Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What I'm Thankful For

So again, it's been forever and a day since I posted here. So much has happened and I wish I had written about it, but alas things like finals, papers, traveling to Europe and living in Jerusalem have gotten in the way. Not complaining, but admitting that it will take a lot for me to become a regular writer/reflector/blogger. Maybe by my 5th year?

In light of the upcoming bestholidayever called Thanksgivukkah, I figured a "catch-up" post with some highlights from the past two months was in order. I'm feeling pretty lucky to have experienced all this and so much more. Pictures at the end!

1) Experiencing the chaggim in Israel! I last wrote right before Yom Kippur and I have to say that being here for that holiday was something I will never forget. Despite the surprise heat wave (hottest Yom Kippur on record!), Jerusalem was magical that day. It is actually illegal to drive in Jerusalem that day, so the streets are completely empty. I took every opportunity I could to run, walk, skip and even sit in the streets! We walked to Emek Refaim (a usually very busy and commercial street) and it was just full of friends greeting one another, children playing, dogs roaming around and others just enjoying the sight. There was an incredible one-ness that night. Maybe it was the fact that most of the people were wearing white and this similar scheme placed everyone on a similar level – there were fewer obvious distinguishing factors between observant and secular, reform and orthodox, Israeli and visitor. I felt more at home in Jerusalem than I had previously. 

2) Traveling to Europe with three of my classmates! We left less than 24 hours after classes ended and arrived back in Jerusalem at 4 am the day we began class again. It was definitely a whirlwind trip, but we saw so much in those ten days. At some point I'll do a full update, but highlights include hearing a street musician play Beatles songs at the John Lennon wall, being moved by the Holocaust museum in Berlin, walking along canal after canal in Amsterdam and observing Simchat Torah with an amazing progressive community in a synagogue surrounded by a moat! I managed to get epicly sick during the trip, but my friends took such great care of me. It was a great experience to see so many new places as well as solidify truly special friendships. I'm lucky to know these women.

3) Leading my first solo service ever and chanting Torah for the first time in eight years! I led Mincha about a month ago and received great feedback. It was a big hurdle to overcome, but I'm really proud of myself. I connected an aspect of the weekly parsha (Vayeitzei) to the concept of finding holiness in the everyday, as inspired by my nephew Holden. Even though it was a lot of work to prepare, I did get a serious rush while leading and am thinking this may actually be something I enjoy doing :-)

4) Women of the Wall 25th Anniversary Service and Gala! We are lucky enough to be here for this huge milestone and greeted it with the calmest and most powerful service I've experienced yet with WOW. I'll write more about this later, but suffice it to say we were welcomed at various events that included so many powerful and amazing Jewish women from the US and around the globe. As I wrote in an email, it was one of those "I'm so proud to be a Jewish woman and studying here to be a part of this!"

4) Shabbat each week! While we miss full weekends epicly here, Friday night services and dinners are always something special. After an insane week of classes, projects, papers and other commitments, I need Shabbat very badly. Even though we are five months into the year, we are still doing a great job of organizing nearly weekly dinners in an infinite number of sub-groups to bring in Shabbat together. My classmates are seriously amazing cooks and I've experimented with some new recipes that received good reviews. There's always a lot of wine involved, sometimes some singing, and just a nice opportunity to connect outside of class and relax.

5) Classes! So right now I'm in the middle of the continuous and never ending period of midterms, but despite that, I'm really enjoying classes. Not every single one is a slamdunk, but I learn something new everyday, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I can't actually believe I'm writing that as I just swore at a midterm for two hours, but still. Mostly good things. 

All in all, I'm enjoying my time here, learning a TON, and building strong friendships that I really cherish. Time moves differently here - on the one hand it feels like I just arrived and on the other it's hard to remember what life was like before this as it seems that I've always been here. Jerusalem is still an odd amalgamation of a city... both feeling like I know my place and almost constantly reminded of my foreignness. With all the class and homework, it sometimes feels like I am in a generic city in the US, but then I have experiences (such as our trip to the Negev where I hiked up a mountain with views of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt in the distance) where I am slapped with a reminder that I am in one of the most beautiful, controversial and complicated cities and countries in the world. For that, I give thanks and will enjoy some turkey and latkes.

