Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflections on 2009

There is one full day left of 2009...can you believe it?

In between my finals and travels and reunions with family and friends, I've had a little time to sit and reflect on the year that is almost over. It's been a bigger, busier year than I realized. I think I will always look back on 2009 as the year I grew up and came into my own, both as a cantor and as a human being.

I've struggled with the right way to wrap up the year on the blog. Taking a cue from my friend Elizabeth's blog, I present you with a month-by-month recap of 2009's most challenging, exciting, heartbreaking, and meaningful events in the life of this cantor-in-training.

The year started off with a relaxing family cruise to Jamaica and Grand Cayman. I returned to NYC to start semester #4 of cantorial school, giving my first practicum and showing my dad around the big city. I also began taking guitar lessons.

I discovered my slightly irrational fear of the mice in my apartment, and tried to deal with it as best I could (with the help of my fabulous brother.) I visited Jane in New Hampshire, and returned to NYC promising myself I would stop hating the city so much.

SSM students with through our second round of placement for student positions, some of us securing great jobs for the 2009-2010 school year, others being left in the dust. I became evermore grateful for my student pulpit opportunities.

I spent a wonderful few days in NYC with Mike and Joey before coming home to STL for spring break. I led services at HUC-NYC for the first time, including a service that honored both Yom Hazikaron and the 5th year students' last day of classes--at the same service.

I regained my faith in becoming a cantor/Jewish professional by participating in and experiencing Investiture/Ordination. I completed year 2 of my cantorial studies with finals and by ROCKING my fear-invoking, anxiety-inducing comprehensive exams. I talked honestly with the rabbi of my congregation in South Bend, telling him of my professional unhappiness and disappointments throughout the year. I said goodbye to the people who made my congregational experience so wonderful and worthwhile by presenting a concert of Jewish and Broadway music. I participated in my first weddings by singing in Josh and Emily's wedding and co-officiating my cousin Hilary and her husband Doug's wedding.

I began my second summer of cuteness at the St Louis JCC, working with their pre-school camp as music specialist. I traveled with my mom and her family to Waterville, Maine, where I sang to my cousin Sarah on her Bat Mitzvah. I rediscovered my hometown, including the JCC and it's exercise facilities. I sang in my friend Elizabeth's wedding and reunited with some wonderful college friends.

I began playing guitar in front of real people for my summer job. I sang my first funeral for a wonderful man who died too soon. I celebrated my 27th birthday at work and at a St Louis Cardinal's baseball game. I traveled to Columbia for a day with my brother to see my Lee-lah. I celebrated my cousin-to-be at my cousin's baby shower. I traveled to Cincinnati with Dave, Gal and Dahlia on their cross-country journey and had a great time with them, Steph, Batya and Carlie.

I realized just how much I love my hometown. I left said hometown to move back to NYC and cleaned up a lot of dead mice in my apartment. I visited my new student congregation informally and began making wonderful relationships with my rabbinic mentor and congregants. I began preparing practicum #2 and attended a wonderfully fun HUC Kallah which began semester #5 of cantorial school.

I presented practicum #2 to rave reviews from my student colleagues and SSM faculty. I officially began my tenure at Temple Beth Israel in York, PA with my first shabbat, Slichot, and High Holy Days. I welcomed my mom, brother, aunt and uncle to York to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with me. I rejoiced in another HHD's under my belt. I wrote my first post for BlogHUC. We welcomed baby Toby into our family.

My cousin Kelly married her husband Bill, in a beautiful wedding that I had to miss due to school and financial constraints. I participated in the Garecht Outreach Institute conference with the rest of my 3rd year class. Had a fun lunch with my Aunt Diane and Uncle Harold at the Carnegie Deli in NYC. I co-led a week of services at HUC with my friend Marc. I began 4 straight weeks of pulpit visits, leading to an exhausting and exhilarating period of time.

Did all of this stuff and somehow lived to tell about it. Participated in our first-annual Midwest Meets Brooklyn Thanksgiving dinner. Slept for 3 days afterward and enjoyed my time off.

Wrote a melody for Y'hiyu L'ratzon, which I debuted to my classmates at a group dinner at Debbie Friedman's house. Found out about Leah's exciting engagement to Bobby. Wrote papers and finals and completed my 5th semester of cantorial school. YAY 50% CANTOR!!! Kissed NYC goodbye for the West Coast and visited Mike and Joey in LA, where I went to Disneyland for the first time. Traveled home to STL for the first time since August and reunited with family and friends. Began the process of rebuilding relationships with clergy at Temple Israel.

Whew. Are y'all as tired as I am?

It's been a big, trying, and fun year full of growth opportunities and new experiences. May all the best follow each of us into 2010 and give us a year of peace, contentment, and love.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Go Rabbi Ron!

As a huge supporter and ally of the gay community (Jewish or otherwise), I felt the need to share this with all of you. What a rockstar this rabbi is!

Gay Rabbi Comes Out of His Orthodox Closet - VJ Movement

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Been a Long Time

Hi Friends. For those of you who are still with me, my sincere apologies on my hiatus from blogging. It's turned into a very busy semester! I am a little sad that I don't have some of the highlights on here as my own personal documentation, as it's been a truly great semester, but I feel the need to press forward rather than look back.

I'm currently in the middle of finals week, blogging instead of working on my dreaded rabbinics final. I've knocked out my education and Jewish modes finals, and I've worked hard on my music theory final that I'll take in class on Thursday. Rabbinics, however, is another story. For whatever reason, I'm struggling to find the right words to say what I want to say and fill the 10-page length requirement. Therefore, I write little bits at a time and pray that it all comes together into a cohesive and articulate final exam. We'll see...
The best part of finals week? Knowing that it eventually comes to an end. This Friday, once all of my finals are completed and the semester is officially over, I am leaving for a visit to California to see my wonderful friends Mike and Joey. On Christmas eve, I'll hop on a plane to St Louis for my first trip home since August. It will be wonderful to get away for a couple of weeks, and even more wonderful to see my friends and family again.

As great as this semester has been, it's starting to get to me that I've had to miss so much in the lives of my family and friends in St Louis. My cousin's wedding, another cousin's visit to STL with her new baby boy, Thanksgiving; all of which I've missed because of work or school commitments. I'm struggling to find an appropriate balance of work and home, school and family. They're all important to me, and I feel like this semester the people in my life have taken a back seat to the profession in my life. It breaks my heart to think of the important things I've had to miss in the lives of my family and friends back home, for my own sake as much as everyone else's.

This semester I'm learning that I HAVE to take time out of my crazy schedule to be at home and with my friends all over the country. I also need to sleep, continue the healthy eating and exercise habits that seem to be on hiatus this semester, and find hobbies that have nothing to do with life as a cantor. Can I do it? I don't really know at this point. When is it okay to say to a professor or my boss, "I'm sorry I didn't get X accomplished, I was with my family this weekend."?

