Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sisterhood Shabbat

May 28, 2010

I have always been surrounded by women in my life. For starters, I have three sisters. In college, I was in a sorority and lived in a house with 50 other women. In a sense, throughout my entire life, I have really come to understand what “sisterhood” is all about.

But for me, sisterhood goes beyond my three biological sisters and thousands of sorority sisters. It has become more about the relationships and communities I have formed with others, which have created deeper bonds of sisterhood.

Even growing up here at NSCI, the friendships I formed in the Temple Youth Group created a feeling of community, one that I was, and am still proud to be a part of today. It was no surprise then, that when I graduated from college I wanted to remain part of such a community that provided me with these relationships.

Last July, I began my first year at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. For those of you who might not know, HUC is the seminary where Reform Jews study to become Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish Educators, and other Jewish professionals. All first year students spend the first year of their program at HUC’s Jerusalem campus before dispersing to the three stateside campuses in New York, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles.

When I was accepted to the joint Masters in Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service program last March, many people asked me why I had to go all the way to Israel for a year to study. After all, couldn’t I just study history, Hebrew, Israel, Jewish texts, and Liturgical prayer stateside? And on a personal level, I had already lived in Jerusalem during my junior year of college when I studied abroad for 5 months.

To my surprise, my HUC Jerusalem experience was different. I went to Israel this time with a deep love for the country. A love that was not always easy to express. In fact, it was not long before I discovered that I never fully understood Israel in it’s fullest.

This time, I had my studies side-by-side my living experience. I was learning Hebrew in the classroom and speaking it (or at least trying to speak it) outside of the classroom. I was studying the history of the Zionist movement while enjoying Shabbat dinner at the home of a most brilliant Reform Zionist, Rabbi David Forman of blessed memory, who spoke at NSCI just a few months ago. I was learning about Israel and the History of Israel while standing at ancient and not-so ancient borders, biblical sites and while lying on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv.

I was beginning to form a “sisterhood” connection with the State of Israel and in the process I learned that I could not be scared to discover what I might not agree with or like. It was important for me to be honest and sincere, even if it meant being critical.

One of the greatest challenges I faced living in Israel was being a woman. As a Reform Jew and future Jewish leader, my opportunities as a woman in the Reform movement are utterly equal to those of men. However, in the Jewish State of Israel, run by the extremist or ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, the status of women is not equal in every aspect to men. I grew angry every time I looked at the Old City (which was quite often) remembering that the Western Wall was not a place where I could pray wearing a tallit or read Torah. But soon I realized that while confrontation might not be so easy, it had to be done. On Rosh Chodesh Adar, I went to the Western Wall to pray with the group, “Women of the Wall”.

Despite all of the stories I had heard from friends who had been previous times, nothing prepared me for the experience that morning. Almost everyone was wearing a tallit in the group. On the male side, the ultra-orthodox were screaming and yelling at the women calling us offensive names and telling us that we were Christian. Some even went as far as to call us "Nazis". On the female side, the orthodox women said similar things. I knew several of the men defending “women of the wall” on the male side and truly felt their support. As much as I denied it beforehand, I was really bothered and hurt by the name-calling and lack of freedom I felt. To be honest, it was probably the least prayerful t’fillah I have ever been part of. I wasn’t so sure what I felt exactly after this experience, but I knew that I needed to go back. On April 15th I decided to go to “women of the wall” again. It was a much smaller group this time. It was a much different experience as well. I prayed. Nobody really bothered me. There was one man yelling derogatory remarks, but I was able to continue to pray. Even though it took me several months to confront this issue, I’m glad I did.

But I knew that it wasn’t just the dilemmas and curriculum that brought the HUC first year students to Israel for the year. In fact there was an aspect to the year that I truly believe can only happen to its fullest living in Jerusalem.

