Friday, July 23, 2010

My Theology of Pastoral Care

As one of our classroom assignments for CPE, we had to write a paper about how our theology has changed (if at all) from the beginning of the unit. We were each required to read aloud and lead a class discussion on our papers in class. These discussions were, not surprisingly, incredible. This is the paper I presented, showing not only how my relationship with God has changed, but also how I have grown into a Pastoral Care Giver over the last 8 weeks.

Prior to stepping into the Health Care Chaplaincy building on June 3, I honestly believed that CPE would be a program geared solely towards helping patients in a hospital. I came in prepared to deal with the emotions that are connected to the illnesses of my patients. I had no idea that the program would actually be focused on me as the Chaplain—my past experiences, my transference and/or counter-transference, my feelings in the present moment, and my own growth as both a Chaplain and a member of the clergy. As I sat in the chapel during that first hour of the program, I realized this summer was going to turn my life around in ways I never could have expected; I realized that in order to be the best, most effective Chaplain I could be towards others, I would have to come to terms with the hardships in my own life. I also came to learn that much of my relationship with God, which I’d worked so hard to foster since my troubling high school years, was going to be questioned all over again. The comfort and peace I’d found through singing God’s praises were both stripped away as I walked into the rooms of my patients, using only my words, experiences, and skills that I’m just now learning I really do possess.

As a cantorial student, I’ve always found my relationship to God to be most evident when Jewish texts are juxtaposed with melodies sung in a heartfelt, meaningful manner. I believe that through my own singing, or by listening to others sing around me, that God hears my truest, most deeply hidden thoughts and prayers. The music creates a pathway that connects my soul to God, and vice-versa. On the first day of CPE, when Bonita’s (our supervisor) very first sentence to me was that I would not be allowed to sing with my patients, I worried that I could not create the same sacred, important connections between the people in the hospital rooms and God. Bonita said to us later that day that “you are enough” and while I believed her, a part of me felt concerned that by cutting off such a deeply rooted part of my spirituality, I would not be able to be me—and therefore—I would not be enough. My own insecurities were thrust into the limelight by taking away the one thing that has always made me the feel most comfortable around people. My sense of authority—clerical, pastoral or otherwise—was challenged in a way it had never been challenged before, and my fears led me to believe I was not the Chaplain I wanted to be.

Along with the insecurities derived from turning off my inner music box, I was also hit hard by the harsh realities of life as a pastoral care giver. In listening to my patients’ stories, I had a difficult time setting aside the personal issues that these stories brought up in me. It became clear from the beginning that the inner conflicts I had worked so hard to either resolve or put on the shelf were not going to stay put so easily. These issues were made even clearer because of the loneliness I so often experience living alone in New York City. I began to question God’s purpose in bringing these concerns into my life once again at this moment, when I was trying my best to not only bring comfort to my patients, but also to survive in a city I am not comfortable living in. The questions grew stronger and more intense as I learned about my mother’s prescription for dialysis, which was exactly what I prayed she would NOT have to eventually endure. It all seemed like a cruel joke, as though God was in some ways laughing at me, saying “I had you fooled, Fishbein!” My own anger and questioning towards God had me questioning the use and purpose of prayer within my patient visits; it seemed hypocritical of me to offer words of prayer when I myself felt as though many of my own prayers went unheard. Though I offered to pray with most of my patients, the prayers felt inauthentic, as if God had never entered the room for either the patient or myself.