This program (and profession) is pretty great in that it constantly brings up questions, flaws, and hidden personality quirks that force you to stop, reflect, and attempt to find resolution.

For now, I live life like I write my rabbinics final...slowly and piece by piece, knowing it will all turn out just as it's meant to, in it's own time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Last 4 Weeks

Thanks for staying with me through the last few (blogless) weeks. It's been completely insane with school and working every weekend. Thursday was my first day off in over a month, and while life has been utterly exhausting and I so appreciated the rest, I'm feeling thankful for the opportunities handed to me in this time.

In the last four weeks I:
-Co-led daily t'fillah at school everyday for a week with my friend Marc
-Saw Chaim Topol as Tevye in a production of Fiddler on the Roof in Baltimore
-Co-led the first three B'nai Mitzvah of the year at TBI
-Wrote this :)
-Experienced and sang services honoring Kristallnacht and Thanksgiving
-Sang in a fundraising concert with Debbie Friedman that raised over $450,000 for the SSM
-Sang for a fundraising dinner for Jewish Theological Seminary that raised over $1,000,000
-Chanted Torah twice--once at my congregation, once in front of the firing squad known as the students and faculty of Hebrew Union College during Thursday t'fillah
-Started playing guitar during religious school at TBI
-Attended a beautiful dinner party in honor of the 85th birthday of one of my congregants at TBI--truly one of the most touching experiences of my life
-Taught the 4th grade class at TBI to sing "Ocho Kandelikas" for their service coming up December 4...they LOVE the song and sing it beautifully!
-Prepared my T'filat Geshem practicum, taking place on January
-Had a heart-to-heart conversation with Jeff, my rabbinic mentor at TBI, where I told him about the effects of the mishagas at Temple Israel last year and how they effect me even now. Painful for many reasons, but necessary and helpful for the future.
-Extended 4 hearty Mazal Tovs to 4 HUC friends on their engagements. including C-Squad goddess extraordinaire Julia!
-Wrote a fairly decent lesson plan on Noah's Ark for a Kindergarten religious school classroom
-Used my Crockpot more than I ever could have imagined
-Brought home my new baby, my sweet Lou-Lou (named after my favorite city in the world, obvi) that I purchased with Jeff's. Ain't she a beauty?

My pretty girl, a Fender 6-string with built-in tuner. Note the red strap--Grandpa Sid would be so pleased.

And so much more I can't even think of. It's been a whirlwind of a November.

I've spent this weekend relaxing, exercising, cooking good healthy food (Thanksgiving food aside, of course) and catching up with the family, friends, and TV shows (how awesome is Glee??) I've neglected the past few weeks. I've also had some time to reflect on what I've learned from being in a congregation 4 weeks in a row, but I'll save that for another post...I've gotta do something to keep you with me, clearly! ;)

After 4 days of remembering what it feels like to be a human being again, I feel ready and excited to go back to school tomorrow and finish the semester off strong!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Things I Hope I'll Be Able To Do Once I Become A Cantor For Real:

-Sleep more than 6 hours a night
-Cook real meals, not Easy Mac and veggie burgers
-Clean my apartment
-Live in a decent apartment that doesn't cost 4x's more money that it's worth
-Drive a car
-Travel to a place that isn't my student pulpit
-Visit this sweet little guy (debuting the onesie I bought him!)

-Take that photography class I've always wanted to take
-Date (I miss nice guys...)
-Study Torah, just for fun
-Play with my dog

I'm in the middle of 4 consecutive pulpit visits and the craziest part of the semester. I want to sleep until I leave for California on December 18. Free time? HA.

Really I just wanted an excuse to post a picture of my cousin on the blog.

Monday, October 26, 2009

BlogHUC #2

This may look familiar to those of you who read this blog on a regular basis, but here is the October entry on BlogHUC. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Garecht Outreach Institute 2009

This past week, our 3rd year class participated in the annual Garecht Outreach Institute, a 2-day seminar/retreat that deals with the issues of conversion in Reform Judaism. This seminar is offered for 3rd year students at each campus; the NY crew traveled to this amazing mansion turned hotel and conference center in Glen Cove, Long Island.

This is where we stayed:

Come on, Garecht, couldn't you have scrounged up the funds to treat us to something better than Econolodge? (I'm kidding, in case there was any question...) It was like a cruise ship; indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, libraries, a gym, and FOOD. Food to our hearts' content--beautiful buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners, snacks and drinks available 24/7, cocktail hours--it was unbelievable.

Our days were filled with interesting lectures and breakout sessions about the history of conversion in Judaism, and how a Jewish professional handles a congregant or outsider who is interested in becoming a Reform Jew. We looked at Halachah (Jewish Law) and other traditional texts to understand exactly what needs to happen before one can become a Jew (it doesn't happen overnight...) as well as current texts put out by the CCAR and URJ about the modern-day requirements regarding the education of one who is looking to convert. There was also much discussion about ways Jewish leaders and congregants can reach out to these people who are looking to join the Jewish faith, and how to integrate "new Jews" into an existing Jewish community once they've converted. On the last day, we had some role-playing exercises where we played the parts of potential converts and Jewish clergy. I played the part of "Vicky the lesbian Lutheran who needed to convert before her civil union with her fiance Charla in exactly 7 months." Twas great fun.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this seminar was a panel discussion on conversion from the perspective of the convert. We had 6 Jews-by-choice share their conversion stories with us and telling us the reasons why they chose to convert, their feelings during the actual conversion process, and their experiences trying to mainstream into their congregations. It was fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, and inspiring to hear the reasons behind their decisions and the sacrifices they had to make to find their place in the Jewish world.

Many of us were in charge of planning various t'fillot for our time together. My classmates Daniel and Vicky and I were in charge of Thursday morning t'fillah. I must say we planned a beautiful and memorable service, including Torah readings and study and a lovely d'var Torah by our classmate Leora.

Aliyah for rabbinical students during our Thursday morning service

There was, of course, plenty of time to explore the incredibly gorgeous grounds of this hotel. Autumn in New York really is everything they say it is around this part of the state. The trees were lush and beautifully colored, the air was cool and refreshing, and fallen leaves, acorns, chestnuts and crab apples crunched under our feet. We had some fun taking a walk after lunch on Thursday, of course stopping for some fun pictures.

Totally beautiful. We would have been willing to move HUC to Glen Cove...we still would be, actually...

Lyle wanted a new JDate picture. I suggested he take on surrounded by beautiful women to suggest that he was such the ladies' man. Yeah, right. Love ya, Ly-Guy!