Unlike here in the US where our work-week begins on Monday, in Israel, the week begins on Yom Rishon, or as we call it Sunday. Sunday is a work and a school day there, and although I may NEVER have gotten used to having class on Sunday, I was nevertheless living the Jewish week. The weekends in Jerusalem are different too. On Friday afternoon, the city is crowded with last minute shopping in preparation for Shabbat. In the late afternoon all of the shops close as the city transitions into Kabbalat Shabbat. The Shabbat atmosphere continues throughout the weekend ending on Saturday evening, or Motzei Shabbat, when the stores reopen and the streets become crowded again. While the honking and traffic in Jerusalem is at times scary and incredibly disturbing, the peace and quiet experienced on Shabbat and being able to walk down the middle of the busiest streets on Yom Kippur is like nothing I’ve experienced in America. Going grocery shopping at Supersol, Israel’s version of Jewel, might not be the most pleasant experience, dealing with the “lines” or “lack there of” and trying to figure out which white looking cheese is the cream cheese you need, might be frustrating, but the Shabbat Shalom said by the cashier on Thursday afternoon definitely makes up for it.

Not only did I form a “sisterly-bond” with the state of Israel, but I also formed a bond with the people of Israel too. I was fortunate enough to be part of a program called “Parallel Lives” where fifteen HUC students met eight times throughout the year with fifteen Israeli Soldiers. We engaged in discussions and debates about their lives and ours. They challenged us as Americans and Reform Jews and we challenged them with questions about serving in the Israeli Defense Force and living in Israel. And at the end of the year, we came out of the program with great friendships and the desire to continue to strengthen the partnership between Jews in Israel and Jews in America.

One of the things that I was looking forward to most during my year in Israel was making “Next Year in Jerusalem”, the phrase we say each year during the Passover Seder, come true. However, this year, I had the opportunity to spend Passover with Jews in the Former Soviet Union in two small Jewish communities in Russia. The most enjoyable aspect of the trip was getting to know the people in those communities. Many of the teens reminded me of me in my days at NSCI in the TYG. They were energetic and dedicated to creating a meaningful Passover experience for others. For some of the adults, this was their very first Passover experience. We shared some of our American Passover traditions and even taught them a few Passover songs. Everyone was so grateful and appreciative that we had come to celebrate together. I was finally beginning to understand what having Jewish brothers and sisters abroad meant. A sense of Jewish peoplehood was truly felt.

And of course, I strengthened my relationships with other American Jews studying at HUC. This unique experience of the Cantorial, Education, and Rabbinical students all studying together was one that we tried not to take for granted. We learned quickly that we were all away from our home “sisterhoods”, so for the year, we were going to need to be each other’s “sisterhoods”. We celebrated birthdays, engagements, and other simchas together. And we comforted and supported each other through the most difficult times too.

Aside from our great friendships, we also began to form relationships as colleagues studying together both in and out of the classroom. We began our semester on Mount Zion, Har Tzion, where we passed around a Torah Scroll and recited the words from Isaiah, “Ki Mitzion tay-tzei torah,” “from out of Zion the Torah will come forth”, reminding ourselves and each other that the Torah serves as the center to our future education, careers and our own Jewish lives.

We took it upon ourselves to learn and explore outside of the classroom too. Every Saturday evening as the sun set and Shabbat was ending, we gathered together in a little park overlooking the Old City to share in Havdallah. We sang songs, shared our Shabbat highlights, and began the new week together.

Over the course of the year I developed new “sisterhood” communities and relationships with State of Israel, the people of Israel, and with my classmates. After forming these new sisterhood communities, transitioning back to the states is difficult. In a sense, it feels as though I have just woken up from a really long dream, but with more knowledge, more experiences, and a greater understanding of Israel, Judaism and the Jewish people.

Tonight on this sisterhood Shabbat, I want to take the opportunity to thank the NSCI sisterhood for their ongoing and generous support of HUC. In just over a week, I will be moving to California to continue my education at HUC’s LA campus. While making this big transition, I look back to my NSCI sisterhood and my Israel sisterhood and look forward to the the new “sisterhoods” I will create.

Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Laila Tov Jerusalem!

