Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yom Sukkah


Most of my activities today essentially had to do with Sukkah.  We had two shiurim this morning at the yeshiva, both about sukkah.  One, by Josh Kulp (my Talmud teacher for Elul), dealt with the difference in opinion about the symbolism behind the sukkah.  There is a debate in rabbinic literature about the sukkah commemorating actual sukkot or the “clouds of glory” that protected the Israelites on their journey.  The other shiur we had was with Reb Shmuel about the purposes and laws of the sukkah.  Very practical on many levels.

Shortly afterwards we got free pizza at the yeshiva.  They ordered from Sababa – we agreed that it’s not the best pizza in town, but it’s free pizza, who cares?  I stayed back to read Sefer Ha-Toda’ah about sukkot to get ready and then went up for a nap.

After my nap, we built the Nativ sukkot.  Music blazed throughout the campus to have people pumped to work on the sukkot; it worked very well.  People worked on the sukkot themselves as well as their decorations.  I helped put up one of the sukkot.  Lots of fun, and certain rules we learned with Reb Shmuel served practical!

Last night, I began to work with my buddy Josh Sacks a little bit on guitar.  Not too shabby!  He has two guitars with him, so I am now holding on to one of them.  So I jammed a little bit tonight.  I also went down to the auditorium to play some piano.  It was good to play some music tonight.

Many people are studying for end of minimester tests and papers tonight, so it’s been very chill.  David and I sat outside with our laptops for a while, and he did me a great service in helping me get laundry done.  I also had a marvelous conversation with Jules via David’s skype – what a great man!

"You're All SINNERS!"


I’m writing about yesterday about 24 hours late, but things get hectic here and it’s often hard to keep things on track for the day.  Many things that I wish would be daily routine are much harder to establish with the spontaneous nature of things on this program.  Spontaneous is good, but it makes it hard to fit in things like listen to podcasts regularly, learn the amount of Rambam I want to learn daily, and keep up with the blog, to name some.

Yesterday I had my first voice lesson with a woman named Ashira, who teaches right here at Agron for cantorial students.  A great plus to studying with her will be that not only will she help me develop voice technique, but she will also help me develop skills as a shaliach tzibbur, since she has a cantorial background.  She already pointed some basic things that can make a great difference, so I am looking forward to sounding better as the weeks go by.  We will officially start after Sukkot – this was a sort of introductory session for her to get to know me.

For the first time, because Israel has a moronic standard time policy, classes ended after dark.  We were able to do ma’ariv at the yeshiva at the end of the day.  Sort of depressing how early it gets dark out; I don’t like early darkness.  But I like all of the opportunties I get to daven at the yeshiva, it’s a good davening environment, generally speaking.

Last night, we had the honor and privilege of hearing words of wisdom from a wise Conservative rabbi, Rabbi Joel Roth.  His talk dealt mostly with the failures of the Conservative movement, in the context of the four major underpinnings of the movement.  He did, however, begin by acknowledging many sources of pride for our movement and declared Conservative Judaism the most authentic form of Judaism.  But in short, the failures of the movement include its failure to convey to its constituency why it is the most authentic form of Judaism and to bridge the chasm between the leadership elite and the general constituency.

Here’s a short summary of his points – thanks to Ariella Kristal for the notes:
Conservative Movement Underpinnings:
1.   Mitzvot are commandments, not “traditions,” “customs,” or anything else.  Whether one understands or does not understand why one cannot eat a pig but can eat a cow or can’t mix two fibers in clothing is immaterial to observance of mitzvot – it is obligatory!  He then explained the corollary of mitzvah, which is sin.  At which point he called everyone who violates the Shabbat a sinner, technically speaking!  He did not mean to attack, but rather to explain that the opposite of mitzvah is sin, failure to comply to the Commander’s command.  Conservative Jews often say “I’m Conservative, I don’t have to wear tefillin,” but do not understand that not wearing tefillin is a sin.
2.   Halakha is to be determined by proper authorities – a ritual committee comprised of individuals without sufficient knowledge of the halakhic process and the issues within the details of halakha that makes halakhic decisions has overstepped its boundaries.  Rabbis are the authorities today that can make those decisions.
3.   Jewish law is pluralistic, not monolithic, and is subject to legitimate controversy among its authorities. Heard of Hillel and Shammai? Totally different opinions on the intricacies of halakha, yet they were civil to each other and their sons married their daughters and vice versa.  There are differences of opinion as to whether Kraft cheese is kosher (i.e. whether cheese needs a hekhsher), but nobody argues that one may eat kosher or non-kosher cheese with a cheeseburger.
4.   Jewish law is evolutionary – but not revolutionary.  You can work within the system to overturn and change the look of law.  One cannot impose American law on Jewish law, just like, as in the case of Rabbi Roth’s son when he was 13, one cannot declare that the President of the U.S. need only be 13 years old because he’s a Jewish adult.

Then came an extremely potent analogy.  Rabbi Roth compared the evolution of Jewish law to a chessboard.  One can make any move, so long as it is legal, and this can include knocking pieces off the board – changing parts of Jewish law – as long as it is a legal move.  Yet the writing of the Shulhan Arukh put a dome over the chessboard that froze the game, and one could not make new moves.  New issues in Jewish law were obviously discussed, but no changes to the game.  Conservative Judaism, however, does not view halakha as frozen, and continues to make legal moves.

And finally, he testified that Rabbi Akiva would not be in Me’ah She’arim or B’nei Brak or YU if he were alive today, but rather at JTS.

Question and Answer session: people asked great questions to advance understanding of Rabbi Roth’s shpiel.  I asked a two-fold question: a) does the movement do itself a favor by shifting leftward, and b) what is the future of observant Jews who are right-wing.  I had prefaced my question by explaining that I could easily yet regrettably be one of those Conservative movement products he described before that he would see davening at an Orthodox schul, due to discomfort at Conservative schuls.  Much to my liking, he answered my question very passionately and thoroughly.  Essentially, he suggested that Conservative Jews stop calling people who actually observe halakha “Orthodox” so they are not alienated and that schuls ought to provide minyanim that would include things like the full Torah reading, non-egalitarian setting, etc.