Sitting in the shade of a HUGE Chestnut tree

For me personally, this seminar really got me thinking about my own family and the ways that conversion has effected it. For those of you who don't know, my dad's younger brother converted to Christianity when he was around my age. I've always felt a tinge of sadness about this, wondering why Judaism wasn't for him. My uncle and his family are religious Christians (and wonderful people, just for the record) and because of this, there has always been a bit of an uncomfortable religious divide within our family. This divide has become more and more apparent since I've been in in cantorial school and developed my own strong opinions on why Judaism makes so much sense in my life.

Truth be told, there are a lot of things I don't understand or agree with in Christianity, and I will always be a little heartbroken about my uncle's decision. However, after this seminar, I at least understand what he had to go through to accept his new identity and be accepted within a new religion.

I realize after this experience how much I want to attempt to bridge this gap in our family, for the sake of myself and my entire family. I'm hoping I can find the strength to create dialogue between us that puts us both on the same page, where we at least understand each other's reasons for believing what we believe. It's a tall order and not one that can be filled overnight, but I am hopeful that in time and with patience, we can learn to create comfort for everyone within our family.

For the record, the feelings expressed in that last bit of the post are my own and do not necessarily represent feelings within my entire family. To these family members: if I have hurt or offended you with my honesty, I am truly sorry.

Monday, October 19, 2009


As I was riding the train home tonight, I kept thinking about the fact that I had to be living in this city, far away from my family, unable to go home to celebrate my cousin's wedding with the rest of my dad's family. If only I had more money to have gone home, or was able to go to the Cincinnati campus so I could drive home for a weekend. Poor, poor me. It had been my stream of thought that I hadn't been able to shake all weekend long.

Like normal, the train arrived at my stop and I wheeled my heavy rolly-backpack off the train and down the steps. Along the way, the weight shifted and the bag turned over so the wheels were facing up. "Damn it!" I said a little too loudly as I struggled to get it back into position so I could go home after a long day.

Upon witnessing this, a homeless man sweetly looked at me and said, "I wish I had that much stuff to lug around" and turned and walked away, not asking for money or food. I stood still for a moment in shock before continuing on my way.

Who am I to complain about my incredibly rich, satisfying life?

It's moments like this when I remember that malachim, God's messengers, really are all around us--and they all have something to teach.

Another New Cousin

My ridiculously good-looking family: Uncle Rob, Aunt Nancy, Kelly, Bill, Julie, Amy

Congratulations to my cousin Kelly on her marriage to her now-husband, Bill this past Saturday. Best wishes for a long and happy life together. I wish so badly I could have been there to celebrate with all of you--from what I heard it was a beautiful and rockin' party!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


All dolled up for my first weekend at my new congregation

Y'all, this girl is TI-YURD.

Let me tell you, it has been a hectic few weeks around here. Thus, no updates. I appreciate those who've asked me to post, but I just haven't had time to write anything. Between my new job in York and all of the planning and meetings and such for that, teaching B'nai Mitzvah and my 2 private students, planning services for school (I'm leading t'fillah the week of October 24,) working out some necessary issues with one of my classmates whom I love very much, and oh yeah--SCHOOL--I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

It's funny how last year I complained about doing too little at my congregation and not really feeling like the 'Cantor.' Well, now I'm working with a congregation who loves treating me as 'Cantor' and therefore has certain professional and musical expectations that I am supposed to follow. Everything I've done for my congregation has been wonderful and full of fantastic learning experiences, but I'm coming to realize that serving a congregation is hard work, both on the bimah and off.

I guess the saying "Be careful what you wish for" applies for me right now.

Please don't get me wrong. I am incredibly grateful and honored to serve this congregation and have these opportunities to actually BE the cantor. The people that I work with are nothing short of lovely, appreciative, and excited that I'm there. The joys of this job fiercely outnumber the frustrations.

They welcomed me right off the bat with this adorable (and delicious) cake. Special thanks to Shelley, the rab's wife, for snagging me a piece while I was chatted up by my fabulous congregants

The sanctuary of Temple Beth IsraelBrown's Orchards, a beautiful apple orchard just outside of York. The rabbi and his family took me apple picking the weekend before Yom Kippur. It is so beautiful, and the apples are to-die!

The truth is that even since birth I've been a little resistant to change. I love to tell the story of how I was brought into this world that so beautifully illustrates this point. I was due to be brought into this world on July 12, 1982. For medical reasons, my mom's labor was induced on July 6. I was born 11 days later, on July 17. Clearly, even the doctors couldn't force me out of the womb until I was ready. Eventually, I came around (obviously,) but I took my own sweet time doing so. The same applies in my life even now--it takes me a great deal of time to adjust to new settings and events. As great as the opportunity may be, I sometimes need to wait it out to feel truly comfortable. Anyone who's followed my blog for the last 2+ years knows this about me. It took me time to learn to love Israel, and I'm only just now beginning to enjoy New York. I know that I'll learn to love this job and my new, even crazier schedule--it's just going to take a few more weeks.

From the church across the street from the synagogue. The rabbi is good friends with the Pastor, clearly :)

I had some special visitors for Rosh Hashanah: From left to right: Uncle Stevie, mom, me Adam, Aunt Bonnie

The beautiful city of Baltimore, located 45 minutes from York. Some of my congregants took me for dinner in Little Italy--we ate amazing food, topped off with eclairs the size of a Chipotle burrito--I ate 2 bites, don't worry.

I'm using this weekend to really relax, take some time for myself, my friends and my family, and get plenty of rest for the remainder of the semester, which looks like it will be a marathon until the end. So far, I've enjoyed a voice lesson, lunch with a friend (hi Leslie and Mama Niren!), a wonderful nap, some roasted pumpkin (best shabbat dinner EVER), a trip to the Museum of Modern Art, and catching up on Private Practice and Glee. It's been a beautiful weekend.

So, this post didn't turn out exactly the way I'd planned, but it does give you a glimpse into my life right now. Really, I've had a great month, working for a congregation that respects me and feeling satisfied and fulfilled at school. Like I said, a little more time to settle in will help with the exhaustion and overwhelm, and I'm confident I'll eventually fall into a groove.

Late-breaking news (as of 15 minutes ago)--I will be in California December 18-24, and in STL December 24-January 3. Mark your calendars because I want to see you!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My New Cousin

Welcome to the world, Toby Rush Aaronson!
Born September 23, 2009
Mazal tov Whitney, Adam, Aunt Di and Uncle H, and the entire Sanger and Aaronson families.
We love you!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Practicum #2

The morning of the practicum, right after practicing my walk for Hineni in my robe and shoes. I was worried about tripping and falling on my face, which THANK GOD did not happen. Thanks, Faith, for the picture!

I think I am beginning to understand the many purposes of student practica. Yes, we learn new and different music and share it with the student community. Yes, we have the opportunity to sing for and receive constructive criticism from some of the greatest cantorial minds in the Jewish world (both the SSM faculty AND our student colleagues.) And yes, we have the chance to show off our voices, chazzanut, and other cantorial skills for a crowd who can truly appreciate them.

