Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This week, my friend Jill and I were responsible for leading morning t'fillah at school. Though we only had 2 days of school this week, our task was mighty, especially on the last day of classes.

It was Yom Hazikaron, Israeli memorial day for fallen soliders and victims of terrorist attacks. Unlike the United States, Israel's memorial day is taken very seriously, and is a solemn and sad day for Israelis.

It was also the last day of classes for the year. One of HUC-NYC's traditions on the last day of class is to invite up all of the graduating cantorial, rabbinical and education students to say Kaddish D'rabbanan, a special prayer that is said at the completion of one's studies.

As you can imagine, it was quite a challenge to create a service that maintained the sanctity
of Yom Hazikaron and celebrated the success of our classmates. Jill and I worked tirelessly last week to create a service that was meaningful, beautiful, and memorable.

It just goes to show that hard work and thoughtfulness can pay off in a big way. Our service went over beautifully--we were able to mourn the losses of the State of Israel while still singing and dancing with our graduates. Nothing was compromised, everything was remembered, and our efforts majorly worked in our favor. I sang well (people were complementing me even today, a full day later, on the service) and Jill delivered her teachings and blessings to the graduates with gusto.

I was also excited to deliver my first iyun (teaching) to the community. Before we sang Mi Chamocha, I offered up these words:

The following words were taken from the diary of Alex Singer, a 25-year-old fallen solider, written one year before his death near the Israel-Lebanon border.

As I progress toward the course's end

I feel a pang of fear.

Today I felt such fear.
If the war comes,
When the war comes,

I will have to lead men to die.

But those men were not men a short time ago

Some don't even shave yet.

And I will have to have the calm power
to yell to them

or to whisper

Kadima (onwards).

I will have to have the calm power to step forward myself.

Just like Moses and the Israelites, Alex had a choice. Stay, and never know of the great miracles that might await him, or go and risk everything on the hope that eventually Israel would find freedom and peace. Unlike Moses and the Israelites, Alex was never able to witness his miracle. And yet, he pushed on, knowing that the miracle would come alive for us and countless others. Today, we sing for the miracle at the Red Sea, and the miracle that is yet to come, when young men and women will no longer need to give their lives for their country. Today, we sing for the miracle that is the Land of Israel.

I am proud of this service. Extremely proud. And honored that I was able to be a part of it.

Our t'fillah advisor, Cantor Benjie Schiller, said that we would look back on this service and be thankful for the opportunity to lead it. She was right. Not only did it feel good to lead such a powerful service, it felt good to stand confidently on the HUC bimah. After a rough semester and some rather embarrassing breakdowns at the bimah, I needed this t'fillah to regain my strength in my abilities. I'm hoping that that feeling of confidence will stay with me through comprehensive exams, when I need it the most.

We'll see!

There is so much stuff going on right now that I'd love to write about...maybe in between papers and/or comps cramming I can write about the college's current financial situation, ordination/investiture, comprehensive exams, summer plans, etc. Here's hoping!

BTW--if anyone knows of any summer job opportunities out there, please holler...this cantor wannabe needs a job!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Home Sweet Home

God I love the Midwest. So, so, so, so, sooooooooo much more than I love NYC.

It's so freeing to be back home and far far away from the world of public transit and rude people. It's refreshing to take a walk just for the hell of it without hurrying or being practically run over by New Yorkers who think they're more important than you are. It's lovely to remember that people around here are nice, no strings attached. I love this ability to finally let my guard down and relax a little. The awareness of feeling perfectly safe wherever I am is so comforting, and it's something I haven't felt since I was last here in January.

I've done a lot of cooking, which is a huge part of who I am and what I love (I'd probably be in culinary school if I hadn't chosen the cantorial school route.) I still don't feel comfy cooking in my apartment in Astoria, despite my best attempts to get over the mice that I still find on a semi-regular basis. I love the feeling of cooking healthy meals for myself and my family and enjoying the time I spend doing so. I've missed it dearly and hope to maybe muster up the courage to go back into the kitchen upon my return to NYC. We'll see.

