Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wexner Summer Institute, Part 3

.מכון ווקסנר קיץ, החלק השלישי

What follows is a series of thoughts that would normally probably not appear side-by-side. However, one of the greatest values I found at the Wexner institutes was the juxtaposition of topics and people in such a way to generate new and engaging thoughts. Although this post can't possibly reflect all that I learned at the Institute, it'll serve as a good start.

Let's get the ball rolling with an announcement: I will be officiating at my brother Josh's wedding.

I was honored and touched that he asked me before I left for Israel, but I had to think about whether I would accept the honor for about a month. My reservations focused mostly on my extreme lack of knowledge and my uncertainty about the "appropriateness" of my overstepping the bounds of my student-hood and serving in the capacity of a religious leader. At the Institute, I spoke to a rabbinical student at JTS who had recently officiated at his sister's wedding, and in talking to him, I came to realize that I wouldn't be serving so much as a rabbi as a brother in this capacity. In addition, at the Institute I heard several mentions of non-rabbis performing at wedding ceremonies, and I learned that traditionally, weddings have never needed a rabbi. On top of that, this ceremony isn't going to be a traditional Jewish wedding, so my rabbi-hood (or lack thereof) really shouldn't play into it. There's still the bit about my lack of knowledge, but the Wexner Fellow I spoke to shared with me the process of reflection he went through with his sister and her fiance, and I took heart from hearing about someone else going through a similar process. And, of course, I've promised to begin my studies immediately in order to be able to help Josh and Sheri create the most meaningful ceremony we can, and as such, I have a meeting with a rabbi at HUC about this very topic tomorrow afternoon!

Not everything I took away from the Institute was so personal, but I did engage in a number of internal reflections. For example, I spent much of the week being acutely aware of my status as a Reform Jew. Growing up, there were only Reform and Conservative Jews, and what that mostly meant to me was that a few students in my Sunday School class would have Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at the Temple while the rest would have their ceremonies at the Synagogue (in longer and, in my opinion, more boring services). When I immersed myself in the study of Judaism and religion at UVA, I relished in wading through the world of theological and historical Judaism ... but practically speaking, Jewish life was basically Reform, Conservative, or "Cultural." As I increased my involvement in Hillel, I became more "broad" in my thinking (while remaining Reform in my practice), and largely I focused on engaging the "Cultural" Jews in "Cultural" ways. At City Year, my Jewish experience was largely either virtually secular youth programming or deep, significant text study with my chevruta partner, Josh. Once I entered HUC, I was once again dropped into a world of Reform ... but a world that seemed to be surrounded by orthodoxy.

That's a hasty and broad portrayal of the views of Judaism throughout my life, but a common theme that I recall is a two-group system. In Roanoke, it was Reform/Conservative; in Hillel, it was Engaged/Cultural (not fair, I know, but that's how I felt a lot of the time); in Washington, it was spiritual/secular; and in Jerusalem, it's been Reform/Orthodox. During most of those periods, including a lot of my time here at HUC, I'd been more practically aware of what Reform isn't rather than what it is (though since a stimulating conversation with Jessica's parents in Toronto, I've had thoughts of "positive Reform identity" simmering on the back burner). However, that was different at the institute.

As I struggled to remember who was from what program, I also strived to learn from what perspectives my fellow Fellows were approaching various topics. And in juxtaposition with them (and in delayed response to a conversation I had with Ari, one of the Fellows in my class, in Jerusalem before the institute), I began to identify very strongly with the Reform movement. Now, don't get me wrong: I've always (or at least often) felt "very Reform," and I've always been a supporter of most if not all of the Union for Reform Judaism's policies and platforms. I've thought about what it means to be Reform, and I've had opportunities to explore in small ways the differences between Reform Judaism and other movements. But when I was sitting in a circle with 18 non-Reform Jews (and 1 HUC classmate), all of whom were people from whom I wanted to learn, I felt that I stood out as Reform. Since many Jews identify as post- or non-denominational though still "progressive," I believe most of the views about liberal Judaism are represented by Reform Jews. And there I was, at least in self-perception, the walking label of liberal Judaism.

And I didn't feel at all uncomfortable with this. On the contrary, I was proud to be representing my movement in this atmosphere of dialogue and progress. The particularism of that pride waned over the week, but I never entirely lost the feeling of being one of the Reform Jews, especially as I sat at the HUC table that was convened for one of the meals to talk about HUC things.

So, what did that do for my Reform identity? As we proceed, I'll write more about pluralism and my thoughts and interactions with different streams of Judaism; in conjunction with my exploration of other perspectives, I by default continued to define my own position. I talked last post about reading the Pittsburg Platform of 1885 and how I felt a certain identity with my movement in ways I hadn't felt before. On the other hand, the bonds I made with rabbinic students at JTS and American Jewish University, Yeshiva University, Hebrew College, and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and students in other programs as well extended my communal identity and made my Reform more inclusive. I'm not entirely sure what all this means yet, but I hope that by the time I become a "real" rabbi in the Reform movement, I'll have a much better idea of how I feel about being a member of this specific community in relation, conjunction, and cooperation with members of other specific communities.

Now, of course, I say "specific communities," but I'm also talking about a larger "Jewish community," and in a major way, our institute about Jewish Family was dealing with the question "What is a Jewish Community?" Some corollary questions that came up in conversation were "Who is a Jew?" and "Why does it matter?"

Here's what I would say before the institute: No one can determine someone else's identity. If I identify as Jewish, no one has the authority to tell me that I'm not. (The same goes for gender, sexual orientation, and other classifications as well.) However, my ability to be a part of a community, by definition, requires the cooperation of other members of that community. So, a person says to me, "I believe that Christ is the messiah, I go to church every Sunday, my family doesn't identify as Jewish, and I have no intention of participating in Jewish life. However, my mother was Jewish, so I identify as Jewish as well." I can't tell that person that she's not Jewish, but I can inform her that (A) there are Jews out there who will (erringly, in my opinion) tell her flatly that she's not Jewish and (B) were she to seek acceptance as a member of the Jewish Community, she would not be successful. End of story (especially since extreme hypotheticals rarely reflect reality).

Now, I still largely believe that one's identity is one's own and that participation in a community is communal; however, I have a better appreciation for alternate points of view, and that appreciation came about through a series of discussions that touched on some of the following topics.

Let's move out of the realm of hypothetical and into the realm of actual. In Israel, a Jew can immigrate and become a citizen of the country; they are considered Jewish if at least one grandparent was Jewish. This Judaism is determined by documentation such as birth, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, marriage, or death certificates or affirmation by a rabbi. However, to get married in Israel, one must have an official Orthodox wedding. Official Orthodox weddings cannot happen between the following couples:
  1. Jew/non-Jew
  2. Kohen/divorcee, child of non-Jewish father, offspring of non-recognized marriage, a widow who performed chalitza, a widow who converted
  3. Man/man
  4. Woman/woman
  5. Mamzer/non-mamzer
Disregarding the racism and intolerance implicit in these rulings (which is difficult for me to do but necessary to keep us on task), let's focus just on the first category.

Let's say Lev, a Jew, marries Elizabeth, who has a Conservative conversion, and they have a daughter, Sarah. Sarah has two Jewish grandparents (Avi's parents) and therefore successfully makes aliyah. Now, she wants to marry Tomer, an Israeli Jew, and they're willing to have an Orthodox ceremony in Israel (instead of flying to Crete or someplace and coming back for a non-binding wedding ceremony in Israel). So, they go to apply for a marriage license.

When asked to supply affirmation of her Jewishness, Sarah may be asked to produce documentation that her mother is Jewish (which is the traditional halachic/legal definition of Jewishness). Although Sarah was "Jewish enough" to make aliyah under the Law of Return, her mother's conversion certificate isn't sufficient to grant her status as a Jew in the eyes of the rabbinic courts, despite having lived her entire life as a Jew. Now, she and Tomer cannot get married in the State of Israel unless Sarah undergoes an orthodox conversion or they leave the country and receive a foreign marriage license that will be retroactively recognized by the state.

In this instance, Sarah's Judaism is being defined for her and it has real legal implications on her life. I don't know to what degree situations like Sarah's would be enforced in Israel, but conversion, marriage, and divorce are hot topic issues in Israel as there is no separation between religion and state here.

So, getting back to our original question, what right does the rabbinic court have to tell Sarah that she is or isn't Jewish? If they were to follow my philosophy, they'd say, "Okay, so you're not orthodox; we wouldn't recommend trying to fit in to an orthodox community. However, since you identify as Jewish, that's good enough for us. Have a happy marriage!" Although I'm a fan of the separation of religious and legal matters, if Israel is determined to erase that boundary, I believe that they should have a more pluralistic/accepting approach to Judaism. Take the most liberal definitions of Judaism, the ones that include the most Jews and therefore strengthen most of the "Jewish community," and implement them on a broad scale.

A modern orthodox Fellow with whom I was discussing this topic more or less agrees with that assessment (and actually brought it up as a recommendation in our conversation). However, he pushed me to consider further examples where relying on someone's self-identity as Jewish (or on a community's inclusion of someone as a Jewish) may not be so simple. Some complicating examples:

Let's say I'm working with a Jewish non-profit organization that distributes grants to smaller Jewish organizations. An independent chavurah (prayer group) in my city has jointly participated in the Save Darfur campaign of a local synagogue and, inspired, is starting its own grassroots movement. Using college connections, this chavurah is going to undergo a relay bike-a-thon across the entire state and post interviews with state residents about the Darfur situation on YouTube. This chavurah is asking my non-profit for a start-up grant to buy bicycles and a digital recorder.

Background: the chavurah meets once monthly and doesn't include Hebrew in their meetings. They largely follow the Quaker meeting style of sitting in silence and combine it with yoga and meditations. Each meeting, a different member gives a short ethical "sermon," which is followed by discussion at a coffee shop over lunch. The founding members of the chavurah identify as Jewish, and several of their Jewish friends attend. However, a majority of the participants in the monthly meeting do not identify as Jewish.

