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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Getting Ready for the New Year?

This past weekend was awesome! I am working in a program called "Hillel Shabbat Scholars." Shabbat Scholars are students from the Jewish educational institutions in Jerusalem who meet up with a Hillel (Jewish Federations on universities and colleges throughout the world) Birthright group and help the leaders with services, trips, programming etc. on Shabbat. I was able to meet up with one of my good friends, Philip Schlossberg, the Director of Hillel at Purdue University. I led a Reform Friday evening Shabbat service, helped lead a group of students to the Old City on Shabbat, and led Havdalah services on Saturday night. It was really nice using some of what I have learned this year and putting it "into action." It was also great to catch up with Skippy since I hadn't seen him since my wedding!

In other news...we are getting ready to spend our first ever New Years not in the States. As a matter of fact, it's kind of a joke here. The Jewish new year was back in September, so the only ones preparing for a new year here are non-Israelis! I am not sure what we'll do yet, but we are surely missing the typical preparations as in the states...parades, football and family! And, tomorrow, Christmas Eve, is a regular day of classes for me. As a matter of fact, I'll be in class for the first time in my life on Christmas!

Batya, Carlie and I are getting very excited for Dad and Mom to come visit, and of course going to Greece to visit Susan, Scott and Kaylin! It will be a much needed rest, and a great time to recuperate from these long 6 months. I don't have much else to write about, but I will try and get a post up next week after Christmas and New Years in Israel!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hannukah in Jerusalem

Jerusalem on Hannukah is VERY different from Hannukah in the States. I am sure those of you who read my blog are thinking to yourselves, Duh! But, it's truly different. For one, I haven't seen one Christmas Tree or heard one Christmas Carol. It's a bit unusual, for sure. I do miss hearing Christmas Carols.

I have to say, though, that it has been very nice to see Hannukah commercials on the television, and Latkes and Sufganiyot everywhere! Everyone we run into says, Happy Hannukah! It's very nice! We spent this past Thursday evening lighting candles and having dinner with some friends we have met and several of my classmates, and their children. It was truly festive, and VERY enjoyable!

I know this is a short blog, but I just wanted to get some thoughts about Hannukah out there for people to see! I'll try and write another blog in a couple of weeks. Finals for this semester are coming up very quickly, and I am very busy with my studies. Carlie is home for the next week as her Gan is closed, so we are getting to spend some real quality time with her! Batya is being a real support for me, and I am thankful they are both here!

Happy Hannukah!

Friday, November 30, 2007

HUC Tiyul #2

These last 3 days have been pretty extraordinary! We took a trip to visit some pretty interesting places. Our first stop on Wednesday was Caesaria. Of course, there probably weren't many Jews there, as this was a city built as a tribute to Caesar. But, the amphitheatre there was a great site and is the site of one of the worst stories in Jewish history, the public killing of Rabbi Akiva. This stop was a quick one, so we didn't spend too much time on the history of the place, but it was nice to see the Mediterranean sea up close!

Our next stop was in Zippori, another Roman city, but the site of where Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi edited the Mishnah, the first written recording of the Oral Torah. There were some pretty interesting things there, including an ancient Synagogue that had a beautiful mosaic floor. Also, in Zippori, we saw an old Roman home with the "Mona Lisa" of the Galilee. For more information on Zippori, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zippori.

From Zippori, we went to Tiberias, and stayed at a pretty amazing hotel, the Dona Gracia Hotel. I totally recommend checking this place out and staying there if you are ever in Tiberias! It's very eclectic, and the hotel staff was very friendly! There isn't much of a night life in Tiberias, so it was off to bed after some introductory history of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism with Moshe!

Thursday, we went to Tsfat. I had been to Tsfat before, but it was nice to go again. We met with a Kabbalistic artist named Avram. He was really interesting, and I bought a couple of his pieces of artwork. I also bought a book on Jewish spirituality, and I am looking forward to reading it. After lunch, a bunch of us went through the cemetery in Tsfat. We saw some pretty famous graves, and the history there is amazing! Thursday night, we went to Haifa, and we had dinner and hung out pretty late. It was fun, and since I love Haifa, I really had a great time.

On Friday, we went to visit the Leo Baeck school. This is a truly amazing place with a kindergarten, primary school, middle school, high school, and lots of adult education. This was an awesome place where they use many different methods to teach people of all ages, all socioeconomic classes, and all cultures. These people are very special, and Leo Baeck is a great place in a great location in Haifa.

