Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Placement is Over!

For the last couple of weeks, many SSM students have been focusing hard on one of the most stressful aspects of the school year: student placement. Those of us who decided to leave our current student cantor positions in search of something new for next year spent the last 2 weeks prepping, choosing music, studying potential congregations, fixing our resumes, and deciding which congregations to interview with. Finally, the day comes when we audition and interview with these congregations in hopes that we'll be "matched" with a congregation that we like who also likes us.

Placement day, or "Yom Hadin" (Judgement Day, as we've taken to calling it) is a crazy day of singing, interviewing, and waiting around anxiously. The congregational representatives first gather together in the chapel for a "concert" of cantorial students, where each of us sings 2 pieces of our choosing. One of the chosen pieces is to be a congregrational melody, in which we're to invite our "congregation" to sing with us. The other is to be a more serious cantorial solo which showcases our "skillz" as a cantor. I chose to sing Meir Finkelstein's V'Shamru paired with Max Janowski's Tavo L'fanecha. It was a good pair of 2 very different pieces that each showcase my abilities in different ways.

After the concert, there is a short lunch break followed by an afternoon of interviewing. Each congregation is in a different HUC classroom, and have 20-minute interviews with each of the students who choose to interview with them. I interviewed with 6 congregations. It's always interesting to see which congregations and rabbis you like right off the bat; you can usually tell whether or not you want a job within the first minute or 2 of an interview.

At the end of the day, I walked out of the room with 4 congregations that I really, really liked. From there, we email our top choices in order to the Josee, our Placement Director. The congregations do the same, and a few days later Josee matches us according to who liked who.

I was incredibly happy with my results, and was one of the lucky ones who recieved exactly the congregation I wanted to work with. I'll be working at Temple Beth Israel of York, Pennsylvania, visiting twice a month. I couldn't be more thrilled about this outcome, or more excited to serve this congregation on a more regular basis than a monthly job provides. AND--I have family of family as members! My Uncle Harold's cousins are members, so I'll have my own mishpacha as part of my congregational mishpacha.

As happy as I am with the results, it was an incredibly tense and stressful week that did not yield good results for everyone. With the enconomy in the state it's in, there were more students looking for jobs than jobs looking for students, and there were people who did not get placed for next year. One of those people is one of my very best friends in this program. On Wednesday, when we found out our results, I can not tell you how hard it was to be happy while watching this friend walk away, not able to look me or anyone else in the eye. We all know that student placement is a numbers game, and not recieving a congregation is not necessarily a reflection of performance or ability, but it's easy to take such a result personally. It was incredibly hard to be happy on Wednesday night, despite my exciting results. Knowing that you got an awesome job while your good friend is feeling awful about herself makes it difficult to celebrate your own successes.

The next day, I recieved a message from this friend on my phone when I came up from the subway. She just wanted to congratulate me and tell me there were no hard feelings. I knew all along that she wasn't angry with me and that her hard feelings would soften in time, but it was so noble of her to call me so soon. I've learned huge lessons in humility and kindness from this one phone call, and I hope she knows how much I appreciate her strength.

To this sweet friend, and you know who you are: You are an amazing cantor--you always have been, and you always will be. There is no doubt in my mind that something wonderful is coming your way, something far and above what you wanted in this first round. Thanks for using this to teach me the meaning of friendship and humility.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Taken from the Mamilla Mall, a stone's throw from HUC-Jerusalem

Monday morning, as I was walking to the subway, this song came onto my iPod. It was a song featured on the end-of-the-year slideshow/movie that my friend and rabbinic colleague David made last year, that we watched on our final Shabbat together in Israel. Ever since I heard it on Monday, I've been having insane flashbacks to last year, leading me into a state of "God-I-wish-I-was-still-in-Israel." So many things have occurred throughout this week to make me long for the Holy Land, for the year and the place and the people that I feel so far removed from. Here's a list of those things:

First of all, as I was heating up the corned beef and cabbage I made for dinner on Tuesday, I was hit with an insane craving for non other than last year's meal of choice: Aruchat Boker. This breakfast of deliciousness consists of 2 eggs, homemade bread with cheeses and jam, a huge cucumber and tomato salad, a tiny bowl of tuna, avocado, or yogurt with fruit, fresh juice and a coffee of your choosing. I ate this meal at least 5 times a week, for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Yes, there were many days when I ate it two times a day. And it was delish every time. I'm salavating just thinking about the deliciousness...and still craving it. Anyone want to run to J'lem to devour one with me?