Now for photos!

Sitting in the intersection of Keren Hayesod and David HaMelech after Kol Nidre services

Drinking massive beers in Prague! So good and so cheap.

The group inside the Reichstag Dome in Berlin

At the John Lennon Wall which we wrote on to commemorate our trip.

One of the more hilarious class projects I've ever done... we were divided into groups to represent the political parties of the Jews in Russia in 1906. We were the Bund and here my classmate Ben (a former lawyer) is delivering a very convincing oratory about why our platform is the best!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Do you 10Q?

It seems both trite and appropriate to blog today as we prepare to enter Yom Kippur in just a few short hours. Between trying to get a solid meal in, cleaning the house and connecting with friends and family to make tshuvah, it was important to me to have a little time to do self-reflection before the holiday. Thankfully, this amazing website doyou10q.com exists for this purpose. They send you one question each day of the yamim noraim (the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) that range from "Describe a meaningful milestone of the year" to "What is a personal fear you would like to work on overcoming in the upcoming year?" I've participated in this program for the past two years and each September, when your previous year's answers come to you about a week before Rosh Hashanah, I love reading my responses and seeing where I have grown and what I still need to grow and work on for the new year.

Unfortunately, with this week being our first full week of class (9 classes!) and everything, I watched the questions come to my inbox day after day without taking the time to answer them. Therefore, I spent about an hour today thinking and reflecting on the questions. Given how many of my answers last year asked the question of where I would be while reading them, I took the opportunity to think about the many changes, challenges and highlights of the past year. I know this year will be transformative - which sometimes makes answering these questions really challenging. I found myself having more questions than answers and, while I have a pretty solid guess as to where I will be located come High Holidays 5775, I don't know where I'll be working, what I'll talk about in a potential sermon (gulp) or how I'll be connecting to all of the material - both the academic and practical aspects of my hopeful future profession.

On this Yom Kippur, I know I have much to reflect on and improve within myself and I'm committed to using this year to do that. It's hard not to get caught up in the proverbial HUC bubble (not necessarily a bad thing!) but I so appreciate the relationships I've built and the ones that will come. I'm used to not being at my home synagogue for the chaggim, but getting to be there last year was so great. Hilarious when Molly (shout out!) said "your family feels like celebrities!", but TI really is a place that feels like home and I'm always a little homesick for those people and comfortable services and melodies when I'm not there. Thank goodness for streaming services so I can watch them from here (you know you're in rabbinic school when... that's your Sunday afternoon.) To quote my classmate, "We're in a profession where we need to make a home wherever we go, which is a beautiful and scary thing." Could not agree more!

To close out, here are a few photos from recent excursions, meals etc. My blog was feeling way too wordy!

 Eliana, Staci and I at Rosh Hashanah dinner! Basically my second apartment so we decided I was the third host. Also we coordinated super well so we committed to re-wearing the outfits we wore that morning to services to the dinner so we could get a photo.
Most of the HUC representation at Women of the Wall's Selichot service. Finally in the women's section! Super excited to get that t-shirt and a very meaningful service with a lot of group participation. Women freely blew shofarot at the wall... very special. And I danced with Anat Hoffman afterwards!
A pretty typical shot from basketball... lots of people under the rim, maybe the ball went in. We've made it a weekly tradition and it is so fun! None of us are that good but we're getting a lot better and it is such a fun stress reliever. Lots of thanks to Ben (on the left) for organizing!

Monday, August 26, 2013

What I've been up to this past month.

I'm hoping I don't actually start every post by saying it's been a while, but it really has been this time. It's been nearly a month since I wrote in this blog. In that month, I've taken approximately 900 hours of Hebrew class (not accurate, but not that far off it seems), totally unpacked and flipped around everything I thought I knew (and didn't know) about the Tanakh, figured out how to combine cantillation marks with the words of the Torah, been to beer festivals and havdallahs, played countless games of Cards against Humanity, prayed in a ton of different locations, bonded with my classmates, walked and walked and walked, and sweated all over Israel. It has been an insane, meaningful, beautiful and overwhelming (only at times... don't worry mom!) month.

