Friday, December 3, 2010

What a difference a year makes...

... one year ago today, I spent the evening in my ulpan class, trying so hard to learn enough Hebrew to get myself to Israel. And Ebin, dear sweet Ebin, took me out to dinner for my birthday at one of our favorite Upper West Side haunts. He gave me my first right-to-left opening CD (read: it came from Israel); I'm actually listening to it now, as I do often on Fridays before shabbat.

A few days later, a group of friends, some quite old and others deceptively new, gathered at the home of my college advisor (and friend) to celebrate together, eat, talk, make music... It was one of the most special birthday celebrations for me; I carry a history of birthdays and special events where people jumped ship last minute leaving me quite alone. I wasn't alone last year.

This year? I made it to Israel, this we know. (I've been unbelievably overwhelmed with work for school, as everyone might be able to guess by my lack of posting.) I have an insane number of classes, most of which are in Hebrew. Last year, I couldn't read Hebrew. This year, I wrote a 4-typed-page midterm in Hebrew. A year...

Last year, I came to Israel fresh out of a long relationship, earnestly seeking no one and nothing but myself. Now I'm in a new relationship, and I don't have words to explain how different it feels than my relationships of the past. I might actually be able to build the life that somewhere deep inside I always wished for, but at the same time told myself would never actually be possible. A year...

I woke up early today and watched my birthday sunrise from my mirpeset. Tonight, I'll see the sunset in Rome. We're flying there to spend my birthday weekend, and coincidentally our two-month anniversary, in Rome; it is my first trip to Europe.

I'm missing a lot of those people who were with me last year, from the early morning trip to my corner cafe and my favorite people there, to my party a few days later... I miss those parts of home. But in a really beautiful turn here, I seem to have found another kind of home, and it is not dependent on place at all. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Overdue, as per usual...

So, it's a lot of work to prepare for High Holidays, no matter how you slice it. And doing it for the first time, on top of the work for 12 classes (count 'em: Modern Hebrew, Biblical Grammar, Tanach, Rabbinic Literature, Jewish Thought, 2nd Temple History, History of the Zionist Movement, "Israel Seminar," Musicianship, Liturgy, Cantorial Workshop (ok, soon to be... our teacher has been out of the country), Israeli Folk and Pop Music)(Oh, and lest you think that's all, we're soon to add weekly voice lessons and coaching sessions... just to make things interesting, you know...), many of which are in Hebrew, is that much harder.  And without any real support on campus, that much more so.

But... I made it, and not without the help of many. To my fellow cantors who also served Israeli congregations, thank you for moral support and for sharing musical discoveries. To the rest of the cantorial students, your constant moral support was also a source of strength. And to those who made sure I remembered to eat, and actually had food in my possession (mommy Kyna), thank you; I'd be really sick right now, otherwise.

In all seriousness, though, it was an amazing experience to be able to do what I'm here to learn to do right from the get-go. It was trial-by-fire, no doubt about it, but the feedback I received was really affirming of the work I did all year, the work I did leading up to the chagim, and the decisions I've made to pursue this path, and how I wish to move forward.

And, because lists seem to be a theme, some things I've learned:
- Fasting is hard. Fasting is harder when leading services all day.
- A search for something that doesn't exist is endless. I should start composing.
- A supportive community is unbelievably important.
- I will never cease to be amazed by how much one individual can accomplish.
- As good as my Hebrew may be becoming, and as good as an Israeli's English may be, there will always be moments of misunderstanding and confusion.
- As critical as my ear may be, it's always 100-fold moreso than that of anyone else.
- The real world always awaits upon return...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shana Tova!

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy and sweet new year, full of all that is good. Take a moment (or many) to reflect on all that you have. I've been reminded a lot this past week of so many things in my life for which I should be, and am, so grateful, and of so many people in my life --- those who have been around for years and years, and those who I have known for an extremely brief time --- without whom my life would be nowhere near as rich.

Thank you all for being present, being a part of this specific journey, and the greater journey that is life.

With immense love and gratitude...

Friday, August 27, 2010

A load of updates

I've been focusing on Ulpan and seeing friends here (so many of my Israeli friends are leaving town... sigh...) that weeks have passed since any substantial update to the blog. Sorry folks (I mean CAMERON).

So, in no particular order:

- Ulpan finished on Wednesday. It's been a journey, from not being able to read in the fall to, well... I started the summer shocked to be placed in Kita Daled, feeling like I should probably move down. I wasn't understanding conversations, really missing huge chunks of what was going on. And at some point, le'at, le'at (slowly, slowly), I found myself understanding almost everything. My teacher called me the afternoon that we finished and said she'd like me to try moving up to Kita Hay -- level 5 of 5 -- for the first week of the semester, and level 4 of 4 for our Biblical grammar class. ::gulp::

Kita Hay also has one day of language study replaced with a class on Jewish Thought. In Hebrew, of course. I'm always game for a challenge, but we'll see... this may be just a bit too much with the rest of the classes on top of it. I AM actually really excited to try! It might be what forces my spoken Hebrew to catch up to reading and comprehension...

- I had a wisdom tooth out yesterday... my one wisdom tooth, which was NEVER supposed to come in. Well, it finally started coming in. Luckily, my friend's dad is a dentist, and an awesome one at that. I was in and out in 40 minutes, even went to a presentation at school (masochist? maybe) an hour later. Shockers for Americans: 1) the surgery was done without any sort of sedative, only local anesthetic; 2) the dentist called me later, from home, just to check in on me. (And I get the feeling that this is his standard practice, not friend-of-daughter practice.)