It was only a couple of weeks ago when I had 2 major revelations that changed my chaplaincy and relationship with God for the better. First, I began finding time everyday to pray to God on behalf of myself. Despite my anger, I tried to keep the lines of communication open, asking the Divine to grant me the calm presence and peace of mind I was desperately needing. I found that praying for myself allowed me to feel less angry, to more easily leave my problems in a “box” by the patients’ door, and to listen with greater intent and ability to the stories and meta-stories of my patients. Second, I realized the gift that comes with negative experiences in the life of the Chaplain. By living through a vast array of painful occurrences, I had a wealth of spiritual and intellectual commonalities with my patients. While I can not exactly understand what they themselves are going through in their hospital bed, I can understand some of the feelings and spiritual dynamics involved with serious medical conditions. By allowing myself to use my past experiences in “use of self” moments with patients, a whole new world of personal and spiritual connection was created. By exploring and utilizing these revelations, I have been able to more clearly see how my baggage is, in part at least, God’s gift to me as a Chaplain. My personal struggles allow my patients and I to feel comfortable around each other, and give me the ability to bring God into the room and (hopefully) keep God’s presence in the room once I’ve left. These revelations also, somewhat strangely, help me to feel a bit less alone in New York City; just as my patients relate in some ways to my past experiences, I relate in some ways to their present ones. Those relations—where we as strangers can connect as people—are the places in which God is truly the most present. In many ways, those connections have the same power as the combination of a beautiful melody with a significant text. It is through this realization that I became aware of the fact that I, even without music and singing, am enough as a Chaplain.

Throughout the summer, there has been one text that has run through my mind over and over again in relation to my work as a Chaplain. The following words sum up the evolution of my relationship with God, and with Chaplaincy, this summer:

I wait for God, I seek God’s presence, hoping for an answer to prayer. In the midst of the people, O God, I extol Your might and celebrate Your deeds in joyous song.

We must purify our hearts, and the Eternal One will answer our prayer.

Eternal God, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your glory. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable to You, O God, my Rock and my Redeemer.

-Ochila La’El, Gates of Repentence page 411

As I began this process, I believed that the best way I could pray to God on behalf of both the people I serve AND myself was to pray through song. Through the song, I sought and felt God’s presence with me. I have learned, however, that in order to be an efficient and genuine Chaplain, I need to wrestle with God on occasion, questioning and even doubting God’s role in the events of my life. Through my struggles this summer, I have become more in touch with myself and my role as a pastoral care giver. I have opened myself up to new relationships with others, which have led to new and exciting pathways to the Divine. Now, as I slowly gain confidence in my pastoral skills, I pray that the words we speak together reach God in the way I feel they do. I pray that God continue to give both myself and the patients I work with the courage to say what is true, and the ability to continue to realize God’s presence within human connections.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

CPE: First Reflections

Summer 2010 is going to be intense.

I've just finished my first full week of my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) summer program, taking place at Beth Israel Medical Center in downtown NYC. This week has been pretty tame in comparison to what's yet to come, since we haven't officially began working in the hospital yet, though already we're learning a lot about pastoral care and counseling. Moreso, however, each member of my group has learned a tremendous amount about each other and ourselves, and how we can apply all of these new personal discoveries to the work we'll be doing with our patients.

This particular program is comprised of people of all religions, working together to learn how to become multi-faith hospital chaplains. We administer pastoral care to all people, whether or not they share our religious beliefs. Because of this, I have learned a tremendous amount about the faiths of my group members. My group is comprised of 3 HUC students (myself and 2 rabbinical students--one from my class, one from the class above me), 1 JTS student, 3 Episcopalian students studying to become priests, and one Muslim imam. It has been a truly wonderful experience to open my eyes to the customs and beliefs of my classmates (both Jewish AND non-Jewish) and to share my own Jewish customs with others. I already feel more sensitive to the spiritual needs of my patients because of what I've learned from my classmates. This experience has also sparked a previously unrecognized interest in interfaith work, both inside and outside the world of hospital chaplaincy. I continue to be amazed at the commonalities between all of us; our beliefs are different, but all of us have the same goal: to help our congregants connect to God in whatever ways our jobs allow us to. It's a very powerful realization that has given me a huge amount of respect for clergy people across the board.

Like I said, we haven't begun our work with patients as of yet. So far, the program has focused on the kinds visits we're meant to have. Pastoral care is so very different than a visit from a doctor, nurse, family member, or clergy person. These people are meant to provide care from a glass-half-full perspective; they are the patients' cheerleaders and positive-thinkers. They are the ones who tell the patients that they are going to beat their cancer or disease and feel better very soon. Pastoral care focuses on a glass-half-empty perspective, giving the people we see a chance to talk about their fears, their pains, their heartaches. Our job is to allow them to realize and externalize the frustrations that come with being at the hospital, and the disappointments and anguish that accompany terminal illness and death. Once they've done that to whatever degree our 15-20 minute visits will allow, we offer them a custom-made, spontaneous prayer to God that offers relief from pain and suffering and whatever comforts God is able to provide.