Then, it was back to Jerusalem, where I was very happy to see Carlie and Batya again. It was a short tiyul, but I missed my family, and I am glad to be back home!

Happy Hannukah!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Being an American Football Fan living in a "Football" World

I haven't spent much time in this blog speaking about how it is living as an American in a foreign country. I would like to spend the majority of this blog addressing this. Let me just put this out there first. I am a Zionist, I always have been a Zionist, and I always will be a Zionist. My love for Eretz Yisrael is spiritual, religious, and among many other things unconditional. This doesn't mean I love everything about Israel. On the contrary, there are many things about Israel I don't love.

It is quite difficult at times to be an American in Israel, whether it's the lack of language ability or just the cultural differences in the approach to common communication. What strikes me as most difficult are the little things, the less than really important things...i.e., watching football, that is American football, not to get confused with the "real football." And, trust me, as an avid soccer fan, player and coach for many years, I do love soccer. But to an American, there is only one kind of football, and it doesn't involve a round ball.

Let's also discuss the fact that American Jews really have a difficult time being American football fans. After all, the ball used is not so kosher---it's a pigskin. But, I digress. As a die hard University of Georgia football fan, I have enjoyed watching them play for quite a long time...and it's not the easiest thing to do in Israel. First, there's the time change. Than, there's the fact that Israeli television only plays ACC and Big 12 football games. Sometimes, they play PAC 10 games...but there is only one a week. So, while I watch the football game from the less than real conference on tv, I listen over the internet to the UGA game. And, let me tell you...listening to UGA destroy the University of Florida gators wasn't as great as watching it!

We are having a great time here...with our weekly trip to visit our Ethiopian family in Meveseret Zion, an absorption center, and all the other wonderful things we do...including breakfast together (while Carlie is in daycare) on Fridays! We realize our time is flying by here, and we can't wait to see Dad and Mom in January!

Here's to more FOOTBALL and less "football!"

L'Hitraot!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Confusion in the West Bank

When I heard about the Encounter organization, I was quite interested (http://www.encounterprograms.org/home.html). One of my classmates sent me an email about a trip that Encounter was leading into the West Bank, into Bethlehem. I remembered a conversation I had with my sister in law a couple of years ago that inspired me to apply to be a participant on this trip. She helped me to realize I didn't know an awful lot about the present Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. I was sure I didn't agree with her, but I couldn't disagree with her either. I had to see things for myself. And although HUC has an incredible program, I knew I wouldn't be able to experience anything like this with HUC.

Thank God I was accepted to attend this trip. Rather than give an overall view of my experiences, I would like to speak specifically about each part of the experience. Here goes:

Driving into the West Bank, I didn't really feel any fear as many of the other participants felt. I wasn't scared for my life and I certainly didn't expect to experience any one thing in particular. We exited our bus and walked up a hill past a demolished home. It was explained to us that this was the home of a Palestinian extremist that had been blown up by the Israeli Defense Force. I had never seen a demolished house before. But, I pressed on.

The next place we stopped was at a truly remarkable school, the Hope Flowers School in El-Khader (http://www.hopeflowersschool.org/community.html). This school was the vision of Hussein Issa who said, "To suffer for peace is much better than to suffer for war." What an amazing thing to think and live. He started this school to teach young Muslim, Christian and Jewish children that non-violent, peaceful action was the way to achieve peace. This became a licensed school in 1989, and we were given the opportunity to draw and color with some of the children in the school. These kids were great, and I hope the knowledge they learn in school will one day help them to a better life!

We were then taken on a tour of the separation barrier around Bethlehem. I saw a movie a couple of years ago called "The Iron Wall." I remember thinking that this was a movie filled with propaganda to get people to feel sorry for the Palestinians. This was no separation barrier. This was a gigantic, intimidating wall that gave only one impression, to shut people out. I was terrified as I was looking at this huge wall, and I felt sadness for the Palestinians in Bethlehem. At the same time, I was impressed with some of the messages of peace drawn and written on the wall.

I was able to spend some time speaking with a very nice Palestinian Muslim named Tamer Halaseh. He said, "The Wall hurts the Israelis as much as it hurts the Palestinians." What a powerful statement. When I asked him to explain what he meant, he explained to me that the Wall continues to add to the already massive amounts of hatred and fear from Palestinians and Israelis to each other. This is a Muslim man who hates fighting and only wants to solve the conflict through peaceful ways. He has many great ideas, and I hope to continue my new friendship with him. I truly believe we can learn an awful lot from each other.