- SHIRA GOT MARRIED. The wedding was beautiful... so much joy and so much love. And so many of the Livnot chevre that I so cherish (including Ebin, all the way from NY!). Best moment of the night? Dressing as pirates and kidnapping the new bride...

Ok, ok, ok, maybe not the best moment. Second best. Best was the chuppah, of course, and the moment of the first touch... But it's a close second. 

- Back to a parenthetical remark above, my dear friend Ebin was here for a week for Shira's wedding. It was beyond amazing to see him, to have him here, to get to discuss my experiences and my processing of said experiences with someone who has known me for awhile, and who comes (on many levels) from a very similar place. Or at least he knows my journey because he's been there for a lot of it... 

- I've been really busy finding and preparing material for the High Holiday services that I'll be helping leading in Modi'in. It's a lot all at once, but I think it'll come together. I was asked to do two of the three repetitions of Kol Nidrei, once sung, and once... on violin. One guess as to which one I'm more nervous about... yeah. Playing my violin in public causes me great anxiety, but I promised myself I'd face it this year. So... here goes nothing. No pressure or anything... it's just Kol Nidrei. Erm... uh... right. 

Hmmm... maybe I better get back to this practicing situation. Probably a good idea...

Sending love to all...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I love Jerusalem on Saturday mornings...

... there's an intense quiet, a pervading sense of calm. Lots of birds. (Dad: "Good birds.")

Other mornings? I wake up to the loud crashes of construction across the street. Bang. Bang BANG.

Nothing compares to Saturday mornings here...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A lot to cover, not sure where to begin...

... and not sure if I'll remember it all. It's been a few weeks of dealing with a lot of non-Israel-life stuff... Starting with now, working backward-ish:

- Tonight is Shira and Tuvia's wedding, a day for which many friends have long been waiting! Ebin flew here for the wedding and it's been beyond wonderful having him here... he's one of the people I miss the most. Looking forward, too, to a ton of reunions tonight at the wedding... but looking forward mostly to the wedding itself...

- Had an interesting moment over shabbat: I was with Ebin at the Great Synagogue (ok, "with"...). It's pretty hard to hear the Torah reading in the balcony because the women are often chit-chatting and kids are running around making noise. I couldn't differentiate words at all, but had this moment of realizing that I was still following along with the parsha because I could hear enough of the trope... and this all happened unconsciously. Never would this have been possible last year...

- Ok, had MANY interesting moments over shabbat... let's suffice it to say that Jewish geography is a crazy game, and lunches with 80 people crammed into a rabbi's apartment are an absolute balagan.

- Got home one day last week and noticed a poster on my building's wall. The first thing I registered was, "Oh, that looks like a picture of Fiddler on the Roof... I wonder where they are performing?" The next thing I registered was the actual Hebrew text, "Ok, not a Fiddler performance... that's my friend's name!" A friend who lives nearby was giving a talk in a gan (garden) in the neighborhood. I missed most of it because of a voice lesson, but when I showed up, was pleasantly surprised to be able to follow along in Hebrew and catch a large majority of what was going on. I loved being able to answer the question, "Sari, at mevina?" with "Ken!"

- I've been traveling outside of Jerusalem for voice lessons. It's, quite admittedly, a pain in the ass, but the teacher is wonderful and well worth it. However, the traveling does mean that a 1-hr lesson ends up being about 5 hours, all said and done. Oy! The lessons are slightly frustrating because the work I have to do at this point is so nuanced... and nuanced particularly in reference to muscle memory. It takes all of my concentration, and then some, to really incorporate all of the teacher's adjustments. The change in my voice when I do is phenomenal...

- Had my first Hebrew exam in Ulpan and did surprisingly well. I am not so certain I can keep the bar as high, but we shall see. A good start, nonetheless. Also, survived a 15+ minute presentation in class, all in Hebrew. Could've gone better, could've gone much, much worse.

- Working on music for High Holidays; I'm being sent to Modi'in, a city between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I'm a little frustrated since its been hard to get any real response as far as what they'd really like me to do, what their lay cantor ALWAYS does, so on and so forth... ie. it makes no sense for me to spend time preparing an El Male Rachamin or a Hineni or whatever else if someone there is already set; there are plenty of other things for me to work on...

- It's been unbelievably hot in Jerusalem for the past week or so. I knew we were being spoiled by the weather here since I arrived; it was faaaaar more pleasant than I remember it being at this time last year. This past week has been a lot more familiar, unfortunately. I'm lucky that my ulpan kita is in one of the few rooms at school that has functioning AC right now. (Phew!)

That's about all there's time for right now. Life has been, while not mundane, a lot less exciting in the past few weeks... there's just too much work.
Off to class... and then the wedding!!!
Love to all in the states...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Not sure if I have the words...

... but I'll try. In thinking back through orientation last night, I forgot to try and convey a beautiful experience I'd just had.

A group of students got together for havdallah, the ceremony separating Shabbat from the rest of the week. Still being a bit overwhelmed and overstimulated by so much group time, I chose to go somewhere else instead.

Last summer, my Livnot group was taken to a rooftop on Mt. Zion to bring in our first shabbat as a group, and for many, the first shabbat they'd ever experienced. It was a place that I revisited many times last summer, with friends and alone. That roof became one of my favorite places here. Last night was my first time back this year.

