses and accessories. We were determined to each walk away with something, and spent many hours perusing the stands of "Goaches" (fake Coach bags) and "Puh-radas" (Pradas.) We each found our "Prada" bags, complete with real Prada labels the cute Chinese ladies sewed on for us. Mine is red pleather, and I ADORE it, even if there is a tag on the inside that says "Made in China." We also sprayed ourselves with perfume, played with the fake Chanel sunglasses on display, and found cute cashmere scarves. Mine is a Burberry, of course. OK, so it's not real Burberry, but it is 100% cashmere, and I kind of love it. But don't tell anyone else...

Welcome to Chinatown!

The vendors on Canal Street

Jane and I playing around with our gangsta sunglasses

The real Chinatown, a few blocks away from the madness that is Canal Street

Showing off my purchases: my pretty Puh-rada bag who I lovingly refer to as "Blanche", after the Golden Girl, and my Burberry scarf. I forgot to mention that I have rainboots that match the scarf, thus the reason I needed to have it. Love it!

After our shopping extravaganza, we were starving and looking for lunch. We thought about sampling the delicious Chinese goodies in Chinatown, but were slightly afraid of getting food poisoning and/or not being able to read the menus. So we decided to hop over to the next neighborhood, Little Italy, for one of their delicious lunch specials. We had lunch at a place called Caffe Napoli, smiling at the reminder of the restaurant in STL with the same name. It was a fantastic outdoor lunch, with good people watching and fantastic Italian bread. Afterwards, we strolled around the neighborhood and enjoyed delicious mini cannolis from "The Cannoli King." It was a tasty way to relax and enjoy the best Little Italy has to offer.

A not so great view of Little Italy, taken from my seat at our table. It really is cuter than the picture can describe.

After lunch, we wandered around a bit trying to find the nearest subway to take us to Union Square. While wandering, we realized we were in SoHo, a trendy, funky neighborhood full of young people and NYU students. We walked around a bit and stopped by some jewelery stands to buy handmade earrings which were on sale 4 for $10. I love all 4 pairs I bought, including a pair of shiny silver leaves that are "very chic" according to the woman who sold them to me. From SoHo we kept wandering, all the way to Union Square! There, we bought delicious honeycrisp apples (have you tried them yet? The BEST apples in the world, I swear...) and pears and Obama buttons. We stopped at Starbucks to rest our tired legs--I think we walked at least 3-4 miles that day--and plan out the rest of our day. We decided to see what was on sale at the TKTS booth in Times Square, which sells same-day tickets to Broadway shows for up to 60% off. We hopped on the subway and found TKTS, where we waited in line for about an hour only to land great seats to Spring Awakening, a new-ish show about young love in late 19th century Germany. I'd wanted to see the show for a LONNNNNNG time, and I was so excited!

And I was right to be excited. The show was OUT OF THIS WORLD good. Really, really fantastic. The show itself is dark and sad, though the music is incredibly beautiful and full of energy and spirit. The cast was also great, especially for not being the original. I think I might have a new musical obsession; I love musicals, as they tend to be my escape from Jewish music (I need one of those once in a while), and I've been waiting anxiously for my next favorite. I think I found it!

BTW--Spring Awakening is coming to the Fox in February---go see it! You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Jane and I waiting to get into the theatre, right before Spring Awakening.

After the show ended, Jane and I talked about it all the way back to Astoria, where we went to sleep after a very long and fantastic day.

The next morning, we woke up early and packed Jane's things for one last jaunt around New York City. We decided to hit up The Dakota, where John Lennon was killed. It's really not much to see, just an apartment building that tourists aren't allowed to go into, but it was cool nonetheless. A few feet away, in Central Park, is Strawberry Fields, a small monument dedicated to the life of John Lennon. Again, it's not much to see, but the idea of it is very cool. We walked around a bit and took some silly pictures before heading off to find a good brunch spot.

The Dakota, where John Lennon was shot and killed

Strawberry Fields. It's hard to tell from the picture, but the word 'Imagine' is written in the very center of the circle. It's supposed to be a very peaceful place and monument, but due to the huge number of tourists who want to see it, the peacefulness is somewhat disturbed.

Me and Jane in Central Park (I promise there are fresh clothes under the jacket and scarf.)

After wandering aimlessly for a good brunch spot, we decided on Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. I know, not very New York, but the good places around the area were too expensive for our tastes. So we ate a quick but yummy brunch before hopping the train to get Jane back to Herald Square, where the bus would take her back to Boston.

Overall, it was a great weekend, complete with fake designer handbags, tons of wandering the streets and getting lost on subways (we ended up in Harlem on Sunday morning--an adventure for sure) and tons of good food and friendship. I loved having Jane, and am equally excited to welcome Steph Clark and her mama at the end of this month, my dad in January, and Mike and Joey in April. I'd love to have YOU as well--my couch is always open and very comfy!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

High Holy Day Review

Well, the High Holy Days have officially come and gone. We haven't yet celebrated Sukkot or Simchat Torah, but this year I was only responsible for singing for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I have to admit that I'm incredibly relieved they're over, not so much for the heavyness or importance of the days, but because the fear and trepidation of my first set of holidays as cantor are officially over. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted, and life can once again return to normal (though I'm still trying to figure out if life will ever be "normal" as a Jewish leader...)

Yom Kippur services went really well, and despite some musical mistakes, I felt much, much more calm and competant on the bimah. Kol Nidre (the evening service that begins Yom Kippur) went especially well. At the end of the service, the rabbi thanked me in his closing announcements, telling the congregation how pleased he was to be working with me and how much I brought to the service. It was really, really nice of him to say, and really nice to hear. After the service was over, I thanked him for his kind words, and he said, "well, ya kinda earned it..." I'm glad he was pleased with my addition to the service and the mood we both created together. I'm even gladder to be able to work with Eric; he's been a pleasure to work with, and he never seems to mind when I ask him a million questions (even the silly, obvious questions.) I love his insights and anecdotes, both during services and in those moments when we're working together one-on-one. He has an energy that I very much need and appreciate, and in my opinion, we balance each other out well on the bimah.