Now, let's say that I and my colleagues really like the program idea and want to give the group money. However, our charter insists that we support only Jewish programs in order to create solidarity and strengthen support within Jewish communities. So the question is: Is the chavurah a Jewish group?

Let's say we deny them funds because they're not a Jewish group. Are we then stipulating methods of prayer as a definition of Jewishness? Or simply a majority of participants? Would an interfaith-friendly Humanistic congregation face the same fate?

Let's say we grant them funds, agreeing that they are a Jewish group. Are we then affirming that Jewish identity is good enough to be a Jewish group? "Jewish" ethics? Would a Messianic Jewish congregation be accorded the same status?

Here's a second example.

Let's say I'm a rabbi with a Reform congregation. A couple with a 12-year-old son approaches me to say they'd like their son to have a Bar Mitzvah in the sanctuary. The wife and husband don't pay dues to the Temple, they haven't participated in a Jewish event as long as I've been around, and the son hasn't received a religious education. Both parents and the son identify as Jewish; however, none are willing to commit to religious education for the son. They all feel that it's important to mark the son's 13th birthday, to commemorate his ascent into adulthood in the Jewish community (that, who knows?, he may someday participate in), but the demands on the son's time are too great for him to learn a Torah portion and read the prayers. What do I do?

They all identify as Jewish, they've expressed at least a theoretical future interest in Jewish communal life, and they are looking to me to help them commemorate what they feel to be a significant Jewish moment in an otherwise non-Jewish lifestyle.

Let's say I tell them that a true Jewish adult values learning, and therefore the son should make time for his studies. What does that say about the parents' Jewish identities?

Let's say I tell them that, since they haven't needed the Jewish community until now, they should have their own private Bar Mitzvah and continue to live a life of private Judaism. Does that mean I don't want to welcome them into my community?

Let's say I grant the request and offer blessings and commemoration from the bima. Does that send a message to the rest of the congregation that I don't value Jewish education?

The underlying question in these two scenarios is: What is the basis of inclusion in a Jewish community? Is it Jewish identity, singular or popular? Is it monetary contribution? Attendance of services/events? Adherence to tradition? Participation in education? Following a code of ethics?

Prior to the Wexner institute, my answers to these questions would be pretty broad. Largely, inclusion in a Jewish community is experiential. I feel something different about interacting with Jews than non-Jews - there's something special there for me. Perhaps I'd have to apply the same gut reaction to the examples above. Do I connect to the individuals involved as Jews? And are they also seeking inclusion in my Jewish community?

After the Wexner institute, I don't think I have any more specific answers, but I do have in my toolbox a helpful concept: Family. Jews are a family. According to our story, we all descend from Abraham. According to history, Judaism descends from a group of people that achieved a certain amount of national success and identity in Canaan and maintained that identity for thousands of years across the entire globe.

Just like a human-relations family, you can't pick who's related to you. I may not like my cousin (hypothetical here), but I "have" to love him because he's in my family. Just because I disagree with many orthodox points of view doesn't mean I can reject them entirely - we're all still members of this family. Members of a family fight, and they also support one another. They celebrate with each other even if they disagree, and sometimes they get irrationally angry when they wouldn't feel that way with someone outside of the family. The members of my family, like it or not, are related to me, and I have an inescapable bond with them for better or for worse.

And this idea is quite novel to me and really very deep. As pointed out to us by Rabbi Greenberg, this notion of Jewish family isn't just an existential reality but is the method of redemption established by God. God creates the world, and all is good. Then, things start to go wrong as soon as a family is created. Things get worse, and God destroys the world. God makes a covenant with Noah and says, "Okay, I get it, the world's not perfect. Just please try to adhere to some basic rules." Still things continue to go wrong, so God, instead of relying on a covenant with the entire world, turns to one family: Abraham's. God's covenant with Abraham is a unique outlook on the world that says that the instrument of salvation is not through obedience or divine intervention or transcendence or scientific progress but rather through family relationships. As Abraham's family grows, its struggles and developments will create something new and holy in the world. Sometimes it will be beautiful, and sometimes it will be murderous. But in the end, it will be bound by love, and in emulation of that binding love of the Children of Abraham, the world will be able to see past the things that separate people and recognize our responsibility of automatic devotion to one another as Children of Adam.

Of course, this outlook (like all outlooks) has a certain number of complications to it. A major one that was brought up in my conversations at the institute is that of universalism vs. particularism. That is, do I believe that there is something unique and holy about the Jewish family from which the rest of the world would do good to learn? My answer, as always, is complex and unstable.

On the one hand, I believe in a universal good. If one were to sum up ethics in a single statement, it could be, "Do not violate." However, to understand that sentence in all its myriad particulars is a daunting task, and a system by means of which people can order their lives ethically can be extremely helpful. Thus, I believe that the words of Torah are, existentially, holy and through studying them in community, one can touch truth in such a way that one's behavior is shaped in an ethical direction. The Jewish family has produced, protected, and championed a tradition of ethical action and evolution.

However, there are traditional Jewish texts that scream immorality, and I believe it's important to follow our instincts in interpreting the original statement of "Do not violate" in our search for a meaningful interpretation of Torah. For example, in this week's Torah portion (Re'eh), we read:

If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’, ... you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness (Deuteronomy 13: 6, 8-11).

Now, of course, the Jewish notion of idolatry is complex and ultimate, but whether we're talking about enticement away from recognizing God's singularity, encouraging conversion away from Judaism, propagandizing into nationalism, or preaching of immorality, I nevertheless believe that "show them no pity or compassion ... your own hand shall be the first to execute [your own son or daughter]" must be interpreted in a non-literal way because the literal translation absolutely transgresses the precept of "Do not violate."

But how do I know that it transgresses that precept if traditional Jewish texts aren't telling me? Well, the easy answer is that Jewish texts are telling me, and I surely could find Jewish texts to support my view. This becomes particularly evident with rabbis who want to give a sermon on a particular topic and go researching texts that will support their view. But, look more basically: How did the original authors of those Jewish texts (assuming they're identifiable) come up with the interpretations that they did? I could be wrong, but my assumption is that they were acting according to basic moral principles that guide our everyday life.

So, back to the question: What's so great about the Jewish family? The answer: I don't know. Perhaps it's merely historical/factual: In history, the Jews have done a lot of good things and continue to do a lot of good things, so we must have gotten something right. Of course, I also believe that not just the Jews but also the Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. also got a lot right. Perhaps what we've got, though, is a practical approach to peace:

Family. Christianity is focused on God as an instrument of salvation. Judaism is focused on our family. A universalizing of the Jewish message could therefore read: Cherish the human family, despite our differences, and we'll be able to love one another like the Jews do. Maybe it's not a perfectly thought-out conclusion, but I think it's pretty good. The model of family is an excellent paradigm of human interrelations, and our ability to recognize one another as true family members is essential to being able to spread peace throughout the world.

Easy, right? Maybe in thought but certainly not in practice. And the Jewish family still hasn't gotten it totally right. Jews continue to fight, disagree, and be separated from one another. We often talk about Jewish communities since agreeing about the Jewish Community is too difficult. This Wexner institute enormously helped me out personally in this field by getting me to challenge myself and my notions of pluralism. By trying to see "Judaism" through the eyes of a Jew of a different perspective, my own view was broadened.

To me, halacha (Jewish law) is not the literal word of God since to me, God is not a conscious actor in the world and therefore couldn't have told us, in language, what to do. I do believe that words of God exist but are more broad that halacha allows. We read in Genesis, "God said let there be light, and there was light." That is, everything in the world is a Word of God. In Hebrew, דבר means both "thing" and "word." They're the same. So claiming that the Talmud is the Word of God and that the New Testament or I am not is too exclusionary.

However, after conversations at Wexner, I can further shade my understanding. Just because halacha does not represent the entire corpus of God's words does not mean that they aren't holy. I believe that those who adhere to them should be concerned with constant re-examination in the light of ethical review (see the Conservative movement), but I can't say that living by halacha is not a good starting point.

And therefore, I allow that for many, Judaism is not just thought-based but also action-based. To many Orthodox Jews, Judaism does imply a necessary set of ethical and theological standards, but one must also act in a certain way to be Jewish. (For the purposes of this conversation, let's assume that an Orthodox Jew is defining herself and not trying to determine someone else's level of Jewish commitment or peoplehood.) Thus, if I'm Orthodox, believing in God and keeping kosher are identical.

This leads me to thoughts I've been having about pluralism. Generally, I have thought of pluralism as being a worldview - to be pluralistic is to accept that what I believe is true without making a judgement one way or another on whether what you believe is true (and leaving room for both of us to be right even if we're in contradiction). However, I now recognize another dimension of pluralism, at least within the context of Judaism: Pluralism of practice.

It was my experience at Hillel that, whenever we wanted to plan something "religious" for the entire community, we'd survey the most observant students and make sure that everything adhered to their standards. Over the years, I became somewhat frustrated by never being able to express the strong Reform identity that I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post. "Why can't we be pluralistic about this?" I'd wonder. "Why always be monolithic in our practical approach?"

Fast forward to the Wexner institute, where pluralism is the name of the game (though never actually mentioned officially). I found that the programs and dialogues were very pluralistic and sought to address challenges of building a welcoming and broad Jewish community. In talking with an Orthodox Fellow, I realized that this was a form of the same process I had experienced at Hillel but in the opposite direction.

Pluralism of practice leans to the right; pluralism of thought leans to the left.

At the institute, was that there wasn't an attempt to achieve pluralism of practice. Services were all separated, the food was strictly kosher, and we didn't have the institute over Shabbat. All practical considerations were handled deftly and in advance so that we could get to the meat of the pluralistic discussion.

