Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am so happy to be back in the United States for Thanksgiving. While we had a wonderful time last year, it's so nice to be back in a country that appreciates turkey (and knows how to properly cook it) and knows what the meaning of the holiday is all about. I am thankful for a lot of things this year, especially for the gift of the family and friendship I've inherited through Steph and her family. I'm spending this Thanksgiving in Reston, Virginia, just outside of DC, and while I'm sad to not be at home this year, I'm so lucky and happy to be surrounded by people who are so loving and caring towards me. Special thanks and gratitude (that's the word of the day, according to Steph's mom) to the Schnitzer family and the Clark family, for welcoming me so graciously into your homes and families.

Wherever you are today, take a moment to appreciate those whom you love and all of the gifts we all possess. I am thankful for you all and love you very much!

And, since I love her, I leave you with a prayer written by Naomi Levy (by the time I graduate y'all won't need to buy her book, since I post so many of her prayers right here!) Steph is going to read a modified version tonight at her dad's thanksgiving table. Enjoy your turkey!

A Thanksgiving Prayer

By Rabbi Naomi Levy
For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
Without fear,
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fake it 'til you make it?

I love what I am doing with my love. 100%--truly madly deepy, can't think of anything else I'd rather do with my life--LOVE what I do. I love the challenges I encounter, the pressures of a million classes and 2 jobs and the upkeep of an apartment and life as a singleton.

With that said, I'm coming out of the 2 most exhausting weeks of the year thus far. And when I say exhausting, I mean it in every sense of the word.

I had a conversation with my friend Nicole the other day. Nicole is a second year rabbinical student in Cinci, who lived downstairs from Steph and I last year. We're still good friends, and had a great time catching up. But we both admitted that it feels as though we're drowning in work, and while there is plenty and then some to do, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all. And even when you don't do it all, it's hard to do what you DO do (confusing, anyone?) to your best ability. I've spent the last 2 weeks feeling as though I've half-assed my entire life in order to just keep up with it all. I've done nothing to the best of my abilities and have barely gotten it done in the process. I hate when I feel underprepared or rushed or as though I didn't give 100%. I hate knowing that I could have done better had I been more prepared. I hate feeling as though I've let everyone down and looked like an idiot while doing so. Most of all, I hate the feeling of being pulled in a million different directions, with everyone wanting more and more and me not being physically, mentally, or emotionally able to give them what they want.

OK, so that last statement might have been a little over the top and egocentric. No one in my life--professors, rabbis, congregants, family--has complained about any of the work I've's all in my head. Like most of us, I am my own harshest critic. I want to be one of those people who is on top of things all the time (like a few of my classmates who I will never completely understand.) I just don't get how they can manage it all so well while some of us are left drowning just trying to stay afloat.

It really hit me last weekend when I was in South Bend. I LOVE every aspect of my job there, from the rabbi I work with to the fantastic community of congregants to the area in general. Getting there is exhausting--2 airplanes and 3 airports in the course of a day. Then, I always feel a little rushed to work with the rabbi and/or the accompanist to put the service together. By the time I actually co-lead the service, I am completely exhausted. I have not to this point been able to sing a Friday night service to the level I know I can; there are always silly mistakes and forgetful moments that come from just being tired.

This past weekend, Eric was out of town, so I organized and led services on my own, with the help of our wonderful accompanist Steve. I had all these amazing visions and preparations for a beautiful Shabbat in Song Friday night, and it was so disappointing to watch my plans crumble as I sang things badly, tripped over the reading I'd chosen, and stammered my way through my own words and thoughts I added into the service. I also forgot to read half the kaddish list, which is a much bigger deal than it may seem (if you went to services only to hear your loved one's name read, wouldn't you be pissed that it was left out?) It didn't help that I was also in the middle of a nasty head cold and on cold medicine, pushing my voice through a sore throat.

I love the ability I have to create a warm, lovely service environment. I've always been praised for my sincere warmth on the bimah, something I take great pride in. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was struggling to keep positive energy in the chapel as I was leading services. I was bored myself, so I can imagine how boring the service must have been for the congregation. So the service leaves me wondering: How, when you are exhausted and sick and alone on the bimah, do you create and sustain the positive energy needed for a Shabbat service? I never learned how to "fake it", since I've never really needed to, and I don't really want to have to fake it on the bimah. Prayer to God should never feel contrived or artificial.

This was so surprising to me, given that I love what I do and I love the people I was doing this with. I guess that's the purpose of a student pulpit; to learn these things that being a cantorial soloist or classroom student can't teach you. I do, however, want to be able to go to South Bend and be pleased with my Friday night service. I'm hoping that happens sooner rather than later.

Thank goodness I have this weekend to relax a little bit, to recharge and reconnect with myself and those I haven't been able to connect with throughout the last 2 weeks. This is why I love Shabbat, even on a rainy, cold day like today.

Shabbat Shalom.

