my journey
I know it has been an insanely long time since I blogged. In order to encapsulate everything that has happened, I think some pictures are in order. 
Since I last blogged, I went on a tiyyul (trip) to the south. It was a three day break from classes (we didn't have an actual break since Sukkot in mid-September, and wouldn't have one until the end of the semester). We went on a JNF tour, looking at some of their various projects, went hiking (see pictures), and snorkeling (sorry, but no underwater pictures, although we did see an eel!). We spent Shabbat under the stars and in the sand and really got to enjoy the beauty of the Negev Desert. When we came back, it was time for...

Thanksgivukkah! I helped to organize our class dinner, but everyone pitched in to cook a delicious meal (see below). We had two turkeys, several types of roasted veggies, three kinds of latkes, parve (dairy free) mashed potatoes, two kinds of applesauce and Maccabee beer (because it was also Hanukkah). We lit candles and said some Thanksgivukkah blessings, and really got to enjoy this family meal with our new HUC family. Later that week , I went touring the Old City with Ashley to observe the gorgeous oil hannukiot all lit up. The pictures weren't that great, but there's one of the two of us together in the old city.

With Hanukkah came the month of December, and the month of Tevet. Meaning, there was a Nashot HaKotel service. Check out the video here. You can see my arm in the front left hand side; I'm wearing a silver and purple bracelet and a blue t-shirt. 
Throughout the semester, a group of us have been playing basketball on a regular basis. Off to the side is a "team picture" (minus about 6 people who play frequently) of all of us. 

And then it snowed. Just in time for finals and our reading days. We ended up have a five day weekend and a few late start days as Jerusalem tried to deal with about ten inches of snow. Probably the most amusing parts of snow in Jerusalem was watching Israelis attempt to clear it away. Without shovels. I saw cardboard boxes, garden hoes, dustpans, and my personal favorite: the sides of squeegees being used as substitute shovels. And on a larger scale, construction equipment was being implemented as plows. It took a while for the snow to get cleared away, and even longer for the ice to melt. So when I went to pick up Elliot from the airport (!!), our taxi driver refused to drive us all the way to my apartment since the roads were so icy. Which brings me to my next topic..Elliot. He arrived on December 17th, during my last week of classes and finals week. He's staying through the new year until January second. It has been lovely having him around these past two weeks, and our time together is really flying by. He got to enjoy some quiet vacation time and got to catch up on his jet lag while I was studying and writing papers. Now that my finals are over and he is on Israel time, we get to go out exploring. We've been wandering in the Old City, walking the ramparts of the city walls, to Yad VaShem and Mount Herzl. We walked around my old neighborhood and my new neighborhood. We've celebrated Shabbat twice, and we got to visit my friend Jill, here on a birthright trip on Ben Yehuda street. On Christmas Eve, we went to the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Then we went to a Scottish Church on the way home for midnight mass. The best part of the service in my opinion, was walking out after the service and seeing the Jerusalem lights on the hill. It was a really nice service. And while I would have loved to have gone to Bethlehem and seen the craziness in manger square, we got to have a much calmer Christmas eve in Jerusalem. On Christmas day, we went and got Japanese food (the Chinese food in this country is really awful) and saw the Hobbit (with Hebrew subtitles. The Hebrew when one of the dwarfs said to Bilbo "go now" was the same as what God commanded Abraham in Genesis (lech l'cha). I was amused :)) 

Me and Jill on Ben Yehuda Street | Elliot, Ashley, Melissa, and me in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Christmas Eve
Tonight, Elliot and I are off to Petra and then back in Jerusalem for New Years. I'll blog again in 2014! 

Happy New Year and Shavua Tov!!
As I was checking Facebook yesterday, I was flooded by "first snow" "it's snowing in jersey!" "Yup that's snow" posts from most of my friends on the east coast. And while I'm not a huge fan of the snow (unless in closes school, then snow and I are bffs) I was missing home a little bit today. The first snow can be very exciting for the elementary school kid, or the start of a long winter for us college students. But in Israel snow is this magical gift from god that never shows up and when it does the whole city (country really) shuts down until its gone. But it didn't snow in Jerusalem. At least not yet. This week I was blessed with rain. For those who are familiar with the Middle East, it doesn't rain too much here, and the rain that does fall is cherished. Starting near sukkot, we start asking for rain in our daily prayers. And as I've just translated for my Mishnah class, if the rains don't fall, it is because we have been cursed and need to fast to atone for our poor behavior and bring on the rains. So luckily we don't have to fast. However, I was in Madrid during the first real rain of the season. I got all of those "omg it's raining" statuses flooding my facebook wall (no pun intended) and was a little bummed to be missing the big moment. However, this week, I got rained on. Twice. Once on the way back from the grocery store and once on my walk home from school. I heard the rain as I was hanging my laundry (and needed to move it inside to dry). Usually, I like to curl up next to a window and listen and smell the rain as I watch a movie or read a book. But in Israel, I was really glad I was walking around outside when the rain started. Check back in with me in a few months when it's raining all the time and see if I'm still so excited about it, but for now, I'm glad I got caught in the rain :)
Last week I had the opportunity to lead mincha services, afternoon prayer. It was the first time I had ever led mincha, but not my first time leading services. I really do not like the spotlight and so I made my service about communal responsibility. I wrote different readings to correspond to different parts of the service and had my colleagues participate in the service by reading these excerpts. Overall, I think it went pretty well. I'm still not very confident with the nusach (melody) of the afternoon prayers from the leadership perspective, but that will only come with practice. But in general, if I were to do it again, I don't think I would change too much. 