For the past six weeks, my days were spent in between ulpan, cantillation and biblical history. For over four hours each day, we talked about binyanim, sentence structure, vocabulary and more in Hebrew. My teacher Hanna somehow managed to explain most of these concepts largely using vocab we already knew/had learned and always had a worksheet for any question we asked. Hebrew was largely a review for me, which is amazing given I had only taken one year of Hebrew at Cal before this, so I give a ton of credit to the program. We also shared stories about trips we had taken (great for utilizing past tense) and her takeaways were the following:
1) America apparently continues past New York
2) There are bears that just run freely around the US
3) We are all crazy for enjoying nature
4) We are really lucky to have had these travel experiences (insanely true)

Our other main class was Biblical History. I really enjoyed this class, despite the fact that I did HORRIBLY grade-wise for most of it. I mean freshmen year gen chem badly. Our classes are pass/fail and I managed to pass, but it was definitely touch and go there for a while. I had never taken an academic class about the Tanakh before, and certainly never really learned about biblical history, so most of the material was completely new. It was fascinating to read a passage of text and then talk about the historical context that almost certainly disproves something's existence or truth or turn a key fact upside down. My friends and I would regularly look at one another during this class with eyes agape and agree that our minds were blown once again. While on the one hand it was difficult to learn some things about biblical history that make some of these stories and events difficult to see as truth, we also discussed the various meanings of history and its purpose in Judaism and Reform Judaism specifically. One of the ideas that became most meaningful to me is an opinion put forth by Ahad Ha'am. He stated that it didn't matter whether or not Moses existed because Moshe Rabbenu is a key teacher and leader for the Jewish people and others regardless. His symbolism and importance outweighs whether or not someone with his DNA actually lived. This dichotomy means to me that I can question and study the text while still fully believing that this history is a part of me and the Jewish people. One of the greatest aspects of the class was our ability to take field trips to the sites we were learning about. While we may have been sweaty, tired and sometimes without adequate water and prep for what we were experiencing, it was truly special to sit in the sites mentioned in the Tanakh and discuss what life was like thousands of years ago and why a location was strategic or not. On our last trip, we visited Lahisch, where letters had been discovered that proved widespread literacy among the ancient Israelites hundreds of years before it had previously been believed to have spread. The letters discuss something being posted, which implies the masses could read the message! So cool!

There have been many other classes, seminars and experiences in between, but it's really impressive to think back at everything that has happened over the past month. Outside of class and homework that sometimes takes up more time than we would hope (I know I know, it's grad school), I am really finding wonderful people to connect with who make the in between moments and those nights we just need to drink wine and laugh really wonderful and hilarious. I just came back from a great three day break with nearly a third of my class at a gorgeous guest house that overlooked the Kineret up north. Getting out of Jerusalem and taking a break was just the right medicine and reminded me that sometimes I just need to take a step back and appreciate the beauty of this country and that I am in the middle of a unique and special experience. Not every moment of every day is great and sometimes things get really hard, but that's completely ok and I am lucky to have people to turn to in those moments both here and at home, which makes me feel super lucky and appreciative.

Time for bed... fall semester begins in the morning!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eventually I'll update about life...

Tonight we heard from Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, the editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary and it was truly inspirational. I cannot believe I will get to learn from her in the future – just an hour of listening to her tell the story of how this text came to be was just wow (no better words. I’ve tried). I had tears in my eyes for a large portion of the evening (did I seriously just admit that?), but this just felt like a big coming together of my passions for Judaism and feminism and they have been brought together in this awesome book that I will one day totally devour/use as inspiration/teach from (We get copies when we get back to the states! Luckily not here… zero space in my baggage for another huge book). Her theme throughout her talk was just how ideal and enjoyable the experience of creating this publication was. The process took nearly twenty years from its original conception to publication, with Tamara being deeply involved for about a decade. The editors wanted (and succeeded in creating) a commentary that was intellectual, challenging and yet accessible for both women and men across all denominations and even those outside of the Jewish world.