However, the essentially practical elements of Judaism were excluded from our institute.

On the one hand, I loved the conversations, and I know that they were mind-stretching to us all, the most observant among us more than most. Yet, I feel a certain sense of guilt at having had everything "my way." In a sense, I was very at ease talking about interfaith marriages, homosexuality, conversions, and rational religion, but there were others who were forced into silence on these issues. If we were in an Orthodox service, perhaps I, too, would be forced into silence, and I would better have been able to appreciate the perspective of some of my fellow Fellows.

I'm not sure what this means for my life other than that I have a more nuanced appreciation for the practical challenges of pluralism. I will definitely keep this thought alive, though, and I may seek to address it at a future institute.

As is obvious, I learned a tremendous amount at the institute, and I deeply appreciated the opportunity to engage in serious critical thinking. Perhaps more than anything else, I learned so much about orthodox Judaism, orthodox outlooks on pluralism, challenges in the modern orthodox world, etc. To be honest, it was exactly what I needed. Yes, stories about the "Modesty Squad" still set my blood aboil, but I love my orthodox friends as family, and I hope that one day I can relate even to ultra-orthodox Jews in such a way that, though I disagree with them, I also love them (and vice versa). The Wexner institute, though imperfect, was a small-scale model of positive pluralistic thinking that hopefully will be translated into action. I very much look forward to future institutes and, moreso, to building a stronger Jewish family that reaches out to all of our fellow Children of Adam.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wexner Summer Institute, Part 2.

.מכון ווקסנר קיץ, החלק השני

As I mentioned in my last significant post of August 17 (so long ago!), my arrival to Stowe was fraught with discomforts and disappointments. Thus, when I arrived on Sunday afternoon, I was still very tired/jetlagged. Nevertheless, I was excited to have finally arrived and to be meeting my cadre of fellows for the second time.

At the airport, I reconnected with a few people from our class, and that was pleasant. I also met a fellow Fellow named Jason, who was part of the Summer Institute planning committee. Jason's a rabbinical student at JTS, and we had a great conversation about rabbinical school, siblings' weddings, Stowe, and the Wexner Fellowship on the way to the Stoweflake Resort.

The first day was, thankfully, less intense than the following ones. We had a chance to meet everyone again, and we had a mixer exercise that I thought went really well. We sat in five groups of four, and each person received a number 1-4 and a small booklet with three pages: Agree (green paper), Ambivalent (yellow paper), and Disagree (red paper). Or, the director of the Fellowship, would read a statement (I support the two-state solution, I believe someone can be Jewish and not believe in God, I believe in the human soul, etc.), and we would hold up one of the cards and then discuss in our groups. After each round, two numbers would switch groups so that we would have opportunities to talk with a lot of people.

This set a tone that I really appreciated. On the one hand, the exercise understood that we didn't know each other very well, but it also assumed that we wanted to get better acquainted and not just in a "what's your favorite ice cream flavor" kind of way. We talked about serious, deep issues that we care about, and we established an atmosphere of trust amongst our class of Fellows. I saw these themes reflected throughout the Institute, and by the time I left, I felt that the first theme (not knowing one another) was mostly forgotten in lieu of focusing on getting into the thick of serious issues.

In order to give credit where credit is due, I'll focus on the programs that had a significant impact on me. So, although The ABCs of the Jewish Community was fun and interesting, I want to highlight the strongest parts of the Institute. Thus, I move next to our session on modernity. Dr. Kelner, with whom I had the pleasure of learning later in the Institute, is a professor of sociology at Vanderbilt and a Wexner alum. His session on Jewish Modernity zeroed in on the Pittsburg Platform drafted by the founders of the Reform Movement in 1885. I had never actually read the Platform, probably because the Reform Movement has diverged in several ways, and it was very interesting to me personally to be studying this text of vital importance to the history of my movement. It was also interesting to me to see non-Reform Jews from many different backgrounds studyding the same text, and I felt proud that this was a reflection of one Jewish response to modernity that has changed and remained strong for 120 years.

When I first started reading the Declaration of Principles laid out in the Pittsburgh Platform, I assumed that they wouldn't jive with me. I figured that since the Reform Movement has changed so much in the past century that I wouldn't identify with the Declaration. However, that wasn't the experience that I had. Rather, I felt a strong connection to the rabbis who were banding together and, for the first time in history, declaring a set of principles that established a "new" way being Jewish and that drew together like-minded Jews in such a way that they could practice their Judaism not in isolation. Additionally, I was moved by the constant references to God, holiness, and spirituality in the text. This was not a declaration that said, "We are afraid of being Jewish in a non-Jewish world; therefore, let us hide our Judaism and forget that which makes us different." Rather, the document says (in my words), "We have been raised in and we embrace modern society with all its advances and complexities, and yet we still affirm that God's presence can be felt in our lives through holiness. We affirm that Jewish tradition is the foundation of monotheistic human morality, and we support a unique and unflagging commitment to the ethics evident to us through science and tradition. Since the traditional practices of Judaism do not speak to us on a holy level, we reject their divinity and seek to isolate and expand upon the holy morality inherent to Judaism." I find this sentiment courageous and beautiful, and I'm proud to be its inheritor. Although I don't entirely agree with it on a personal level, I admire the rabbis who were strong enough to come to these conclusions and state them to the Jewish and non-Jewish world, just as I admire the progressive spirituality and ethics that Reform Judaism has championed for over a century.

Immediately, after this engaging study session, we undertook to make a "class portrait." We sat around a large table with magazines, scissors, markers, construction paper, tape, glue, popsicle sticks, yarn, etc. Without any further instruction, we were told we had five minutes to choose a theme. I immediately grabbed a marker and construction paper and facilitated a brainstorming and selection process. Our group dynamics were then publicly analyzed by Or and Cindy Chazan. It was interesting but also off-putting to have our groupwork dissected that way, and when we were told that we had 10 minutes to figure out a way to execute our theme (Insiders/Outsiders), I consciously refrained from "taking charge" as I had done before. This time, we worked much more popcorn style, and our progress was more circular than linear. When time was called, we still hadn't decided on an execution. Our group dynamic was again analyzed, and then we were given 30 minutes to execute our "class portrait." Without getting into the details of what we decided to do, I'll mention that we were very rushed, we ended up doing more individual work than group work, and by the time we had finished, some people were feeling very negative about the experience. Or said that to try to wrap up would be trite, so he simply excused us to lunch ... but we weren't done yet. We pressed him for additional information and then continued our project on our own. The staff left the room, and we continued to discuss the bad experiences that some of us had and tried to heal hurt feelings. We concluded our project and took ourselves to lunch.

After lunch, we had an intense session with Marty Linsky about our team dynamic. He pressed us to consider "exercising leadership" as a behavior rather than thinking of leadership as a characteristic. Examples of leadership tend to defy expectations and go beyond simply acting according to the demands of authorizers. He used specific examples of our class portrait exercise (which he observed) to discuss when certain people did and did not exercise leadership, and he was fairly pressing at times ... though at times we pressed right back. The whole session was permeated by emotions and wills, but Marty seems to thrive in such an environment. At first, I was a bit taken aback by his facilitation style, but ultimately (after speaking briefly with him after the session), I decided that Marty helped us think critically about ourselves. Good thing I concluded that, too, as our Winter Institute is going to involve a lot of time with him!

The Museum of the Jewish Family was very well put together, with a dozen stations representing different points in the life of a Jewish American. However, it didn't address non-normative family situations. Fortunately, we were to devote virtually the rest of the institute to topics dealing with a diversity of family interests.

On Tuesday, I met my seminar facilitator Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the only (as far as I know) openly gay orthodox rabbi and contributor to the documentary film Trembling Before God. He was a great teacher, and I was excited to study the Garden of Eden and Abraham stories with him (and the fellows in the seminar with me). However, the scope of the seminars was fairly broad, so I feel that we didn't get to go as deep as I had wanted. Nevertheless, the insights he brought regarding gender and family were very interesting.

Tuesday was also a day of excellent conversations. On the Fellowship Hike, I had a long conversation with Dani about Jewish peoplehood and the policies that it should or should not result in. After the Beit Midrash, I had a long conversation with Erin about her experiences with observant Judaism, in particular with relation to the pluralistic mission of the Wexner Fellowship. I won't go into details of either conversation here, but when I write Part Three (the part with the lessons I learned at the Institute), I will certainly include ideas that these two helped me generate.

Also on Tuesday, Jonathan Ross performed his one-man show Walking in Memphis: The Life of a Southern Jew, which I had actually seen in Jerusalem when I was visiting Pardes with Becca Klimpl. Ross is an excellent performer, and his personal stories were touching. I definitely recommend the show to anyone who has the opportunity to see it!

My second seminar with Shaul Kelner was about American childhood - and we tried to tie in Jewish childhood whenever we could. We talked about various Jewish childhood experiences and about the changing nature of childhood over time. We looked at as a model of modern play and discussed its possible effect on children today. In the second part of the seminar on Thursday, we talked about the line between childhood and adulthood, and that conversation was really fascinating. On both days, the fellows were the primary speakers with Dr. Kelner offering statistics and questions to guide discussions. It was great to hear from other fellows on these topics, although conversations about children and adulthood reinforced my (factual) self-perception as among the youngest people at the institute.

The rabbinical seminar I went to focused on whether and how much to let our political views influence how we act and what we say in public. It was hard for me to participate as I had barely even begun my studies at HUC, but I found the conversation very helpful. For the first time in a long time, I once again felt very excited to be a rabbi and more eager than usual (of late) to picture myself in a congregational role. (Lessons from this session will likely make their way into Part Three as well).

On Thursday, we had the opportunity to witness a panel discussion with Edmund Case (founder of and Sylvia Barack Fishman (author of Double or Nothing). In brief, Mr. Case believes that interfaith marriages are nothing to be afraid of while Dr. Fishman believes that they contribute to the decline of Judaism. There were a lot of probing discussions, and our class conversation afterward was the most heartfelt and bonding of the entire institute. Once again, see Part Three for the impact it had on me.