Today, I had the challenge of giving a D'var Torah (a speech about the Torah portion this week). I say challenge because I despise giving speeches. I can write it sure, and would much prefer to write something for others to read than me deliver a speech. But it was one of my requirements, and so it had to happen. I wrote about the conversation between Jacob and Laban when they are discussing Jacob's bride price for Rachel's hand in marriage. The big take away message was to look for the silver lining when everything you thought was right goes completely wrong. As some of you know, my biggest challenge when delivering a speech is talking too quickly. I'll have you know that not once when I was practicing did the cantor tell me to slow down :) Below is the transcript and click here for the video of my d'var from this morning. Let me know  if I talked too quickly! I'd also love your feedback in general. 

Off to study for midterms and get some sleep after a very very long week. Shabbat shalom!

D'var VaYeitze
How many hoops would you jump through before you decided to stop trying to reach your goal?

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go home for a weekend. Seems simple no? I had my checklist: get tickets, talk to Dave and my teachers about missing class, schedule the sheirut, sit on a plane for fourteen hours to go to a wedding, and, between layovers, see my family for only a few hours. But for a chance to see my family, even for a short while, I would do anything, wouldn't you?

I had many hoops to jump through to realize this goal, just like Jacob had to overcome many obstacles to marry the woman he loved. 

We turn our attention now to parashat VaYeitze where we find our characters Jacob and Laban mid-conversation about the bride price Jacob will pay for Rachel’s hand in marriage. 

ויאמר לבן ליעקב הכי אחי אתה ועבדתני חנם היגידה לי מה משכורתך 
(29:15) Laban said to Jacob, just because you are a kinsman, should you serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?

What we learn first is that Jacob will not be getting the family discount. However, he has the opportunity to name his price. Before we hear Jacob’s answer, we learn that Rachel Laban’s younger daughter is more beautiful than Leah, his older daughter.

Then we get Jacob’s answer to Laban’s question:
ויאהב יעקב את רחל ויאמר אעבדך שבע שנים ברחל בתך הקתנה
 (29:18) Jacob loved Rachel and so he answered, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter”

How did Jacob arrive at this magical number of seven years? It seems like an awfully long time to work before marrying the girl of your dreams. Malbim, a 19th century Russian biblical commentator suggests explanations and justifications for each year in Jacob’s offer relating to Jacob’s relationship with Rachel, social customs, and supply and demand economics.

But more than the amount Jacob offers, I am intrigued by his specific wording. Jacob says pretty precisely “I will serve seven years for Rachel your younger daughter” (29:18).

Rashi explains: If Jacob had just said I will work for Rachel, Laban could have found some other Rachel at the shuk for Jacob to marry, so Jacob adds “your daughter”. But then Laban could change Leah’s name to Rachel and marry her off first, so Jacob adds “younger”.

It seems like Jacob thought of every possible scenario in his proposition to make sure that he wasn’t tricked into marrying the wrong girl.

However, as you know the story goes (and if not, sorry for the spoiler) Jacob gets tricked and marries the wrong girl.

Is the Torah is teaching us that even if we put all this work into carefully calculating the perfect proposal, our deals may be foiled? Is the Torah telling me that even if I stress about every little detail for a weekend trip, it may not work out the way I planned? 

So I made it to Michigan and was getting ready for the wedding on Saturday when I got a call from my mom saying that she couldn’t meet me at the airport because my dad was in the hospital. As some of you know, my dad has cancer, and he had some complications from chemo the weekend I was home. So my layover Sunday afternoon with my parents was not going to be as relaxing as I had hoped. My brilliantly crafted plans were ruined.

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary asks an interesting question—does human subterfuge disrupt the divine plan or advance it? Maybe there is a purpose to our ruined plans.

If Jacob hadn’t married the wrong girl, he would not have all the children he did and the people of Israel would not be who they are. If the traffic on I-95 hadn’t cut the time I got to spend with my parents in half, I would not have had that time to catch up with my aunt and uncle who picked me up or made the memories I did with my sister rushing to get back to the airport on time.

We learn from this parsha to be like Jacob, to do what it takes, whatever it takes, to achieve our goals. And no matter how hard we try, everyday things or big life moments may not work out the way we hoped. But maybe that was God’s intention after all. Jump as high as you must to get through those hoops and pursue your happiness. Learn to look for that silver lining, that hidden divine plan when everything you thought was right goes completely wrong.

Boker Tov.
I woke up Monday morning not knowing what to expect. Last month was very challenging and that was after the Chief Rabbi asked the Yeshiva girls to not come out to protest. This month they were asked to come and protest. So how many girls were gonna be here shouting and whistling and preventing me from focusing on my prayer? But this month we also had so many supporters from all over the world coming to the Kotel to pray with Nashot HaKotel. 

I woke up Monday morning and put on my Nashot HaKotel shirt and walked to school to join my classmates and make our way over to the Kotel to join the Women of the Wall for their 25th Anniversary Rosh Hodesh service. We got there a little early, and the women's side was mostly full. And not with protestors. We made our way to the center of the crowd, donned our tallitot, some laid tefillin, and joined in the celebratory psalms of the women. 