Weekend With Steph

Stacy and Trephanie together again :)

Of all the amazing things that happened last year, one of the best was meeting my wonderful ex-roommate and now member of the "best friends club" Stephanie. Y'all got to know her quite well last year, I know. One of the hardest parts of moving to NYC was knowing that Steph wasn't going to be here; it was so strange being at HUC and not having her in my Hebrew class and Jewish History class. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't miss having her around, to laugh with, to bicker with, to talk to, and to cook for (ha ha Steph...) She really was the greatest person I could have asked to live with last year, and I am so happy that we've maintained a close friendship since we've been living halfway across the country from each other and not in the same tiny, disgusting apartment in Israel. Stephanie Erin, I adore you!

It is fun, however, to be able to go and visit each other from time to time. I went to Cinci early September, and Halloween weekend, Steph graced me with her presence here in NY. Her stepfather, who is a cantor in Baltimore, and her mom brought a small group of confirmation students for a Jewish themed weekend in NY, so Steph decided to use some frequent flyer miles and come as well. She flew in on Thursday night (the beginning of the HUC weekend) and was met by Julia at the airport. The two of them came back to my apartment while I was at work and ordered dinner, which we ate together when I arrived back home. I so loved coming home to smiling faces and laughter; when you live alone, it's such a treat to be greeted by people once in awhile! We spent the night exactly as we would spend Shabbat in Israel; eating (of course), watching Grey's Anatomy, talking about doing homework while not actually doing any homework, and laughing at the crazy events going on in our lives.

Friday, we woke up, showered, grabbed brunch at the delish little cafe close to the subway, and headed out to Brooklyn to hang out with Julia a little more. Julia was hosting a Halloween-themed housewarming party that Sunday, so we went to help her bake pumpkin cupcakes and get her apartment ready for the soiree. We had a wonderful time and ate WAAAAAAAY too much frosting, cupcakes, candy, and Pirate's Booty (my fave new snack...)

Pumpkin cupcakes! Aren't they cute?

A ridiculous picture of Julia and I as the cupcakes were baking

We left Julia's to meet Steph's fam and the confirmands for dinner near B'nai Jeshurun (the same beautiful synangogue we went to for Simchat Torah), where we went for Shabbat services. I can't tell you how great it was to see Steph's mom and her husband Sunny again! I fell in love with Steph's mom last year, as we chatted on Skype and became Facebook friends :) She's adorable, and it was soo good to see her and to talk cantor-talk with Sunny. Dinner was delicious, even though we had to race out of there to make it to services in time. After a beautiful service, we went to a cute diner on the Upper West Side with friends.

Dinner #2 on the Upper West Side. From left to right: Becca, Jen, me, Steph, Marc, Julia (she's the only one who dared to dress up)

We then headed to the Village to experience the annual Halloween Parade. OMG--I have NEVER experienced anything like it in my entire life. TONS of people (it wasn't comfy) in outrageous costumes, imbibing entirely too much alcohol while waiting for a parade that you couldn't even see due to the horrendous crowds. But--there's nothing in the world quite like it. We saw a plethora of amazing costumes--everyone from Borat to Sarah Palin to Ghostbusters--and EVERYTHING in between. It was crazy, and while I'll probably never do it again, I'm glad I was able to experience it this one time.

I'm not quite sure what this guy is supposed to be...God, maybe?

Borat!! We laughed for about 10 minutes when we saw this guy, but couldn't get up the nerve to take our picture with him.


After finally getting home (the subway close to us were blocked off and we went through 4 cabs before we could find one to FINALLY take us home), Steph and I went to sleep. We woke up Saturday and headed to Times Square, close to the cute Stardust Diner where we ate brunch. The Stardust is SO MUCH FUN! Broadway wannabes work as waiters and waitresses, and sing Broadway songs while you eat. It's overpriced and touristy, but I don't care and will be going back many times over the course of the next 4 years. We then decided to catch a movie, which was fun (Steph's been to NYC a few times, so the need to do touristy stuff wasn't really an issue.) After that, we went to the TKTS booth, my favorite place in NYC, where we landed half-price tickets to The Little Mermaid! Before the show, we met up with Steph's mom for an early dinner, and enjoyed some mama-time.

At dinner with Steph's mama. Doesn't she look like she's our age?

The show was fantastic! As a self-proclaimed "Broadway Baby", I wasn't all that impressed with the music, but the spectacle of Disney shows always amazes me. There wasn't a minute where I didn't believe they were underwater, and the costumes and sets were amazing. After the show, we were able to meet some of the cast and get our programs autographed. It was my first time ever meeting a cast of a show, so it was totally amazing for me. I was a happy girl :)
The obligatory poster picture

Getting my program signed? Heaven!

The show was fantastic! As a self-proclaimed "Broadway Baby", I wasn't all that impressed with the music, but the spectacle of Disney shows always amazes me. There wasn't a minute where I didn't believe they were underwater, and the costumes and sets were amazing. After the show, we were able to meet some of the cast and get our programs autographed. It was my first time ever meeting a cast of a show, so it was totally amazing for me. I was a happy girl :)

Sadly, Steph had to leave NYC very, very early on Sunday morning to make it back to Cinci to teach. We woke up at 4am and hopped a cab to LaGuardia, where we said goodbye for now. It wasn't too sad of a goodbye, however, because Steph and her families kindly invited me for Thanksgiving! Since I'm not able to go home, I'll be hopping a bus to the DC area to spend the holiday with her. I'm so excited to see her and to attend the myriad of festivities going on throughout the weekend. Yay!