The beit cafe (talent show) on Thursday night was quite funny. There had been a big build-up (starting with Abigail Wexner at our orientation) that our class is the "funny" one, so we had a lot of pressure. I think we performed well, and the "judges" liked our reimagination of the song Tradition. The other acts were fairly funny as well, and there was also some "real" talent, including a scene from King Lear and a song from a Sephardic (Moroccan?) tradition.

When Friday rolled around, I was definitely sad to be leaving (and not overly excited about my long return home). We all said proper good-byes, and I hung out/packed until it was time to go. I went to the airport with a half-dozen other fellows, where we rode together to Newark, NJ before parting ways. My return to Jerusalem was much more comfortable than my trip to Stowe, but I still believe that I'll try to insist on a non-stop flight from Israel to the U.S. for the winter institute.

Obviously, I didn't cover everything, but in order to preserve the strongest memories, I've written about the things that impacted me the most. Overall, I found the programming was most useful in its ability to spark meaningful class discussion and side conversation. Yes, I learned a lot about family, what it means to be Jewish, gender roles, marriage, and so on, but the most valuable part of the institute was having my horizons greatly broadened by the poignant and potent insights of my fellow class members. I very much look forward to continuing conversations with them at future institutes and in between!

Now, stay tuned for the "good stuff..."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wexner Summer Institute, Part 1

.מכון ווקסנר קיץ, החלק הראשון

As I mentioned, last week was spent in Stowe, VT attending the Wexner Foundation Graduate Fellowship's summer institute. I had an incredible time; unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to write about my experience because I've had a lot of responsibilities for school this week.

However, today was our last day of ulpan, so I'm on break until Sept. 7! First, though, we have a tiyyul to Megiddo and Mount Carmel tomorrow. Since I have to be at HUC at 7:00 am, I won't be staying up tonight to update about the Wexner Institute. But fear not: A recap is forthcoming. In this, part one, I will include the schedule to give you a taste of what we did. In part two, I'll review in more detail some of the programs and events, and in part three, I'll actually discuss some of the important lessons that I learned. And I might even write about our tiyyul in there as well. So, there's a lot to look forward to!

Without further ado...

Wexner Graduate Fellowship Summer Institute: The Family Room

Sunday, August 17
3:30 - Welcome and Overview to Class XXI
4:00 - Reconnecting
4:45 - Mincha
5:00 - The Ins, the Outs, the What Have Yous: Who are We as a Class? (Or Mars)
6:30 - Dinner
7:30 - The Jewish Community ABCs (Cindy Chazan)
9:00 - Class meeting
10:00 - Ma'ariv

Monday, August 18
7:45 - Shacharit
8:30 - Breakfast/D'var Torah
9:30 - Pulled from Both Sides: American Jews Wrestle with Modernity (Dr. Shaul Kelner)
10:45 - Break
11:15 - A Class "Portrait" (Or Mars)
1:00 - Lunch
1:45 - Exercising Leadership (Marty Linsky)
3:15 - Break
3:45 - Summer Institute 2008 Opening Session
4:30 - Mincha
4:45 - Class meetings (free time for Class XXI)
6:15 - Opening Reception in honor of Class XXI
7:00 - Dinner/The Family Room: An Introduction (Planning Committee)
8:15 - Museum of the Jewish Family
9:45 - Ma'ariv

Tuesday, August 19
7:30 - Shacharit
8:15 - Breakfast/D'var Torah
9:00 - Seminar 1-A
11:00 - Break
11:15 - My Jewish Story (Jonathan Ross)
1:00 - Lunch
2:00 - Fellow-led Discussions
  • You're My Family: Expanding Notions of Jewish Family
  • What Every Jewish Leader Should Know about Jesus
  • What is a Pro-Israel Candidate?
  • "Till Death Do Us Part?" Family and Eschatology in Medieval Jewish Theology and Ritual
  • The Transformation of Society: A Journey through 60 Years of Israel's Popular Music
  • Masculinity and Marshmallows: The Role of Krembo in Israeli Cinema
3:30 - Mincha
3:45 - Free time/A Conversation on Personal Views of Aging (Rabbi Richard Address)
5:30 - Fellowship Hike
7:00 - Dinner/Reflections (Or Mars)
8:15 - Break
8:30 - Beit Midrash
9:45 - Ma'ariv

Wednesday, August 20
7:30 - Shacharit
8:15 - Breakfast/D'var Torah
9:00 - Seminar 1-B
11:00 - Break
11:15 - My Family Doesn't Look Like Your Family: How Can I Make My Community More Welcoming of All Jewish Families?
1:00 - Lunch
2:00 - Mincha
2:15 - Free time
4:00 - Seminar 2-A
  • The Changed Jewish Family and the Creation of a "New" American Judaism (Rabbi Richard Address)
  • An Exploration of Talmudic Legends on Love, Sex, Marriage, and Infidelity (Rabbi Steven Greenberg)
  • American Jewish Childhood (Dr. Shaul Kelner)
  • Writing My Family (Tova Mirvis)
  • Working with Families: A Clinical Perspective (Rabbi Laura Gold)
6:00 - Break
6:15 - Career Electives
  • Jewish Education
  • Jewish Professional Leadership
  • Jewish Studies
  • Rabbinate/Cantorate I: The Limits on Personal Expression: Maintaining One's Spiritual Authenticity
  • Rabbinate/Cantorate II: To Inspire and/or to Manage: Tensions in the Role of Rabbi
7:00 - Dinner/Reflections (Rabbi Elka Abrahamson)
8:15 - Brumowitz Family Reunion and Dessert Reception
10:15 - Ma'ariv

Thursday, August 21
7:15 - Shacharit
8:15 - Breakfast/D'var Torah
9:00 - Seminar 2-B
11:00 - Break
11:15 - The Jewish Community and the Interfaith Family (Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman and Edmund C. Case)
1:30 - Lunch
2:30 - Mincha
2:45 - Free Time
4:30 - Who Does Which Work and Why? Work, Family, and Gender for the Jewish Professional (Shifra Bronznick with Rabbis Amber Powers, Asher Lopatin, and Jennie Rosenn)
6:45 - Break
7:00 - Barbecue Dinner/Concluding remarks and class photos
8:15 - Break
8:30 - Beit Cafe
10:15 - Ma'ariv

Friday, August 22
7:00 - Shacharit
7:30 - Breakfast/D'var Torah
8:15 - Class meetings
9:15 - Departure

Monday, August 25, 2008

A bit about my ulpan

At my ulpan they try very hard to vary the activities so that we will be able to pay attention for the whole of class. We've watched movies, gone on a tour of campus, played games, gone to a computer lab, etc. Yesterday, we went to a language lab, where each of us sat in front of tape players and listened through headsets to exercises. We had to speak in response to the exercises and our responses were recorded. The teacher sat in the front and she was able to listen in on any of our recording sessions in real time, as we were stumbling through our answers. If we were having problems, all we had to do was press the "call teacher" button and the teacher could have a conversation with us from her headset to ours. The exercises were pretty boring, but it was good to get up and do something new. Today, we learned some songs. A teacher from some music institute in Jerusalem - I didn't catch the name of it as she was speaking Hebrew pretty fast - came in to teach us a few songs, and will apparently do this other times throughout the ulpan. We learned a song called "Dreaming in Spanish" about an immigrant who loves Hebrew and does everything in Hebrew but still dreams in Spanish, two Arik Einstein songs(one, two), a short ballad/love song about flying away like birds to build a new life together, Yo-Ya a very well known Israeli song, and others. It was not easy to learn the songs because I don't read as fast as the tempo of the songs - but I was excited to be singing such pretty songs anyway - and again it was nice to have a change of pace in the middle of a day full of conjugating verbs.
Yesterday one of our teachers left the room for a moment and the other teacher came in unexpectedly (she usually teaches another class on Sundays). She came in and without saying anything to any of us she ate part of the other teacher's apple, broke her pencil, wrote on the board, closed the window, tore a piece of paper and used a cigarette lighter to burn it. Then, without a word of explanation, she left the room. We were all sort of giggly and surprised, and didn't know what to make of it. The other teacher came in and said, "Who broke the pencil? The pencil is broken. Who closed the window? The window is closed." etc. And that's how we learned how to change verbs into adjectives: closed, broken, eaten, burnt, torn, etc. It certainly got our attention!
This afternoon as I was waiting for the bus to go home I ran into Alex, the friend I met on Birthright, who is right now taking his final exams at Hebrew University. He introduced me to his friends and we spoke in Hebrew - though I didn't understand most of the conversation and whenever anyone addressed me I had to ask them to repeat themselves, only slower. Alex showed me his dorm room, which is about the size of my room in the IRC at UVA. It was hard to talk to him and his friend because the friend doesn't know very much English and frankly I don't know very much Hebrew. I spoke to her in Hebrew, only not very well - and when I made mistakes they corrected me, and when I didn't know how to say a word I asked Alex. She spoke to me in Hebrew, but mostly Alex had to translate what she said into English for me. When he spoke, Alex spoke first in English and then translated it into Hebrew for his friend. It was all very muddled and talking took a long time, but it was lovely of both of them to be so patient.
It's been an exciting week for us, as we've been receiving packages left and right. Thanks to everyone for fabulous birthday gifts and for a very exciting care package.
Daniel's ulpan ends tomorrow and in a few days he'll be on vacation! Unfortunately as I won't be on vacation, he isn't going anywhere for long, but we're thinking about taking a weekend vacation to Tel Aviv. If anyone has recommendations of things to do in Tel Aviv, let us know.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I have returned!