Rabbi Roth’s lecture was very motivational and insightful.  It was also important to know, as Yossi mentioned in his introduction to Rabbi Roth, that we have top scholars that deal with the core of the movement.  His ideas for synagogues in terms of education and recognizing Jewish observance are fantastic.  The test and the future, however, is about whether people will actually heed his words.  I felt the same way, too, after Rabbi Artson spoke at Etz Chaim last year – there is hope for the Conservative movement if people listen to our scholars.  But do they?

Either way, I find myself more and more motivated to stay in the Conservative movement and to be an educator in my future.  I hate to say that Orthdoxy is the answer to my dissatisfaction because I am ideologically Conservative.  We’ll just have to see what my place in the movement will be…

Lots to think about.  I’ll be blogging about Conservative Judaism more in the future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur is a Chag Sameach - Very Sameach


First of all, a Happy 20th Birthday to my brother Sam today!  עמוֹ"ש

Erev Yom Kippur was one of those extremely busy days where there's a lot to cram in and most of it either doesn't get done or gets done within the last few moments.  Our morning consisted of two study sessions with Nativ staff to give us stuff to think about for Yom Kippur.  The first session I attended, with my madricha Cori, was about the Al Chet viduy.  We looked at different lines of the text from many angles, which I found very insightful and a good build off of what we had talked about in Reb Shmuel's conversation before.  Then we had time for personal reflection, which was good, I needed to prepare thoughts for my Al Chet sessions in the Amidah - it ended up benefiting me tremendously.  Afterwards I went to a session with my madrich Noah about t'shuva.  We looked at an interesting Mishna and Gemara about the power of t'shuva, t'shuva in relation to death, when t'shuva is appropriate.  Afterwards we had lunch, and then we went to the mikveh.  Oh the mikveh.  Unlike before Rosh Ha-Shannah, it was packed there.  I won't go into vulgar detail but it was sort of disgusting.  We talked about the difference between being ritually/spiritually cleansed (which I did feel) versus being physically clean.  Then I sort of chilled out, worked on a Yom Kippur overview, talked to people.  I made a silly mistake of eating chocolate chip cookies 20 minutes before the se'udah mafseket, so I was milchig and had to take chicken upstairs to eat later.  I showered, decked out in white (kippah, shirt, Israeli pants), and headed out.  I was prepping and working until the last second.

The plan was to go to the Leader Minyan for Kol Nidrei.  It's a liberal Orthodox minyan in Jerusalem that meets for (some) chagim and mevarkhim ha-hodesh.  It is known for its length of service, not due to lots of singing necessarily but because, for example, its p'sukei d'zimra can be 2 hours - "hayu chasidim rishonim shohim sha'ah achat lifnei she-mitpalelim" - I compare this to the first Chasidim, the Mishnah describes, who would prep an hour before davening.  They meditate a lot, or something like that.  Of course I could not experience this because when we got there, we found out that they meet at the Goldstein Youth Village on Yom Kippur, which would have been a far walk and sunset quickly approached.  So, Kedem was our closest and best option and we went.  I walked fast and got there in the middle of the first Kol Nidrei.  I got a seat in the front row, which had three seats - enough for me to sit next to my yeshiva buddy David Singer (Zeigler student) and Shira.  It was good davening next to them.  The service was fair - based on my two experiences there, it's a nice minyan but not what I'm looking for during the year.  Throughout Yom Kippur, though, my personal davening was very good - I don't think I have felt  and connected to my Amidah so much before.  My goal, as it should always be, was to direct my kavannah acutely and think about my relationship to the text as I went through.  That's why preparing the Al Chet material beforehand was extremely helpful.

If you didn't know, the streets are almost void of vehicles on Yom Kippur, with the exception of emergency vehicles and inconsiderate drivers who drove really fast.  One could walk on the street, and lights were blinking yellow.  Given this, when we returned from schul, Nativers continued the tradition of sitting on the street and singing.  Almost 80 kids, in a circle, at the intersection of Keren Ha-Yesod and King George Street, which is a busy, busy intersection.  We had onlookers surrounding us for as long as 30 minutes, many including Great Synagogue daveners who had just left.  Many of the songs we sang were slow, but then we started doing many upbeat songs.  We got up and danced a lot.  I wondered if we were too happy for the spirit of Yom Kippur.  I wondered what many of the onlookers thought of us teenagers filling the street with songs and eventually dance.  But I couldn't and didn't care.  I was too used to Yom Kippur being a purely solemn holiday, where we don't even say chag sameach on this holiday; yet I find lots of room for happiness on Yom Kippur.  We wear white and say "barukh shem kevod..." aloud because we are like angels on Yom Kippur.  While it may be appropriate to cry on Yom Kippur in desperation to be sealed in the Book of Life and out of such strong desire to change, it can't be left as being that simple.  It is a time for us to rejoice that God accepts t'shuva and we have the potential to start fresh for the new year.

That night was the first night of Nativ where I got eight hours of sleep.  Given how early t'filot are since it's now standard time, things were on an early schedule and I made it into bed by 10:15.  :)

Monday morning I woke up at 6:15, so that by 6:45 we would be out the door to services.  David (Helfand) and I realized that Shira Hadasha would have to be our place of worship for Shacharit.  Of course, a few other people felt the same way.  We were planning on going with Ariella Kristal and Shira and then a lot of other girls were interested in going as well.  So we went out in shifts, but the doors weren't open when we got there.  We waited outside and I got in some Rambam before the doors open. A gabbai showed up at around 7:15, and David and I had no problem getting seats. The ten girls also managed to get seats.  The davening was outstanding.  The tunes they use for various piyutim, etc. were extraordinary.  The ba'al musaf, who teaches many of my friends at Hebrew U, had not only a marvelous voice but also a great feel for the t'filah that comes from true Ahavat Hashem.  Though I know nothing of the Avodah service and was very bored, I got very excited when they sang the "mareh cohen" song that we did at the Ramah tisch on Friday nights.  The shatz yelled at everyone to get on their feet and sing and dance crazily.  Chag Sameach!