After a very delicious lunch and Minhah (afternoon services), we met with a couple of Palestinian Muslims who agreed to share their personal narratives with us. All of the speakers are employees of peaceful organizations working toward a non-violent solution. What struck me the most was the claim by these individuals that Hamas, the elected government in the Palestinian lands, was actually a good organization. We were told that what the media portrays about Hamas is not correct, and they are actually nice people. I was a bit confused, and certainly tried to be a respectful as possible. I asked one of the speakers, a nice man named Bassam, about his feelings toward Hamas. He explained that although he is a member of the Fatah party, the opposition party to Hamas, he supports Hamas. He told me that because the international community stopped financially supporting Hamas, they couldn't accomplish any of the things they wanted to accomplish. I guess this makes sense, but I am still a bit weary of Hamas.

We then met with some youth leaders from the Holy Land Trust, Peace and Reconciliation group. Their executive officer, Eilda Zaghmout was very nice and a great inspiration toward a peaceful resolution. We spent some fun time getting to know some of these youth leaders. Then we went to dinner with our new friends at a restaurant called "The Tent" in Beit Sahour. Dinner was outstanding, and it was just a great night of camaraderie. We spent a lot of time just chatting and getting to know each other. After a VERY long day, it was great to wind down. There I met my host for the evening, a very nice guy named Jiries Sa'di. His family is Christian, and they were very gracious to me and one of my classmates. We stayed up late discussing our views of the conflict. Actually, I asked a lot of questions, and listened to the answers. I learned quite a bit. For example, these very nice people are only allowed to enter into Jerusalem for about a month a year, and this is only if they are given a permit by the Israeli government.

Today was a very different day. While I awoke with a lot in my mind and a lot of new knowledge, today really scared me, actually terrified me. We started out visiting a village, Al Walage, which will be completely surrounded by the Wall that Israel is building. I don't need to tell you that this was a very sore subject for the members of that village. As a matter of fact, the woman who spoke with us actually stated that there were a few times in her life (for example waiting for hours on end just to get through a check point to travel to other parts of the West Bank) in which she actually felt she would have been able to kill an Israeli. This was very hard to hear, and I was a bit terrified. For the first time during this trip, I was almost brought to tears...

The most horrific part of my trip was leaving the West Bank and going back into Jerusalem. I really felt that I was entering into a prison, and this was entering into Israel. That, however, wasn't the hardest part. When we came to the checkpoint to enter into Israel, there was a line of Palestinians trying to get home from Jerusalem. They just let us through without even looking at our passports. These men were helpless, and all I could do was apologize.

If we, as Jews, want to be a "light unto the nations," we have to do some soul searching and realize that to take away the basic human rights of Palestinians isn't the answer. This doesn't mean I believe the blame lies directly on the Israelis. But, it doesn't lie directly on the Palestinians either. Who came first, the chicken or the egg? Do we view a person that has no hope in life who wants revenge as the victim, aggressor, or just a part of the problem? Do we view a person who builds land to further their claim to the land (either Palestinian or Israeli) the aggressor? Do we view the IDF soldier who is following his orders the aggressor? Or, do we view the person who blows himself up as the aggressor?

Clearly, their are multiple sides to this conflict. I don't have the answer, but I want to help find it. I am willing to go to the West Bank to meet with Palestinians to hear their stories and to meet with Jerusalem Israelis to hear their stories. Our last meeting today was with a representative of the Palestinian Authority. He suggested that we don't pick a side. He asked that we keep our loyalties to ourselves to enable us to speak to both sides. Only when we keep an open mind and try to understand each other will we be truly able to begin searching for peace.

Please follow the link to my webshots page and check out my pictures!
May it be God's Will!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mifgash with Ethiopian Jews and the FIRST RAIN!!

Wow! I have been told that the first rain of the year comes all of a sudden. I have been told it's pretty intense. Nothing prepared me for what we experienced this evening! I was sitting in a coffee shop with some friends putting together our website for our Pesach Project in the Former Soviet Union. All of a sudden, there was a huge BOOM and a giant flash of lightning. Then the rain came! People in the coffee shop were all smiling, as we were all ready for the rain. When you've experienced nothing but dry weather for months on end without a drop of rain, when the rain actually comes, it's pretty exciting!