From this practicum, however, I learned a very unexpected lesson on perspective. I learned that sometimes, sweating the small stuff is stupid, vain and unnecessary.

This practicum was put together quickly, went through several musical and liturgical changes, and contained a lot of big, challenging music. It was not even close to being executed perfectly. There were choreography mistakes, wrong notes, vocal issues, and a few word-jumbles. When the practicum was over and it was Julia's turn to sing, I sat down feeling deflated, thinking of what I would say at the review to defend myself and the mistakes that I made. I was trying not to cry as I mentally prepared myself to take the criticism I thought was coming my way from a room of tough critics.

When Julia was finished, we all got up and made our way downstairs. 20 minutes of compliments and beautifully positive remarks later, I made it to the table in the CL. Person after person stopped me to tell me how touching the practicum was, how beautifully I sang, how interesting and exciting my program was.

Singing Avinu Malkeinu at the ark, with Elana (left) and Michelle (right) serving as my ark-openers.

In the review itself, the only negative feedback was that I sang "too beautifully for chazzanut" (a fair criticism) and that I could have taken more time in certain places. The rest of my review time was filled with compliments on my congregational involvement, my cantorial presence and my vocal growth over the last 2 years. In the days that followed, I continued to get positive feedback from my classmates and teachers...even the maintenance man in charge of video taping--who normally sleeps through our practica--had nice things to say.

I'm not telling you any of this to brag. I'm saying it because I was blown away by how I paid so much attention to the 3 notes I sang incorrectly, the one time I forgot to turn the right way, and the 2 small mistakes in my written program--and paid absolutely NO attention to the millions of things I did WELL. It surprised me in the most remarkable way how the only person who seemed to notice my "glaring" mistakes was ME, and how all of the things I did well completely overshadowed all of the things I did wrong.

It feels strange for me to say that this was a lesson in humility, but it was. Human beings--even those of us who take the road to Clergyville, USA--are allowed to make mistakes. We are even allowed to acknowledge that those mistakes can create something wholly special and unique. Dwelling on silly "oops" moments only detracts from life's otherwise perfect experiences. This practicum taught me the value of being gentle with myself and allowing myself to let go of those silly moments that really don't matter. Life is far too precious to marinate ourselves in our shortcomings.

Singing the Levitt HHD Kiddush, the last piece of my program--partially relieving, partially terrifying.

This practicum was a beautiful gift and lesson that happened to take place right in the middle of the month of Elul. What an incredible moment to stop and think about the mistakes in life that really matter and how to fix them, along with the mistakes that don't matter and how to let them go. Maybe it's the forgiveness--of self and others--that gives us the space inside to allow more beauty and positivity into our lives.

Sounds like a good goal for 5770, huh?

It's A Woman's Perogative... change her mind.

After thinking about things over the weekend (because clearly, Rosh Hashanah didn't give me enough to think about) I decided that this blog isn't so personal that I need to mark it as private. It doesn't really talk about the intimate details of my life, and the personal stories I do share are nothing I feel I need to hide from the world at large. Thanks to those of you who took the steps to create a password and such; I appreciate your willingness and desire to read the blog despite the block. If I happen to change my mind again and decide to make it private, the username and password you created should remain the same. If I missed some of you who read regularly, my sincere apologies...I went with a list of people I know read on a regular basis. I didn't mean to exclude anyone, and now that I've lifted the privacy block, you should all be able to read freely once again.

Now that that's over, and Rosh Hashanah is over, and I have a little time before Yom Kippur to feel like a human being again, I have time to play catch up and offer you some fun new posts. Get excited for practicum and pulpit-inspired postings!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Shanah Tovah--Muppet Style

I have no idea what the guy is saying, other than "Shanah Tovah" (Happy New Year.) Still, a fun way to ring in 5770.


Acharei HaChagim

Hey y'all...I've done a terrible job of updating and telling you about the exciting things that have happened in the last week. For this, please forgive me and know a full update will happen acharei hachagim--after the High Holy Days, when life will calm down a little and (hopefully) return to normal.

If you just can't wait until then, I encourage you to head here to check out the newest HUC SSM Blogger (it's me!) I'll be blogging on the HUC website on a monthly basis, so check me out around the middle of the month from now until the end of the school year.

If we don't meet again until acharei hachagim, I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and sweet new year. L'shanah Tovah U'metukah!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Things I Have Learned About Being a Cantor...

...From My Student Pulpit, Which Technically Doesn't Begin Until Next Weekend:

-Being a student cantor is a lot of work, even though the job isn't "real." Meetings, photocopying, organizing, learning music, learning Torah, planning services, lesson planning (which I technically haven't started yet) and more.
-Doing all of this long-distance, without a big photocopy machine and unlimited office supplies, makes it feel more stressful than it actually is.
-I am the most unorganized person I know. I have cue sheets, music books and loose music scattered EVERYWHERE in my apartment.
-My apartment is a disaster zone, and will be until the holidays are over. I've just come to accept it.
-The same goes for my diet.
-Working with a rabbi who is excited to have a student cantor is really fun and meaningful.
-My new congregation is pretty rad.
-Double-checking your work is the key to creating useful binders for yourself and your organist. Finding out from your organist that you forgot to insert pages of music or you DID insert the wrong piece of music is humiliating. Yes, I'm admitting to both of these things.
-Not knowing your organist's skills for yourself is frightening, especially when picking out music. You don't want music that is too easy or too difficult, as to not insult the kind person who wants to accompany you.
-It's difficult to pick music, period. There is a lot of HHD music out there. The congregation has favorites. The rabbi has favorites. YOU have favorites. Shmooshing everyone's favorites into one service means a lot of give-and-take. I won't always get to sing what I want or what I know I can sing well. I've learned to be agreeable to that, but I haven't completely learned to be happy about it. I don't know if I ever will.
-None of that matters if the services turn out successfully and your congregation is happy.
-HUC professors, graduates and students are incredibly kind and helpful people.
-Despite my complaining, I am honored and happy to be in this disorganized, crazy place (disorganized and crazy=Tracy's apartment. Her congregation=lovely. Just to clarify.)
-I am going to keep a bottle of something 'adult' in my refrigerator, that I will sip in relief as I finally get around to deep-cleaning my apartment after Simchat Torah.
-The madness will end, even if it still feels like it's going on forever.
-Next year will seem like a piece of cake, as I will be doing this without the pressure and workload of a practicum taking place in 4 days.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Best Day of the (School) Week

I almost hate to say this for fear that my words will spite me, but it must be said: So far, this year has been awesome.

