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.

1 comment:

Echad Ha'am said...

HUC. Interesting.

Growing up in the reform movement, I can tell you how great it was in many ways. But, it was undeniably hypocritical in its practices & beliefs. Like so many others I had questions which had no answers in Reform Judaism & thankfully had enough friends in other walks of Jewish life to make the connection to a Judaism still drawn to its roots. Judaism has so much to offer in terms of life lessons, community, and real direction through Torah and G-d. Unfortunately, HUC has lead millions of American Jews away from Torah and eventually away from any type of Judaism (just step foot on any college campus today to see so yourself). It has shown that watering down Judaism in order to fit into society sends the masses into assimilation. Now the money is walking away too.
The Reform Movement has been publicly and vehemently denying that it is not responsible for the huge rate of assimilation, intermarriage, and apathy in American Jewry. I have heard so many times that without Reform Judaism, Americans left with only traditional Judaism would simply walk away. But just look at any other Anglican community (the UK, Australia, and South Africa) which until recently have lacked a reform option and have much less assimilation than American. As was said in the book of "One People, Two Worlds", Reform Judaism will know when it has gone astray when it's people walk with their feet. Now they have walked with their feet and their pocketbooks as well. Today, the most secular Israeli knows more about their Judaism than most reform Jews (again compare most Jews on an American Campus with the Israeli counterparts).
But I am an optimist, and I think there are great potentials and solutions that could be made at this crossroads. Either the movement can continue moving away from traditional observance and chalacha of any sorts. Or those like yourself can lead the front from the inside out re-reforming the movement on an intelligent path back towards Torah Judaism. I am not a theologian. But whether one looks at an intellectually honest theological, practical, historical, or just logical analysis of Judaism they will see that traditional Torah Judaism (in whatever form: modern, litvish, Chasidic, etc.) has been the only form of Judaism to survive and grow to thick and thin. The choice is in your hands.