I woke up Monday morning ready to celebrate the new month of Kislev. I had been to several (i.e. two) Rosh Hodesh services before and at neither was I really able to focus on the prayer. At the first, I was just so excited to be joining this group in shacharit. I didn't have a good idea of what was going on, and really couldn't hear what was happening. Last month, there were protestors and I was more distracted by what they were doing and what was happening around me than on the words I was saying. This month I had an earpiece and could hear the entire service clearly. This month I wasn't surrounded by protestors but rather by prayers. This month was the first month I was actually able to pray. 

I felt honored to be part of this group. And disappointed at the same time that this group has to exist. In such a modern world, it's frustrating to know that there is still inequality, that people do not have the same opportunities or freedoms. Probably one of the most moving parts of the service was when the empty Torah mantles were raised as a sign of what is still missing. The women are no longer arrested for wearing tallitot or laying tefillin. But they still cannot read from the Torah Scroll. Hopefully this will soon be a problem of the past. 

Last week, I went with some of my friends to look at the new Robinson's Arch platform that has been proposed as a place for egalitarian prayer. And we've had several conversations about what this prayer space would do to the WoW cause. I've come to the decision that by accepting the proposal for egalitarian prayer space at Robinson's Arch, the Women of the Wall will no longer be able to lobby for the rights of women at the Kotel. I don't think WoW is looking for egalitarian prayer where men and women pray together, but rather the freedom to pray however you see fit in the current demarcated areas. Granted, I would love to see the end of the mechitza, but I'm not so confident that that will happen any time soon. 

Overall, I was just very honored to be part of this amazing service surrounded by these incredible women and men. 

Later that evening was the gala celebrating 25 years of Women of the Wall. My favorite speaker was Ambassador Dan Shapiro who spoke about how WoW has impacted his daughters--the older who wants to have her Bat Mitzvah at the Wall, and the younger who hopefully will wonder what all the fuss was about. Again, I was honored to be part of such a beautiful event. It was a wonderful evening celebration and happiness filled with dancing, singing, sharing stories, and meeting new people. 

Kol HaKavod to Nashot HaKotel. Mazal Tov on 25 Years!
Okay. I usually start these posts by commenting on how long it has been since the last one...but this time it's true. I haven't blogged in over a month. And I'm sorry. But I've been pretty busy. Who knew grad school would be so time consuming? So here's a recap of what I've been up to in the past month. 

1. Went to Spain for the first time! My friend Liz and I travelled to Madrid to visit my friend Caitlin for a week during Sukkot break. On the way there, we had a day to explore Vienna. (Elliot was very jealous that I was going back to "his city" without him. But I got him chocolate, so it was okay) Liz had never been to Vienna, and being the cantorial student she is, I planned a musical day for our first trip (we also had a 12 hour layover in Vienna on the way back to Israel). We saw the Opera House, Stephensdome, Kartnerstrasse (the main shopping street), and toured Haus der Musik (the music museum). We had Italian for lunch and kept using Hebrew instead of German to talk to the waiter. Caitlin met us at the airport in Madrid and we went home and crashed. The next day Liz and I went to the Prado museum (which was the only really touristy thing we did during our stay). Friday night, we went out to dinner to celebrate Caitlin's birthday before going out. It was a late night that ended with churros y chocolate at 330am. Saturday was round two of the birthday celebrations, including tapas for dinner and Spanish drinks (i.e. mojitos) for dessert. Sunday we went shopping. I haven't really gone shopping since I got to Israel and Caitlin had birthday money to spend, so we went shopping. Monday Caitlin had work in the morning and the evening, so we slept in and went to dinner late, but in the middle of the day we went walking around exploring Vienna. Tuesday Liz and I ventured to Toledo for the day by ourselves to see the Jewish quarter. We got there and back without getting lost or speaking any Spanish. It  was quite an adventure. Wednesday we flew back to Vienna where LIz and I walked through the Nashmarkt, hiked at Schubrunn, and meandered around the Manner chocolate store before grabbing some dinner and catching our flight back to Israel. We landed and had Shabbat to catch up on sleep before starting school again on Sunday. 

2. The fall term officially started. And now I have school, without any more breaks until December 27. It's gonna be a long two and a half months. Taking 10 classes is just as overwhelming and daunting as it seems. I'm still trying to figure out how to best manage my time. But now that midterm season has started, I just hope to get enough sleep at night. 

3. I'm playing basketball regularly and learning how to play the guitar. Because I think I have free time that needs to be filled. We play basketball once a week at the local park. There's a group of regulars who are definitely getting better each week. To bad the student-faculty game at the end of the year is soccer. Once a week I'm also taking guitar lessons from my friend Adam. I won one lesson with him from a silent auction and he said that if I bring food, he would be willing to teach me each week. And then two more friends wanted to join. So we have a nice little club. Still trying to figure out our regular meeting time, but I'm learning how to play the guitar. I know five chords and a strum pattern--now we're just working on putting the two together and changing chords seamlessly. 