Like I said, it's so strange to be at HUC without Steph around. These times, when we can be together and feel as though absolutely nothing has changed (even though our entire lives actually have changed) make me realize just how special Steph and our friendship really is.

Steph, come back!!!!
And this time, don't leave!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Where I've Been

I'm sorry for the lack of updates as of late; it's been such a CRAZY couple of weeks around here, full of good friends, lots of work, long days, preparations, etc etc etc! I had a huge assignment due for my Bible class, which was actually really helpful and interesting. We were to create an annotated translation of any passage from the Tanach. So, not only did we have to translate our portion word for word, but we had to consult several different Bible translations, looking for and explaining inconsistencies and why we translated the way we did. I have a strange love of translating Torah; to this day, I'm still so proud to have the ability to translate these words, to decipher the text in it's original form and decide for myself what it really means. Also for my Bible class, each one of us is required to present a translation and lead a short discussion on whatever parsha we're studying for the day. We've just moved from Torah to the prophets, and I was supposed to read and translate some of the book of Joshua this past Thursday. I have to admit that I have a slight fear of leading a discussion on the Bible or any area in the Judaic realm, especially amongst the intelligent people I go to school with. It's so good for me to do this, even if it terrifies me, as leading Torah study will probably be an important part of my job once I am invested. We ran out of class time before I was able to present, so I'll present on Tuesday and let you know how it goes.

I've also been busy preparing music for both my Reform Shabbat workshop and my Traditional Shabbat workshop. For the Reform workshop, we're allowed to use music, but are expected to have our pieces prepared to performance level (as if we were going to use them in a service.) It's a tough expectation to meet, as we don't always know the background of the piece or how it's supposed to sound until after we've sung it. It takes a lot of prep work and requires us to really learn about the text of each of the pieces. I'm learning a TON of good music in this class, and it's taught by the incredible Cantor Benjie-Ellen Schiller, so I can't complain too much. For our Traditional workshop, we are usually required to sing the nusach straight from the prayerbook, which requires us to practically memorize the pieces. It's much easier said than done, but again, the class is fantastic and gives me a good sense of the traditional melodies and how they relate to the texts. Luckily, our professor is so sweet about our mistakes and will help us out whenever we need it.

I am also beginning to prepare for my practicum, which will take place on January 21. The School of Sacred Music (SSM) requires all 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students to give one or more practicum a year, where we sing a part of a service either in a traditional or Reform manner. Everyone has a theme that is assigned to them by the faculty of the SSM, adn the themes vary between Shabbat, High Holy Day, and holiday liturgies, and sometimes focus on certain periods of Jewish music that are secular. They take place on Wednesday, so part of our job is to make the listener feel as though they are actually in a real service. For example, the theme of my practicum is traditional Shabbat morning, Shochein Ad through Tzur Yisrael. Besides singing the nusach well, I also have to make the audience (SSM students and faculty) feel as though it really is Shabbat and we are really praying these prayers. It's a scary task to take on, especially when I'm not comfortable or very familiar with traditional nusach; it's a completely different style of synagogue singing than what I am used to, and I will be singing in front of a panel of faculty who all know the style so much better than I (which I guess they should.) After the practicum is over, the entire SSM gathers for lunch and the students giving the practicum are given comments and feedback by all the faculty members. Usually, many members of the faculty are very nice, though oftentimes they are very picky and tell it like it is; if they didn't like your practicum, they will not be shy about it.


Anyways, in addition to all of my school stuff going on, I am spending this weekend at my pulpit in South Bend (and actually writing this from my wonderful host Posi's computer!) This weekend, I played both cantor AND rabbi, as Eric was out of town. I always forget how much work is involved in planning and executing a service, but overall, everything went well. I led the services and gave a short d'var torah this morning, making parallels from the Torah portion to where our country is at the moment, right after the presidential election (GOBAMA!!!) Everything went over well, though not perfectly. I'm just happy my congregation was happy.

So, that is why I haven't done much posting lately. I've had a few things going on! I want to write a blog about and share pictures from Steph's visit, which was so much fun, but that will have to wait until I'm back in NY and have written my paper for Jewish history, due on Tuesday (Have I started it? What do YOU think? I have mastered the art of procrastination quite well!)

I really hope everyone is well and happy. I can't wait to see you when I'm home for winter break (Dec 25-Jan 3.) I'll post pictures soon, I promise!

Shavua tov.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Barackin' the Vote!

My absentee ballot, proudly stamped and mailed into Missouri last week.

Just a quick post to remind y'all to exercise your right to VOTE in tomorrow's big election. With the shape our country is in, we need CHANGE, and we need it NOW.

And since I'm not officially a cantor yet, and because this blog in no way, shape, or form is affiliated with my congregation or with Hebrew Union College, I am able to say the following without reservation:

However you may lean politically (and I do mean that sincerely), may it be God's will that you vote in this election with all your heart, all your mind, and all your best judgement. And may God continue to watch over the United States of America, and lead all of us in the right direction from this point forward.