Hannah and Lara Packing Me
Exhausted after all their hard workRoommates at Havdallah
Allie and me with our fearless leaders Nancy and Yoshi
Triple A with Yoshi
Closing program at school

Today Ally and I woke up and headed to school to close things up and for some more final goodbyes. All keys have been turned in and all classes have been passed. 13 King David will be missed!

After closing up shop at school we headed to the Old City for some last minute shopping. Got a few t-shirts, Ally got some scarves, and we shared a bagel along the way.

We came back and packed and cleaned a little more, then Yoni helped me bring my boxes to ship to the post office.

After a fun and exhausting afternoon with the Zweiback girls (Yoshi's daughters) we had a little time to rest.

Ally and I met up with Lara and Yoni for one last Moshiko Falafel...the same meal we had on our first night in Jerusalem. We had a nice stroll down Ben Yehuda one last time and then met up with classmates for another birthday celebration at Aldo ice cream.

It's quite surreal that I am writing on my last night in Jerusalem after these 10 1/2 months. I have to admit, I'm emotionally drained. I don't have the tears left in me anymore. Tomorrow should be a relaxing day-last minute packing and cleaning, and saying goodbye to the city I love most, Jerusalem.

Laila Tov!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

All My Bags Are Packed, But I'm Not Ready To Go

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem for one last time. I'm really going to miss saying that...but, here it is, my very last Shabbat in Jerusalem after 10 1/2 months of amazing memories, and now I have to say goodbye.
Last night we had a beautiful Shabbat service at school followed by a class dinner with faculty at Beit Shmuel. The night concluded with singing in the courtyard, and then...more goodbyes.
We all went over to Rachel and Albert's last night to wait for the Sheirut to pick them up. They got on a flight this morning as did Andrew. Even though I will see Rachel and Albert next week, and Andrew in 2 1/2 months, the reality of our year in Israel together has come to an end. Lots of tears were shed last night.

Today I went to lunch with some friends and then Lara and Hannah came over to help me pack-they are amazing! I tried to start yesterday and emotionally could not do it, and if you know me well, I am just a terrible packer and needed the physical help too. I'm lying in my bed right now starring at my TWO suitcases completely packed and my ONE box that I am shipping to LA...Wow, this is weird.

Tonight the Year in Israel OFFICIALLY concludes with Havdallah back where we began our orientation in July. After tonight, people are leaving fairly quickly. I still have a few more days to shop, eat, and just enjoy Israel.

Friday, May 14, 2010

End of the Year

I have officially completed year one of graduate school! Finals done, papers handed in, and celebrations happening. It's been a busy last few weeks trying to study and finish everything. Now I am just trying to soak up every last moment I have left in Israel.It's also been an emotional past few weeks. You know how Jews take forever to say goodbye, well Israelis are even worse-I guess that's why they say L'hitraot (see you again). We had a breakfast party with in Hebrew with Zohara.We decided to bring breakfast, but Zohara thought she was supposed to bring everything, so basically we had a LOT of food!

The fun continued in David Levine's Liturgy class when Jeremy brought his typewriter and herring for DLevine.

After classes we went out to celebrate two birthdays and the end of school. Last Shabbat we had dinner at Lara and Yoni's apartment after a wonderful musical Shabbat in the courtyard at HUC.

This week was pretty much filled with finals. Ally and I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know Rabbi David Forman this year. Rabbi Forman was a dear friend of Rabbi and Patty Mason and so when we arrived, he invited Ally and I (and our friend Ethan) for Shabbat dinner (I wrote about this back in a blog entry from October). Ally and I were so happy to "babysit" the NSCI teen trip on Ben Yehuda so that Patty and Rabbi Mason were able to go out for dinner with Rabbi Forman and his wife Judy. Rabbi Forman really welcomed us into his life and home and "watched over" us this year. In January, he took me to breakfast just to get me out of a rough patch I had at HUC. Then he invited us for Passover, which we were not able to attend because we were in the FSU. I received an email from Rabbi Forman a little while ago telling me that he wanted to have us over again for Shabbat dinner but that he was recovering from an operation and as soon as he was feeling better, he would be in touch.