4. I went home for a weekend. Yes a weekend. Elliot's sister got married and I flew in for the wedding. I got to Michigan Friday morning. Elliot met me at the airport with open arms. We got coffee and went to help set up the sound system at the venue. Then we had some time to wander around downtown Grand Rapids before going back to the hotel to get ready for the rehearsal dinner.  A delicious 5 course meal in the wine cellar of an Italian restaurant. Saturday Ell and I woke up and got breakfast at Panera. Three words: Pumpkin Spice Latte. How I've missed them so much. Then we went to the wedding, which was beautiful. Afterwards was dinner and dancing. The food was delish and at one point, Elliot jumped in with the musicians on Mari's violin to play. We left to head back to the hotel when the rain started. I hadn't felt rain in 3 months. It was wonderful. The next morning Elliot drove me to the airport to catch my plane to Philly to see my parents and sister. My aunt and uncle met me at the airport to drive me to Fox Chase where Dad, Em, Mom, and Grandmom were waiting for us. We spent a few hours hanging out and catching up. We exchanged the stuff I brought for the stuff my brought me to take back to Israel including two books and two winter jackets. (While it isn't cold yet in Jerusalem, the winters are rough and I want to be prepared). Then Em drove me  back to Newark airport with a stop at WaWa on the way for some dinner. I caught my flight and got back to my apartment at around 7pm for classes at 830 the next day. It was a whirlwind adventure, but totally worth it. 

5. If I haven't already mentioned it, school is really busy. In addition to school work, I am leading services on Sunday afternoon, am writing a speech about next week's Torah portion (VaYeitze), and am chanting Torah in two weeks. These are some of the required service participation we have to do as HUC students. I just smartly planned all of them to occur within the three week period of midterms. So, hopefully in two weeks, when all of this is over, I will have a little more free time. 

6. Another requirement of HUC's year in Israel program is a community service project. I am tutoring English to 4-6 graders at a nearby synagogue. We've only had our fourth session and the director is in the states for two weeks, so the volunteers are still getting used to the kids and how to handle our time together. But so far so good. I'm not sure how much English the students are learning, but my Hebrew seems to be getting a little better, which is always a plus. 

7. Elliot bought plane tickets to visit me over winter break! We were planning on meeting somewhere in Europe, but because of the way our breaks work, we would only have had time to see each other for a week. However, Elliot is coming to see me, so we get like 2.5-3 weeks together and I can't wait. 

8. Coming up: Chag-o-ween (HUC's Halloween party), Women of the Wall's 25 Anniversary Rosh Hodesh celebration on November 4 (let me know if you'll be in Israel to celebrate), Thanksgivukkah (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fall on the same day this year--naturally we're having a party), and my Service leading stuff. 

Stay tuned and Shabbat Shalom. 
So I know it's been two weeks since I last posted, but I did that purposefully. I wanted to experience the High Holy Days in the Holy Land before I took time to reflect on them. Let me tell you how awesome and amazing this experience has been. I am so blessed and thankful to have the opportunity to be here for this. 

Rewind to last Wednesday. We didn't have any classes, so I had the day to do some homework, sleep in, watch TV, and get ready to welcome in the New Year. Services at HUC started at 6, being in the choir I had to be there at 5, so I left my apartment around 415 to take my time and get to services without getting too sweaty (that didn't work; my clothes were still soaked as the sun is quite strong here at 415 in the afternoon).  The choir folks were all there and we warmed up and had time to schmooze and take some pictures before the evening began. I'm really glad that I joined the choir because I learned the High Holiday nusach (chanting pattern) and was able to participate more in the service. Services were lovely and the sermon charged us with the task of seeking more scheheyehanu moments (first time momement when we say a blessing thanking God for allowing sustaining us and allowing us to reach this point in our lives). Afer services, I went to my friend Ally's house for a delicious holiday meal with a great group of people and some really yummy homemade challah. 

Thursday and Friday there were no services at HUC and Rosh HaShana is the only holiday that is celebrated for two days in Israel (more on this later). Thursday, I along with the majority of HUC, went to Kol HaNeshema for services, a local reform synagogue, where our provost was giving the D'var (entirely in Hebrew). I enjoyed the services as it felt like a combination of Reform and Conservative traditions (there was a lot of music, but also a lot of mumbling silently to yourself) that worked well together. I stayed through the end of musaf and then went home to relax. Thursday night, an HUC apartment was hosting us for a potluck dinner and so I went over there with some chocolate covered pomegranate seeds (a favorite among my classmates). The food (the obscene amount of it) and the company were both wonderful. 

Friday I went for something a little different than the traditional synagogue service and went to a meditative service at the nature museum about ten minutes from my apartment. I really enjoyed the silent meditation and chanting that they incorporated into their service--really good for contemplation and self-reflection. However, I would have benefited from a machzor (High Holiday prayer book) and wish I had one with me during this service. I left right before musaf started because I was meeting friends to go to a potluck lunch at my Education Seminar teacher's (gorgeous) house. There were a few people that I knew (one that I had met at my meditative service earlier) but mostly it was my teacher's family friends whom I didn't know. So I talked to my friends and had a lovely time eating some delicious food (are you sensing a theme yet?). Afterwards I went over to a different apartment to talk and eat some yummy cookies before heading home and prepping the food I was going to bring to Shabbat later that night. Yes, after the craziness of Rosh HaShana we still had Shabbat. Because so many of us had spent enormous numbers of hours in shul, three of my friends hosted a group of us for maariv services in their house before dinner. These kinds of intimate services are my favorite (it also doesn't hurt that the three people living in the apartment are cantorial students and that several of the people leading and participating are musically inclined, meaning we had a very beautiful musical service). 

