Monday, October 26, 2009

BlogHUC #2

This may look familiar to those of you who read this blog on a regular basis, but here is the October entry on BlogHUC. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Garecht Outreach Institute 2009

This past week, our 3rd year class participated in the annual Garecht Outreach Institute, a 2-day seminar/retreat that deals with the issues of conversion in Reform Judaism. This seminar is offered for 3rd year students at each campus; the NY crew traveled to this amazing mansion turned hotel and conference center in Glen Cove, Long Island.

This is where we stayed:

Come on, Garecht, couldn't you have scrounged up the funds to treat us to something better than Econolodge? (I'm kidding, in case there was any question...) It was like a cruise ship; indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, libraries, a gym, and FOOD. Food to our hearts' content--beautiful buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners, snacks and drinks available 24/7, cocktail hours--it was unbelievable.

Our days were filled with interesting lectures and breakout sessions about the history of conversion in Judaism, and how a Jewish professional handles a congregant or outsider who is interested in becoming a Reform Jew. We looked at Halachah (Jewish Law) and other traditional texts to understand exactly what needs to happen before one can become a Jew (it doesn't happen overnight...) as well as current texts put out by the CCAR and URJ about the modern-day requirements regarding the education of one who is looking to convert. There was also much discussion about ways Jewish leaders and congregants can reach out to these people who are looking to join the Jewish faith, and how to integrate "new Jews" into an existing Jewish community once they've converted. On the last day, we had some role-playing exercises where we played the parts of potential converts and Jewish clergy. I played the part of "Vicky the lesbian Lutheran who needed to convert before her civil union with her fiance Charla in exactly 7 months." Twas great fun.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this seminar was a panel discussion on conversion from the perspective of the convert. We had 6 Jews-by-choice share their conversion stories with us and telling us the reasons why they chose to convert, their feelings during the actual conversion process, and their experiences trying to mainstream into their congregations. It was fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, and inspiring to hear the reasons behind their decisions and the sacrifices they had to make to find their place in the Jewish world.

Many of us were in charge of planning various t'fillot for our time together. My classmates Daniel and Vicky and I were in charge of Thursday morning t'fillah. I must say we planned a beautiful and memorable service, including Torah readings and study and a lovely d'var Torah by our classmate Leora.

Aliyah for rabbinical students during our Thursday morning service

There was, of course, plenty of time to explore the incredibly gorgeous grounds of this hotel. Autumn in New York really is everything they say it is around this part of the state. The trees were lush and beautifully colored, the air was cool and refreshing, and fallen leaves, acorns, chestnuts and crab apples crunched under our feet. We had some fun taking a walk after lunch on Thursday, of course stopping for some fun pictures.

Totally beautiful. We would have been willing to move HUC to Glen Cove...we still would be, actually...

Lyle wanted a new JDate picture. I suggested he take on surrounded by beautiful women to suggest that he was such the ladies' man. Yeah, right. Love ya, Ly-Guy!

Sitting in the shade of a HUGE Chestnut tree

For me personally, this seminar really got me thinking about my own family and the ways that conversion has effected it. For those of you who don't know, my dad's younger brother converted to Christianity when he was around my age. I've always felt a tinge of sadness about this, wondering why Judaism wasn't for him. My uncle and his family are religious Christians (and wonderful people, just for the record) and because of this, there has always been a bit of an uncomfortable religious divide within our family. This divide has become more and more apparent since I've been in in cantorial school and developed my own strong opinions on why Judaism makes so much sense in my life.

Truth be told, there are a lot of things I don't understand or agree with in Christianity, and I will always be a little heartbroken about my uncle's decision. However, after this seminar, I at least understand what he had to go through to accept his new identity and be accepted within a new religion.

I realize after this experience how much I want to attempt to bridge this gap in our family, for the sake of myself and my entire family. I'm hoping I can find the strength to create dialogue between us that puts us both on the same page, where we at least understand each other's reasons for believing what we believe. It's a tall order and not one that can be filled overnight, but I am hopeful that in time and with patience, we can learn to create comfort for everyone within our family.

For the record, the feelings expressed in that last bit of the post are my own and do not necessarily represent feelings within my entire family. To these family members: if I have hurt or offended you with my honesty, I am truly sorry.

Monday, October 19, 2009


As I was riding the train home tonight, I kept thinking about the fact that I had to be living in this city, far away from my family, unable to go home to celebrate my cousin's wedding with the rest of my dad's family. If only I had more money to have gone home, or was able to go to the Cincinnati campus so I could drive home for a weekend. Poor, poor me. It had been my stream of thought that I hadn't been able to shake all weekend long.