Obviously the process is difficult and frightening for both the patient and the chaplain. Confronting one's most substantial regrets, fears, weaknesses, and feelings is never easy. To demonstrate this to us on a level we can understand (since none of us, thank God, is near-death), we've had to participate in a lot of exercises to draw out some of our most hidden secrets and anxieties. This week has been emotionally exhausting in that sense, but I really have come to understand a little bit of how our patients feel as they go through this experience. I've thought a lot about my life, particularly the down times, as I've gone through this process. It's not fun and it feels never ending, but it's important to me as a chaplain and as a human being. It has also, even in just one week, helped me to connect to God in a way I never have before. In some sense, I feel God's presence with me in a very different way--one that is difficult for me to explain in words, but is easy for me to feel. I look forward to exploring this newfound relationship as the weeks go by and I begin to work with my patients.

We officially begin working with patients on Monday. Yesterday, we were assigned our units for the hospital (Beth Israel is too large for everyone to cover the whole hospital without confusion, so we're each assigned specific sections of the hospital.) As of now, I'll be working in Cardiology and Orthopedics, specifically patients in the Head and Neck division. I will also be assigned one more unit, which I am hoping will be either Bariatrics OR the Eating Disorders division of the Psych ward. I haven't talked much about my senior thesis (another topic for another blog), but I'm thinking that some work with patients with eating disorders or food issues would be not only helpful for my thesis topic, but cathartic for me on my weight-loss journey. If I'm not assigned one of these areas, I'll probably work with patients in General Surgery as my third unit.

To say I'm excited about this summer would be a complete lie. I'm TERRIFIED of what I will experience in the next 10 weeks. It's scary to be the person to facilitate discussions of death and pain and loss, especially in those moments where you know that you won't have the right answers or words of comfort. However, I've already learned that this work is the true definition of holy work. I might not have the right answers, but I will have the power to bring God's presence into the life of someone who needs it more than anything. It's a pretty amazing and powerful thought, and a job that I'm already feeling honored to partake in.

In closing, I want to share an experience I had with my group on Thursday. We were taking the grand tour of Beth Israel Medical Center and stopped at the ICU to meet some of the staff there. The rabbi who was leading us on our tour was asked if he would lead a prayer for a patient who was being taken off the ventilator. The patient was not Jewish, so he asked the Episcopalians in our group if any of them might be interested in leading the prayer. One of them bravely, without hesitation, said yes. He checked with the family to see if they'd rather have a rabbi or a Christian student-chaplain, and the family requested my classmate. We watched her courageously enter the room and gather the family members. We couldn't hear the words she offered, but all of us silently listened and prayed along with her. She came out of the room, emotional and a bit shaken, and said that she knew she'd made a powerful difference in that family's life. We were all kvelling over her strength and courage as we felt God's presence all over the ICU, surrounding both her patient and all of us. It was, by far, one of the holiest experiences I have ever been blessed to be a part of.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Student Cantor Makes Headlines

OK, maybe not headlines. But she WAS chosen to be interviewed by the York Daily Record, the local newspaper of her student congregation in York, PA. This is probably as close to fame as I'll ever get :)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

In Loving Memory of John Joe Kuriger, Senior

John, thank you for being my first accompanist and providing Temple Israel with such beautiful music for so many years. Thank you for giving me strength in the scary moments in life and on the bimah. Thank you for always making me laugh and crying with me when I needed to cry. Thank you for your constant love and support, for your jokes and your brutal honesty, and for being such a special person in my life.

While I haven't quite figured out how to forgive God for taking you away so soon, I know for sure that I am blessed to have known and loved you. I will love and miss you always. May your memory always be for a blessing.

John Kuriger, me, and Cantor Linda Blumenthal after my Junior Recital at the University of Missouri, April 2004.

I'm forever sorry that I didn't get to say goodbye, and even more sorry that I never told you how much I loved you. I hope you know that now.