So, I don't really have time to put up a meaningful post, but I wanted to let everyone know that I've returned from the Wexner Summer Institute, and I found it extremely meaningful and valuable. I'll write more when I have more time - probably later this week. Bye for now!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Shuk

(The picture was taken from

This morning I met Chad, an HUC SO and extremely friendly and kind person, and we went together to the shuk to do some grocery shopping. I bought:
- cheese
- a cabbage
- lots of cherry tomatoes
- lots of grapes
- lots of fresh mint
- hot peppers
- fresh figs
- two bottles of soda
all for about $20 -- not bad!

The shuk is enormous, covering several city blocks. Rows and rows of vendors sell vegetables, wine, cheese, meat, fish, olives, crackers, and fruit - with the occasional vendor selling kippot, scarves, or skirts. The shuk area is a pedestrian mall and the main road, Mahane Yehuda, has a roof to shield it from the sun. On Friday mornings, the only time on the weekend when everyone has off and things aren't all closed, the shuk is swarmed with shoppers - orthodox and secular alike - who shove one another out of the way to get through the narrow alleys between the stores. Shop keepers shout out the latest prices of their wares, trying to outbid their competitors, and when you want to make a purchase, you pick it up and handed to the storekeeper, who brusquely tells you the price and barely waits for you to pay him before he moves on to help another customer. The variety of fruits and vegetables is phenomenal - giant gourds and squashes larger than pumpkins sit next to apricots, plums, apples, persimmons, pomegranites, and fresh figs. So many varieties of cucumbersd, peppers, tomatoes. Stacks and stacks of bundles of fresh parsely, cilantro, dill, and mint. Spices that are shoveled into bags in large quantities so that you can bring it home and have enough cumin for I don't know, at least seven years. It is hot, crowded, and it is hard to get in and out of the store to make your purchase, but the produce is excellent and cheap. There are some things you can't get at the shuk- prepared foods, milk, eggs in reasonable quantities, but for the experience and for what you can get, it definately seems worth it. Just maybe next time I won't go on a Friday morning?

(PS - yes, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, it is a lot like St. Lawrence Market, only everything is happening fast, and tons of people are there, and it is much bigger, and outside, and everythign is in Hebrew, and the produce reflects the fact that we are in the Middle East.)

my first visit to Yung Yiddish

Yesterday's was an afternoon of language learning. I came home, and decided I'd had enough of Hebrew and I was going to work a little bit on Yiddish. I'd printed out a story in Yiddish that had been published in Pakn Treger (the National Yiddish Book Center's magazine) a few months ago - the stories are published in the magazine with the Yiddish on one page and the translation on the opposing page. I printed out both, but have decided to write my own translation and not to look at the published one, and to compare notes when I'm finished. It is a long story and at the rate I'm going it will take me something like two weeks if I do a little every day. We'll see how it goes.

When I got sick of doing Yiddish, I switched to Hebrew. I decided to write the essay that's due Sunday, so I could free up my time over the weekend to work on my homework for literature class, which includes writing a short childhood memoir (Yes!!!) and a literary critique (Double Yes!!). In the meantime, I wrote my essay on - and I did not choose the topic myself - Is it possible/acceptable to create art about the Holocaust? I answered the question by telling a few anecdotes about art that I felt either successfully or unsuccessfully honored the Holocaust. I then went on to discuss the ideas of Theodore Adorno, who famously declared that to write a poem after the Holocaust is simply barbaric. He later went on to revisit this quotation and to note that in our era of incomprehensible suffering, art is necessary. I discussed how I agree with Adorno's sense of the tension between wanting to honor the unspeakable by not trying to describe it - in describing it perhaps you lessen or soften it, and in creating something beautiful or aesthetically pleasing in some way, you make suffering more palatable - and wanting to remember and acknowledge the unspeakable by speaking (and creating) of it. This was not an easy essay to write in Hebrew, and I hope that what I wrote in Hebrew at least makes grammatical sense, if nothing else.

At 7:00 I left the apartment to go to Yung Yiddish, the organization with whom I've been in contact with for quite a while in anticipation of interning/volunteering while I am in Jerusalem. I had told the director of Yung Yiddish that I would meet him there at 8:00, a half hour before this evening's program, to introduce myself. I got on the bus and asked the driver to make sure I was on the right bus. I told him I'd never been to Rehov Yerimiyhu before and asked if he could let me know when we were there. After a while I pulled out my map and checked some street signs. I noticed that we were on Yerimiyhu, only in an area where it has a different name. "Great!" I thought, "we must be almost there!" It was 7:50. The bus driver didn't say anything to me, and after a while I noticed that we were on bigger roads with bigger stores and things were getting farther apart. More and more the signs said things like "To Tel Aviv" rather than "To City Center." I was getting a bit nervous, but was willing to trust the bus driver a bit longer. We were off my map, but I thought maybe we were going only a little out of the way and then would be going back toward Yerimiyhu. It was 8:00 and I didn't bring the Yung Yiddish phone number with me. We drove into a suburb. We were going pretty slow because it seemed there were bus stops every few seconds. I said to the bus driver, "Excuse me, but I don;t know where we are. I wanted to go to Yerimiyhu and you told me..." He hit his forehead with the palm of his hand. "I forgot," He said, "And I have to keep going this way." "What should I do?" I asked him. He said, "Stay here and return with me." When we had reached the end of the route and he was turning around, he stopped the bus and had me point to where I wanted to go on a map. He told me we would be there soon. We picked up lots of people along the way and made a lot of stops, but when we got to Yerimiyhu he didn't forget this time. So, I got off the bus at Yerimiyhu. It was 9:00. That is not a type-o. So, I get off the bus and realize that I am alone in the dark in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. I am wearing a longsleeved shirt and a skirt that just barely covers my knees. Not very modest for this area, but not disrespectfully immodest either, I think.

Nevertheless, I definately felt uncomfortable and a bit worried, particularly as I didn't know where I was going. The bus dropped me off at number 14 or so and Yung Yiddish is 52. I walked for a while and then asked a nice-looking older woman for directions. She said I was only at 38 and should just keep going straight. Eventually, I came to a small building with a sign out in front that read "Yung Yiddish"

Yung Yiddish is housed in the basement of a small building. The walls were lined with old friendly-looking Yiddish books crowded into bookshelves that encroached into the performance space. In one nook there was technical/sound equipment hidden by curtains and sheets that made it look like a colorful circus tent. Staff kept poppin their heads in and out of the tent to speak to the performer and ask if the music was loud enough. There were rows of seats on two sides - maybe enough to seat fifty. Most of the seats were filled and some people were standing in the back, near the door. I found myself a seat near the back. The room was unbearably hot - no fans or air conditioners. The audience was composed of a mish mosh of characters - an elderly woman sat next to me and it seemed that she only speaks Yiddish. At first she ignored me but after a while of my singing along to some of the music, she started to smile at me, and then she said to me in Yiddish, "You are so young to know Yiddish!" There were a few ultra-orthodox men, a fifty-something couple with the woman wearing pants and a t-shirt, a secular family with Yiddish speaking kids, there was a man with a T-shirt that said "Toronto" on it, a gap-toothed man who sang and danced vivaciously, and many others - I would venture to say that few of the people at Yung Yiddish seemed like people I would have been likely to encounter anywhere else. The performer, Tommy Schwartz, has this incredible deep, warm, voice, and speaks slowly with an enchanting lilt when he tells stories. He sang popular Yiddish cabaret songs like "Di Grine Kuzine," "By Mir Bistu Sheyn," "Vus Dergeisti Mir Di Lorn" and "Der Rebbe Elimelich," and in between them interspersed anecdotes and jokes in Yiddish. Occasionally he would translate what he was saying to English (Though I was proud and surprised to realize that not only did I understand most of the Yiddish, but I also already knew most of the songs) - I'm not sure if he knows Hebrew, and I think from what I understood of his speaking, he is from Hungary. After his many fabulous songs, Mendy, the director of Yung Yiddish, stood up to sing. He sang a piece I was not familiar with - it was very theatrical and evocative, and eerily heartbreaking. Mendy has a sweet tenor voice and the performance was done with genuine feeling, as though he were a well trained stage actor, which for all I know may be the case. He was followed by another woman who sang Edith Piaf's "Le Vie en Rose" translated into Yiddish - it was exquisite. The whole evening was fun, people sang along, commented to each other, mostly in Yiddish but some in Hebrew, about the performances, and at the back a woman translated the Yiddish into Hebrew for some people who didn't know the Yiddish. It was rare that there was silence in the room during a performance- people were drinking, greeting friends, etc. After a little singing and a few speeches, wine and vodka was passed around so we could make a toast to Tommy, in whose honor all of this was happening. The toast was followed by more songs for the audience to sing to. At one point I had a chance to introduce myself to Mendy when he went outside for some fresh, cool air. He was very excited to meet me and told me to stay until the end so he could have a chance to talk to me. I was a bit worried about catching the bus but stayed anyway. At the end of the concert someone asked me in Yiddish, and then when it took me a minute to understand what he was saying asked again in Hebrew, where I had learned the songs from - did I learn Yiddish from my parents? I told him that I studied some Yiddish in university. He asked if I speak it, and I said, "yes, but not well" - he asked if I speak Hebrew and I said, "I also speak Hebrew, but not well." He said, "Great, then we will speak a cocktail of languages" and we proceeded to have a conversation that was a mishmosh of Hebrew and Yiddish, which was absolutely perfect. Yiddish was his first language, he learned it from his parents. It seems that most of the people at YY learned Yiddish from their parents, whether in Orthodox homes or because their parents were immigrants to Israel whose native language was Yiddish. He lives in Tel Aviv but is very fond of YY (whose headquarters are in Tel Aviv) and comes when he can to the Jerusalem programs. It seemed that a lot of the people at YY knew each other and were regular attendees. It's a strange, quirkly, little community that I am excited to be a part of. As everyone was starting to leave, Tommy Schwartz approached me and asked me in Yiddish, "where are you from pretty young woman?" I responded "I'm from the US" and he responded, "Well, we can't all be perfect." Then he pinched my cheek, and left. Mendy sat down to speak to me for a bit - first we had to decide what language to speak in. We settled on English. He told me that he is very excited that I am interested in helping out, and that I can basically do whatever I want or think is needed. The headquarters are in Tel Aviv, but if for instance I wanted to work at YY twice a week in the afternoons, he would start advertising that the Jerusalem YY library would be open those hours, and that there would also be someone there to answer the phone. He said the books are in some semblace of order but could use a better system of organization, so that might be a good place to start. He also said that the biggest problem YY faces is with regard to funding. He's having problems holding on to the Tel Aviv location, and in general is concerned about fundraising. I told him I don't have much experience with that, and he asked me if I am a good writer. I said that in English, yes, I like to write. He was very excited about this. He suggested that I could write articles about Yung Yiddish events and that once a month I could produce an English language newsletter about YY that he could send to current or potential supporters. I told him that this is something that I could definately do. We parted, both expressing our excitement to be working with one another. He will be in New York for a few weeks, and then there's the holdiays and all that, so we're not sure when I would start, but at least we've met and that will get the ball rolling a bit.

