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.