Semester in Review

Are you getting tired of reading about how sorry I am that I haven't posted in weeks (or in this case, months?) Friends, it's been a very busy end of the semester. I am exhausted and feeling somewhat like HUC has sucked every last ounce of my soul out of my body, but I am still standing.

So much has happened this semester. I could spend this post talking about how much I learned in my Intro to Midrash class (even with it's treacherous and somewhat self-defeating final exam) or how much joy I've experienced through my pulpit work in the last couple of months. I could also talk about how I freaked out during my guitar final--literally running out of the room in tears--or how I worked so hard on the Hinini I had to sing for comps and then completely butchered it in the moment. I could talk about the wonderful relationship I've formed with my rabbinic mentor in York, or how I let a congregant talk me into doing a shot of Wild Turkey at a Bar Mitzvah party last week.

It's been a roller coaster of a semester, clearly.

In truth, however, I don't want to talk about school or work. Why? Because that's ALL I've talked about this year. It's all I've lived and done this year. Somewhere in the process of becoming a cantor, I've lost so many other parts of myself. I've forgotten who TRACY is. I've forgotten what it feels like to have fun and enjoy my family, my friends, and my life outside of HUC and the synagogue world. I've even lost my love of blogging and sharing my life with this wonderful community of people who are actually interested in the life and times of a cantor in training. I HATE ALL OF THIS.

This summer, I want to reconnect with myself. I want to remember who I am and what I love outside of the Jewish community. I want to do fun things, like go on dates and explore this crazy city that I've been living in for 2 years without ever really exploring. My goal is to learn more about the things that make me happy, and to welcome as much love and joy into my life as possible.

I'm in the process of creating a list of things that bring me utter joy and happiness. I'm keeping the list private for now, but I will say that those of you who are still with me, after 3 years of blogging (!!!) and my many hiatus' as of late, are truly a blessing in my life. YOU make me happy. Thank you for that.

Now I'm curious: what makes you happy?

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Whirlwind Semester

Rabbi Jeff and I, dressed as Yentes for our "Megillah on the Roof" Purim Schpiel. Isn't he a pretty woman? :)

Cantor Fishbein leading the singing of the 4 Questions during our Passover model-seder

Hello friends! I know it's been a long time since I've last updated. As my BFF Rachel says, you can tell I've been busy by the lack of updates to the blog. It's true--life has been INSANE the last few weeks.

This semester is very academically intense; lots of reading, writing, studying, translating, memorizing, etc. I'm taking wonderfully fulfilling classes, such as Liturgy with Dr. Larry Hoffmann (who wrote this very famous, useful liturgical encyclopedia series called My People's Prayerbook) and Midrash with Dr. Norman Cohen, former provost of HUC. Both classes are totally mind-blowing and I'm learning a TON, but they along with my other courses make this semester very heavy with work and responsibilities. I'm also taking classes in the history of Jewish education, contemporary Shabbat repertoire, Rosh Hashanah nusach, the history of the cantorate, and guitar lessons. Yep, I'm a busy girl. Sleep has not really been on the schedule for the semester.

As exciting as classes are right now, my real focus and love has been towards my student pulpit work. Jeff, my rabbinic mentor, and I have worked hard the last 8 months to establish and maintain a trustworthy, professional relationship. Now that we've established that trust, my responsibilities have doubled, giving me a TON of truly wonderful experiences under my belt.

For example, the month of March was Jewish Music Month for TBI (why it was the month of March, I have no idea...) Naturally, we had a lot of special music-related programming taking place over the course of my 2 visits with TBI throughout the month. On my first visit, I gave a Sermon-In-Song, discussing how so-called "traditional" melodies are not really traditional. I talked about pieces such as Lewandowski's Kiddush (and sang the actual Kiddush found in Lewandowski's Out of Print Classic "Kol Rinnah u'T'fillah", which is slightly different from the version most of us know), Goldfarb's Shalom Aleichem, and Nurit Hirsh's Oseh Shalom. The congregation was SO EXCITED, and several people commented afterwards about how they didn't realize the cantor was allowed to speak during services. Yep, the cantor can indeed speak during services! The next week we had a special commemoration for our organist, who's served the congregation for 25 years. Since the celebration was in the place of a sermon, I spoke about various pieces of music within the liturgy as they occurred throughout the service. I even took the opportunity to introduce the idea and the melodies of traditional nusach into the service. I'm not sure the congregation really understood or particularly enjoyed that part, but I'm glad I was able to give them a taste of traditional worship (and I hope to incorporate these melodies into the service as often as I can; I'm hoping it'll be easier now that they've been introduced...we'll see!)