I once again look forward to coming to my classes, hanging out with my classmates and friends, and roaming the Conference Level (lovingly known to HUC'ers as the 'CL') in search of practice rooms, leftover food, and that one piece of HHD music that inevitably gets left at home the day I want to do my photocopying. So far, my classes are enjoyable and appropriately challenging, and the workload has been reasonable. Some days I am actually able to see how all of these different subjects and styles of Jewish music we're learning really do come together in creating the next batch of modern cantors.

Wednesdays are by far my favorite day of the week. My day starts with a new class (an elective!!) on the music of Debbie Friedman. The best part: Debbie Friedman TEACHES the class. Most of you who read this know who she is and love her music; if you don't know of her, she's a singer/songwriter (NOT a cantor) who, with a handful of other Jewish songwriters, has helped to change the face of Jewish music as we know it. Her repertoire is so much bigger than I ever realized, and the point of this particular class is to go through some of her lesser know music in hopes that we can bring it into our congregations. As we learn the pieces, we also hear her personal stories of how and why she wrote them, along with her and our classmates' interpretations of the Hebrew texts. It is a very fun, relaxing way to begin the day, and our small class size allows for beautifully intimate conversations about God, Torah, liturgy and Judaism.

Then, it's time for practica/recitals. This week began the year's cycle of practica with my 3rd year class (is it as weird for you as it is for me to acknowledge that I'm in the 3rd year class?) This past Wednesday, Vicky and Michelle beautifully delivered their traditional and reform S'lichot practica. Next Wednesday, Julia and I are on the chopping block with our Rosh Hashanah practica (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.) Elana will sing in October, and then our class is done until our second round of practica begin in January. I truly love and value the time spent preparing for and attending practica...but I'll be incredibly happy when mine is over next week.

After the lunchtime practicum discussion, we move onto our Traditional High Holy Day workshop with Hazzan Jack Mendelson. Jack's preferred method of teaching is as follows: open the siddur, follow along as he sings for you, sing it yourself, and repeat it over and over again until you get the notes and--more importantly--the cantorial inflection correct. He encourages us not to even look at the music until we leave class--I think this is so we pick up on the nuances and ignore the burden of looking at the complicated note patterns on the page. At first, the visual learner in me started to freak out about this--but when I opened the music and the prayerbook to learn my assignment for last Wednesday's class, I was amazed that I hardly needed to look at the music. Many of the notes had stayed with me more than I expected, and more than that, I naturally sang them in the style he wanted us to. It was an interesting lesson in my own methods of learning and confidence in my own retention abilities.

The thing I love most about my Wednesdays is that I am either singing or listening to music ALL DAY LONG. I begin the day with current melodies and end with the melodies of our tradition, and the two usually merge in the middle of the day with the practica/recitals. I am seeing more and more how even contemporary composers use the modes and nuances of traditional melodies in creating pieces that are singable for a congregation. I am also realizing that there is truly a place for all styles of music within reform Judaism, and how I as the cantor can make even traditional Nusach feel as accessible to my congregants as the melodies of Debbie Friedman. It feels good to know that the training we receive at HUC from our amazing teachers and from the music itself is going to serve us so well when we do finally hop off this wild ride known as cantorial school.

Speaking of a wild ride, I am off to run through my practicum program for the 5,798,417th time. Much love!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kallah 2009

The campus of HUC-NYC differs in many ways from the other campuses of Hebrew Union College. One of our differences? We are the only campus to offer all 3 of HUC's programs: Rabbinic, Cantorial, and Jewish Education/Communal Service.

The best difference? We are the only campus to offer a back-to-school Kallah, a school-wide retreat that takes place in the first few days of the school year. Every year, people head back from wherever their summer plans led them and gather at a campground in upstate NY for a few days of learning, relaxation and fun.

Usually, Kallah is held at Camp Kutz, a well-known URJ-sponsored summer camp. This year, due to scheduling conflicts, we had Kallah at Camp Iroquois Springs in Rock Hill, NY. How can anyone complain when you spend 3 days frolicking around in this:

The cabins were newly renovated and comfortable, and the weather was PERFECT. The only caveat: mosquitoes. Lots and lots and lots of mosquitoes.

Every year Kallah is themed in order to focus the learning and events. This year, the theme was "Me'ayin Yavo Ezri, Sources of Strength in Challenging Times." Given the current state of the economy and the stresses on our congregations and the world at large because of it, this year's theme was perfect. We did some basic text studies in responding to the needs of those in stressful situations, and spent a large amount of time discussing both the changing state of the Reform community and the need for self-care in stressful times. The faculty did a beautiful job of leading symposiums and discussions on how they take care of themselves, and how self-care can actually assist a Jewish professional in caring for the needs of their community.

Part of the message of Kallah was to give us lots of time to ourselves, to allow us to fill our time in ways that pleased US. I spent some time each day taking long walks, either alone or with friends, to enjoy my time in nature and stretch my legs a bit. The walks were such a delight, especially when I found this:

And this:

This little road was so beautiful and peaceful that I sat by the water for just a bit before continuing on my way. I love that I had this time to soak it all in, and can still see and hear the water when I close my eyes. It's nice to have these images now that I'm back in the city, far from the peace and tranquility of this beautiful place.

The best part of any Kallah, however is the various t'fillot we are able to participate in. It is customary at Kallah to stretch the boundaries of our prayer experience and introduce the community to something new and different. We had several beautiful services, all led by our amazing students and faculty. To re-enter this community and hear the amazing sounds of 100 to-be rabbis, cantors and educators, mixed with experienced and passionate faculty, is truly wonderful. While I believe wholeheartedly that congregational prayer is beautiful, there is nothing at all like the sound of people praying when they know what they are praying about, and hold their own interpretations of the liturgies.

There is also something beautiful about the vulnerability that comes from prayer services at Kallah. To see my classmates go out on a limb to try something new, especially when they know it can fail, is remarkable. It was perfectly timed, as the Jewish people are entering the month of Elul, a month of self-reflection and returning to God before the High Holy Days. Elul brings a certain sense of vulnerability as we remember our wrongs and work to correct them before we enter Rosh Hashanah with a clean slate. For me, as I think about all those times I wanted to try something--scholastically or spiritually--and didn't because I was afraid or thought it wouldn't work, I was moved to a place of courage and strength. To everyone who led t'fillah during Kallah, thank you for allowing me to find these things within myself. May your examples help all of us find the strength to put ourselves out there and maybe--just maybe--be as successful as you were.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Kallah without a campfire, s'mores, and lots o'beer. I'm sad that most of my pictures didn't turn out (damn lighting) but I managed to catch a couple of cool ones.

The big, beautiful campfire. We roasted marshmallows for s'mores, shared many laughs over impressions of SSM faculty, and generally enjoyed each other's company.