My plan had been to leave at break and go to the Great Synagogue for Mincha and Ne'ilah. However, Ariella wanted to stay for the rest of the day so I decided to stay too.  We took our break near Kedem and hung out at Emek Refa'im.

By Mincha I had lost a lot of stamina.  I could barely concentrate on the complicated points of Rav Kook I was studying before Mincha started.  I was very happy to be against a wall for the evening; it made it easier for standing, as I was having a hard time doing that, too.  But the rest of the t'filot were good.  A little technical difficulty with the shofar at the end of Ne'ilah - I can understand how one lacks saliva at the end of a fast, if that's at all related.  Then for La'shannah Ha-ba'ah people danced around the room; it was a nice sentiment of community.

So then eventually after Ma'ariv and break fast we came back, and I had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner.  It sounded like dinner at Agron wasn't so great.  Then I went out with some people with the intentions of having Burgers' Bar but then many of us went to get frozen yogurt, and then my friend LeeAnn and I went to get pizza.

I have never had such a powerful Yom Kippur experience.  For one thing, it was just something different.  Also, it's Ir Ha-Kodesh - the holy city - so naturally things will reflect the nature of the day.  But I also learned a lot about serving Hashem with joy and how to do t'shuva with joy.  It's good to be b'Eretz Yisrael.

Monday, September 28, 2009

First Shabbat in Yerushalayim


Shabbat was a blessing.  Many of us davened at Yakar, a Modern Orthodox, Carlebach-style schul.  We got there early and were confused that there were only about twenty chairs set up in the back with the rest of the room empty.  We quickly learned that people come in and stand the whole time.  The singing was abundant and the voices of many more people than a fire code probably allows in one room made an extra spiritual Kabbalat Shabbat.  I stood next to the mashgiach and friend from Ramah this summer, Joshua, who's a Zeigler rabbinical student, and I also saw a guy named AdAm who used to work at Ramah - he has an inspirational level of kavannah in his davening.

We headed back for a tasty Shabbat dinner at Agron.  I can't say I remember too much more about it other than that the chicken was delicious.  Afterwards we had a Nativ-a-tisch, with Marzipan rugelach and a cake that David's parents had ordered for him in honor of his birthday, which was over Shabbat.  I brought V'yitnu Lecha Keter M'lukha to the tisch, it was great singing it and sorta brought me back to camp this summer.  The whole tisch was fun, especially when my friend Jesse picked Modeh Ani for his song.  It was a lot of great singing.

I went to Shira Hadasha in the morning and enjoyed it a lot.  It was a little bit interesting that the shatz for Shacharit was an American using Ashkenazi pronunciations, but it was fine.  I got a little upset during the davening because I still don't understand why Conservative synagogues in America have not worked harder to spice up their davening without compromising tradition; for example, instruments are unnecessary if you have a service with the quality of Shira Hadasha.  I'm not saying it's easy but I think a better effort could be made.  I do enjoy davening with a mehitza, at any rate, and it's great that women are included at the same time.

After schul, we had a fine lunch at Agron.  Then I took a Shabbat walk with Sarah Ziskend (best friend from home) to the windmill at Yemin Moshe and we chatted for a while.  I'm very happy to have Sarah around, to have a best friend who has known me for a while and in many different contexts.  Then I took a very long nap, a little longer than I intended.  It happens, it felt good.  Afterwards two guys from the kibbutz track Joe and Josh (a buddy of mine from camp) put on a great parashat ha-shavua discussion, followed by mincha, se'udat shlishit, some singing (not enough in the end!), and Ma'ariv.

After Shabbat, we went out for David's birthday.  We went to Aldo's ice cream on Emek Refa'im where we had great waffles with gelato.  Afterwards we went to Ben Yehuda and hung out a bar on Yafo for a little bit.  The boychick is 19!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kapparot, Slichot


If someone handed you a live chicken and told you to swing it around your head a few times, you would do it, right?  I didn't.  Kapparot's a silly custom in my opinion (and in the opinion of many) but many of us Nativers went near the Shuk to see the experience.  Some people actually swung the chickens, others barely walked in when they were grossed out and fled.  Especially seeing the shochet slaughter the animals right on the spot, one after another probably wasn't so appealing to everyone.

I had another great walk around Jerusalem night Thursday night - my friend Shira and I (and eventually Seffi) walked to Ben Yehuda, back, and down to Emek Re'faim where we had some amazing gelato. Mmmm mmmm!

Friday I got up at 4 a.m. for a s'lichot tour in Nachla'ot.  Most of the schuls we visited were Sefardic.  One of the schuls we visited had tea outside!  They were all welcoming though.  It was the last morning of long s'lichot, hence it was more significant.  The neighborhood was very much alive, and one women was washing the street outside her house at that hour. We found that odd.  One of the best treats of this early morning escapade was a visit to Marzipan, where we got world-class rugelach and my friend Marc and I bought a challah that we ate on the spot.  Both were a taste of Olam Ha-Ba, for sure!

Most people went asleep right when we got back to Beit Nativ, but I did s'lichot and then davened at Moreshet Yisrael.  I had a hard time staying awake during a woman's d'var torah midway through Shacharit.  Then I had a productive morning and got some work done before lunch.  It was a very nice day in the afternoon so Shira and I decided to go on a walk through Ben Yehuda, and I saw a guy Ilan I know from Atlanta who studies at a yeshiva in Jerusalem.  You never know who you bump into!

It's just about Yom Kippur time, so the rest of Shabbat will come soon!