I am really excited to be getting involved in this unique organization, and it is fun that Mendy is so excited for me to help out and so willing to have me do basically whatever I want if I think it will help. I think this will be a great learning opportunity for me - a chance to speak Yiddish, to experience Yiddish culture through music, lectures, and books, and a way to become a part of something in Jerusalem that involves no Americans and no people my age - a chance to get a little bit outside the 'bubble' and outside my comfort zone, and to explore. I'm sure that you will be hearing much more about YY on this blog in the future.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Blog, A Book, and a little procrastination, which never hurt anyone but never helped either...

Paola, as it turns out, is keeping a blog too. In it, she tells me she's written the following about me:

1) I'm from Virginia. The only thing she knows about Virginia is the song "Take Me Home Country Roads," which she loves. When she told me this, I politely corrected her that West Virginia, which is the subject of the song, is not the same as Virginia, though it used to be before the Civil War. She was disappointed, and the first time she wrote about me in her blog, apparently (I haven't read the blog as it is in Italian), she included all of the lyrics to "Take Me Home Country Roads" just for kicks

2) She's been keeping a list of the idioms that I say, as she wants to incorporate them into her English. So far they include: creature of habit, homebody, to find common ground, to walk all over someone, grade inflation, and it's raining cats and dogs. The latter was her favorite, of course.


I'm writing on the blog largely to procrastinate from studying for my Hebrew test tomorrow, for which I actually feel pretty prepared, which makes it harder to study as I'm not convinced that I have to. What makes it even harder to study is that there is some kind of concert going on outside that I can hear quite well from the apartment. I thought initially that it was a Birthright Israel event because it included "Sisu et Yerushalayim" "Yachad" and "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu", but now it sounds more like heavy metal, so who knows.
The accomplishment of the day is that I (A) read an entire relatively lengthy newspaper article in Hebrew about Musharaff's resignation, and while it took me several hours and there were more words in the article that I didn't know than there were words that I did know, in the end I think I understood all of it, and (B) I went to a used book store and bought myself a collection of Hebrew short stories. I was having trouble convincing myself to read the children's book I was trying to get through because frankly it wasn't that interesting and also it was too long. I think short stories will work better. And it makes me super proud that I own a real book in Hebrew - and have the potential to read it.

I met with my advisor today. He tells me that after this summer I am technically allowed to take classes from Hebrew University proper, in Hebrew, if I am so inclined, as I will be at a high enough Hebrew level to do so. I'm thinking I might do that in the spring, but don't feel ready for it yet. In the meantime I think I'm taking something like the following: Hebrew, Readings in Early Yiddish Literature, Multiple Voices in Israeli Society, Jews in the Habsburg Empire. All of this is subject to change, but I thought you might be curious.

Guess I'd better get back to studying...


Incidentally, while procrastinating, I read an interesting and upsetting post on the Lilith blog ( about a trend in Orthodox communities for mothers to encourage their daughters not to excel academically because they either won't be attractive to men or will feel frustrated and bored when they have to leave their careers by the wayside to take care of their families. I think this an old problem and certainly not exclusive to Jewish communities. And not exclusive to traditional communities that "mainstream" folks can write off as being exceptions. I think the idea that women should be less accomplished, or less forthright about their accomplishments, than men, is so ingrained in our society that even the most accomplished of women are often hesitant to give themselves full credit for their accomplishments. Anyway, the author of the post writes, "It IS difficult to combine a career and motherhood, but striving for mediocrity is not a viable strategy. Subduing young women in the hope that potential husbands will find them more attractive is a damning indictment on religious men and cannot be the basis for a healthy partnership between the sexes in the modern Orthodox world." Thank goodness there are many people who feel this way, too. The real challenge may be, though, in acting in a way that we know, logically, to make sense. I believe that men and women are equal, for instance, but it doesn't stop me from preferring to sit in the passenger seat in the car, to walk behind Daniel on the sidewalk despite his insisting that I walk next to him, to wait for Daniel to tell the host that there will be two for dinner and we prefer to sit outside. These little things, about which I don't really think at the time, are small behaviors that in themselves don't matter at all, but demonstrate perhaps, the internalized notions of gender that have such a huge impact on how we see ourselves and how we live our lives. OK, now for serious I really have to go back to studying for that test...Or I could just strive not to do so well academically, as it might make me more attractive?

PS: You may have noticed that in our technical expertise, Daniel and I (mostly Daniel) have added a section to this blog recommending other blogs we read. If you have any blogs to add to the list, let us know, and seriously check out some of the ones there as they are quite good. We'll add to it if/when we start reading something new.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Risotto and Reading

Tonight Paola came over for dinner and we cooked risotto together - something I've never done. To be more clear about the situation, Paola cooked and I watched. According to Paolo, "Risotto is not like pasta, where you can just boil the water and then leave it alone. Risotto is like a baby and you have to watch over it and give it what it needs." We had a lovely meal together and spoke only in Hebrew for most of it. After dinner we stood out on the mirpeset (balcony) and chatted while looking out over the city. We talked about Catholicism - Paola has found a mass in Hebrew that she is going to on Sunday evenings- about Judaism - Paola asked me what relations were like between Orthodox and Reform Judaism, and I gave a complicated answer that didn't fully answer the question, but it's a hard question to answer - and about other things as well. I am so excited that I already feel like I have a close friend here!! I feel extremely fortunate.

In other news, I have been reading some short stories (In Hebrew) in class by Etgar Keret - and I really like them. We've been reading from a quirky collection of stories called "Missing Kissinger." It is great to be able to read and understand literature written in Hebrew, even if I have to look up a lot of the words and the teacher has made a point of informing us that Keret's writing style is purposefully easy to read as often his characters are children. Nevertheless, I think these are excellent stories - thoughtful and unusual - and I'm going to try to buy a collection of his short stories and try to read them on my own. He has definately been translated, so you may want to check him out:

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Birthday

A quick post because it is way past my bedtime:
I had a great birthday today - thanks to all of you well wishers, card senders, skypers, and e-mailers. Ulpan was fun - we read a lot of poems, sang a song, and of course did a lot of learning... I made something for the class in the way of a treat for my birthday but didn't end up giving it to people because, mostly, it didn't taste very good. After class I went home, paid some bills, unsuccessfully tried to donate blood (even in Israel you can't donate blood if you have lived in England during Mad Cow Disease - do you think I'd be eligable to give blood in England?) did a little homework, and then went out to eat with Leah, an HUC rabbinical student who is super nice. We had a great meal and I was feeling really chatty and hope I didn't come off as too talkative... It felt like a first date or something a little bit because I really want to be her friend and really want her to like me so I was trying hard to make a good impression. But it was a lovely meal and a fun conversation. Then, I went to a meeting about something that I don't have the time to write about because I have to go to bed, but you will hear about it later for sure. After the meeting I went back to Chad and Jessica's apartment (Jessica is an HUC rabbinical student and Chad is her husband) and we watched a television show together. Then I came home, called Dad, and wrote in the blog.

Sorry this post was written in such a hasty fashion - just wanted to let you all know that the birthday was a fun one. Now off to bed!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A hard day's night.

.ליל יום קשה

Friday morning, 8:00 am Jerusalem Time

I wake up when Jessica comes back from a run. This is our last day together for a week, and we want to make the best of it! As I have the Wexner Institute next week, I don't have any homework that I have to do, so I'm able to spend the day catching up on news, blogs, emails, my calendar updates, etc. Basically, we decide to take it easy.

Unfortunately, Jessica starts feeling sick and feels pretty bad for the majority of the day. We decide not to go out, not to go to services, and I make soup and toast for lunch. We watch The West Wing for a while and wait for my departure time to arrive.

Saturday morning, 12:00 am Jerusalem Time

We've just finished watching an episode of The West Wing, and I don't think we have time to watch another one before I leave. So, I verify that I have everything I need, I eat a bowl of cereal to give me energy for having to stay awake through the night, and Jessica and I chat. My taxi is supposed to come at 12:45 am. Of course, I'm ready early. 12:30 - of course no taxi. 12:45 - still no taxi. At 1:00, I decide to call the taxi company to see what's going on, and as the phone is ringing, the taxi pulls up outside and honks. I say a hasty good-bye to Jessica, and I'm on my way.

Saturday morning, 2:00 am Tel Aviv Time (1 hour since departure)

I've arrived at Ben Gurion airport and find myself waiting in line for security. There aren't a lot of people here (what with it being 2:00 on a Shabbat morning). I make it through security without any problems, check my bad with Alitalia, make my way through Security Number Two, and then situate myself in the main food/shopping area of the airport. I watch an excellent Columbo movie and make my way to my gate.

