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!