צום קל וגמר חתימה לכולם

Friday, September 25, 2009

Inspiring Conversations


When I made my decision to study at the Conservative Yeshiva, I knew that by doing so I would receive a unique opportunity to learn from the unique people that fill the yeshiva.  The Yeshiva, of course, is a very personable environment, and the students and teachers are not just intellectuals but rather intellectuals with a spiritual agenda.  What this does is allow for learning from individuals around you who do avodah she-balev, service to God from the heart, and a forum for other students and teachers to inspire you yourself.
Unfortunately, David wasn't feeling well this morning and he peaced out a little early from class.  So I paired up with a Ziegler rabbinical student, Elan, and we worked our way through the Rishonim (from Rashi up to before the Shulchan Aruch commentators), specifically the Rif, Ba'al Ha-me'or, and Ravad.  Not easy stuff but we did a fine job working on it.  After we finished going through the material, though, we had a nice conversation - about life.  He gave me some great encouragement, based on what I have accomplished in terms of Jewish education and knowledge at this age, and to enjoy college and this world, and then of course spend the rest of my life doing the Jewish thing.  He shared some experience, and the chizuk is always appreciated - it's always great to get encouragement to keep pursuing my ambition.
The other inspiring conversation from today came from Reb Shmuel's weekly sicha.  He sort of picked up from last week, in which he talked about hirhur ha-lev - the thoughts that fill our hearts - and the consequence of us placing ourselves at the center of the world.  This week, he went through many parts of the viduy (confession) and dissected them, explaining their relation to the issue of not seeing the un-self.  He concluded by saying that while it takes years and years and much difficulty to take on these traits head-on, cleaning up our act starts with cleaning up our thoughts.
My question was: this is obviously difficult if we forget about viduy after Yom Kippur - how does that play out with the fact that the Conservative movement has removed viduy from the tachanun part of the service?  His response essentially was that some viduy is necessary on a regular basis, but that which we have in the siddur would become rote and possibly meaningless on Yom Kippur if we said viduy on a regular basis.  It leaves me to ponder how to work on t'shuva regularly throughout the year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Modern Jewish Thought - Aryeh Tepper


I can say that I genuinely like all of the classes that I take at the yeshiva, and I think that everything I learn is important in terms of being a knowledgeable Jew.  This morning, I especially enjoyed Shaiya's chumash class, having felt like I really interacted well with the text and Rashi.  But this afternoon, I had a most intellectually stimulating session during Modern Jewish Thought.

The main focus of conversation was Friedrich Nietzche.  Nietzche was a German philosopher in the 19th century who responded to the emergence of liberal democracy (we are studying him to later link him to the rise of Zionism and views on the "New Jew").  He toiled with the ideas of monumental history versus critical history; history through understanding it in its time and what it stood for in contemporary comparison versus historical consciousness coming into play.  It would be like discussing Abraham and understanding his righteousness in and of itself versus understanding it as if it he had the Torah sh'bikhtav, sh'b'al pe, etc.  He argues that people need to build society based on models of society and figures and leaders that succeeded - though he admits that, though it's not his favorite, that a critical view must be taken into account as well.   A new favorite quote of mine: "What is the use to the modern man of this 'monumental' contemplation of the past, this preoccupation with the rare and classic? It is knowledge that the great thing existed and was therefore possible, and so may be possible again."

What I liked about this particular shiur were the discussions that stemmed from this topic of conversation.  The conversation was very intellectually stimulating, and Aryeh especially had insights that showcase a man wise and knowledgeable in all areas.  I really enjoy it especially when the Rambam and other Jewish thought is brought into the context of the Nietzche discussion.

We devoted a good 10 minutes to discussing Conservative Judaism, as Aryeh was curious to hear what our relationship was with the movement and halakha.  Then, during our Erev Nativ program, we talked about Shabbat, so of course Conservative practice is an intrinsic part of the conversation.  Then Yossi and I had a great conversation about the subject afterwards.  My issues today fall within the categories of a) even where something is halakhically valid, if that's how I want to roll (e.g. mixed seating at services) and b) is bringing the bar down and making things more lenient a service to the movement and its constituents.  I won't go into it right now, as I need to go to sleep, but I have a lot on my mind there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shannah Tovah m'Eretz Yisrael


Where to start...

Rosh Ha-Shannah was certainly a different experience in Jerusalem than it is in America.  And that is definitely a most positive thing, no debate there.

Friday morning, since there were no classes, we had a later wake-up.  I took that opportunity to do s'lichot at the Yeshiva, and then davened.  After Nativ davening, we had a study sessions to prepare us for the upcoming chag.  All of the madrichim, plus Yossi (director) and Elkana (Nativ coordinator) offered sessions.  In my first session we looked at the Akedah, as it is the k'riah for the second day.  Though I have studied the akedah extensively (a whole semester in 10th grade), I still enjoyed looking at it again.  We posed different questions about the text, looked at a Ramban comment, and talked about it in conjunction with Rosh Ha-Shannah.  The next session I attended looked at customs related to Rosh Ha-Shannah, including many of the things we put on the table for the first night meal.  The final session I attended was for those who have a grasp on the mahzor layout to look at it a little more in-depth.  We looked at Unetaneh Tokef, going a little deeper than I had ever done before.  We also listened to a rendition by Yair Rosenblum which has become popular in Israel, and indeed it prepared me for musaf for the following two days.

In the afternoon, some of my friends (David, Tyler, Seffi, Josh, Seth, and I) discovered a pizzeria right down the road in Rehavia that is just excellent.  I already went again, last night.  Afterwards we went to the mikveh - it was my first time ever going into a mikveh.  None of us really knew what to do at first, but no big deal.  Whether it was being in the mikveh itself or being my first time performing this mitzvah, it was a very spiritual feeling and I did not just feel like it was a stam action.  I will plan on going before the next chagim, at the very least.

We did t'filot for Erev Rosh Ha-Shannah together as Nativ on Friday night, which was a nice thing.  We don't daven together as Nativ that often, so it was great to bring in the new year all together.  Yossi delivered an excellent d'rash on a more practical understanding of sefer ha-chayim (book of life) vs. sefer ha-mavet (book of death), charging us to fill this year with lots of experiences, taking on new observances, and making the most of our time.