A blurry but cute picture of Adam (my new HUC BFF), me and Brian (who joined us this year from the LA campus.) Gotta represent my Cardinals!

All in all, Kallah 2009 was a wonderful way to re-enter the world of HUC. I definitely feel more connected to my classmates and teachers, and am recharged and excited to get back to work!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jump Right In, The Water's Fine!

It's been a whirlwind of a week (week and a half?) since I last wrote. I am happy to report that for perhaps the first time ever since I've lived in NYC, I feel good, content, dare I say HAPPY about being here. With everything that I have going on right now (and the school year hasn't even started yet!) I've been able to put my nose to the grindstone and get cracking on what I'm feeling will be a fantastic year.

First on the docket: PRACTICUM. Like I wrote in my last post, I have my second practicum on September 9. Since I did absolutely no work during the summer, I've been working hard to put together a program of music that is interesting, practical, and beautiful. I'm thrilled with my selections and so thankful for the help and advice given to me by the amazing faculty of the SSM. I've had 3 coachings this week and already feel like the practicum is in semi-decent shape. For those of you who are familiar with Jewish music, here is the program thus far:

Hin'ni--Meir Finkelstein
Bachodesh Hashvi'i--acc. to High Holy Day trope
Tik'u--Fredrick Piket
Barechu--Louis Lewandowski (the old, familiar melody that everyone loves to sing at HHDs.)
Chatzi Kaddish--Israel Alter
Kadosh Atah--Max Janowski (so excited for this! Janowski is one of the reasons I am becoming a cantor. Amazing!)
EITHER Avinu Malkeinu--Bruce Ruben followed by the folk song OR an arrangement of B'sefer Chayim composer TBD
Sermon Anthem: M'loch--Israel Alter
Kiddush--Abraham Leavitt

There are a lot of big pieces in this program, which excites me. I'm also working with a fabulous organist who adds so, so much to the program. I feel like I'm in my element, singing the music that inspired me to come to HUC. Singing it makes me very happy, indeed :)

NEXT: High Holy Days

When you see your cantors and rabbis at your HHD services, give them a big hug. And maybe a beer. They deserve both, and by the end of Yom Kippur, they'll need them.

This year I have taken on the responsibility of making music binders for myself and the organist and Temple Beth Israel, my student congregation. I didn't realize just how huge of a task this was going to be, and I've already spent many hours slaving away over cue sheets and copy machines. It's really exciting to be the first "cantor" my congregation has ever had, but it's an awful lot of work to prepare. I must say, though, that I've had a wonderful time planning with the rabbi I am working with, who has allowed me to share all of my thoughts and opinions and create services that please both of us (and hopefully the congregation!) I am almost done organizing my Rosh Hashanah binders, save for a few pieces I left at home during my photocopying extravaganza on Thursday (damn.)

Work aside, I've had a lot of opportunity to see old friends, meet the new 2nd year cantorial students who all seem nice and talented, and further explore this crazy city. It feels nice to have some old, familiar spots and hangouts while also discovering new ones every day.

Right now, as I am relishing this sweet Shabbat and still digesting last night's wonderful Shabbas dinner (thanks RGM!) with REALLY GOOD friends, I am thankful and happy to be here.

It's going to be a good year, guys.

BTW--I tried uploading pics to this post, but blogger is being weird. I'll post some soon, I promise!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And So It Begins...

Well, I made it back to NYC safe and sound, my 104 pounds of luggage in tow (the nice man at the airport cleared my bags, even though they were each slightly overweight. For these and other small miracles in life, hallelujah!) My apartment was fine, save for more than a few "visitors" of the 4-legged variety. After a small (okay, not so small) breakdown and a sushi lunch from my favorite sushi place on my street, I set to work cleaning up, unpacking and making 3C once again feel like home.

It amazed me just how fast I was able to re-acclimate to my NY lifestyle. Once my apartment was rid of dead vermin and was somewhat clean, it began to feel cozy and home-like again. I had such fun walking around my neighborhood yesterday, eating brunch at my favorite diner and walking past the charming little shops on Ditmars. I'd forgotten just how great Astoria is and how much I love living away from home (sorry mom.)

Now that things are somewhat in order, I'm already getting started on schoolwork and pulpit work for the year. First up: PRACTICUM! Third year students present 2 practicum during the year, and my first is coming up all too soon on September 9 (on 09/09/, huh?) This semester's topic is a Reform-style Rosh Hashana Evening, and I'm actually really looking forward to it. I have A LOT of music to learn and stuff to do for the practicum, but I'm familiar with a lot of the music (thanks to Faith's RH workshop last semester) and I'm hoptimistic that the program will come together nicely.

Then I have exactly -5 minutes to breathe before High Holy Days are upon us! I'm more than excited to head to my new pulpit in York, PA to lead both High Holy Days and 20 weekend services this year. I've already put together cue sheets for Rosh Hashana, and I'm heading to York this weekend to meet with the rabbi and discuss RH, Yom Kippur, Slichot (first time for that!) and Simchat Torah (that too!) Since many of the chagim are on weekends this year, I'm going to have plenty of opportunities to learn holiday liturgy and repertoire. I'm very excited, to say the least!

Music and holidays aside, I'm excited to meet this congregation and work with Jeff, my rabbinic mentor. Stepping into a new congregation is always a little nervewracking, but already the congregation has worked to make me feel comfortable and welcome. My first weekend is September 11-13, and the congregation has organized a special oneg for that Friday night to welcome me. Everyone is already so lovely and I look forward to serving them.

I'm very thankful that I was able to come back to NYC and feel so happy and comfy right off the bat. I'd forgotten that things are always a little easier when you know what to expect and you're no longer the new kid in town. I'm excited to see everyone and get back in the swing of things, as hectic and stressful as the year may be!

Sending lots of love from cloudy (but cool and lovely) Astoria!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Favorite Places, Favorite Faces

Summer 2009 has officially rocked.

How can it be anything but wonderful when I look at and sing with these faces every day?

The twins on my sides are 4-year-olds with autism. They ADORE music, and this year, they proudly stood in front of their class to lead us in "Hinei Mah Tov." They also sing the heck out of their ABC's. It's been such a joy to watch them blossom this summer.

I've also bravely started playing guitar at camp. It was guitar skills have improved so much in the last 3 weeks, and the kids seem to enjoy the musical energy the guitar brings to camp. I'm happy with my decision to start playing despite my less-than-mediocre guitar skills.

The kids have been such a wonderful part of my summer. They love music time and sing with so much joy and spirit. I'm pleased with the repetoire of both Jewish and children's music they've learned, particularly the songs we've learned for Shabbat. This age group is my absolute favorite to work with--I will miss them to no end when camp ends tomorrow.

I've also been able to enjoy some of my favorite faces and favorite places this summer.