I am 100% convinced that the Midwest is where I'm supposed to end up once I obtain my investiture. There's something about the ease and friendliness of this part of the country that is so much more ME. It's hard to imagine that I have to spend the next 3 years of my life living in a city that doesn't appreciate niceties or peaceful, easygoing people. I'd even be okay with Chicago or Milwakee or Indianapolis--I don't need to be back to St Louis. I just want to live in a city where I don't have to apologize for being a nice person. I'm done with the attitude I've had to develop in order to merely survive in NYC. It's so clearly not who I am, and I hate the feeling of walking around as someone I'm not merely to fit in to my surroundings.

Who am I kidding...I can't even fake an attitude like that. I guess that's why it ain't working so well for me.

3 more years and I'm outta that city quicker than you can say "Cantor Fishbein."

I get so excited when envisioning my office in my Midwestern synagogue, my Katchko books and Shireinu stacked neatly on a bookshelf while I make millions of photocopies for my volunteer choir and argue with the rabbi about what to sing for Friday night's service before settling in for an afternoon of B'nai Mitzvah students who probably haven't practiced since last week's lesson...


Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Boys

Every now and then, friends come into your life that totally change your life and your perspective on the world. For me, these friends are my boys, Mike and Joey.

Me, Mike and Joey at the top of the Empire State Building at midnight on a Wednesday night

We have an incredibly special and unique relationship in that we've never, ever lived in the same city or part of the country. Therefore, our get-togethers are always fun and special. We met almost 5 years ago when we sat at the same dinner table on a cruise ship to the Caribbean. We bonded immediately, and since then have traveled to see each other several times within the last five years. I've gone to visit them in Orange County, California, where they live, and they've come to see me in St Louis and now NYC, and our families even cruised to Alaska together a few summers ago. Our time together is incredibly precious to me and always ends too soon, but it's fun to look forward to upcoming adventures together and know that things will be exactly as they always are no matter how much time has passed.

M&J had never been to NYC before this week, so showing them around and discovering new things with them was incredibly fun and uplifting. I'm not the biggest fan of New York (I know, you'd never have guessed...) and being able to run around and see the city through their eyes was inspiring. I still don't love it, but now even little things will remind me of our time together and therefore, make me a little happier to be here.

We did all kinds of things, and a LOT of walking around and looking at the amazing architecture of the city. So often I ignore the beauty all around me--it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and run right past it on my way to the subway. We did a lot of touristy stuff that I'd never done before, including a Circle Line cruise, a trip to Ellis Island and Lady Liberty, and an elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building (which was done at midnight on the first night of Pesach...possibly one of the coolest Pesach experiences I've ever had--there's something about being on an 86th floor observatory in the cool night air that is very freeing and refreshing.) We also ate waaaaay too much good food (the boys love to eat...ok, so do I...) and had our first NYC celebrity sighting. Angela Landsbury was coming out of a show she'd just performed in, so we joined the crowd and started taking pictures.

In addition to running around, we took the time to have some amazing conversations about God and religion. I love talking about these things, especially with these guys whose religious views are somewhat skewed due to various life experiences. I love sharing my perspectives and listening to theirs, and we all open ourselves up to ideas we may not agree with or particularly care for. Nevertheless, it is discussions like these that stimulate and refresh my own Judaism, and remind me of why I chose to be a part of this sect of Judaism. After an intense semester, with a lot of disappointments and struggles, I needed to talk about God and why I chose to follow a Jewish lifestyle and career in such an open and loving environment.

Angela Landsbury! She's in the khaki coat.

NYC from the top of the Empire State Building

My boyfriends. It's true love for sure :)

I truly believe that every single, straight girl needs at least one good gay boyfriend to survive in this world. I'm lucky enough to have a pair of them who love and adore me like none other. And I kinda love them too :)

Thanks, guys, for a great you at Junior's at midnight for some latkes and red velvet!