I've also been playing within the realm of adult education, something I've never really experienced until this year. Every Saturday morning when there is no B'nai Mitzvah, the rabbi teaches a Talmud class for adult learners. He graciously offered me 3 Saturday mornings this semester to teach classes on Jewish music, which I jumped at the chance to do. My first 2 Saturday mornings were a series on "What Makes Jewish Music Jewish?", giving my congregants small tastes of various styles and genres of Jewish music. My hope was to open their eyes and ears to the many different uses of music both inside and out of the synagogue. It was a wonderful series, which sparked so many different conversations about the role of Jewish music and the congregants' specific likes and dislikes. They LOVED our time together and requested more, so I guess that means I was doing something right! :) On my last adult ed class, we learned about the Ernest Bloch Sacred Service, which (in my humble opinion) is one of the most important pieces of Jewish music ever written. Out of the 12 people who attended the class that morning, 11 of them had never heard of the piece...which is exactly the reason I wanted to teach it. Many of the class members were surprised to learn something of this musical caliber even existed within the Jewish world, and many compared it to Handel's Messiah in importance and musical/religious significance. I was excited to see their excitement and appreciation for the piece, and very moved by their insightful comments and insights on the piece.

I've also been working with the Sisterhood, helping them to prepare their Sisterhood Shabbat on April 23. They traditionally have a small Sisterhood choir that performs, so we've been working on putting together a beautiful service of music written by women composers. We have 12 members in the choir, and they sing with so much enthusiasm and spirit. It's been incredibly fun for me to work with them and to hear the progress they've made from visit to visit. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this choir, traditionally used only once a year for this service, can expand and become the temple's official volunteer choir. They'd have to accept some men into the choir, which many of them are fine with, and they'd have to commit to regular rehearsals and performance opportunities. We'll see what happens, but I'm really, REALLY hoping we can get something like this started.

Oh yeah, we also had Purim (including a Megillah on the Roof Purim schpiel for the entire religious school) and a special student-led Pesach model-seder run by yours truly. It's been a VERY BUSY couple of months at TBI, but I've loved every second of my time there and can't wait to continue into next year.

Last Saturday night as I was laying in bed after a particularly busy day in York, an overwhelming feeling of contentment ran through me. In that moment, I remembered just how lucky I am not only to be doing exactly what I love, but doing it in such a wonderful community. It's a complete and utter joy to be the student cantor of this congregation, even on top of the stresses and anxieties that come with balancing the job with school and my personal life (or lack thereof, lately.)

I'm a lucky girl. A very, very lucky, fulfilled, and inspired girl.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Summer Plans

For once in my life, I know what my summer plans are more than 2 weeks before they actually begin. For those of you who know me well and know I often leave plans until the last possible second (procrastinator, anyone?) you know this is a very big deal.

At my initial interview with HUC, Aunt Diane and I sat in the office of the Director of Admissions, where she told us about all of the opportunities that awaited me if/when I became an HUC student. One of those opportunities was a summer of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), where I'd be spending my summer as a chaplain in one of New York City's many hospitals. As soon as she mentioned this program, my ears perked up and I knew this was an opportunity I'd want to take advantage of. As clergy, we'll spend our days visiting congregants in hospitals and working with families of very sick people. We need to know the right things to say (or not say) and the proper ways to act in very tough situations. We need to be prepared for the emotional and physical turmoil an illness can bring to a person and/or a family and how to best bring them comfort and peace. As someone who finds it incredibly difficult to find the right words to say and the correct ways to reach out to people in these conditions, I knew that CPE would be a good program for me to participate in.