The organization of the commentary is very intentional and went through many revisions. It first was presented in Talmudic style, but this felt foreign for many of the reviewers. Ultimately, the text is organized by parshiot (always the intention) with an introduction and overview, text in both Hebrew and English and then a sentence or two to introduce the four commentaries on each parsha. The text gives the traditional translation found in the chumash used in many Reform synagogues (with few exceptions, this is word for word the same translation), then four alternative commentaries/readings – contemporary interpretation, rabbinic interpretation, another reading of the text and a poem. The poems came about somewhat organically… she said no one remembered how they came to be included, but they are added to give the reader another way to connect with the text. While the editors give the pasook (verse) that inspired this specific poem to be included, it is up to the reader to postulate as to how the poem connects with the text. She talked about hours long conversations of poetry reading between the editing team trying to find the right one. Sounds like a beautiful experience.

Besides the fact that I am so excited to learn from her in LA, I am really thankful this commentary exists. The other students who had used it before commented that the texts do not focus on the victimization or marginalization of women and instead aim to elevate women’s stature in the text and employ a woman’s perspective on the various laws/stories/histories in the Torah. I believe this helps the text gain recognition and stature outside of the progressive Jewish feminist community, which we learned was a big goal of the editors. I’m still geeking out a bit about the whole thing and it made me really want to dig up some of those old WGS readings.

In other news, week three of classes start tomorrow! There’s a whole bunch else I want to update this blog on, but this was just an experience that I needed to write about asap. Life is good, super busy but things are beginning to settle in. Our summer schedule is pretty crazy but I hear we get even busier so I’m trying to appreciate the few free afternoons I have while they still exist!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Those who sew in tears shall reap in joy

So I'm already relatively failing at keeping this blog up, but at the encouragement/pushing of some people, it's time to blog again!

This past week has been orientation. It's been a while since I've been at one of these, and it was about 10 times more exhausting than I remembered. Luckily there was no book about poverty we were forced to discuss that no one had actually read (hey WashU 2010!), but between speakers, Q&A sessions, tfillah, setting expectations, walking tours and more, our days were packed! Overall, I really enjoyed the week - getting to know my classmates, learning more about the YII program and hearing from some of our future professors. Each person who spoke to us was incredibly passionate, excited and incredibly knowledgeable. The depth and insight about each detail, story and historical fact is truly remarkable. I cannot wait to learn from them!

While I continue to process what actually happened during orientation, I want to first write about two events from last week that are still on my mind. In this post, I'll write about my experience with Women of the Wall and later will blog about my Freedom Ride with IRAC. I knew about both of these opportunities before coming to Israel and was excited that both could occur within my first two weeks of being in Israel. Even though we had to be ready at an ungodly hour, nearly half of my class dragged themselves out of bed to participate in WOW. Unlike my experience with WOW last summer, we needed to arrive as one group due to increased security threats in recent months. With police escort, we bussed up to the kotel plaza where we could immediately hear screaming and booing. I was near the back of the group as we approached, and was surprised when we stopped in the first plaza beyond security. I couldn't even see the kotel. It eventually made its way through the crowd that thousands of orthodox girls had been recruited to fill the kotel plaza to block our entrance. While some were blowing whistles and participating in the shouting, from the photos and first-hand accounts, it seems that most of the girls were just standing there, talking, checking their cell phones and waiting. I can't help but wonder what was going through their minds at that time. What did they think of us? Did they wonder how it felt to be on the other side of the barrier? I know I tried to put myself in their shoes as I tried to process how they must feel so threatened as to attempt to drown out someone else's prayer. We are all Jews, we all want to pray at our holy site and yet we are suddenly divided. The police barrier became a symbol of all that divides us instead of the deep history and tradition that should unite us. It was honestly pretty depressing and challenging to find meaning in my prayers that morning.