That was the last time I heard from Rabbi Forman. He got sick very quickly and unfortunately passed away waiting for a liver transplant last week. When I heard of Rabbi Forman's death I just felt so lucky to have known him. He was such a gentle and warm person.

The day after he passed away, I was helping out with a program that the HUC students had with the Israeli students about Reform Zionism. Without hesitation we dedicated our day of study in honor of Rabbi Forman, a Reform Zionist himself.

Ethan, Arielle (Ethan's girlfriend), Ally and I went to the Forman's on Sunday for Shiva. As we were leaving, Judy told us how we must have been the last HUC students that David knew and had into his home for Shabbat. We may have been some of the last, while Rabbi and Patty Mason some of the first.


After a long week of finals we had our final Beit Cafe. The night was filled with funny songs, skits, and awards. It was fun, funny, and even a little sad as the first HUC student departed back to the states.

Today, I went with several friends to the Friday art fair and out for a wonderful Israeli breakfast. I got to pick up the ring that my friends bought me for my birthday. It was such a wonderful afternoon of relaxing strolling down the streets of Jerusalem.

It's a hot day in Jerusalem and I have my window open and have heard the honking come to a stop, must mean Shabbat is approaching. I'm so gonna miss this.

Tonight we have Shabbat services followed by dinner with students and faculty at school. Should be a nice evening.

Off to finish the Friday routine-cleaning, watching some tv, and getting ready for Shabbas!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Miracles Return

With the artist, Emanuel, of our new Challah Covers and Wall Hangings

Lara and I on the swings at our favorite ice cream place

Last week I had the opportunity to "staff" the KESHER Shabbaton. This Shabbaton took place at Kibbutz Yahel (the first of two Reform Kibbutzim in Israel). The participants are American Reform Jews who are on various programs in Israel and are looking for a Reform connection while they are in Israel. Many of the participants are prospective HUC students. I happened to have attended this Shabbaton 2 years ago when I was studying abroad my Junior year at Hebrew U. Click Here to read more about the weekend.

On the bus ride down to Kibbutz Yahel, one of the other HUC madrichim, Dave, was talking about how when we got to Israel, we appreciated every little thing. I remember our first orientation program passing around the Torah outside the Old City, it really felt like a miracle living in Israel and being in this graduate program. After a while though, we adjusted to our life in Jerusalem and everything was natural. Even our tiyulim felt like routine. Dave pointed out though, that as the year is coming to a close, we are starting to appreciate the miracles again. He's right.

The night before the Shabbaton I happened to be "g-chatting" with the HUC student who staffed the Shabbaton I was on 2 years ago, Callie. Callie would be entering her 4th year of Rabbinical school, but has decided to add on the Education year, which means, this fall, we will be classmates! How cool is that?!
The Shabbaton was a wonderfully relaxing weekend. All of the participants so greatly appreciated everything. It was so much fun to see the energy and excitement of the weekend with services, songleading, and just asking questions. It really brought back all of my wonderful memories of last summer when we all arrived in Israel.
One of my favorite parts of this year has been Havdallah in the park overlooking the Old City, a tradition that we began last summer, and of course came to a halt with the weather. Two weeks, when Havdallah started up again, those same summer feelings of "wow! I'm really here! This is amazing!" returned.

Last night I went to Kol Hanishamah for services for the last time (at least this trip). The first few weeks last summer, HUC students filled several rows in the synagogue. As the year went on, we tried out different communities and were busy with preparing for Shabbat that we didn't always go to services. Last night, rows were filled again with HUC students. The Rabbi wished us all luck and told us how much they appreciated having us as part of their community this year. At the end of services Charles Bronfman came up to a few of my friends and I and shook our hands and wished us luck.
After services I went to Shabbat Dinner at Kelly and Andrew's. After Shabbat dinner my first week in Jerusalem, I went over to their place to hang out with what I assumed would be my "good friends" at HUC. Last night, their apartment was filled with 20 people sharing in Shabbat together. I am really going to miss the routine of Friday night always being Shabbat. I hope it is something that I continue back in the states.
And so, here I am on this sunny Shabbat afternoon realizing that in just three weeks I will in Chicago on a (hopefully) sunny Saturday afternoon. This miracle of Shabbat in Jerusalem will have been past. In a way, it will feel like this year was a magical dream.