Afterwards we had dinner together.  It started off with a seder, involving apples and honey, and then dates, pomegranates, beets, carrots, and fish heads.  Yes, there were heads of fish sitting on the table begging us to partake.  The blessing for the fish head is that we should be like a head and not a tail - that we should not be just followers.  Yossi chimes in to say that those of us who do not wish to be tails have nothing to wait for... so the six of us I mentioned above dug in. I gagged and did not see pretty reactions around the room.  Then for most of the meal my friend Josh and I played with Yossi's kids, lots of fun!

(Added later, seriously can't believe I forgot this, thanks Seffi!): Friday night must have brought one of the most special moments of Rosh Ha-Shannah and Nativ so far: after dinner, a group of 15 of us walked to the windmill overlooking the Old City in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood.  What did we do there? Sang niggunim, and eventually songs.  Tourists there took pictures - I chose not to ask them not to photograph us on chag.  I said a few words on how the holiday we were celebrating is known as a "siman tov" and it's a happy time because of the hope that comes with a new year, and the hope associated with Jerusalem.  Shortly after, an older man came up to us to find out who we are.  His name was also Judah (Yehuda).  He says he was a paratrooper in the Six Day War - he showed me from our location how he entered Jerusalem.  That hour was a true moment of kedusha, of holiness, of creating the time to be spiritual overlooking the holiest city of Judaism.

Shabbat morning, the Kehilla track went to Talpiyot for services - many people were at a synagogue called Mayanot, and some of us were at Moreshet Avraham.  Both are Masorti (Conservative) affiliates.  I really enjoyed Moreshet Avraham - first of all, the building was beautiful and I loved the spacious and heimish feel of the sanctuary.  Other than the content of the liturgy, it didn't even feel like an extraordinarily different day, since I'm used to a more formal and slower-paced service.  We got there towards the beginning, a little after 8:30, and we were done by 12:30.  The rabbi gave a nice, short (15 min or so) sermon about the differences between Soloveitchik and Heschel regarding intentions in t'shuva.

That afternoon, we were hosted by members of the respective communities.  I was with another girl and we were hosted by a family - the father is a psychologist with Schechter s'mikha and there are 5 kids in the family (the mother had a cantorial pulpit in the U.S. for the chagim).  I really enjoyed the meat, food wise.  On a more profound level, I enjoyed eating with a family of Americans that made aliyah and hearing about the lives they lead in Israel.  Rabbi Shrell-Fox read a bit form Orot T'shuva, a work about t'shuva by Rav Kook which I myself started last week, and we had a nice discussion on it. His son and I had a fun convo on harmonies we made, etc.  Then afterwards everyone from k'hila met for minha in Talpiyot, and I totally winged chazarat ha-shatz, never having done that nusach from the amud before.

Later that evening I went to our friends Dov and Esther for dinner.  Their daughter and her family were with them for chag.  I got a great evening of Hebrew practice - both listening and speaking - and an interesting glimpse of Israeli society, all sorts of day-to-day things.

Sunday morning, we had... you would be surprised if you haven't already heard... rain on Rosh Ha-Shannah!  Rain rarely happens in Israel at this point in time, and Esther, who I had dinner with last night, does not recall ever seeing it.  It rained fairly hard on the way to schul.  And we got a little lost.  But we still got their a little earlier than necessary.  Did I just say we got to schul to early?  We went to Kedem, which is a Conservative (but unaffiliated) minyan on Emek Refa'im.  There was lots of good singing, and especially Musaf was nice.  Though the repetition took nearly two hours, they did tunes to t'filot that I would have never thought of.  Especially as the crowd filled up (and we definitely saw it fill up), it got nicer and nicer.  I'm glad I went.  Oh, and especially when we got to V'yitnu Lecha Keter M'lukha I got excited, since that was our favorite song at the Ramah Darom staff tisch.  It got wild - people got so into it, I loved it.

Then lunch was wonderful.  It was just very tasty.  Then I napped.  Then tashlich.  Then ma'ariv.  Then Pizza Panini - 3 slices - to get ready for the fast.  That's the gist of it all.  I loved Rosh Ha-Shannah, and I cannot wait for the rest of the chagim!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Judah Explores Jerusalem by Himself A Bit Today

I forgot to mention a good experience I had last night.  After we finished auditions for Kol Nativ a capella, my friend Garret wanted to have a minyan for his grandfather's yartzheit.  It was a touching moment that over 10 Nativers took a couple minutes before dispersing for the night to be there for a friend's spiritual need.  I hope that in the future we'll have plenty more spontaneous miyanim.

After Chumash this morning, I had an errand to do.  I bought a tallit in Me'ah She'arim last week but bought one in the Old City that I liked better after the fact, so I went back today to return the first tallit.  At first it was easy - just walk down King George Street. On King George Street, a frum beggar looked me in the eye and started walking over to me, and I kept walking but he decided to talk to me.  I didn't use much common sense here - I decided to give him 2 shekel.  Then he asked me where I learn - I said the Yeshivat Masortit (Conservative Yeshiva - this conversation took place in the Holy Tongue).  He asked where it is, I said just down on Agron Street.  So here's something chutzpadik - he asked about me getting money there or something, at which point I said Shanah Tovah and walked away.

So I was walking down King George St as I said and was doing fine.  However, once I got to Me'ah She'arim, finding the store I needed to find wasn't as simple as I thought it would be, and I had to ask for directions.  Being Israeli, the couple of residents I asked weren't so specific - "ehh, just take a right here and ehh walk a little that way."  Once I was on the street I had a hard time finding the shop, when I finally developed some common sense to look for the address.  Not that these stores have clearly marked numbers, but once I was in the right zone I found the store.  I found a nice tallit bag that I liked, and when I explained that I wanted to return a tallit and buy the bag, it turned out that the bag was the same price for which I bought my tallit, so that was easy.  By the time I got out, I managed to stop at a pizza shop that I had discovered last week that's good and got a couple of slices to go, walked back to Agron, put my stuff away, wolfed down my lunch just in time for class.  That was my first time walking past SuperSol by myself in Jerusalem.