Rachel and I at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, seeing Rent for the 4th time together. This viewing was particularly special because 2 of the members of the Original Broadway Cast were in the cast. Rach and I have been best friends since 4th grade, so we spend a lot of time together whenever we're both in St Louis (one or both of us has lived in a different city ever since college.)

I spent my 27th birthday with my family, watching the St Louis Cardinals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-1. Albert Pujols, my boyfriend, hit 2 homeruns that night. He knew it was my birthday, obviously :)

The next day, I joined my best friend from college, Leah, on a trip to Columbia, Missouri, the home of the University of Missouri-Columbia. I looked at these columns everyday for 4 years, and I still kvell at the sight of them.
Cutest pic of Leah and I that we've ever taken.

Another fun event of the summer was my cousin Whitney's baby shower. Her first baby (and the first baby of any of my cousins) is due in September. Our family is very excited, to say the least! Whitney and her husband Adam live in Washington, DC, so it was nice to see them for an afternoon. I am going to her DC-area baby shower the weekend after I return to NYC.

The Fishbein/Sanger/Arnold ladies: Me, my mom, Stefie, Aunt Diane, Whitney, Aunt Bonnie, Emily

Just last week, I visited some sweet friends in my beloved Cincinnati. My friends Dave and Gal and their daughter Dahlia were driving cross country from San Francisco to Cincy so Dave could continue his rabbinical studies, so I joined them on their last leg of their journey. I love Cincinnati--a peaceful midwestern city with reasonable prices, dishwashers, central AC and sweet people. Most of my good friends from the year-in-Israel are there (including my ex-roomie turned best HUC friend Steph) and I am sad that I can't be with them. Our visit was very low key and chill, but it was wonderful. I was able to see Steph, Batya, Carlie and the Spinrad crew, and also met Steph's wonderful boyfriend Bobby.

Dave, Carlie (the daughter of another of our rabbinical student friends, Erin) and Dave's daughter Dahlia.

Me, Bobby, Steph

Me and Batya--even 115 lbs lighter than in Israel, I still manage to look gigantic next to her. Ah, well.

At this point in time I am packing to return to NYC on Tuesday. Like I've said, it's been a wonderful summer and I am truly sad to be leaving St Louis. This summer, I've come to love and appreciate St Louis in a way I never have before. I've been able to do fun things and explore the city in a whole new way, and I've learned that I would truly be happy to spend the rest of my life here.

Readjusting to life in NYC is going to be difficult. This year, I want to try to stay positive and learn to appreciate the struggles that come from living in such a hurried and expensive city. I want to continue to love school and the experiences that come my way. I want to lose myself in work and the friendships that I DO have in New York. I want to smile and learn to find my peace with the Big Apple, even if I never enjoy living there.

Even if none of that happens, I am so happy to have this picture to help me laugh a little from time to time. I was taking goofy pictures of Noah, my dog, and he smiled for the camera. :)

How can you not smile when you look at that picture? I mean, really.

To everyone who played a part in my amazing summer in St Louis, thank you. I've loved spending this time with you and creating unforgettable memories!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Another First

Today, I played the role of "chazzan" for my first funeral.

It was intense and scary, sad and heartbreaking. An experience I wasn't looking forward to, though I knew it would come eventually.

Out of love and respect for this family and their loved ones, I don't want to speak too candidly about the experience. All I will say is that it doesn't matter how well you know the person who passed or the family in mourning--singing in front of the heartbroken family and friends of that person is difficult. For a sometimes overly-emotional person like me, who DID know the person (though not well) and has close ties to his family and friends, it's tough to put the blinders on and get the job done.

But somehow, I did, and the service went as well as could be expected.

I was truly honored to sing for this family, and it will be an experience I will never forget. Thank you for choosing me to help make the service a beautiful one for the hundreds of loved ones who attended. My heart and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

May Michael's memory be for a blessing, and may you all be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Summer Job/Cuteness Overload!!

The beautiful JCC campgrounds. The kids have access to an amazing playground, swimming pool, ball fields, pavilions and tons of beautiful shaded areas, in addition to the brand new JCC indoor facility.

This group was SO EXCITED to have their picture taken while they ate lunch. Cuteness overload #1.

This post contains an overwhelming amount of the most adorable Jewish children you'll ever see. The cuteness is so palpable, I bet even my dad will find these kids adorable :)

For the second summer in a row, I've been working for the St Louis JCC as the Music Specialist for their preschool camp. Basically, my job is to sing Jewish and children's songs with kids ages 3-5, while simultaneously basking in their cuteness, eating my fair share of icey-pops, and receiving at least 10 excited hugs a day. The other staff is an amazing group of teachers and teenagers who love children and day camps as much as I do. It's an honor and a pleasure to work with them, especially when they're not afraid to act silly with the kids and sing in the "monster voices" the kids have come to love so much.

Cuteness overload #2

I couldn't love the job more if I tried.

Did I mention I play my autoharp? I brought my guitar home from NYC to attempt to play that, instead, but chickened out when I remembered that I'd had my autoharp (a used gift from my rabbi a few years ago) repaired the summer before. The kids are FASCINATED by it, and ne'er a day goes by without at least one child sweetly requesting to play it. I'm always amazed at how gentle they are when they use their one finger (my rule) to strum the strings lightly. I think Dr Sims, my college elementary music ed professor, would be mighty proud to see my autoharpin' skills put to such good use. I'm clearly the cool kid on the block :)

I'm also amazed at the amount of songs these kids are able to pick up. We sing a lot in Hebrew, learning names of colors, body parts and family members in addition to the liturgical pieces we sing. They've also learned the sign language to Shalom Chaverim, which I find completely adorable when we sing it at the end of every music lesson. And seldom does a day go by when I don't sing "I'm Bringin' Home a Baby Bumblebee..." which the kids can not sing enough of (though their counselors and music teacher are pretty much over it...)

So, in case the pictures didn't quite overload you with cuteness, I've included some videos. The first is "Good Morning, Boker Tov", which is the way we begin every music lesson. I tell the kids the firemen across the street love to hear them, so they should sing nice and loud...but not scream (as they love to remind me!)

Cuteness overload #3

The next is a version of Hinei Mah Tov that the kids are addicted's become such a part of our routine that they remind me if I "forget" to sing it.

Cuteness overload #4

I should also mention that these kids are going to be the next generation of American Idols...we have our own "American Idol" time everyday, when the kids can get up and sing a song of their choosing to their group members. I love that the kids are learning how to sing in front of others and how to be polite, respectful audience members. To hear some of them sing "LMNOP" during the alphabet song is too precious for words.

And, upon asking them what holiday was coming up on Saturday (Independence Day), the kids shouted "SHABBAT!!" at the top of their lungs. Instead of singing "Yankee Doodle", we sang Shabbat songs. I adore these children, and this job.