Sick of services and synagogues, I spent Saturday in bed watching TV and not doing much of anything. Sunday thru Thursday I had normal classes and Friday evening was the start of Yom Kippur. 

Rosh HaShana is nothing compared to Yom Kippur in this country. On Rosh HaShana, like Shabbat, there are still cars on the road, fewer than a typical afternoon, but still cars. On Yom Kippur, there are no cars in the streets, except for the occasional emergency vehicle. Also, everyone wears white. Everyone. And crocs are really popular (on Yom Kippur it's customary to not wear leather shoes, leather of any kind but most specifically shoes). In America, most people are wearing their nice suits with their obnoxiously white sneakers. Here, the crocs and sneakers don't stand out as much. Rosh HaShana was in the normal sanctuary at HUC where we have Shabbat and daily services. Yom Kippur services were held in the mostly glass windowed event hall overlooking the Old City. So, everyone (this was the most packed service of any of the high holiday services at HUC) was sitting looking out at the Old City in their white clothes and crocs and sneakers as the sun sets. Try to picture that. The choir starts singing Adon HaSlichot followed by Or Zarua and then Kol Nidre, the reason everyone came out to services (on time). Last year at Penn State, my good friend Sarah, a voice performance major, sang probably the most beautiful Kol Nidre I have ever heard (including this year), but there was something magical about hearing the words that have been chanted for hundreds of years while overlooking the place where the temple once stood that you just cant experience in America no matter how beautiful the singer's voice. The rest of the service was lovely. The Cantorial students in my class are just incredible and I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to pray with them all year. They each had several solos throughout the holidays and they all did an incredible job. Also, there was a last minute change in service leadership as the Rabbi who was supposed to lead Kol Nidre services was sick. Major props to the rabbis who filled in (including doing a sermon last minute). The walk home was also an amazing experience. Remember how I said there were no cars on the roads? Well, as services were finishing the roads were filled with people walking home. It honesty felt like a giant block party that included the entire country. Kids were out on roller blades and bicycles, dogs were being walked, groups of friends and neighbors were stopping in the middle of the road to catch up and talk. Truly a once-a-year opportunity. 

Saturday I woke up early to head back to HUC. My "Yom Kippur Moment" happened when my classmate sang Unetaneh Tokef (the prayer, in addition to Kol Nidre, that signifies Yom Kippur for me). She sang so eerily beautiful in the way you can only sing this prayer. My second moment came when Cantor Evan Kent, a new oleh (immigrant) and teacher at HUC sang Sh'ma Koleinu (Hear our voices). My only words were wow and wow. I had goosebumps during the entire prayer. It was just incredible. Shacharit was a typical Yom Kippur shacharit service. For musaf, a few of my classmates put together a meditative/reflective service that was really nice. We had the opportunity to sit back, relax, hum, think, meditate, read, listen, question and just be in the moment. Then it was time for a short break. I went out onto a nearby lawn to read and relax. 

We came back around 4 for study sessions. Eight of my classmates led four study sessions related to Yom Kippur. The one I attended looked at our rituals (like sending a goat off into the wilderness with all of our sins) from an anthropological perspective and questioned the relevance of these practices in our current style of worship. It was a good discussion that made me think about what we do and why we do it. Then came the afternoon service where I read Torah in Israel for the first time since my Bat Mitzvah ten years ago. That was pretty cool. The community we have here as students is wonderful. When I finished chanting, I got a huge chorus of yasher koach (nice job, essentially) from the student section. It just made me smile :) 

After mincha, we transitioned into Yizkor, the memorial service. In the States, this is the service where you get a booklet listing the names of people in the congregational family who are remembered at this time of the year. In Israel, it is a time to reflect on the 1973 War, and this year was the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. While we still remember people in our families who are no longer with us, that is done privately while the collective memory is placed on the 2000 and some soldiers who were killed during this war. It was very powerful to be looking at the Old City during the Yizkor service, looking out at the land that so many had died to protect and defend. 

Ne'ilah came next, the conclusion service. Using the traditional ne'ilah nusach for some prayers and a more joyful melody as the end of ne'ilah grew closer, as the gates of heaven were closing more and more, as we made one final push to have our pleads for forgiveness heard and answered. As we finished the service, I had a moment to just stop and be. This Yom Kippur is one that I will remember and cherish for a very long time. 

Two other random less serious topics: the lines in grocery stores in Israel before the three day hag of Rosh HaShana/Shabbat were like the lines in Pennsylvania before a week-long blizzard was supposed to hit. OMG I have never seen more people shopping in a grocery store in my life. I can only imagine how crazy and crowded the shuk was two Wednesdays ago. Also, never have I ever seen a group of 40 some students rush to set up a meal so quickly as I witnessed us setting up break-fast last night. 