I went an hour before shabbat ended, alternating between watching the sunset and watching the colors over the eastern hills change from gold to pink to purple-fading-into-a-rainbow to dark. I read from a book of Rebbe Nachman quotes given to me last summer during the month of Av, the current Hebrew month. I meditated on some of my hopes and goals for the year. I listened as the call to prayer came in, first from a single, distant mosque in East Jerusalem, and then from a multitude of nearby mosques there and in the Old City. As the call to prayer faded away, the abbey directly next to the building on which I was standing starting chiming its bells... and then there was silence as the last lights faded and the first stars appeared in the sky.

I had originally tried to get a few people to come with me, but in the end, I am really glad that I had the time to myself, to keep "my place" for me a bit longer, and to really have the space to reflect in my own time and to live just briefly in some of the memories that surfaced from being there... I can't live in those memories all the time, but it was a nice visit...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Walking on a Tightrope

I spent some time this afternoon sitting in Gan Ha'Atzmaut (Independence Park). Two Israeli guys had somehow rigged a tightrope between two trees in the middle of the park. I sat and watched as they repeatedly attempted to cross. Haredi children came by and were given their turns, and the same for a large group of Arab children hanging out nearby. It seems like everyone in this society is walking on some sort of tightrope... the problem being, of course, that it's nearly impossible NOT to fall.

This week, at many times, left me feeling like I was hanging out on some [figurative] tightrope of my own. Orientation was long (really long) and oftentimes felt like being back in undergrad orientation. Having been on the other side, leading these sorts of programs, I can understand why... but it doesn't necessarily make it more enjoyable. More practical information, less ice-breaking, more time on our own to process (rather than "forced" processing time, scheduled into brief pockets) --- all things that would've been nice to have. We are adults, after all, something that's been repeated to us many times.

So, somewhat overwhelmed by all the group time taking up my time to deal with some other quite major things going on in my life (not at ALL related to orientation), I made an adult decision: I took Thursday afternoon off and spent it with two different friends, both of whom helped me find perspective on things, to remain grounded. While I know the group trip to the Mount of Olives would've been really interesting to me (truly), hanging onto my sanity was a bit more important.

I'm not trying to be a complainer; my energy and mood have been a bit low this week, dealing with all of the drama. There were actually some really good programs as part of orientation. The highlight? Easy: Yossi Klein Halevi was our keynote speaker. One of my goals for the year was to figure out a way to meet him (figuring it would somehow happen through a friend's father who happens to work with him). Imagine my excitement when I saw his name on my schedule! Halevi's book At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden was one of the only books I read cover-to-cover last year. I couldn't put it down, and it left me utterly inspired (and challenged, and confused, and...). So did his speech during orientation, essentially about why he thinks it's crucial for Jewish leaders in the diaspora to spend time living here as well, the challenges we face, the challenges Israel faces, the challenges Israelis face. (Speaking of a tightrope...)

Anyway, it's been a challenging week. Our last official orientation event was Erev Shabbat, services and dinner. It was enjoyable enough, great to have everyone together... but it was frustrating, too. I definitely hoped for a fuller service (I miss a full Kabbalat Shabbat), and, well, while the camp-like song session after dinner was fun, it also left me and some others feeling left out. It's hard to connect to those experiences (and memories of them) when we never had them, to be one of a few present NOT singing (as a cantorial student). Tightrope moment? Definitely... the one strung over the pit of "Do I belong here? Reform? What?" Even though I'm here, I still have a hard time calling myself Reform. I can deal with Progressive. Actually, I can embrace Progressive. But to be put in situations where I'm expected to answer questions about how I knew that I was Reform and to be the only one without an answer? It makes me question... and it should... Oy, well, here's to an interesting year.

Classes start tomorrow... ulpan, and "musicianship" (we were told it's not music theory). I'm hoping to get to skip the summer session of the latter, and there's no way I can skip the former. I somehow managed to test into the 4th of 5 Hebrew levels (gulp), which, according to my Israeli friends, was no surprise. (מה?! אתם משוגעים!) To me? Uh, yeah, surprise. We'll see how long I can hang in there, especially since my speaking/comprehension level is far lower than my reading and writing level. But considering I couldn't even read last fall, whatever level I end up in is בסדר גמור (completely ok). I have my work cut out for me...

Let's just hope I can find the right balance to remain on the tightrope. I might wobble. I might wobble a lot, but I'd rather not fall. I hear the medical system is really fun to deal with here...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some images...

A few from Women of the Wall, a few of the HUC campus... z'hu. (That's all.)

Torah service outside of the police station where Anat was being held.

Ending services.

The greenest spot on campus.

Library courtyard.


Academic Center, with Blaustein Hall in the background.

A reverse view.

Gate to the Persian garden.

Inside Blaustein.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beautiful spinning challenges

This was started yesterday, finished this morning...
I first heard about Women of the Wall (Nashot HaKotel) soon after getting back to the states last summer. I've been eager all year to join their Rosh Chodesh services. Early this morning, my first Rosh Chodesh in Israel this year, I joined dozens of women in the women's section at the Kotel; a number of men were with us in solidarity, behind us, and in the men's section.