A not-so-tasty-looking but complete version of Aruchat Boker from my favorite place in J'lem--Cup O'Joe, located 5 minutes from my apartment. God I miss this food.

Then, in Hebrew class, I was asking my friend Hannah a question (in Hebrew, as part of the class) and I accidentally called her "Chani." Chani was the wonderful woman who waxed our eyebrows in Israel, in the cutest little salon called Shampoo. She was adorable; every time we went, we'd have conversations in Hebrew, and she'd talk to us like she'd talk to any other Israeli, and when we didn't understand something (which was pretty often) she'd say it in another way so we could understand. She'd tell us all about her family, her life in Israel, her service in the army, etc., and she was excited about the fact that we were aspiring cantors/rabbis for the Reform movement. I miss her even now, and the Vietnamese lady down the street who waxes my eyebrows can never compare to her.

Yesterday was Founder's Day at HUC, so we had a special morning service to commemorate those people who've helped to keep the school up and running for all these years. Julia was the cantor for the service, and requested that the 5 of us sing something together. We ended up singing the Jack Gottlieb "Eytz Chayim" that we learned together last year, and as we stood around the ark, I couldn't help but think back to our final service of the year in Israel. We sang the same piece, in nearly the same formation then, and to sing it again in New York was a strange kind of deja vu (it was also lovely to sing together again as the 5 of us, since we rarely get the opportunity to do so here.)

The last morning service of the year in Israel, as the 5 of us sang the Gottlieb "Eytz Chayim" surrounded by our classmates and friends.

For shabbat tonight, even though I had no special plans with anyone (which was just fine by me) I decided to go all out and purchase a mini loaf of challah and a bottle of wine. I covered the challah with the beautiful purple challah cover I bought in Baca (a neighborhood of J'lem) on a beautiful spring day. As I stared at the candles, sipped the sweet wine, and nibbled a little too much of the challah, I couldn't help but get sentimental about the amazing year I had last year. I missed Steph (esp because we talked on the phone as I ate my dinner) and thought about Judi and Nancy and Eli and Tamar and all of the wonderful people I left behind. I tasted the Marzipan rugelah that I grew so tired of last year. I thought about the table I'd be sitting around if I were there, a table of laughter and amazing food and "The Bean Skit" and z'mirot. I remembered the faces of the students at the other campuses, who I thought I'd keep in good touch with thanks to the internet.

I think part of what bugs me about being here rather than in J'lem is the lack of amazing things that happen everyday as a natural part of life. Instead of seeing the walls of the Old City on my way to class, I see graffiti and subway signs. It's a little depressing when I let myself think about it. I also miss the huge amount of personal growth that occured last year; I haven't lost any of what I learned about myself and Judaism since being here, but things have definitely slowed down.

Bottom line? I can't wait to go back. I have a Keep the Change account with my bank, and I think I'm going to call it the "Tracy-needs-some-aruchat-boker-and-amazing-scenery-and-the-feeling-of-Israel--so-I-should-save-this-money-for-my-plane-ticket" account. At this rate, it'll only take me 10 years to save up enough for a ticket!

In other very exciting news, I just found out that I am going to have a new cousin! A huge mazal tov to Whitney and Adam! I am so excited for you both (as long as you don't have the baby on one of the High Holy Days so I can sing at the bris, we'll be cool :))

Friday, March 13, 2009

For Once, A Happy Post!

A sign found yesterday on Broadway, adjacent to HUC-NYC. I found it to be hysterically funny...only in New York!

You know those times when you have so much going on that it seems impossible to try to narrow it down into one blog post, but you don't have the motivation to waste your lovely Sunday afternoon writing 2 or more? Yeah, that's where I am today.

Thank God March is here, and that it brought some happier times (and warmer temps!) February was not pretty, and I am SO GLAD it's in the past so I can concentrate on springtime! Of course, I had some help to get me through the dreary month of February...

This lovely little gem of a chocolate pizza from Max Brenner's, shared with Adam and his friend Dan when Adam was in town helping me to rid my apartment of mice. Chill out, guys...I had one piece and it was worth every single calorie!