Like normal, the train arrived at my stop and I wheeled my heavy rolly-backpack off the train and down the steps. Along the way, the weight shifted and the bag turned over so the wheels were facing up. "Damn it!" I said a little too loudly as I struggled to get it back into position so I could go home after a long day.

Upon witnessing this, a homeless man sweetly looked at me and said, "I wish I had that much stuff to lug around" and turned and walked away, not asking for money or food. I stood still for a moment in shock before continuing on my way.

Who am I to complain about my incredibly rich, satisfying life?

It's moments like this when I remember that malachim, God's messengers, really are all around us--and they all have something to teach.

Another New Cousin

My ridiculously good-looking family: Uncle Rob, Aunt Nancy, Kelly, Bill, Julie, Amy

Congratulations to my cousin Kelly on her marriage to her now-husband, Bill this past Saturday. Best wishes for a long and happy life together. I wish so badly I could have been there to celebrate with all of you--from what I heard it was a beautiful and rockin' party!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


All dolled up for my first weekend at my new congregation

Y'all, this girl is TI-YURD.

Let me tell you, it has been a hectic few weeks around here. Thus, no updates. I appreciate those who've asked me to post, but I just haven't had time to write anything. Between my new job in York and all of the planning and meetings and such for that, teaching B'nai Mitzvah and my 2 private students, planning services for school (I'm leading t'fillah the week of October 24,) working out some necessary issues with one of my classmates whom I love very much, and oh yeah--SCHOOL--I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

It's funny how last year I complained about doing too little at my congregation and not really feeling like the 'Cantor.' Well, now I'm working with a congregation who loves treating me as 'Cantor' and therefore has certain professional and musical expectations that I am supposed to follow. Everything I've done for my congregation has been wonderful and full of fantastic learning experiences, but I'm coming to realize that serving a congregation is hard work, both on the bimah and off.

I guess the saying "Be careful what you wish for" applies for me right now.

Please don't get me wrong. I am incredibly grateful and honored to serve this congregation and have these opportunities to actually BE the cantor. The people that I work with are nothing short of lovely, appreciative, and excited that I'm there. The joys of this job fiercely outnumber the frustrations.

They welcomed me right off the bat with this adorable (and delicious) cake. Special thanks to Shelley, the rab's wife, for snagging me a piece while I was chatted up by my fabulous congregants

The sanctuary of Temple Beth IsraelBrown's Orchards, a beautiful apple orchard just outside of York. The rabbi and his family took me apple picking the weekend before Yom Kippur. It is so beautiful, and the apples are to-die!

The truth is that even since birth I've been a little resistant to change. I love to tell the story of how I was brought into this world that so beautifully illustrates this point. I was due to be brought into this world on July 12, 1982. For medical reasons, my mom's labor was induced on July 6. I was born 11 days later, on July 17. Clearly, even the doctors couldn't force me out of the womb until I was ready. Eventually, I came around (obviously,) but I took my own sweet time doing so. The same applies in my life even now--it takes me a great deal of time to adjust to new settings and events. As great as the opportunity may be, I sometimes need to wait it out to feel truly comfortable. Anyone who's followed my blog for the last 2+ years knows this about me. It took me time to learn to love Israel, and I'm only just now beginning to enjoy New York. I know that I'll learn to love this job and my new, even crazier schedule--it's just going to take a few more weeks.

From the church across the street from the synagogue. The rabbi is good friends with the Pastor, clearly :)

I had some special visitors for Rosh Hashanah: From left to right: Uncle Stevie, mom, me Adam, Aunt Bonnie

The beautiful city of Baltimore, located 45 minutes from York. Some of my congregants took me for dinner in Little Italy--we ate amazing food, topped off with eclairs the size of a Chipotle burrito--I ate 2 bites, don't worry.

I'm using this weekend to really relax, take some time for myself, my friends and my family, and get plenty of rest for the remainder of the semester, which looks like it will be a marathon until the end. So far, I've enjoyed a voice lesson, lunch with a friend (hi Leslie and Mama Niren!), a wonderful nap, some roasted pumpkin (best shabbat dinner EVER), a trip to the Museum of Modern Art, and catching up on Private Practice and Glee. It's been a beautiful weekend.

So, this post didn't turn out exactly the way I'd planned, but it does give you a glimpse into my life right now. Really, I've had a great month, working for a congregation that respects me and feeling satisfied and fulfilled at school. Like I said, a little more time to settle in will help with the exhaustion and overwhelm, and I'm confident I'll eventually fall into a groove.

Late-breaking news (as of 15 minutes ago)--I will be in California December 18-24, and in STL December 24-January 3. Mark your calendars because I want to see you!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My New Cousin

Welcome to the world, Toby Rush Aaronson!
Born September 23, 2009
Mazal tov Whitney, Adam, Aunt Di and Uncle H, and the entire Sanger and Aaronson families.
We love you!