I did not know what to expect. I've been to the Kotel before, many times; sometimes I feel a powerful connection, sometimes I feel hardly anything at all. Today I felt connected, but it wasn't to the Wall itself. I felt connected to this group of women (and men), most of whom I'd never met before, and their devotion to protecting the religious rights of the NON-Haredim here in Israel. The Haredim don't hold a monopoly on Jewish practice, though they sure like to think that they do. Nashot HaKotel is working to create pace where everyone can express their Judaism as they choose regardless of movement affiliation, or lack thereof.

The truth is, and this is probably not the best thing to admit in this forum, but so be it... I'm all about honesty... I don't always relate to prayer. I'm often very distanced from it. I have my reasons, and they aren't really necessary to share here. But something about yesterday, being with this group... the texts took on a whole new meaning. A friend wrote about Psalm 150 in her account of her experience with Women of the Wall, and I would say that it was a pivotal moment for me as well. Here we were being screamed at from the men's side of the Kotel, being shushed by our police guards in front of us on the women's side, and we get to a text:

"Halleluya! ... Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise God in His mighty firmament! Praise God for His mighty acts; Praise God according to His excellent greatness! Praise God with the sound of the trumpet; Praise God with the lute and harp! Praise God with the timbrel and dance; Praise God with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise God with loud cymbals; Praise God with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!" 

Those who know me well might be able to intuit some of my usual issues with this text, but it took on a whole new meaning in the face of discrimination, being yelled at for reciting it out loud, in a group of women. Part of me wanted to look over, see precisely what was happening to my left, but I was SO FOCUSED that I never did. I brought my camera, in case I wasn't feeling so connected and decided to document the experience instead... it didn't come out of my bag. As our guards were trying to quiet us, I, for one, did not lower my voice. And I won't...

Photo credit: IRAC

Never in my life, until this morning, have I felt discriminated against for being Jewish. Sure, I was warned to not make a huge deal about Judaism while traveling in Egypt last summer, but it never ended up being an issue. This morning? We were yelled at, called all sorts of derogatory names, and, had there not been guards, likely could have been physically attacked, had chairs thrown at us, who knows? The irony? It's a group of JEWS doing the discriminating. I can walk through the Arab Quarter of the Old City with no problem whatsoever, but I cannot join a group of women in prayer at the Wall without other JEWS hurling epithets at the group?

I felt unsafe as a Jew because of other Jews. How is that ok?

Further, the director of Nashot HaKotel was arrested simply for carrying the Torah out of the women's section, where the Supreme Court deemed it illegal for women to read from the scroll, to where we ARE allowed to read. Arrested and carted away, Torah in her lap. I could go on for pages about this... it's just... sickening.


In other news, orientation began last night, and continues in about 30 minutes. I need to make breakfast and lunch and get a move on to school. (Oh, how many ways do I love living just two minutes away?!) It's really surreal that this is actually happening, the official beginnings...

Kol tuv...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Not Being a Tourist

I'm sure many of you, knowing me, have been wondering why I haven't posted a single picture on here yet. Isn't that what I do? Take pictures?

I think, subconsciously, I've been avoiding going around with my camera because I am trying to integrate into life here and not be a tourist for the year. I spent all last summer shooting thousands of pictures, and last summer I was a tourist. This year is different. I live here. I have an apartment, a community of friends all around the city, a lot of work...(Um, go-go gadget learn to chant Eicha/Lamentations in a week and a half?)

I've been having moments every so often that have really made me aware of how real this is. I mean, yes, I packed up my life, I got on a plane... but I've been here for a few weeks with little structure. Save for having the apartment (and learning Eicha), it could be a continuation of last summer, just traveling around, having fun... but it's not. Sitting in the Ministry of the Interior today arguing with them about issues related to my student visa --- that was pretty real. Actually, probably the only real "negative" moment. Sitting yesterday with other cantorial students to read through some choral music, that was rather thrilling.

I began to really feel the weight on my shoulders a few days ago. I went up north to Zichron Ya'akov, which was founded in 1882 by Baron Rothschild. It's a picturesque city at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range (noooo, I didn't take any pictures even though, yes, I had my camera...), known for, among other things, several wineries. So, I went to dri... no, I actually went to visit a man I met through a friend last summer, who I later learned was my great-grandmother's cantor in Cincinnati many years ago. We've been in touch all year, and he has been a great source of encouragement. Anyway, the day I was free to visit just happened to be his 79th birthday. We went to lunch at a winery (of course), and he showed me the beautiful memorial park, including a "blind-man's garden" full of herbs and Baron Rothchild's tomb. The views were stunning, it all was stunning. And then we went back to his home; he decided that we were going to sing. Three hours later...

It was my first real coaching over here, and was not-so-subtlely imbued with the message of, "Please. Keep this tradition alive." For three hours, we read through all sorts of traditional chazzanut, none of it written for a woman's voice, of course. We read some of his own compositions. He spoke of some of the most mindblowingly simple concepts that he teaches -- simple in theory, that is, not necessarily to implement -- which already have begun to transform how I conceive piece of music. This man has dedicated his life to chazzanut. It's up to me, to my classmates, to my colleagues to keep it alive. It's no small task...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Another week...

More and more students are beginning to arrive, and it has been wonderful to meet them. And, honestly, it's been quite amazing to learn just how diverse we all are... inspiring people with amazing experiences and some of the most beauitful goals I've heard articulated in a long, long time. It will be a good year.