So that's all for now. Two more days of classed before the ten-day sukkot break. I'm off to Vienna and Madrid :) 

Shana Tova u'Tikatevu, Gmar Hatima Tova, Shavua Tov, and Lilah Tov!
שנה טובה ותיכתבו, גמר חתימה טובה, שבוע טוב ולילה טוב

Ok, so as I mentioned in my last blog, I'm taking ten classes this semester. So far so good. But with the holidays, I won't have two full week of classes until October, so I've got some time to adjust. Here's the break down:

Hebrew: I moved up to kita dalet, the highest Hebrew level. This classes focuses more on text and reading than on grammar, which should be good for me in the long run. I love grammar, and am kind of upset that I wont have as much, but reading comprehension and talking is something I need to work on. So it should be good. We learned another category of verbs and spent some time reading a story about Berel Catznelson, an early Zionist. We also each have children's books to read (completely in Hebrew) about a time-tunnel and various events in Jewish/Israeli history. 

Education Seminar: This is the same seminar that began during the summer, except now we meet every week. The first unit is focusing on definition of education and we are currently exploring how four different theorists think and describe education. This is being done by a series of presentations. Mine is on Sunday about E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge base he thinks every student needs to succeed in school and in democracy. 

Rabbinic Texts: In this class, taught all in Hebrew, we are exploring Mishna (rabbinic texts, explanations, debates, justifications for various customs, traditions, and rules in Jewish life). The first class we looked at masecet Rosh HaShana mishnayot 1 and 2, which explore the various (four) new years in the Jewish calendar and what they all stand for. In order to study Mishna, we meet as a larger class to overview the topic, break into smaller couples to discuss the text in depth, and then reconvene to discuss what we discovered. I really enjoy working with my hevruta partner, we work really well together. This is one of the classes that I have really been looking forward to, and it looks to be a promising class so far. 

Bible (makrah): This class, also taught completely in Hebrew, explores the text of the Tanakh, translating and understanding the various stories described. My experience with Biblical Hebrew at Penn State is going to be very useful for this class. On the first day, in addition to overviewing the material and the course syllabus, we translated a few sentences of Biblical Hebrew text into Modern Hebrew. I didn't really understand what our teacher wanted us to do at first, but after one person did it successfully, I understood and really see the value in doing this. Not everyone is familiar with biblical grammar and this is a way to help everyone understand what is going on and being said. I'm all really excited for this class. Our teacher is patient, brilliant, and really knows how to teach this class. 

History of the Zionist Movement: As some of you may know, history is not my favorite subject. However, this history interests me, and it is taught by a teacher who doesn't make it feel like a history class. My teacher, Jeremy, is also my teacher for Israel seminar. He talks a mile a minute, is very knowledgeable, and focuses on discussions more than lectures. I'm hopeful that this history class will be more fun and interesting than my biblical history class of the summer. 

Liturgy: This class is all about the prayers we say, why we say them, and what they mean. Everyone has a lecture together for an hour before we split up into our Hebrew classes for smaller sessions. Because I am in kita dalet, I will have Israeli Rabbinic students in my completely Hebrew-taught class when they start school after the haggim. I really really like my professor. Her name is Dalia Marx, and she is the person who leads the full class lecture before we get to have an additional hour with her. I'm really looking forward to this class, but a little nervous to see how it will change with our six Israeli students. 
Israel Seminar: Israel seminar is all about Israel. Studying for the year in Jerusalem kind of makes it necessary to learn about the beautiful country. We've only had one class, in addition to our overnight tiyyul to the north. But I like that our class is focused more on current issues (we have started the tiyyul and our first class with news highlights) than heavy on history, although history is significant to this class as well. We got our paper topics for our end of the year paper, and I'm really excited to write them. One option is to write a ten page itinerary for a trip to Israel, plan each day, have an overarching and daily theme, and justify why you would go to certain places. Not only do I think this paper will be fun, it will also be useful when I come back to Israel or am teaching about Israel in religious school. 

I'm taking three other classes, but I haven't had them yet because of Rosh HaShana. They are Additional texts (part of my Hebrew curriculum), biblical grammar, and 2nd Temple History. Hopefully, they will be just as enjoyable as the rest of my classes, but I won't know until next week. 

Up next: The Haggim (High Holy Days) in the Holy Land
So classes have started. Well Sunday was my second first day of school at HUC, but this I think was the real first day. I'm taking ten classes this term. I know it's a lot, but I enjoy them all. 

Ok but back to last week first. Last week officially started our fall term at HUC. We had a day of Elul (a Jewish month, the one right before Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) programming, mostly learning about the high holidays. We spent one session discussing the various new years (there is more than just 1, some argue that there are four! even more cycles of repentance). Then we moved into the music of the high holidays, where I being in the choir sang a few songs. Then we learned about unetaneh tokef, a prayer said during Yom Kippur, and the implication of that prayer in this country, especially after the Yom Kippur War on 1973. Watch this video to hear a beautiful rendition composed by a member of a secular kibbutz who lost several of its members in the 73 war. 