Modern Jewish Thought this afternoon was wonderful, especially since I stayed awake this time.  We talked about Shmuel Ha-Nagid as a Soul of Chaos, in Rav Kook's terms, sort of a person that feels constrained by order and needs adventure, to reshape the world even.  We compared him to Rabbenu Bahya who wrote Hovot Ha-Levavot, which lauds the aesthetic value of order.  Aryeh, our teacher (who is impressively learned in many different fields), asked the question "does the world we live in prevent people from rising," and we talked about equality - whether it is the revenge of the weak.  That was a long discussion.  We discussed Shmuel Ha-Nagid's influence on Yehuda Amichai, and then started talking about Friedrich Nietzche and his views on morality and aristocratic society.  It was an eye-opening afternoon.

After that, I ran over to Pomeranz - third day in a row making a purchase - to buy a couple of books I lacked that I didn't realize I lacked until the other day after he did his yeshiva sale.  But he now knows who I am, he's a very cordial guy.  Unfortunately they didn't have the Albeck Mishnah set, which I especially wanted for my Mishnah Bekiut class, so they said they hope to have it in by Monday, since it's already a week late.  I also got a copy of Masechet Sukkah (I hate loose papers, if I ever study it again I won't have the notes I need and all), chumash with Rashi, and a Tanach.  I left and then I saw my friends Tyler and Seth walking towards the pizza place at which I ate today - given that Agron food isn't my favorite, however, I went with them.  So that was essentially my 2nd experience walking alone in Jerusalem.

At the beginning of Modern Jewish Thought this afternoon, Aryeh asked us how we like things so far.  The first thing I mentioned is that I love not traveling by car.  As time consuming as walking around town can be so far, there's something liberating and experiential by walking, and it gives me much to appreciate as I spend my semester in Jerusalem.  I look forward to walking around town more soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Hate Ants in My Room

*We dealt with some crazy gemara today, David and I were left dumbfounded after staring at a certain sugya for long enough
*I have started recording shiu'rim in the notebook mode that comes with Microsoft Word for Mac - I wish I would have done so earlier, but it's ok.  I guess now if I zone out occasionally I'll be able to check back.  But I also started taking some good notes today in general.
*I bought the new Koren siddur (the English one with commentary by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks) as well as the Koren machzor set at the Nativ machzor sale tonight.
*I'm excited for Kol Nativ to get going!!!
*As my title indicates, I found ants in my room and, specifically, by my bed today.  Sucks, doesn't it?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hey Rabi Akiva, Where's that Sukkah?

After a crazy weekend on a shabbaton and slichot, it was time to get back to learning bright 'n early in the CY Beit Midrash.  Indeed many people did not quite make it there at a quarter to 9.

As I mentioned in the last post, we left off in Talmud with a mishnah about what sort of sukkot are legitimate.  So then we did the gemara.  Rabban Gamliel and Rabi Akiva argue about the permissibility of a sukkah on a boat.  Then the Talmud comes in to describe an incident where the two of them were SAILIN' ON A BOAT (with their swim trunks and their flippie floppies) (the only rap reference I could ever give you), and Rabi Akiva builds a sukkah which gets blown a way.  Rabban Gamliel gets all up in his face and says "Akiva, where's your sukkah?"  It's nice to see that the sages were jerks just like myself and my friends (of course it's always out of love).  Abaye comes and explains the different opinions - David and I spent a lot of time working on that during our chavruta - and then the subject turns to using elephants tied down as sukkot - if they're dead, it's all good because they're that big, and if they're tied down, they won't run away!  This is the problem found in other animals that people suggested using for sukkot.  That's an experience to try out this year...

I missed the sefarim sale at the yeshiva last week when I went to Me'ah She'arim with Tyler, but Pomeranz came today to sell some books.  He's also coming tomorrow night to do a mahzor sale for Nativ.  I bought a Hebrew-Aramaic dictionary, two Solovetchik books (a book on Jewish prayer and "Lonley Man of Faith), and a Kook Book (no pun intended - Orot Teshuva I believer it's called).  He gave me a nice discount.  I was pleasantly surprised when he asked me if I had ever been to his store and explained that I hadn't but my father is a big fan - when I explained who he was, he could identify him as a Southern rabbi that comes to Israel for conferences every now and then!  This was all during lunch - I bought bread last week so I could take a pack-out lunch for the shabbaton, so I used some bread and peanut butter from that to have lunch today, it was wonderful.

I had biblical grammar and Chumash this afternoon - I won't go too much into those classes, though I enjoy them.  Overall, though, I'm feeling that when I'm in the zone I get a huge amount out of them, but it's very hard to keep focus for such long periods of time.  My goal for the coming semester is to get adjusted to the daily schedule, get goodnight's sleep, focus well, and work on asking good questions and developing better critical thinking skills.  When most of my classmates are older and smarter than myself, I gotta be on my toes a little more!

Tonight brought a unique experience.  During dinner at Beit Nativ a few friends mentioned they were going to the Kotel to see the swearing-in of new soldiers into the IDF and asked me if I wanted to come.  So I went.  Though I had been to the Old City last week with David to make some purchases at Moriah bookstore, I had not seen the Kotel or any nearby attractions since last summer.  As we approached the Kotel, though I had already been there a significant amount of times in my lifetime, it still felt surreal to be there.  At first we thought we'd see better staying up high, but then we descended down to the Kotel Plaza, where many Jews of all kinds were gathered for this ceremony.  I had never seen such a gathering at the Kotel, something so special.  At any rate, if I have been to the Kotel at night, I don't remember it, and it's truly beautiful at this time.  The ceremony was in the plaza rather than inside the prayer area, so it was still open to worshippers, and so the four boys went to daven Ma'ariv towards the end of the ceremony.  We were immediately summoned by a Sephardic man to join a minyan, and we did so happily.  Only in Israel do I get pulled in to join a minyan as such.  It's an awesome thing.