I knew since the beginning of the year that this summer was the right one for CPE. I feel more at peace with New York City and my place as a cantorial student, and I'm not longing for St Louis the way I used to. After completing the LONG and somewhat painful application, which included forms, references, essays, and reminders (the office buried my application away somewhere and lost it--had I not called them after winter break, I never would have had an interview), I finally landed an interview with the hospital I most wanted to work for.

Last week, I finally went to be interviewed; I had my professional dress, heels and makeup on, and my resume in hand. I was prepared to answer personal questions (they need to know you're emotionally stable to handle working with terminally-ill patients) and readyed myself for a thought-provoking, challenging interview. Long story short, the actual face-to-face interview never happened. I talked to the supervisor on the phone in the office lobby and we both agreed that I was eligible and ready for the program and that an in-person interview wasn't necessary. Several of my classmates participated in this same program last summer, so they'd already filled me in on the program and answered a lot of my questions.

I'll be spending my summer working at Beth Israel Medical Center, located near Union Square. I'm nervous for CPE and I know it will be a challenging, heartbreaking, eye-opening experience. None of my colleagues who have participated in the program have come away disappointed or empty-handed, though, so I know it'll be a worthwhile summer program.

I'll be chronicling as much of the experience as I'm allowed via the blog; for privacy reasons, I'm sure I won't be allowed to go into detail about any of my patients. I will, however, try to blog about how the experience effect me as a person and as a cantor. I'm interested to see where the road takes me emotionally, academically, and spiritually.

Without a doubt, this summer is going to be a wonderful challenge. I'll miss being in St Louis with my family, friends, and crazy little dog, but I look forward to summer in the city--I've heard it's fantastic!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

If You're Interested... are BlogHUC posts from December and January. Enjoy!

Yay for Cousins!

After 4 months of waiting and feeling like I was the only person on the planet who hadn't met baby Toby, I met up with cousins Whitney and Adam and the Tob-ster for lunch in Baltimore a few weeks ago. How cute is this baby? I mean really, just look at those EYES! Those CHEEKS! And he has the softest baby head. So sweet.

Baby Toby!

Happy family

Cousins! Toby looks so excited :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Practicum #3

Many thanks to Faith for this great picture of Cantor Jack Mendelson and I, taken right after the practicum was over.

It's hard to believe that practicum #3 has not only come and gone, but was already 2 1/2 weeks ago. Time flies when you're jumping for joy that the damn thing is over with and you can return to normal life again.

Out of all of my practica thus far, this practicum, which covered the traditional liturgy and nusach for Tefilat Geshem, was easily the most challenging. Tefilat Geshem is a series of prayers and liturgical poems, said just before Simchat Torah, in which we remind God to send rain to make this harvest season a successful one. Growing up in my largely Classical Reform congregation in St Louis, Tefilat Geshem was never even a figment of my (or the rabbis' or cantor's) imagination. I never even knew there was such a thing as a prayer for rain until I watched my colleague give this same practicum last year (while simultaneously praying I would never be stuck with this topic...just goes to show that God interprets prayer in God's own way...)

There were all sorts of emotions that filled my body the day I opened my email to discover what the practicum topic would be. At first glance, I wanted to throw my computer out the window. At second glance, I cried. Yes, I cried. Over a practicum. Thinking back, I read the email at a time when I was frustrated with both nusach and the idea of impractical practica (practica that have little to no application in the real world.) I didn't understand why the faculty would assign ME this practicum, knowing my aggravation with these things and knowing that I was struggling so much with school. Though I didn't contest the assignment, I thought A LOT about it--probably too much.

I started working on this program the day after practicum #2. Thank God I had a wonderful coach who also happens to teach the class on the nusach of Geshem. From day one, I had my entire program planned out and I knew exactly what music I needed to learn. I quickly got to work learning the many melismatic passages and new liturgy. The music was hard, of course, but it was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the many, many struggles I faced with this practicum.