Saturday morning, 6:00 am Jerusalem Time (5 hours since departure)

When I get on the plane, I realize that when I asked the ticketer for "maximum legroom," he hooked me up. I'm sitting in an emergency exit row, which means that I have lots of extra room. Pretty sweet. The flight isn't too bad, and I have my vegetarian Italian meal (not spaghetti) with no major problems.

Saturday morning, 10:00 am Rome time (10 hours since departure)

I'm feeling fairly tired by this point, and I'm more or less staring into space, trying to nod off, and working on crossword puzzles while waiting for boarding to begin. We get underway a bit later than expected and I don't end up seated until 10:30 (we were supposed to leave at 9:50). This is when things start to go wrong...

For one thing, I'm in a regular seat, which means discomfort for long-leggers like me. And I'm totally exhausted. But, for the most part, I'm doing okay. I read my Wexner materials on and off for a couple hours, and try to nod off every hour or two. I manage to sneak in 1-2 hours of sleep this way ... and then I start feeling sick.

My stomach hurts, I feel a bit nauseated, and I'm getting warm. I'm extremely tired, but I can't find a position that will afford me any sleep, especially since the person in front of me insists on having his seat all the way back. I feel worse and worse and no in way can I consider eating the last mini-meal/snack they serve. I'm dying for them to land. The person in front of me must have picked up on my misery (A) because I've pushed my legs against his seat so he can't push it back and (B) I'm twisting into different positions every twenty minutes or so. At last we land an hour and a half after we were scheduled to.

Saturday afternoon, 2:45 pm New York time (20.75 hours since departure)

I'm just leaving the plane now, and I have 1.5 hours to get my luggage, go through customs, check my luggage, get a ticket, and make it to my gate for my flight to Burlington. As I'm walking down a hallway at JFK, I see hundreds of people lining up. I know that I don't have time to wait in that line, so I walk right past everyone. I feel really bad about it ... and also fairly Israeli. When I get to the front, I realize that the line is being held at the top of a set of stairs. I ask one of the airport employees if I can wait in the front since my flight leaves soon; he says yes.

However, I then realize that this line is being held at the top of the stairs because in the large room downstairs, there are literally hundreds more people waiting in another enormous line. How will I ever make my flight? Thankfully, Providence steps in. I hear one of the employees say that this line is for visitors to the US - those with an American passport can go ahead. I make my way down the stairs and see that there are no lines at the American residents customs desk. As I enter the queue area, I tell the attendant that I've never been so happy to be an American citizen!

I make my way to baggage claim and discover that it will be possible, though difficult, to make my 4:15 flight. But what can you do? I'm waiting for my bag, and with every minute that ticks by, I get more nervous. I decide that at 3:15, I'll call Delta to see if there's anything they can do for me, but I get antsy and can't wait that long. I call information, get the number, and as I'm being transferred from domestic to international flights, my bag arrives. Hallelujah! I hang up on Delta, grab my bag, and hit it.

Saturday afternoon, 3:15 pm New York time (21.25 hours since departure)

I make my way swiftly through customs and then have to wait at the Delta transfers counter for a while. I finally get to the front of the line, and they take my bag and print me a boarding pass. They tell me that the plane leaves from the next building over, so I should be able to make it, but I should still hurry. So I do. I rush over to the next building, jaywalking across a street. (After I jaywalk, I hear someone shout angrily, and my heart skips a beat. He wasn't yelling at me, though, thankfully!)

I make it to the right building and have to go through yet another security check. These things are really annoying, especially since they're even more rigorous than in Israel about things like putting your shoes/belt/wallet etc. through the x-ray machine. I make it through and get to my gate with a half-hour to spare!

And that's when I discover that my flight's been delayed.

Saturday afternoon, 4:00 pm New York time (22 hours since departure)

Once I have a chance to sit down and get my bearings, I realize that I feel really sick. I call my parents, who are, of course, excited to hear from me. I tell them about my travel woes, and they help me feel better (at least emotionally). I watch an episode of Star Trek: Voyager on my laptop, take some Advil, and start to feel a little better. Mostly, I just want to leave...

Saturday night, 7:15 pm New York time (25.25 hours since departure)

My flight to Burlington is finally taking off. Over the past couple hours, I've been in contact with the Wexner people. I was originally scheduled to ride in a rented car with our Graduate Fellows Director, but I missed that boat. They were going to try to arrange for a car to take me to the resort, but I'm supposed to call when I land to see what the story is. Meantime, I've boarded the plane and discovered to my absolute delight that I have two seats to myself. I move over to the window seat at 6:45 and promptly fall asleep until we take off at 7:15. I manage to sleep for about another half-hour until the drinks are served. I ask for Ginger Ale.

And this is the moment of most pristine beauty during this entire experience.

I haven't eaten anything for about nine hours, and the thought of food still makes me sick. I've had a few sips of water, and of course my Advil. My mouth is sticky and dry from sleep and not having had my teeth brushed since Friday morning. And the flight attendant hands me an ice-filled glass of Canada Dry Ginger Ale. I swear to you that as I put the glass to my lips and taste the first bitter/sweet, watered-down drops of that drink, I'm am instantly transported to 3527 Richards Blvd, where a sick 8-year-old is being given some Ginger Ale by his worried mother. I instantly felt emotionally better, and I believe that this very moment was the turning point in my illness.

Saturday night, 8:00 pm Burlington Time (26 hours since departure)

I land and call someone from Wexner. Turns out that they weren't able to get me a ride to the resort, so I'm supposed to take a cab to a local hotel and spend the night there. (They will, of course, reimburse me for all my expenses.) Not what I wanted, but not a big deal either. I get some cash and wait for my bags.

And that's where the big deal comes in.

Turns out my bag, despite having plenty of time to make it to our delayed flight, decided to hang out in New York instead of coming to Vermont with me. So, I have no change of clothes, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. Just my books and (thank God) my hairbrush.

I get into a cab, explain the hotel situation, and manage to get a room in a Comfort Inn.

Saturday night, 9:30 pm (27.5 hours since departure)

I fall asleep on my bed after dismissing out of hand the very notion of eating dinner. Aside from short, uncomfortable naps on planes, this is my first sleep in 44.5 hours.

And that's how I got to Vermont! Luckily, as I write this at 9:50 am on Sunday morning, I'm feeling much better than I was yesterday. I do still feel a little jet-lagged, and I feel the after-effects of being sick, but I don't think that there are going to be any serious complications today or the rest of the week. Provided I feel up to it, I'm going to walk down to the mall to try to pick up some items that Jessica and I would like in Israel and then take a cab to the airport around 1:00 pm. From there, I should be able to take a bus with some other Fellows to the resort, and I'll be able to get this party started.

I don't know if I'll have more opportunities to post this week, but at least you got a glimpse of my international travel! Let's hope the return trip goes a lot smoother...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Snippet from my Lit Class

In my lit class, we had to read a series of three poems by Natan Zach, and then write our own poem to be the fourth. Here are some poor translations of the three poems he wrote, followed by a translation of my own fourth poem:

Poem of the Evening

In the evening
When my girl said to me
I went down to the street to take a walk
And I was walking, and I was aimless
I was aimlessly walking
And I walked and I walked without aim

Final Separation

When my girl went from me
I was wearing a new suit
And I went down to the cafe.
And there were three people there:
A tall man,
A fat man,
And a thin man.
And the fat man had two red flowers
on his chest.
When I entered and they saw me,
The thin man got up
And declared
That's all
That's it.

When My Girl Went From Me

When my girl went from me,
As I wrote once,
I went to the cafe
And there were three people there:
A tall man, a fat man, and a thin man
And the thin man had two red flowers on his chest

The fat man (But not
the thin man).
When I entered no one noticed me
And it went like this:

A man entered and sat
And these others thought
That only a wind opened the door

Or maybe not even that.


In The Cafe

When my relationship with my girl was broken
I went to the cafe
And there were three men there:
A tall man, a fat man, and a skinny man
The fat man had a big hat
The skinny man had an empty plate
And the fat man had two red flowers on his chest

The tall man took off his hat
The skinny man ordered food
And the fat man removed one of the flowers
And put it in his pocket

I drank coffee
And watched all of this
I drank and I drank and I watched
Until there was no more coffee in my cup
And the men went away
And I sat alone

And still none of this was clear to me

Friday, August 15, 2008

A birthday party!

!מסיבת יום הולדת

Yesterday at HUC, we had a series of interesting "tradition workshops," the most engaging of which was a discussion about service choreography. We also received our academic schedules, which is very exciting. But the best part of the day by far was Jessica's birthday potluck!

Unfortunately, our potluck coincided with a concert that the HUC cantors were attending and a seminar for the education students - so the only HUC students who were able to join us were rabbinical students. Nevertheless, we had about a dozen people from HUC join us over the course of the night in addition to two of Jessica's friends from outside our "HUC bubble." Alex is a Russian-born Israeli who has been studying at Hebrew University since he finished the army one year after Jessica met him on birthright israel. Paola is a friend of hers from ulpan about whom she's written before. These two friends in addition to my friends from HUC made for a wonderful time, and I'm very glad to see that Jessica and the people I go to school with get along well!

Alex showed up first and brought a lovely pair set of candlesticks that we have added to our mantelpiece. Shortly thereafter, the HUC crowd started to arrive. Folks chatted, looked around the apartment (which we were proud to share), and eventually enjoyed some food. Jessica prepared a delicious combination of baked beans and roasted potatoes, and some other dishes (including a fancy chocolate cake) made the night a tasty one.

We also played a game of Charades and a game called Adjective and Noun, which is similar to the beloved game that Jessica and I call Paper Pass. It seemed that everyone had a good time, and our last guests left over four hours after the first arrived.