Laila Tov.

Stam Experiences from Last Week

Something extremely unusual for summer happened today during t'filot.  I noticed our madrichim gawking outside the window, not sure what was the big excitement.  But it was evident that huge clouds filled the skies.  After t'filot, Noah (one of our madrichim) commented on the beautiful kavanah our k'vutzah (group) has and how great the davening was.  We happened to have learned the b'racha in the amidah today asking God for rain in its time, and Noah pointed out that because of our strong kavanah, clouds filled the sky!  By the end of breakfast it was slightly drizzling outside, but since I left my room five minutes after that it has been sunny all day.

I never got a chance to talk about Wednesday and Thursday - I often get mixed up, since the week is Sunday-Thursday instead of Monday-Friday.  So I often confuse Tuesday with Wednesday and Wednesday with Thursday.  But anyway, Wednesday was my first Talmud class at the yeshiva.  David Helfand (good friend, fellow international officer) and I are the two Nativers in our class, which is mostly comprised of rabbinical students from Ziegler and a couple of other advanced year-round yeshiva students.  For the time being, until the end of the chag season, we are studying Masechet Sukkah.  We spend about two hours or so in chevruta - 1/3 working, 1/3 talking about other miscellaneous stuff, and 1/3 messing around with David and Matt who work behind us (two rabbinical students, Matt was my Halutzim counselor at Ramah Wisconsin).  The Gemara we looked at on Wednesday was just an example of the crazy technicalities the rabbis discuss that honestly seem a bit far fetched.  But that's the whole fun of it, ain't it?

At lunchtime, I went with my friend Tyler to meet his uncle and go to Me'ah She'arim.  He checks mezuzot and t'fillin electronically and studies in a yeshiva in Me'ah She'arim.  I truly appreciated the time he took that afternoon, which he totally devoted towards taking us around the neighborhood and helping us find good deals.  We were looking for talitot - I bought one in Me'ah She'arim but then I found one I liked better in the Old City on Thursday, so I need to return the former - as well as new tzitzit, and I was especially interested in getting some new music.  Tyler's uncle is sephardic; at one point he realized that generally Ashkenazim don't wear talitot until marriage!  I explained that in our community it is general practice to do so at Bar Mitzvah.  So I bought wool tzitzit (as in talitot k'tanim), a seder slichot (which, given the lack of copies at the Great Synagogue and its concise explanations, was a great tool last night), and Shwekey, MBD, and Meydad Tasa CDs.  And then we got excellent schwarma. Mmm mm!  Me'ah She'arim's quite some place - b"h I don't live there, but it was an experience to see an exclusively Hareidi community and its crowded streets.

I arrived a few minutes late to my Poskim class with Reb Shmuel, the Rosh Yeshiva.  We studied laws of Shofar in the Mishnah B'rurah - not overly difficult.  But in that later part of the afternoon, while still jet-lag, it was very difficult to stay focused.  I tried.  One of the humorous aspects of those halachot for me was that the Shulchan Aruch provides a count for how many t'ruah notes equal a sh'varim or t'kia, etc., and what happens if one does a t'kia 17 but not 18 trumitin-equivalents, as if we're counting exactly!  But the review and back-to-the-basics is always appreciated, and it was good to do Mishna Berurah on a subject that is familiar (which most should be anyway since it's Orach Chayim)...

Thursday was an easy day for yeshiva.  We finished up the Gemara we had started the day before and then continued on to the new mishnah, in which we discuss some wacky situations involving the building of sukkot, including the permissibility of building a sukkah on a camel.  Intrigued by the physical possibility of building such a sukkah, I looked up a picture online and showed it to the guys behind us.  The whole thing was ridiculous, and as we were chuckling about it, Reb Shmuel walked by to admonish us about internet use during  zman chavruta.  Great timing, eh? 

Talmud ended early on Thursday because each week, on Thursday afternoon, we have sicha with the Rosh Yeshiva.  I was told to take notes for this, as he often lectures on deep, philosophical ideas and can be hard to follow.  Though it took lots of diligence to grasp everything he was saying, the ideas and messages he presented reflected scholarship worth "wowing," and it was quite inspiring.  He prefaced by saying that it used to bother him that so much time is taken to daven on Rosh Hashanah so that we lose out on critical time to study.  But now he understands the importance of davening, and related the Malchuyot part of musaf to creation and the world God plays in the role, bringing in some great texts.  Here's the gist:

RH – attempt to reflect picture of the world
·      We are in a world we didn’t create
·      Story of creation
·      Transcendence had no meaning for world
·      God created us to bring that meaning
·      Took great risk: presence dependent on us & whether we reflect his values
o   Malkhuyot: Reflect on this risk taken in
Later that afternoon, we had a just-Nativ course on contemporary halakhic issue with Reb Shlomo, who I always enjoy learning from - he has the most soothing voice.  We talked about pidyon shvuyim and how it relates to Gilad Shalit.  It's a sucky subject to have to deal with - I do not see any evidence in the texts that any trades Israel would make for Shalit seem reasonable, as sad as that is.
Class was over at 3!!!! For once we were done before Hebrew U and Ulpan!
Coming soon, my unique experience on the Conservative Yeshiva shabbaton.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