I spent this past erev shabbat with a community called Nava Tehila. They are Israel's only Renewal community, something that actually surprises me; I assumed that there'd be more than one. Regardless, I've been asked to join them as a musician and singer for their monthly Kabbalat Shabbat services. No big deal, right? Well... they want me to play my violin, which, barring a couple theatre productions, I haven't done in public, solo, in a long time. (Since fifth grade, I think?) Further, it's all improvisation, which is something I've NEVER had the guts to do in public. Let's just say that this shabbat was all about pushing boundaries. I left the service feeling this weird mix of being energized and completely wiped out. It took a ton of energy to stay present. A sizable group of HUC chevre attended services, which was lovely, and a few friends from other places came as well. It was nice to have the support.

But, even aside from that, it was great to be with the community of Nava Tehila, who so warmly and immediately welcomed me. I knew coming here that I'd really miss Romemu (the Renewal community I am a part of in New York), and this is as close as I'll get. I don't expect one to completely substitute for the other, but there's a certain familiarity that's quite comforting.

I'll try to write more soon. For now, it's off to officially register for school (no turning back now!)... and then back to Ben-Gurion. I'm picking up one of my friends from the cantorial class who is arriving today. She's never been to Israel, and seeing a familiar face will help ease the shock. Besides, I very much agree with a pretty awesome FEMALE (her title, not mine... R, are you reading??) back in New York, that it's a shame that our society has fallen away from both seeing people off and picking people up at the airport. It's simply nice to have someone there... and so, there I'll be.

Kol tuv l'kulam!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

אין לי מילים - I have no words

I just returned to Jerusalem from a weekend in Tzfat. My friend and I spent some time speaking about how there were simply no words to describe the experience of being there. Any attempt to put the time into words would never do it justice. I mean, one could try; if an article had to be written, it could be. But really the only people who would understand would be those who'd been there, for whom one wouldn't even need words. All I could come up with while there, when I would try and compose something in my head, was a series of moments.

My friend's look of surprise when I walked onto Livnot's campus, wishing her "שבת שלום, לא בפלפון, לא בסקאיף..." (Shabbat Shalom, not on a cell phone, not on Skype...).

"Welcome Home," from one of the staff members, with whom I share a web of connections. My whole body slightly trembling from the emotion of being there.

The breeze on the roof. The sunset on the roof. The full moon on the roof. Sleeping under the stars on the roof. Sunrise on the roof. The roof.

Waking up to the sound of davening from the many surrounding synagogues.

Chevre. Happy niggun. All of the "Livnot songs."

The "baby on campus" climbing onto a chev's back, riding him like a donkey.

Being able to introduce a friend to Tzfat, to Livnot.

Inspired conversations. Heschel.

The most overwhelming compliments I think I have ever received.

Have I mentioned the breeze? The air in Tzfat is simply different.

Thank you to Livnot 240 for welcoming me, and my friend, into your group for your final shabbat together. It was lovely to meet all of you.

To my friend who came along, thank you for... well... אין לי מילים.

And now? Well, now I am off to a reunion for which I've yearned since leaving last August... every time I went "to Carolina in my mind," in part, I went to see him too...

Shavua tov, u'lehitraot...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Week

Yesterday marked the end of my first week back in Israel. I feel like I just got here and feel like I never left... I immediately settled in, remembered how to get around (sans maps, mind you!), really had my bearings. I walked these streets in my mind so many times in the past year; they're simply ingrained.

I've spent some of the past week meeting the Year-in-Israel students who are here for pre-Ulpan (intensive Hebrew study), and a few who are just here, but more of it seeing my Israeli friends. That was ostensibly my reason for coming over a month before orientation, so I plan to make the most of it! I keep running into people I know on the streets, something that happened all last summer. I knew it would continue here, but it still is a little thrill every time it happens. Given, one friend from New York lives around the corner so it's bound to happen, but even still my thought process tends to be along the lines of, "Hey... what is s/he... I mean what am I... uh... this is weird." And cool.

Israel is small. Very small. Occurences like that are a constant reminder. Example: I went to Tel Aviv for the past two days and stayed with a friend from New York who is there for the summer. We went out for falafel and she was talking about her roommate. Well, apparently he normally lives there with his girlfriend; my friend's room is the girlfriend's writing studio, but she's away for the summer at a writer's retreat of sorts. Put two and two together from some messages online... she's a good friend of one of my Israeli friends from New York. That's how it rolls here... and I love it.

Other things I love:
- the produce from the shuk: so tasty, so cheap (no, really... today's loot included about a kilo of tomatoes for ₪3.5 (just under a dollar), 6 cucumbers and an onion for ₪3, and so forth...)
- being able to walk into a store or restaurant, and to order everything in Hebrew
- going to concerts: the tally for this week is three -- flamenco, hazzanut, and chamber music (eclectic enough for you?)
- that I might be a published photographer here -- more on that if it happens
- singing Shir HaMa'alot to Pachabel's Canon after shabbat lunch with a friend and some of her crew from Pardes
- Havdalah in Gan Ha'Atzma'ut with HUC chevre
- lazy mornings on my mirpeset with coffee and my guitar
- HAVING MY VIOLIN! (Toda raba to A and A...)
- being able to hunt down a childhood friend here on Taglit, and secretly dragging her from her group to my apartment and back in the span of about 25 minutes
- 730am on the beach in Tel Aviv
- evening on the beach just north of Yaffo, listening to the waves of the sea blending with the waves of the call to prayer coming from multiple mosques
- deja vu everywhere I go
- the amazing cool breeze in my apartment at night; who needs AC?!