For whatever reason, I got it into my head that this music was written for and designed to be sung by a man. Therefore, I began singing it as such, singing the pieces bigger than they needed to be. Those of you who know music and my history with singing know that I have a history of singing sharp; this is usually due to working too hard to make too much sound. I have had to learn how to relax enough to bring my voice back into the correct intonation which has NOT been easy or fun. Well, as I pushed my voice to be bigger and more manly than it is, my pitch slowly started to rise once again. There was a period of about a month where I couldn't sing this music without sharpening, sometimes going a full semitone higher than I should have been. It was incredibly frustrating. Thank God I had an amazing voice teacher who had the patience, persistence, and vocal expertise to help me get my pitch where it needed to be.

Another frustration: This liturgy consists of poems written about biblical men and their miraculous experiences with rain and water. It didn't make sense for me, as a liberal Jewish woman who knows that plenty of WOMEN in the bible also have miraculous experiences with water, to be singing these poems strictly about men. Combine this with the above issue of singing like a man, and it became hard to make sense of this practicum. Trying to sing music written for men and about men as a woman was confusing. It was the first time I've ever felt as though I was a woman trying to do a man's job--I've never had that kind of experience in the cantorate before.

The whole time I was preparing for this practicum, I felt as though I never really had a clue as to what was going on. I felt very little connection to the music or the text, and wasn't sure how I could fit this into my Reform cantorate. I'm still not sure about that last point, honestly, though I'd love to find ways to introduce it in ways my congregants can understanding. In order to do that, however, I need to continue to educate myself about Geshem and it's importance within Judaism.

In spite of all of this, I am happy to say the practicum was a rousing success. I sang well, with confidence (hey, fake confidence is better than no confidence at all!) and for the most part, in tune. It felt good to succeed in spite of the personal and vocal struggles that never seemed to end, and showed me that I can indeed tackle difficult nusach. The faculty seemed pleased and the feedback I received was helpful.

Overall, I'm glad the practicum was successful, but I'm especially glad it's over. I look forward to practicum #4 (the last one!), which will hopefully be a concert-style program on the music of a composer or a time period of Jewish music.

Many thanks to everyone who helped to keep me sane throughout this process. I appreciate you all!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Winter Break #3

I am writing this post from a Starbucks located in St Louis Lambert Airport, and thanking God for Google's gift of free airport internet for the holidays. Thanks, Google!

This break has been an interesting one. I've done a lot of wonderful things and played catch up with many of the important people in my life. I visited California and returned to St Louis for the first time since August. I had time to read books, watch movies, and spend quality time with people I love.

I was able to take off my "Cantor Face" for the first time since August.

I didn't realize just how huge or peculiar that would feel, or the incredible distinction I created for myself between "Cantor Fishbein", "Cantorial Student Tracy" and "Tracy". I haven't yet discovered how to combine my three glaringly different lives into one complete person, someone whose life is one neat package comprised of several different parts. It's difficult to be "Tracy" when I feel like I have to be "Cantor Fishbein" and so on.

But, at the same time, it's difficult to fully detach one from the other. I HAVE to be myself in my career, it comes with the job description.

This sense of confusion must be a part of growing up and growing into myself both as a person and as a professional. To be able to let go of the labels and feel completely myself despite where I am or what I am doing is something I pray will come in time. Maybe it's already happening, and I have to notice the distinctions before I can continue to grow.


This break is distinctly different in that I came home in a time of huge personal growth and professional successes, only to be met by many who are struggling for a variety of reasons. It isn't easy to be excited about and/or want to share my accomplishments with those who are fighting so hard. It's incredibly painful to watch people I love fall so heavily and difficult to find the right words to bring comfort or calm without sounding condescending. I learned over the course of these 2.5 weeks that sometimes the best thing you can do is to be fully present and just LISTEN. I'm beginning to learn that at certain times, not saying anything at all is the best thing you can do to help the people you love. Maybe this lesson a good intro to the hospital chaplaincy program I hope to participate in this summer, and something to remember forever as a clergy person.


I am by no means complaining. It's been a very interesting and life-changing experience to come back home and realize all of this important stuff.

I pray that 2010 brings a year of peace, fulfillment, and security to all of us, along with a healthy dose of happiness and laughter.

Ken Y'hi Ratzon.