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!!