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!

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