S'lichot at The Great Synagogue of Jerusalem

Shavua Tov to everyone,
Given the late hour and the lots I have to report, I will report on some details from Wednesday and Thursday, as well as a unique experience at the Conservative Yeshiva shabbaton in the near future, ב"ה. Tonight, however, I would like to share an experience that could easily be blown off for those who do not understand the experience.
Those of us who were on the shabbaton with the Conservative Yeshiva returned to Jerusalem at around 10 p.m. 10:30 was when Nativ left for s'lichot - enough time to shower!
At 10:30 (or 22:30 according to those who wish to confuse us Americans), the staff announced different options for s'lichot services and all that jazz. This announcement was more of a reminder of what had been said Thursday night, at which point I had decided that I was going to go to The Great Synagogue of Jerusalem. I was ready to be the only one from Nativ attending that service, given that I am a weird teenager for having an appreciation for chazzanut. But a few guys decided to come along, trusting the power of experience, and we even walked over with some girls, who of course would be headed for the ezrat nashim anyway once we would arrive.
I have already davened at the Great Synagogue once before, so nothing about the building and its vastness necessarily caught me by surprise. Rather, it was the scene inside the sanctuary that provoked my thoughts throughout my night there. We arrived just at the start of s'lichot, and there was standing room only. The few guys I was with and I were standing in a very congested back of the room, and at the sides towards the front of the room many men were standing as well. It was a good thing that I had brought my own seder s'lichot, which I had just purchased in Me'ah She'arim, as there were very few available. Chazzan Adler and the choir were standing on the bimah, adorned in talitot.
Take a look around the room. Over a thousand men must have been present, though my estimation of large group numbers is very rough. I am not sure if I have seen such a diverse group of K'lal Yisrael in one synagogue before, or even in any specific gathering before. Head coverings of course can often serve as an indication. A few men were wearing streimels, many with black hats, and a multitude in knitted kippot ("kippot srugot"). Some people were wearing traditional suits, yet I noticed people wearing jeans or even one guy near me in a t-shirt and shorts. All gathered tonight to inaugurate a season of communal repentance; it is well known that we confess in the plural, and s'lichot are rarely said without a minyan (the essential part of s'lichot, the 13 attributes, cannot be said without a minyan). Many faces representing different factions of K'lal Yisrael assembled in Jerusalem's high-profile synagogue joined together in asking forgiveness from Hashem.
Just as we walked in, the congregation began Ashrei, the beginning of s'lichot. Possibly the longest Ashrei you would ever hear. Of course, this would be true with many parts of s'lichot - I believe the words haneshama lach and everything in that neighborhood repeated for a good five minutes, and b'motza'ei menucha must have been a 15-20 minute piyyut. It was easier to be antsy during this service since we did not have seats. Given that we were standing in the back and the service carried on awhile, we left at midnight. Even in the half-hour time before we left, the back was less congested and people were moving into seats; many people left after we did. But the circumstances of the drawn out service barely took away from my experience. Though I didn't expect such a long service, I came to The Great Synagogue for the very reason that there would be something extremely holy in the way that a chazzan and his choir would conduct the service. Chazzan Adler's voice sang with total purity (I was confused for a while because while the voice sounded familiar, I did not realize it was Adler instead of Herstik), and the choir added not only flavor, but almost angelic accompaniment to the chazzan's heartfelt t'filot.
Though admittedly I am not sure I would be up for an entire Rosh Ha-Shannah or Yom Kippur service in such a setting, there is something irreplaceable about the combination of the jam-packed synagogue with the professional, true, and soul stirring interpretation of the s'lichot brought forth by the chazzan and choir. As much as one may appreciate t'filot led by lay people, it takes much more than just a good voice for a meaningful s'lichot service. It takes a certain environment and a certain tone set to find the kedusha of s'lichot. I have little doubt that the s'lichot service I experienced at the Great Synagogue could be replicated anywhere in the world. Not to say that s'lichot services in America or elsewhere carry little holiness or inspiration, but I know that of all the s'lichot I will experience in my lifetime, the one that took place right after my first Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael will be memorable for a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

ברוכים הבאים!

This is my honest attempt at keeping people updated this year. Should it be difficult to hear from me often, I hope that this gives you an inside scoop to my life (to the extent that I would want it on the internet). We'll see how long I can keep up with this, but I really hope it'll last.
So far, I have immensely enjoyed Nativ. While I have not had many opportunities to do much outside the gates of the Fuchsberg Center, I have really enjoyed getting to know the other Nativers and hanging out with my old friends. Considering the circumstances of my arriving late, it has been an extremely welcoming and open environment. As I get completely settled, I'll start going out in the evenings - there are always many things to do and I have a long list of places to go out to.
I sit right now in the new Beit Midrash of the Conservative Yeshiva in Yerushalyim Ir Ha-Kodesh as I wait for classes to begin. Today is my 2nd day of classes. While yesterday, having been jet-lagged and coming off very little sleep, I had a hard time keeping focused, today should be good. The classes I take:
*Talmud IV (S, M, W, Th)
*Chumash from Midrash to Middle Ages (S, T)
*Mishna Bekiut (M)
*Biblical Grammar (S, T)
*Poskim II (W)
*Modern Jewish Thought (course for Nativers) (T)
*Contemporary Issues in Halacha (course for Nativers) (Th)
*Halacha L'Maaseh (M)
The only classes I've had so far are Chumash, Grammar, and Modern Jewish Thought. In Chumash, we're studying ברית בין הבתרים, which is Chapter 15 of B'reishit. We're primarily looking at Rashi in-depth, plus some midrash and other goodies. As sad as this is, I had to literally turn on my brain to study in chevruta; I was challenged but I learned and got into the swing of things. I was enthused by the shiur afterwards - the teacher (Shaiya Rothberg) runs an engaging and intellectually stimulating classroom environment. In biblical grammar (Rabbi Zacharow) we are learning about טעמי מקרא - some things were review, a couple of new things, I'm looking forward to the class to get challenging. Modern Jewish Thought was beyond fascinating - we looked at Rav Kook's religious Zionist philosophy through the lenses of Shmuel Ha-Nagid, John Coltrane, and more. Lots of thought provoking discussion. I had a hard time staying awake for a good portion of the afternoon so I can't go into much detail about what I learned.
I will leave off here for now.
To be continued...
יהודה ארי קרבל
Judah Ari Kerbel