Everything is coming to a close. Tomorrow I began my last week of school in Israel. Next week is finals. And then I am heading back to Chicago. My first blog post was all about how much I love countdowns, for some reason, I can't seem to get myself into the spirit this time. I am just filled with so many mixed emotions. I am so excited to come "home" and see my friends and family and be back into my routine at home. I know that I will appreciate the miracles in America such as lines, customer service, and Chipotle of course. But, I will deeply miss the miracle of walking down the street on a Friday or Saturday and being greeted by complete strangers with "Shabbat Shalom" and the other daily miracles of Israel.

Off to study Biblical Grammar (I haven't seemed to find the miracle in that yet)!

Oh, and I forgot to mention...I got my teaching placement for this fall. I will be teaching 4th grade at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills! I am so excited. This is a particularly wonderful experience as I will be working under Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin (Rabbi Mason's daughter)! I know this is going to be a great learning experience.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

62 post-HAPPY 62nd Birthday Israel!!!

So really, I was going to combine this post with the previous one, but when I signed onto my blog and realized that I had already written 60 posts, I figured that it was a pretty neat thing to write about Israel's 62nd birthday in my 62nd post. At 8pm on Monday evening, Yom HaZikaron came to a close and Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, began. Sally Klein-Katz, my education professor, invited us over to her roof for a little celebration. Several HUC students attended and we had a great time and even got to see some fireworks. Afterwards, a few friends and I headed downtown to the center city. There were lots of street parties with bands playing music. Ally and I were tired, so at about midnight decided to head back home. On our walk back we stopped in the park to watch more fireworks that were right overhead-it was definitely one of those being in the right place at the right time moments.
Ed students with Sally!

On Tuesday, we decided to do what the Israelis do-BBQ! We headed to the park at 11am and stayed until 6 pm BBQ all day and just enjoying the day. Everyone was so friendly and happy. We needed some lighter fluid and so the people next to us, gave us theirs. It was just a wonderful and fun day!
I forgot to write about one other thing from last Sunday. I had the wonderful opportunity to skype with the 9th graders (and Rabbi Mason) and tell them about my experiences with the FSU Pesach Project, and the Israeli/Jewish Holidays this past week. They also asked some questions about my life in Israel. I was fortunate enough to be able to speak to them from Israel and in the moment which is not always possible.

Yom HaZikaron-Israel's Memorial Day

Last Sunday-Monday was a gloomy day in Jerusalem. At 8pm on Sunday evening, a siren was heard throughout the city to begin what for most Israelis, one of the most difficult days of the year, Yom HaZikaron. This is a day of memorial for all of the fallen soldiers in the Israel Defense Force. My roommates and I stepped out onto our balcony for the siren and watched people get out of their cars, stop walking down the sidewalk, and just pause and stand for a moment of silence. Monday morning we had a Yom HaZikaron service at school led by the Parallel Lives coordinators, Rachel and Hannah. One of the Israeli rabbinical students told a personal story of his friend, Marla, who lost her life in the bombing at the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria at Hebrew University. It was a powerful and emotional story. After the service, our class walked to one of the local High Schools for their ceremony. Every school has a Yom HaZikaron ceremony and graduates of the school (including the current soldiers) all go to their own High School for the ceremony. I was fortunate enough to stand with a former student who was able to explain all of the parts of the ceremony and even told us a few personal stories about some of her classmates who had lost their lives. At this school, they recited all of the names of former students and faculty members in chronological order. In front of me were two Israeli soldiers and at the end of the list of names, one of the soldiers grew very emotional and the two men stood hugging and crying for several minutes. As sad and emotional it was to witness, I felt very much like an outsider. Fortunately, I do not have any personal connections to fallen soldiers. I've never fought in the IDF and felt that this was very much a holiday of unity for these soldiers. After the ceremony, I went about my day, and began preparing for the following day, Yom Ha'Atzmaut.