Overall, it was delightful to entertain guests in our apartment. Though we were sad that not everyone from HUC was able to decide to come to our place if they wanted, it turned out that this situation may have been for the best: although we have ample space in the apartment, it's spread into several rooms, so fitting everyone into our living room would have been a significant challenge. Hopefully we'll continue to have the privilege and joy of welcoming friends and neighbors into our home as the year progresses!

In a sad turn of events, this delightful party is being shortly proceeded by my departure. In just a few hours, a sheirut (shared taxi) will take me to Ben Gurion airport for my flight to Stowe, Vermont, where I'll be spending the week learning at the twice-annual Wexner Institute. I'm excited to be able to see once again the scholars I met during our orientation in May, and I'm also looking forward to being able to take a brief break from Hebrew ... but of course I'm also sad to be leaving home after spending such a short time here with Jessica. The Institute is only a week long, so I'll be returning soon enough. And hopefully I'll be able to post (albeit probably briefly) from the States!

If I don't have a chance to write here, I'll post an update upon my return. Otherwise, look for news shortly!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vistas, Visas, and Vocabulary

Today I stopped in the grocery store on the way home from school. I was wearing a black skirt that didn't quite cover my knees and a black and white pinstriped sleeveless top - not a very Israeli outfit. The security guard who checked my bags at the entrance to the store (side note: all the big stores and restaurants have metal detectors and security guards) said "how are you?" to me in Hebrew, and before I had a chance to answer he changed his mind and said, "We can speak English. English, yes? Or Francais? How are you?" And I responded in English "Very well thank you, and you" and went about my way. As I was in the store, one of the people who was shelving food said "How are you" in Hebrew to me, and I responded in Hebrew, and then he said, "Comment ca va?" (French for how are you) So I responded with a smile, "Ca va bien, merci" and went about my way. As I left, I heard him saying to a co-worker, in Hebrew, something to the effect of "I can always spot the French ones." I thought that was pretty funny - and relevant to an earlier post where I noted how much clothing defines people here - because I'm dressed a little nicer than usual I don't fit the stereotype of the jeans-and-tshirt American, and therefore must be French. (Another side note - there are a lot of francophones in Jerusalem!)

Tonight I have my birthday party and I'm really looking forward to welcoming guests into our home, and to spending time with people and getting to know them socially. It seems like there will be a small group of rabbinical students (about 8?) coming, as well as one of my friends from ulpan, and a friend that I met several years ago when I was on birthright. I already had a little birthday party last night when Daniel took me to the fabulous restaurant accross the street - it was seriously really really good - and gave me more presents than I know what to do with! Daniel sure knows how to do birthdays...

As you can tell from the title of the post, there are three topics that I was hoping to have time to tell you about before I start cooking for the potluck tonight (roasted potatoes and home-made baked beans, if you must know): Vista, Visa, and Vocabulary. I'll go in that order and I apologise that each of these topics has very little to do with the other.


Yesterday our class went on a tour of Hebrew University, Mount Scopus campus (the campus where I am studying). It was really exciting to be able to learn so much information, all in Hebrew! It was also great to see how are class is starting to feel comfortable together – we could casually enter conversations with each other while walking about, make side comments and jokes – it all seems to be getting much more comfortable.

But outside those aspects of the tiyul, it was also thrilling to learn about Hebrew University and to have an opportunity to explore a bit without feeling that I was in danger of getting lost! I learned so much – I’ll share with you a little bit – though don’t take my word for it as all of this is my translation of the Hebrew I may or may not have understood:

In 1903?, the Zionist Congress purchased the land on Mt. Scopus from Sir John Gray Hill, who had a villa there and was willing to sell it as he supported the Zionists who wanted to build the university. At the time, universities throughout Europe had quotas as to how many Jews could study there, so the idea was to build the first ever university taught in Hebrew and to thereby provide education and opportunities to many Jews who otherwise would not have these opportunities. However, at the time Israel was still under the Ottoman Empire, which did not give its permission for the building of the University. In 1918 the first cornerstone of the university was laid, and in 1925 the university opened its doors (Israel was at the time under British rule). The founder of the university, Chaim Weizmann, later became the first president of Israel, and there were all sorts of important people involved in the university’s founding including Hayyim Nachman Bialik, Albert Einstein, Sigmound Freud, and Martin Buber.

At the botanical gardens of Hebrew University, which only has plants that are native to Israel, we learned that during the construction of the garden, workers found a cave. Archaeologists were called in and they found bones, as well as an inscription indicating that this was the grave of “Nicanor from Alexandria.” Nicanor from Alexandria is described in the Gemara. I found the following information online as it was interesting and I didn’t remember all of it: “As the Gemara (Yoma 38a) describes, Nicanor traveled from Alexandria to bring gates for the Second Temple. He loaded two bronze gates on a ship, but a large wave threatened the vessel. Nicanor cast one gate overboard into the sea but the sea continued to rage. Then, he declared that he should be thrown into the sea with the second gate. Suddenly, the sea became calm. By nothing less than a miracle, the first gate appeared when the ship arrived in Akko. Some said that a sea monster spit it out. Others claim that the bronze gate became attached to the underside of the ship. In any event, the Gates of Nicanor were installed on the western side of the Women's Section in the Second Temple. By the accounts of Josephus, the gates were truly impressive. Estimates are that they stood 40 cubits wide and 50 cubits high.” The sarcophagus is no longer in the cave – it is currently in London. However, currently buried in the cave are Michael Usishkin, one of the leaders of the Russian Zionists, and Leon Pinsker, the founder of the Lovers of Zion (Hovevei Zion) movement. Usishkin wanted Pinsker buried there because he envisioned a national pantheon of the graves of the great Zionists on Mt. Scopus – which is why he himself is also buried there. However it was decided that Mt. Scopus was to be a university and not a graveyard, and most of these Zionist leaders are buried now at Mt. Herzl instead.

We walked to the Frank Sinatra building – the area for international students. On May 14, 2001, a bomb exploded in a cafeteria in the international student area, killing/injuring several students (I don’t remember the number). The teacher showed us the memorial to those students – a very subtle monument. It is a tree that was damaged by the explosion, but continued to live. It grows out of a crooked area in the ground and is supported by a lot of wires, etc. to keep it up as it is tilted at about a 45 degree angle to the ground, but it is still living and thriving. This is to show that while life at the university was shaken by the event, the university still thrives.

The teacher talked quite a bit about the architecture of the buildings. At Mt. Scopus there are two kinds of buildings – those that were built in the 1920’s at the establishment of the university, and those built in the 1970’s and thereafter. After the War of Independence in 1948, East Jerusalem became a part of Jordan, and while Mt. Scopus remained under Israeli control, it was an island that was cut off from Israel proper, making it impossible for studies to continue there. Instead, a second campus was built near to where Daniel and I live, called Givat Ram – also a second campus of Hadassah hospital was built for the same reasons. After the Six Day War (1967) East Jerusalem became part of Israel, and construction started on Mt. Scopus so that it could be re-opened in 1980. The older buildings have rougher stone, ivy, arched windows, and domes (kipot!) on top. The newer buildings are smother with straighter lines.

The last place we went to on our tour was the Hecht Synagoge, in the Humanities building where we have class. It is the reason why this section is labled Vistas – Har HaTzofim (Mount Scopus) literally means Mountain of the Views – because the view is magnificent! The Hecht Synagogue faces this view, and is constructed in a minimalistic fashion (no pictures on the wall) to emphasize the beauty of the view itself. The window is cut into three parts to look like an open Torah scroll, the bimah is lowered so that instead of seeing the hazzan the congregation sees the view. The pews are constructed to look like a menorah. From the window you can see all of Jerusalem. The teacher pointed out different areas and buildings to us – which was pretty great.


Yesterday afternoon I set out to the Ministry of the Interior to get a student visa. Long story as to why I don’t have one already, but suffice it to say that I need to get one. So I didn’t know a lot about how to get one – I looked it up on the internet but otherwise didn’t have much guidance. I found the address for the Ministry of the Interior online and Daniel helped me figure out which bus to take to get there. I had to switch buses and really circumnavigate the city to get to the area where the government buildings are. After inquiring at several buildings I finally found the ministry of the interior. But when I got there, the guard told me that to get a student visa I need to go to the other ministry of the interior building, which happens to be about a ten minute walk from our apartment. So, I waited about a half hour for a bus – and spoke to a very nice woman who helped me figure out where to get off the bus and gave me directions – and I went to the other ministry of the interior building. When I got there the person at the visa desk told me that it was closed for the day and I should come back at 8am the next morning. I didn’t want to miss ulpan but didn’t have much of a choice so I e-mailed my teachers that I would be coming late and I went this morning. When I approached the visa desk, the woman asked me if I had an appointment. I said no and she gave me a form to fill out and told me to go through some doors. There were no other directions posted and when I asked someone how to get a visa, she asked if I had an appointment. When I said no, she said I needed an appointment and I needed to call to make one. I had tried to do that on numerous occasions but no one ever answers the phone. Eventually she directed me to a room, and I knocked on the door only to have the person in the office say that the office was closed and would I shut the door. I waited some more and finally went into the office and stood there until the woman was done talking on the phone, at which point she asked me what I needed and I said I wanted to get a student visa but had no appointment. She made me an appointment for Sept. 9, in the morning – so I’ll have to miss more ulpan, but I hope I’ll actually get the visa!


I particularly didn’t want to miss ulpan today because we had a pretty serious test today – as well as a lot to do in my literature class. I’m sorry I missed so much of literature today because there were some poems we were supposed to read that I didn’t entirely understand. But it is really cool to be reading literature in Hebrew, and for sure my vocabluarly is rapidly improving. We had 81 vocab words to learn for this week’s test, and we’ve only been in ulpan for a week! It’s going to be a really intense, hard course. For homework this weekend I have to do an exercise, read a newspaper article and write about it, write an essay, and read the first page of a novel, all in Hebrew! Wish me luck…