One of the most meaningful moments of Yom Kippur came during Kol Nidre, when instead of singing the typical Debbie Friedman Mi Sheberach (a prayer for healing), I led the congregation in Leon Sher's Heal Us Now. It's a really beautiful piece, despite it's potential for cheesyness, and the congregation LOVED it. As I sang it, I couldn't help but think of those I love who needed the prayer: The Spinrads, their friend Toney, my Aunt Evelyn, my mom, and others. It totally, totally changed the way I sang it, and even I was almost moved to tears. I'm glad it went well, and I'm hoping to use it every now and then as a nice change of pace on Shabbat.

Another meaningful moment came between the morning and afternoon services. The congregation has a tradition of hosting a symposium, where 3 congregants tell their life stories; they speak of their childhoods, their connection to Temple Beth El, their Jewish identities, and whatever else happens to come up. This year, I was able to hear the stories of Mona, Mitch, and Millie. All 3 stories were powerful, but to hear 90-year-old Millie speak was incredibly moving. Her brain is sharp as a tack, and she told us all about her parents, children, and the love she experienced with her late husband. The whole room was crying when she talked about the last year of her husband's life, and how he prepared her for what she'd need to know and do once he passed. She spoke of the love they experienced in that year, complete and unconditional, fully knowing what was ahead, fully understanding how little time they had left. All I could think of was my hope to find that kind of love, to someday be in a position similar to that. While imminent death is never good, to feel that kind of love so completely is a joy I need and want to experience.

Overall, my HHD experience was fantastic. And I'm so, so, SO happy it's over for the year. I'm looking forward to the day when I can think less about notes and rhythms and choreography and logistics and focus wholly and completely on prayer and my congregation. It will come eventually, but for now, the prayer is found within the learning.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Coolest Moment Yet

Forgot to mention that I taught Sunday School music in South Bend this past weekend. The kindergartners needed to learn the Sh'ma, the prayer that affirms to all Jewish people that God is One God. I taught them the simplest melody and explained the text to them. They seemed to understand exactly what I was saying and what the prayer is about. And then, they sang it by themselves, a few times to get it right, the last time with their eyes closed. I have to tell you that hearing a group of 5 year olds, sweetly singing the Sh'ma that they just learned from me, was one of the coolest moments of my cantorial "career" yet.

Just wanted to share.

Back to working on my Yom Kippur cue sheets...there are a lot of services on Yom Kippur!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

L'Shana Tova!

Happy New Year to all of my Jewish friends and family out there. May your 5769 bring you a year of happiness, good health, friendship and love.

I'm sorry I haven't been good about posting this week. Needless to say, it's been a little crazy as I've been feverishly preparing for my first High Holy Day pulpit. Last week was full of music cramming, preparing the Torah portion I needed to read for HUC t'fillah last Thursday (whoever decided to give a 2nd year student 11 verses of N'ztavim the Thursday before her first ever HHD pulpit was completely insane), and packing to head to South Bend for shabbat and Rosh Hashana services.

I am happy to say that both Shabbat and Rosh Hashana services went, for the most part, very well. Erev Rosh Hashana was full of hilariously ridiculous moments on my part, which included the several times I ad-libbed my music (even though it was right in front of me), completely forgetting the tune for the entire Amidah (even though it was primarily Shabbat Nusach and the rabbi was kind enough to bail me out--my mind just completely blanked in the moment) and then singing a bitonal and very interesting HHD Kiddush. Oh, and I was halfway through the Janowski Avinu Malkenu when I realized I wasn't facing the ark as I needed to be (and as the rabbi instructed all of us seconds before I began singing.) I figured it would look silly for me to turn around halfway through the piece, so I stayed where I was, cheating my body slightly towards the ark. I need to figure out a way to behave like a normal cantor even when I'm scared out of my mind.

Hilarity, I tell you.

Rosh Hashana morning went much, much smoother, as I think my nerves had settled a bit. My voice felt clear and strong, the music went smoothly despite some minor catastrophies, and my HHD nusach and melodies felt must more comfortable.

Another funny moment--I realized on Rosh Hashana eve that the prayerbook I was using was the gender-neutral edition. The entire congregation used the non gender neutral edition, so our names for God were a little out of sync. The rabbi and I shared a few chuckles over that one, especially over the RH morning service that had many significant differences.

The best part of RH was that I had family there to share the service with me. My mom, Uncle Stevie, and Aunt Bonnie came all the way to South Bend to attend services and cheer me on. I can't tell you how nice it was to be surrounded by a wonderful congregation that included family and those congregants who have sweetly taken me on as family.

Thank goodness the congregation didn't seem to mind my mistakes (and very few people even noticed.) They really are the greatest congregation a second year student could ask for, as they are used to the student cantor making small mistakes and learning throughout their year/s with them. They are an amazing group of people, who I am falling more and more in love with on every visit. Special thanks to those of you who hosted me, fed me, schlepped me, bought me bobby pins for my new kippah which you so sweetly gave to me, welcomed me with open arms and sweet words, or any combination of the above. I am very fortunate to be a part of your family for the year.

I'm now home in St Louis for the week, to chill out and work on music for Yom Kippur and do some laundry for free. It's nice to be away from NYC and far, far away from public transportation, and also to play with my doggie whenever I want to.

Again, l'shana tova to all of you. Stay tuned for updates as the highest of holy days continue to fall upon us :)