A chocolate martini, the one alcoholic beverage I drank during the month of February...compared to my half-bottles of wine that I drank nearly every night before bedtime when adjusting to NYC this summer, I'd say I did pretty well last month.

Thank God for little brothers. Adam came up the night of Valentine's Day to help me tackle the mice problem (and we've been winning, thus far!) We got to spend almost a week together, and had a good time touring Chelsea Market, Times Square, and St Marks Place. I'm incredibly lucky to have a little brother who's as good to me as Adam is. Thanks, schmucky :)

I was also priviliged to sing in Lisa's senior recital on liturgical jazz music. This recital was truly one of the highlights of my scholastic month, and a wonderful getaway from my Nusach-heavy semester. Lisa (in the gold dress, obviously) did an amazing job, and the music was fun, beautiful and interesting. Pictured, from left to right: Lisa, Mary, me, Jaime, Josh.

So, that was Feburary. What's up for March?

More Recitals!
Last week, Arik gave his recital over the music of Moishe Oysher, which was incredibly entertaining and quite the spectacle. We were lucky to listen to Arik's amazing talent, along with the talents of several of the male cantorial faculty at HUC. Since we'd never really gotten to hear these chazzanim sing before, it was quite a thrill. I loved how the Yiddish music of this recital appealed to all of us wannabe cantors, and would so easily appeal to synagogue and even secular audiences. I'm excited to try to find some of Oysher's movies and learn more about him through his acting and chazzanut.

This week, I am participating in another recital based on portraying the Cantor as Educator. We're singing some really lovely pieces, and Zoe (the 5th year presenting the recital) is a doll to work with.

There are a few more recitals throughout the remainder of the semester, and I have to say that I have had so much fun watching and/or participating in them. They absolutely inspire me to begin thinking about my own recital (3 years from now...) and how much I am looking forward to putting so much time and energy into one specific topic.

Guitar Lessons!
Have I mentioned before that I'm taking guitar lessons this semester? It's a requirement of all HUC-trained cantors that we can learn how to play enough guitar to accompany ourselves on simple congregational tunes in front of a congregation. I'm taking lessons with my friend and rabbinical student colleage, Evan, and I am having a great time with it. Who knew I could actually learn to play guitar (considering my 2 failed attempts in college and after...) and actually enjoy it? I know about 10 chords thus far, and I am working on strumming and finger picking patterns. It's a good skill to have as a cantor (really, as any Jewish professional) so I'm excited to be working on it.

Student Placement
AKA, the bane of my existence. This is where things start to turn sour. As much as I've loved working at my congregation this year, I decided to bite the bullet and enter into student placement for a new congregation for next year. With the economy in the state it's in right now, many congregations have decided they don't need a student cantor anymore, therefore causing a shortage in jobs for next year. There are 20 students applying for roughly 12 positions, and everyone is applying for pretty much everything based solely on the fact that they need a job for next year. It's scary to leave a perfectly great job knowing that I might not have a job at all next year. However, I attended services this past Friday night at the congregation I'd really like to work for next year, and I realized that I need to take this risk, to leave what is stable and comfortable to find something that is going to push me, beat the hell out of me, and fulfill me musically. I probably won't get this particular job, based on my experience and the fact that so many incredibly talented people are also applying, but it's a risk I'm willing to take. Auditions/interviews are one week from today (eeeek!) so we'll see what happens.

What else is going on? I don't even know. It's been a crazy month of March, but a much happier one than I could have predicted a month ago. I'm looking forward to 3 more visits to South Bend, a visit from my favorite boys in the entire world, a trip home for the last part of Pesach, and whatever else will be thrown my way throughout the rest of the semester.

Hope you're all well and enjoying this introduction to springtime!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chag Purim Sameach!

Hi y'all...I'm sorry I haven't posted a real update in about a million years, but I'm hoping to do so this weekend. Until then, I wanted to share the Purim spiel video made by some of my 4th year rabbinic classmates. It highlights some of our favorite things about HUC-NYC, including the crazy rule that you have to be "buzzed up" to the 3rd floor library.

Keep an eye out for familiar faces...my favorite is rapper extraordinaire Cantor Benjie Schiller.

I hope you all had a wonderful Purim and life is good :)