And not so much:
- the mosquitoes: I forgot how bad they are, and how sweet I must be... or something... ::scratch scratch scratch::
- finding open bags of food in my kitchen, and containers of food crawling with maggots... yeah, that was nice... um...

I would say the good is definitely outweighing the bad at this point. By far. That should be readily apparent. And, speaking of good, one of the chevre arrived late last night and I owe him a swift kick in the... erm... well, ok, maybe I won't do that. But we've been awaiting an actual meeting for awhile, so I am going to head off to find him.

Lehitraot! V'ahava l'kulam b'Artzot ha'Brit!
(See you later! And love to everyone in the US!)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For Father's Day...

... I told my dad that I made friends with an Arab man, Mahmoud, in the park near my house. Mahmoud thought I looked Arab (seems to be a theme here...), and also like his daughter.

Anyone who knows my father knows that this is the best present I could offer him from afar. Ok, maybe third best. The best would be news that I'm going to spend some time with a Palestinian family in Gaza, and second best would be time with a family in the West Bank. But I digress...

Rabbi Rick's response? "Coincidentally, I'm sitting here reading The Israel-Arab Reader."

Not surprised at all.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I should write more...

... and I will later. But, for now, shalom from Jerusalem! I am here, safe and sound, post-jetlag and feeling wonderful. I don't really have the words to explain how it feels being back here. I've already seen some dear friends, met some HUC students who are here for pre-Ulpan, checked in at school (I now have health insurance, so I have the all-clear to be my usual klutzy self)... The head of student services commented that I seemed extremely comfortable, really at home here.

Yes, yes, I guess I do...

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I'm leaving tomorrow night. It feels like this day has been on the horizon for forever, so I almost don't even believe that it's real... but my stuff for the year is divided between two suitcases, so I suppose it must be. It has been a whirlwind month-and-a-half of packing, moving, hellos and goodbyes... one friend said that it seemed like I've been saying goodbye for awhile. I agree. It's time to make the move and start settling in. Right now, well, I feel like all that's around me is one huge blur. Moments, and intense emotions, stand out (not in chronological order by any stretch of the imagination, and far from a complete list):

- Coffee with a dear friend in Ohio, sun coming in through a wall of windows at the back of his house.
- Watching my grandmothers walk away...
- An inspiring conversation with a dear mentor.
- Being caught in downpours in three countries, multiple times...
- Being mistaken for an Israeli in Buenos Aires
- Being mistaken for an Arab in Montevideo
- Falling asleep to the whispered sounds of my friend saying the "Bedtime Shema"
- Endless waiting...
- The joy of reuniting with friends who I haven't seen in a long time
- The bittersweet-ness of saying goodbye
- Overwhelming gratitude for the kindness of some amazing friends. Beyond amazing, really.
- Favorite restaurants... favorite parks... favorite people...
- A bike ride through Brooklyn.
- Probably 10 different beds...
- The summer-in-NY deluge of Greenpeace, Children International, [insert-organization-here] staff guilting passers-by for money.
- The realization that I am missing yet another summer in NY, my favorite time of year here... save for the aforementioned deluge... ok, that and the extra tourists...
- Bringing a good friend to my favorite shul, her first time ever.
- Bringing my mother and godmother to the same place a few weeks prior, services ending with "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu" and the rabbi "dedicating" it to me in honor of my departure...
- Constant reminders of how small New York can be.
- "Cholomot paaaaaaaaz"
- "Falafa'melafaphon"
- A friend's goodbye strip-tease on 34th St. (No joke.) 

What I am excited for:
- Seeing dear friends in Israel, some of whom I have not seen since last summer.
- Having my own apartment for the first time ever, being in full control over making my home for the year.
- Floor squeegies.
- The shuk.
- The produce at the shuk. The produce in Israel in general.
- Fresh figs in the Golan in August.
- Tiyulim with my madrich from last summer.
- My friend's wedding in August...
- Late-night walks in The Old City.
- So much learning... being immersed...
- The Mediterranean Sea being my default swimming locale.
- Community --- Israeli and HUC.
- Being in Israel already so I can welcome a friend back home in July after her year away.
- ישראליות
- Shabbat in Jerusalem. Shabbat in Tzfat. Shabbat...
- Living by the rhythm of the Jewish calendar, amongst a majority of people who are doing the same.
- Milki... so bad, but so gooooood.
- Challenges, growth.

I could go on. And on. Instead, I'm going to get back out into the [rainy, of course] city. As I should. I only get it for one more day.

Next time from Jerusalem...

Friday, May 28, 2010

A few images...

... but just a few. I want to wait until I can process my RAW files in Photoshop. For now, a few jpgs.

My welcome sign!

You can all guess what this says.

Buenos Aires Couchsurfing host #1; in-home haircut + mate.

This, and the following few, are from the cemetery in a neighborhood called Recoleta (Buenos Aires).

Girl in the monastery adjacent to the cemetery.

One of many huge mausoleums.

Had to throw in at least one self-portrait!

More to come when I get back to New York...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back in Montevideo...

Things learned in Argentina:

1) I really, really hate cigarette smoke. Especially in confined spaces... my body can't handle it. Lesson learned.
2) Walking looking down prevents you from seeing beautiful architecture; having your eyes up puts you at risk to step in dog shit. There's a lot of it.
3) "C" on a faucet does not stand for "cold."
4) A watch would be a really sound investment...
5) 65F warrants a sweater, winter jacket, scarf and boots... (no joke!)

