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...