To say that I'm excited to one day lead Tot Shabbat services for my congregation is an understatement. I love, love LOVE this age group and the amazing things they can do.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Blog Makeover!

For a long time now, I've been wanting to give Blog Sameach a new look. My dear college friend Elizabeth, from McFar-gan: A Midwestern Matrimony, made the adorable header you see at the top of the page. From there, it was easy to tweak the layout and colors to match! I'm thrilled with the new look and I hope it's just as easy and fun to read as my previous layout. Many, many thanks to Elizabeth for helping to make this beautiful header--I love it!

If you have a chance, hop on over to her blog for her insights on life as a newly-married music teacher and Rockstar Adult!

Thanks again, Elizabeth!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Summer of Simchas

It's been quite a busy summer here in St Louis! Besides working, I've been enjoying a plethora of happy occasions--4 weddings of friends and family, a cousin's Bat Mitzvah in Maine, and many happy reunions with old friends from high school and college. I've had the opportunity to sing in 4/5 of these events, learning the melodies of the liturgy of the Jewish wedding service and the feel and flow of a NON-Jewish wedding. I was also able to participate in some of the happiest moments of my families' lives, beaming with pride as I helped to marry my cousin Hilary and bless my distant cousin Sarah as she became a Bat Mitzvah.

The wedding madness began the day after I returned home to St Louis, with my friend Katy's wedding to her now-husband Erich. I enjoyed being a guest and watching my childhood rabbi marry these 2 lovely people. Katy and I have grown up together at Temple Israel, and we also attended Mizzou together. She was even my pledge daughter in our Sigma Alpha Iota years. At her wedding, I was reunite with some of my SAI sisters, which lead to a wonderful evening and reunion.

SAI sisters reunite! Top from left: Cassy, Katy, Tarrah, Stacey, Megan, me. Bottom from left: Cheryl, Christi

The next night, I was blessed to sing in my first Jewish wedding for my friends Josh and Emily. Josh and I have known each other since high school, where we sang in choir together. I'm honored to say that Josh is not only a friend of mine, but he is now officially also my colleague! He and his new wife Emily just arrived in Jerusalem for their first year as HUC students--Josh as a cantorial student (yay for men in the cantorate!) and Emily as a rabbinical student. I was excited to bestow the Sheva Brachot (Seven Wedding Blessings) and I am equally excited that they are beginning their careers as Jewish leaders. Though I don't have a good picture to share with you, I promise a good time was had by all who attended their lovely ceremony and reception.

Less than a week later, I stood under the chuppah of my cousin Hilary's wedding, where she married her love, Doug. This wedding was a big deal, not only because she is the first cousin on my dad's side of the family to get married, but because this was the first ceremony in which I've ever officially co-officiated! I stood next to St Louis legend Rabbi Joe Rosenblum and sang many of the traditional (not one not-so-traditional) wedding blessings to my cousin. It was a huge honor and pleasure to be given this duty, and I was thrilled with how beautifully everything turned out.

Singing a wedding blessing to my cousin Hilary and her now-husband Doug

The last wedding on my agenda for the summer was that of my college music-ed friend (and twin!) Elizabeth. This wedding was exciting on many levels, the highest being that it was my first-ever non-Jewish wedding. Until June 12, I had never attended a wedding ceremony that wasn't Jewish, and I had no idea how other religions run their wedding ceremonies. Elizabeth and Kyle's wedding was beautiful from start to finish; I love the variety of music they were able to include and the beautiful sense of spirituality that enveloped the entire church and congregation.

There was a slightly funny story involved with Elizabeth and Kyle's wedding that put me in a bit of a predicament. When Elizabeth first contacted me about singing in her wedding, she was interested in having me sing a set of Hebrew songs by composer Eric Whitacre. As the wedding came closer, she realized that the song needed to be a little shorter due to time constraints. So, she asked me and another friend of hers to sing a contemporary Christian song called "How Beautiful." When I first read through the lyrics, I was incredibly uncomfortable with singing this song in front of a group of old college friends--many people knew that I am Jewish and studying to be a cantor. How would it look for me to be singing this song in a church, in front of a pastor and God, knowing that I don't believe that the person I am singing to is as holy of a being as everyone else there believed? I didn't want to seem disrespectful or out-of-place, and I didn't want to sing a piece that seemed like a lie.

So I thought about it, and talked to very important people about it (my mom is pretty smart sometimes) and realized that it didn't matter what I believed or didn't believe. I was asked to sing a song to my friend, whom I dearly love, at her wedding. Of all the musical people she knows (and as a very successful music teacher and choir conductor, she knows a lot of talented musical people!) she asked ME to sing in her wedding. So I did, out of love and respect for my friend, her family, and her husband. The song turned out beautifully, and no one questioned my purpose or reasoning for singing it. After all, we both believe in the same God, and that God was certainly present for these lovely people on their special day. It was another one of those "it's not about me, it's about the congregation" moments that pop up all the time in my work on the bimah. Thanks, Elizabeth and Kyle, for not only allowing me to sing in your beautiful wedding, but also to think and learn this invaluable lesson.

Kyle and Elizabeth as they exited the church after the ceremony

The last simcha (thus far) of the summer didn't involve a wedding, but instead was the Bat Mitzvah of my mom's cousin's daughter, Sarah. The last time I saw Sarah was at a Bar Mitzvah 12 years ago (Sarah was 4 months old,) so it tells you how long it's been since I've seen this side of the family. My mom and I traveled to Waterville, Maine for the beautiful affair, and were reunited with cousins, aunts and uncles we haven't seen in far too long. All in all, it was a fun weekend of shmoozing, eating (duh) and wandering around Colby College and the other beautiful sights that Waterville has to offer. I should also mention that Sarah did a beautiful job on the bimah, chanting Torah and leading the service like a pro. I was asked to sing a Shalom Rav (a prayer for peace) at the afternoon service, which I happily did. It was wonderful to sing for these family members, many of whom have not seen me since I was a teenager.

Many of the strong, beautiful women in my family. From left to right: Nilda (Sarah's proud mama), cousin Gale Ann, Sarah, my Aunt Diane, my Aunt Bonnie, Aunt Perle, Aunt Mert (the two matriarchs of our family), my proud mama, me, cousin Edda.

All in all, it's been a beautiful, joyful summer which will continue with my cousin Whitney's baby shower later this month. I love having so many simchas to my Aunt Perle put it last week, "I might not be around for everything, but I never miss a simcha!" Wise words from a wise woman.

Mazal tov to my friends and family members: Katy and Erich, Josh and Emily, Hilary and Doug, Elizabeth and Kyle, and the entire Wolman family. It was a pleasure to celebrate with all of you. May your lives be filled with every happiness, and may we all have many more simchas in the years to come!

Also, thanks to those who supplied the pics that I stole from Facebook...