Really, though, Buenos Aires is a great city, and I barely made a dent in it. It's HUGE. I met some wonderful people -- my third CouchSurfing host was an angel in so many ways, wish there was more time to get to know each other.. I suppose that's what the internet is for -- and had some wonderful experiences.

The city is buzzing with excitement for the Bicentennial (tomorrow), and there have been concerts and celebrations all week long. It was a good time to be in BA. Lots of craziness. Lots of fun.

And, surprise surprise, my bad travel luck continued: there were horrible storms last night that shut down the airport, canceling my flight. I already knew I could go back to my last host's apartment, but the cabs all said roads were closed... no one would take me. What did I do? Shared a cab with another traveler to his parents' building, where he had his car. HE drove me home. (No, the roads weren't flooded... thanks, cabbies.) And my flight this morning? Delays... of course.

A couple and their daughter who were on my original flight to Montevideo were in the security line ahead of me. They recognized me (or thought they did... I confirmed... not THAT many Chabadniks floating around!), and we had a nice conversation... a lot in Hebrew!

And now? Finally made it back to Uruguay after delays and a deceitful cab driver, where I will have a week with dear Tehila. Apparently the Israeli soccer team is here on Wednesday, and we (me, Tehila, and the rest of the shlichim) are all going!

Hasta luego, amigos.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lo habla Español...

... and boy does that make travel in South America, erm, difficult. Had I not spent the past year so tunnel-focused on Hebrew, I would've made sure to be in better shape. Doing my best...

After having to spend the night in the Philadelphia airport on my way back to NY from Cincinnati, I had a feeling that my luck wasn't going to change too much on my way to South America. I left my sister's apartment on Sunday afternoon to head to the airport, waited 20 minutes for an A train: Lefferts Boulevard. Took it as far as I could and got out to wait for the right train. Lefferts. Another Lefferts. And finally Far Rockaway -- JFK. Crisis averted... until arrival in Sao Paolo. Connection missed. Great. No food. NOTHING in the airport without meat. Literally nothing. Seven hours to kill until the next possible connection. No computer, no way to reach my friend to let her know I'd be showing up really late. (Finally had to make a credit card call to the States and have my mom email her... who knows how much THAT will cost?) Finally arrive in Montevideo, my ATM card doesn't work, I'd called twice to give my travel dates. So... can't get money. Find a cab that will take US$ as payment. Have I mentioned that I haven't eaten since breakfast?! I was, luckily, the first drop-off from the shared cab (a Uruguayan sherut!)...

And it was all worth it to make it to the top of the stairs to Tehila running out from her doorway. There was a welcome sign (b'Ivrit, of course!) on the door, good food (Tehila's dad brought her mom's homemade blintzes all the way from Israel! Toda raba, Ima Abramson!), and better company. Before the night was out, a song had been written for me, my clothes were used for dressing up (not by one of the ladies, mind you), and I was told that my Hebrew was ¨metzuyenet¨(excellent). I'll take it!

Anyway, it was a brief stay in Montevideo. I continued to Buenos Aires the next morning, and here I've been ever since. I'm Couchsurfing (surprise, surprise), currently at my second host's apartment, and will have one more host before I leave. The first apartment was home to two Australian guys and one Swiss girl here studying Spanish. The second is home to a theatre and film producer and two cats. So, what have I done in two days?
- had a mate tea party
- witnessed a host having his hair cut in the kitchen by a friend
- ended up at a massive Shavuot dinner and tikkun, where of course I ended up knowing someone and being one degree of separation away from 4 others...
- continued on to another tikkun... until 430am...
- had an amazing lunch at an all-you-can-eat vegetarian restaurant, followed by a really yummy siesta in a park, in the sun
- walked 6 or 7 miles in a day, including to and through an old cemetery here (apparently I missed the memo that Eva Peron was buried there... I walked past a grave with piles of rotting flowers in front... probably the one. Ha!), to photograph
- had really tasty Argentinian ice cream (though not as good as Graeters)
- went to a Latin jazz concert until 5am

And now I'm here, writing, taking a break from the wandering. I'm not really in a museums-and-regular-tourist-sites mood right now. And, admittedly, I'm a bit beat from two extremely late nights in a row... so, it might be time to venture to the balcony and observe the street life below.

(Pictures to be added... eventually...)

Hasta luego!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

שלום, mi amiga!

After a rather tumultuous trip back to NY (missed a connecting flight, the last of the night, had to spend the night in the airport---it was grand) and a brief two days here, I'm heading to Uruguay and Argentina tomorrow. Figured I'd throw in a trip to the southern hemisphere before heading to Israel for the year. I mean, why not? A dear friend is there for the year, and I promised to visit. So... visit I will!

I'll arrive in Buenos Aires just in time for Shavuot and the city's bicentennial. It should be a rather festive time, I'd imagine... not that Argentinians like to party or anything. ;-) A week there, a week in Montevideo, and back to NYC. And one month from today? I'll be in Jerusalem.