The following day, we began our Israel Seminar class with a trip up north. This tiyyul focused on zionist visionaries and how Israelis today have adopted some of the same ideologies. Our first day, we went to a lookout over the Kinneret (sea of Galilee) just to get a visual of what this land can look like. then we went to Kinneret farm, an agricultural school for women in the north where we learned about Rachel, the hard life she had (she was kicked off essentially from her kibbutz because she was too sick to contribute to the community and spent four years wondering trying to find a place to live before she died of TB. After learning about Rachel, we went to the Kinneret Cemetery (a beautiful cemetery, not that cemeteries are beautiful places, but the serenity in this place was incredible). Then we had lunch at mincha services at Kibbutz Ginnosar in front of the museum that houses an ancient boat dated to the time of Jesus (we visited this museum on my first trip to Israel in 2003). After lunch, we went to Tel Hai, which was probably the worst experience of the trip. The tour guide was awful. Rarely did he finish a sentence and the gadgets and gimmicks used on the tour detracted from everything. It was a really unfortunate experience and it wasn't until I was back at school did I actually understand the significance of Tel Hai. For more info, look here. After this less than wonderful end of our day of touring, we went to the hostel for some free time (I played basketball) before dinner (a cookout) and an evening program consisting of propaganda films from the early pioneers. 

Day two was our opportunity to talk to people. We met Muki Tzur who told us about life on the kibbutz and how it has changed since the zionist ideologists and first pioneers settled the land. He was really interesting to listen to. After that, we met with three different people in Kiryat Shmona who are actively engaged in social revolution. It was wonderful to hear three very different voices agreeing on the ideas of what needs to happen socially in Israel's future. Finally, we went to Moshav Avivim where we were supposed to hear from one of the founders of this Moroccan village. However, the speaker never showed, so our teacher told us what he wanted us to know and we got to take some pictures with the Lebanese border in the background. After that, we went to a spot on the Kinneret for a cookout, some free time, and a wrap up discussion. It was a wonderful orientation to the fall semester. 

I spent Shabbat at Har El, a reform congregation in Rehavia before going to my friends apartment for make-your-own-pizza night Shabbat. Saturday, one of my classmates was hosting a happy-start-of-fall-semester brunch that I attended before going home to do some homework (prep work for my new Hebrew class). It was a wonderful week of school, without any classes :)
This week we got a few days off from school after our finals. Tuesday we had our Hebrew final and an end of Ulpan party. During this party, each class sang a song or did a skit before we were served Holy Bagel (a delicious bagel and shmeer restaurant chain) for lunch. My class wrote new lyrics to Bob Dylan's Blowin in the Wind, in Hebrew, and based on our summer class. It was a lot of fun. Especially when we ended with the chorus of the song we sang during our last zimriah (song session), which everyone has learned and sings randomly during breaks. It was a lot of fun. After Ulpan, and choir, and a review session in the school museum, I went to my friends' apartment to start studying for our biblical history final. We got there around six, ordered pizza, ate pizza, and then started studying, working our way through the study guide, answering questions and solidifying our understanding of the material. I went home around 11:30 that night with the intention of returning the following morning to continue where we left off. I got back around 9:45 while my classmates were waking up. We started studying around 10 and continued until 1230, when we decided to take a break and make some lunch (we made quesadillas). After lunch, I was done studying. If I talked about this material any more before the test, my head was going to explode. So I went to school to relax and settle in before the final. As you may recall, biblical history as not been my favorite class this summer. I've really struggled trying to follow the material and discern what is relevant from our lectures and field trips for our quizzes and tests. The quizzes throughout the term have been mainly true/false, which is really challenging when you are not very sure of the material. It's been a frustrating learning process. So I wrote a paper to make my final exam count for less, and walked into the final feeling well prepared after our study sessions. Compared to the quizzes throughout the summer, this final was a breeze. I felt confident as I walked away from that final that I had done well enough to pass (something that never happened after the quizzes). I walked away from that final into a five day break. 

Wednesday night, to celebrate the end of finals, one of my friends organized a showing of the movie "Keeping the Faith" about a rabbi and a priest who are best friends and in love with the same girl. It seemed like a perfect movie to be watching after the first term of seminary :) Thursday I awoke to begin looking at apartments because my living situation fell through and I needed to find a new place to live. I had responded to several adds earlier in the week and spent Thursday looking at them to try and find my new home (which I did, but more on that later). Thursday night I also packed because I was off to Tel Aviv for the weekend on Friday. 

Going to the beach with four friends was probably the best decision I made for break. I wanted to go and be away from most HUC people (a majority of whom had gone up north for the break), get out of Jerusalem, and be able to do nothing but relax. Which is exactly what I got with a trip to Tel Aviv. We got there around lunch time, checked into our hotel, changed into our bathing suits and headed straight for the beach. We found some sand, laid out our towels, put on sun screen, made some lunch, and waded into the water. I love the Mediterranean Sea. The water is just perfect. We saw some signs posted in the water that said "warning! rocks (boulders) in the water" This was exciting because we had just learned the words for warning and boulder in ulpan for our final. I successfully swam in the Mediterranean Ocean WITHOUT getting stung by a jellyfish. Major success. major. After we had our fill of ocean for the day, we headed back to the hotel to shower and get ready for Shabbat. We left more than enough time for five girls to shower and spent the extra time watching Arthur in Hebrew (the cartoon TV show staring and aardvark and his best friend Buster the Bunny). It was quite amusing to follow the kids show in Hebrew and be able to understand it :) We were all very excited. Then we went out to the port for Shabbat (the same services we went to when HUC brought us to Tel Aviv for the day) and went out for dinner (the only meal we ate at a restaurant). After dinner, we went back to the hotel and hung out in our pjs on the roof talking before crashing. Let me tell you how impressive it was to squeeze five girls into a hotel room designed for two. We barely had room to walk, but made it work, and it was an experience :) Saturday we got up, checked out, and went back to the beach. We spent most of the morning out in the water and relaxing on the sand. We left around 1 to get ice cream before heading back to Jerusalem after an amazing break. 