However, about halfway through the service, a young girl was invited to the center to read from the chumash (women are still not allowed to bring a Torah scroll to the women's section) for her Bat Mitzvah. As this tiny young girl stood up on the chair and chanted, everyone had tears in their eyes. With her parents and grandparents right next to her, this girl took a step towards Jewish womanhood. While those noises of yelling and anger still rang in the background, I was totally focused on this momentous occasion I was privileged to be a part of. You can see the Bat Mitzvah (and me somewhere in the background... being a ginger in a Jewish crowd makes me pretty easy to spot) here! I hope that this girl grows up in a society where she is able to one day bring her own daughter to the Wall, where she will be allowed to read from a real Torah scroll without fear or hesitation.

As we exited the plaza, a man threw an egg towards the crowd. Instead of feeling scared, I was immediately uplifted to see several soldiers race up the staircase to catch the perpetrators. While things were certainly not perfect, it was affirming to see at least some of the police on our side and stopping abject hatred and rudeness in its tracks.

Even nearly a week later, I'm still processing what happened last Monday. Part of me is still saddened that prayer has placed Jew against Jew and made the kotel a hostile environment. I am also elated that I was finally able to pray at/near the kotel with my tallit that is painted with the skyline of Jerusalem. I also can understand that the haredim feel threatened by WOW's presence and worry their way of life and prayer is rapidly disappearing, but that does not forgive those in the plaza's vicious efforts to drown out prayer and be hostile. A pregnant rabbi from New York was hit with an egg - something is terribly wrong with that picture. I don't know what the solution will be, but I know that I will be there every Rosh Chodesh I am here (bearing unforseen situations) and hope that we continue to inch closer to the kotel we envision as a safe, pluralistic and holy place for all.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I'm here!

(Preface- this was written a few days ago, but I forgot to post it. Entries related to recent events such as Women of the Wall coming soon!)

So I spent a while trying to think of a creative title for my blog, so long in fact that I was able to come up with absolutely nothing. A nice classmate of mine told me that Julie in Jerusalem is cute and alliterative so I decided that instead of being blog-less as more stories/experiences occur, I should just go with it.  I'm hopeful that I will actually keep up with this blog and will remind myself that this will be a great way to remember this year since I definitely don't have the best memory!

I've been here about 5 days so far, though it certainly feels like more. Mostly because each day has been pretty full and I'm still adjusting to the time and the new-ness of everything. My first full day was July 4th, which we celebrated with a "American" barbecue. While there were no fireworks and certainly no baseball (though the A's won in dramatic fashion which made me happy), we celebrated atop a gorgeous overlook in Abu Tor. It was great to meet many of my classmates and we did manage to enjoy a round of This Land is Your Land, which I learned has many alternative lyrics from various countries.

Other highlights included a very thought-provoking trip to Bethlehem (more on that in another post) and Shabbat services and dinner with classmates. Several fellow students led services, and it was really wonderful to be in an environment where everyone is praying, committed and in the moment. The leaders stopped at various moments during the service to ask about our various customs and, unsurprisingly, there was both a lot of diversity and commonalities in the room. Mostly I just really appreciated the beautiful harmonies that naturally occurred during various prayers when our backgrounds taught us slightly different tunes. We finished services by singing l'chi lach, and I literally had chills in that pretty cheesy "wow I'm actually here and doing this" sense. That Debbie Friedman tune has always held a special place in my heart and hearing it sung by my (many) musically talented classmates was awesome. There are seven cantors, but at least 10 other songleader/insanely talented singer types in addition.

I also went on a campus tour today, where, among other things, we walked to this overlook at the back of campus. The land was leased to the reform movement in the early 1960s, and it was not so ideal because  the Jordanians used to have military guards atop the walls in the background. After Jerusalem was unified, the space in the middle became less volatile and now leads to an amazing view!

Tomorrow begins orientation and classes start next week. I'm excited to have a more solidified schedule and get a chance to meet and chat with everyone.