The thought gives me chills. I'm happy, sad, excited, a bit scared, eager, overwhelmed at moments, extremely calm at others. I always have some trepidation before entering long-term group situations, worries about how everyone will fit together... worries that always resolve themselves, of course. They are there, regardless. But it's also a point of real excitement---these are future colleagues and, inevitably, friends. (And of course I'm beyond excited to see my Israeli friends again!) There's little better in this world than getting to know new people...

Friday, April 30, 2010

Last night in New York...

... at least as an official resident. Driving to Ohio in the morning, car literally packed to the brim. I'll be back before heading to Israel, surely, but... this is it. The journey begins.

Friday, April 16, 2010


My life is being packed into boxes. In my past, this has been something that causes me great stress. This time? I'm oddly calm. What can I live without for a year? Just about everything I own, really. Most of my books, most of my sheet music (thank you International Music Score Library!), most of my clothes, my furniture... traveling last summer for weeks at a time with only the belongings that could fit in my hiking day-pack, material possessions became so unimportant. Sure, I have my moments. And then I remember, I did not need this "stuff" weighing me down then --- quite literally, hiking around --- and I don't need it now.

But there are parts of my life that I cannot so easily pack into boxes, to safely store away for a year. Friends. Family... my communities. I am beyond overwhelmed to have the opportunity to spend a year with my chevre in Israel. I am also sad to leave my friends here, people who have been amazing lights on my journey over many years, and in many ways. But the group that has been around through this past year, supporting me through so much? You, my friends, know who you are. And I will miss your presence dearly.

A friend taught me a Hebrew word a few months ago (אם אתה קורא את זה, תודה רבה. תמיד. אבל, אני חושבת אתה יודע. ונדבר, כמובן.), during a conversation about life being overwhelming -- often, but especially so for each of us, in our own ways, at that time. It has been the mantra that I've come back to in my moments of stress and fleeting sadness. תזרום, teezrom (well, it takes various other forms it takes depending on who is being addressed...), flow. The verb shares a root with זרם, zerem, stream. Yes, Hebrew is usually pretty logical like that. It's the Hebrew equivalent of "Go with the flow," and that's what I'm trying to do. Everything flows, it will keep flowing. These things pass; they aren't static. Just like I wrote back in August, "... the waves keep coming in..." and coming, and coming, and...

And really, what I feel most of all is gratitude... simple gratitude. To those who are lights in my life, and to those who allow me to be a light in their lives. Thank you. So much.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's surreal...

Next year in Jerusalem... not even next year, really. This year. Two months from now!

So, it's not new news at this point, but I was accepted to cantorial school, and yes, I will be moving to Jerusalem in June. The thought of leaving didn't really faze me at all until today. I officially posted my room on Craigslist. I've started packing all of the stuff that will be sent back to Ohio at the end of the month, eight years of my life in boxes. I keep catching glimpses of Lower Manhattan from my bedroom window. I'm moving. In a few weeks. For the first time in my adult life, New York will not be my home. Until last year, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. New York was it.

But to call Jerusalem home? That will be pretty amazing. I already have an apartment: it's a 1BR, has a piano (!!!!!) and two balconies, is a two-three minute walk to school, around the corner from one dear friend, and is within a five-ten minute walk of three others. Friends from New York, friends from Livnot, and friends from my travels after Livnot last summer all live in Jerusalem. I'll have the built-in social network of my HUC Year-In-Israel cohort, but I also have a really solid group of friends there already. I shouldn't be wanting for company, that's for sure... at least not on those rare occasions that I will have time to do something other than study!

So, between now and the end of April? I pack. I get all of my books together. I figure out how the hell I am going to get everything to Israel -- including my violin and one of my guitars, both of which I want, and neither of which I am willing to check as baggage on a plane. Get all sorts of registration/administrative stuff out of the way. Arrange for my student visa. See friends. See them again... Try and stay on solid ground amidst the whirlwind...

My mom is coming up at the end of the month, both for her birthday and to drive me and my stuff to Cincinnati. I will spend a couple weeks in Ohio seeing family and friends. Back to NY for a couple days on my way to Uruguay to visit my dear, dear Tehila. New York for a week or two... then Israel, home for a year.

Come visit... הדירה שלי היא הדירה שלכם. "My apartment is your apartment." You're always welcome...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"It's been a while since I've seen you...

... so, how have you been?"

Changes are a'brewin' here. It's been an eventful fall, to say the least. Many times, I thought to write. Many times, I... didn't. I have spent the past few months learning Hebrew full-time to prepare for an important exam as part of my application for admission to cantorial school. I had been thinking about applying for awhile and made the decision at the end of October to apply for next year. Originally I thought I'd study for a few years first (so much Hebrew to learn!), but so many things fell into place over the summer and in the beginning of the fall --- personally, professionally, spiritually. The right time feels like now, not a few years from now. I took my Hebrew exam yesterday, and I feel quite confident about how I did, especially considering that I couldn't even read Hebrew when I returned from Israel this fall. Tomorrow is my audition and interview... and then I wait for a decision. It's all a bit surreal, really. If I am accepted, I'll be back in Israel in June or July, and will be there for a year. I should know, hopefully, by Pesach.

לשנה הבאה בירושלים?

It would be... amazing... beyond words...

More to come. But for now, I need to get things together for tomorrow. I leave you with a quote:

"Man's task in the world, according to Judaism, is to transform fate into destiny; a passive existence into an active existence; an existence of compulsion, perplexity and muteness into an existence replete with a powerful will, with resourcefulness, daring, and imagination."

The Rav, Kol Dodi Dofek

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