Sunday, I spent the day packing to move to my new apartment. I successfully found a place not too far from where I was originally living that was decently sized and priced. My new roommate is named Sara and is an art student at the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem. After packing and cleaning, I went to my friend Allie's apartment to make some homemades (homemade spaghetti). We were talking about pasta at our dinner in Tel Aviv, and I told my friends how I can make pasta from scratch. They wanted to learn, so Sunday night we got together for a pasta making lesson. We each made one eggs worth of spaghetti and made a garlic-parsley-parmesean-oil-sauce to go with it. The sauce smelled delicious, and I think my friends had fun. They said they're up to try ravioli some time :) 

Monday I moved. I have some really awesome friends who agreed to help me shlep all my stuff from one apartment to the other. I probably could have managed by myself, with several trips, or the use of a cab. But this way, we got to save me some money and spend some time together. It took three trips to get all of my stuff over here. Somehow I accumulated a lot of stuff in the past two months. Not quite sure how it's all getting back to the states, but I have 9 months to figure that out. After we dumped my stuff (literally) on the bed and in my room, we left to go to Women of the Wall, to support them with their sit in. Allie and I stayed for about three hours, singing, studying, talking, sitting, until the end of the afternoon service, for which they needed 10 people (a minyan) to participate. Allie and I were numbers 9 and 10. After the service, we left. I headed for HUC to pick up some stuff (including my Biblical History final which I aced! meaning I passed the class!!) and headed for my new home to unpack and settle in for the night. And that's where we are now. 

Tomorrow, the fall term starts (I can't believe the fall term is already starting). We have orientation all day and Wednesday and Thursday I'll be up north for our first Israel Seminar tiyyul (trip). Until next time, Shavua Tov (have a good week)!

I know it's been a while since I last wrote, and I know that I say that at the beginning of every post, but I just haven't had a lot of time. They keep us pretty busy here in grad school! 

So the past week and a half. I left you last when I was making brownies for Shabbat dinner. Three classmates are living in the same apartment in Rehavia (a neighborhood in Jerusalem near HUC). They decided last week to host a shabbaton (essentially an open house all weekend). Friday night there was services and dinner. They planned and organized everything. Saturday after services at school they hosted lunch, two learning sessions, some down time, third meal/snack and havdallah. I only went on Friday night. Services were lovely. They started with Kabbalat Shabbat, the welcoming of Shabbat, with a series of psalms getting our energy up, letting go of the previous week, and really getting into the mood to welcome Shabbat. Then we prayed Maariv (evening service) before dinner. Everyone brought food for dinner and everything was delicious. Good company, good food. After noshing and schmoozing, we sang. Lots of songs. It was a really fun evening. Saturday I woke up to go to services at HUC and went to my friend Ashley's house to hang out for the rest of the day for challah French toast and homework. It was nice. 

Sunday, school started again. It's still weird that our weeks run Sunday to Thursday and that Friday and Saturday are the weekends, but I'm adjusting. It was a busy week of ulpan, cantillation, biblical archeology, and education seminar. We had two Ed seminar classes this week. In the first, we explored an article that compared high schools to shopping malls. I thought it was interesting. However, Ed seminar with only two people is pretty awkward. Not that it's much better with three, but we have a very small class. It will just make discussions that much less varied because there will only be so many different voices being heard. But, everyone has ample opportunity to participate. We're adjusting. The second class that week was at my teachers home. She invited us over to her gorgeous (!) apartment ten minutes from my house. I had been there before for a meeting, but we stayed in the living room. This time, we met the whole family, got a complete tour of the house (including the roof with a fantastic view over Jerusalem). It's really beautiful. We then had a potluck dinner (I made spinach macaroni and cheese cups that I found on Pinterest, they were really good if I do say so myself) before settling in for the educational component of our evening. We watched Mr. Holland's Opus. I was the only one who had never seen this before. I really enjoyed it. We watched it to help us better define what education is, and it definitely showed a lot of examples of good and bad (whatever that means) teaching. 

This past weekend I went to services at Kol HaNeshama, the reform congregation five minutes from my apartment. I was there with two classmates and about half of the HUC faculty it felt like. We saw a lot of familiar faces, in addition to the two groups who came to visit this shul. After services, I met up with a few friends to walk to Shabbat dinner together. We went to my friend Ben's apartment for a delicious meal with some really nice company. Saturday I spent the day in bed watching movies. I really wasn't feeling well. But a day in bed with lots of water and sleep seemed to help. 

Sunday started my last week of ulpan! It's crazy how fast this time has flown. I took my final in cantillation (Torah Chanting) and passed. (All classes at HUC are pass fail, unless you request grades, which seems like an interesting system). Today was my last ulpan class. Tomorrow we have the final and a party. Wednesday is my biblical history final (ugh). And Thursday starts a five day break before the fall semester. A few friends and I are going to Tel Aviv for Shabbat and some relaxing beach time. The first month of fall semester is chock full of high holidays (which means days off of school). By the time we get into a regular routine, it will be October, and I'm coming home for a weekend then! This year is zooming by already! I'll write again during my break this week (I hope!). Until then, shavua tov!  I hope you all have a great week!