On another note, Carlie, Batya and I had our first experience with our Ethiopian family. As part of our requirements here at HUC, we work with an organization that arranges Mifgashim (encounters) with Ethiopian families who have moved to Israel in an absorption center. We were a bit nervous at first, but once we went in the home of our family, we felt quite comfortable. The kids spoke Hebrew, so we were able to communicate quite well with them.

The Mom was very gracious and kept giving us popcorn and coffee. It was really great coffee! We had a great time, and can't wait to go next week. We hope to learn a little of their language, and we'll have pictures soon!

One more thing...while were in Mevaserret Zion (the absorption center), Carlie fell down and bumped her chin on the corner of a table in the house we were visiting. She bit her tongue, and there was quite a lot of blood. We were pretty scared, and Carlie of course was screaming for about 1o minutes. But, she recovered with only a little spot on her tongue, and her teeth made it out ok! We were pretty worried, but thank God she's fine!

L'hitraot!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Independence Hall and the Palmach Museum

On Wednesday, we took our 2nd tiyul for the Israeli Seminar. We left Jerusalem at 8:30 am, and traveled to Tel Aviv, to Independence Hall, the site of the official declaration of the new State of Israel. Although, I had been to Independence Hall several times in my life, this time was different.

Of course, I knew all of the same things that most people knew…the dates, the locations, etc. But, I had no idea of the hidden desires of those who settled in Israel in the late 19th and early 20th century. After the first two Israeli Seminars, I thought I was beginning to understand the ideas of the “New Jew.” However, this past week’s readings and tiyul showed me just how much I need to learn and how much I desire to know! When I read through the Israeli Declaration of Independence, I saw many of the same things I have seen every other time I read this document. But, I could sense there was more. I didn’t feel as if I was getting the full meaning behind the words.

This time, as I was sitting with my classmates in a coffee shop and discussing the time period of the beginnings of the "new Jew," I began to get a sense of the real desire and intense yearning for their own land. It wasn't a state they wanted...it was a land they belonged to, a land that cried out for them. That is such an amazing thing, and I am beginning to feel that as well. I am very happy with my life in the United States, but I feel my life wouldn't truly be complete without the existence of Israel, and my ability to come here and feed my yearning to be here!

Our next stop (after lunch---we went to a great little Humus restaurant) was to the Palmach museum. When this museum was being built, it was a bit of a controversial topic. The Palmach was an elite force of the Haganah, one of the three armies that formed in Israel pre-state. These guys were trained by the British to help the British defend against the Nazis in the South and a growing army in the North. However, once the British no longer needed them, they were asked to disband. Of course, they continued underground, and became a very elite fighting force which includes such important Israelis like Yitzhkak Rabin!

The museum itself was amazing, and I recommend it to anyone who visits Israel. Once you enter, the doors close, and you go through 12 rooms experiencing every step from joining the Palmach to training to wartime and everything in between. I won't give away the end of the museum, but unfortunately, the Palmach was disbanded and asked to join the new Israeli army just before the war for independence. Many of the members of Palmach became leaders in the new Israeli army and have served in the Israeli government since it was created.

The museum was awesome!

I am glad to be back in the swing of things and having 2 hours of homework everyday really keeps me focused. I am really enjoying my time here, and I hope I am able to give you guys a glimpse into my experiences!

Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Flip's Trip to Eretz Yisrael

I can honestly say that it was a tremendous treat to have one of our closest American friends visiting for a week. Preparing for Flip's visit was a lot of work, but with the help of a good friend here in Jerusalem, I was able to put together a pretty good trip. We were able to experience many different faces of Israel, from the Druze near Haifa to the Black Hebrews in Dimona. I will do my best to remember each and every funny and interesting event from his visit.

First of all, renting a car in Israel is very different from renting a car in the States. First of all, the cars are very small, and they get terrible gas mileage. With gas prices being as high as they are, that's a double whammy. I picked Flip up from the airport in Tel Aviv and we stayed at a very simple but nice hotel called Center Hotel in Tel Aviv. Flip was a real trooper as we went out quite late for a beer with an Israeli friend his first night!

We awoke fairly early the next morning to begin our tiyul (trip). We started at Independence Hall, where the country of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948. It was a pretty amazing sight! I had been there before, but it was nice to be there again. What was interesting here was that no Israelis knew what we were talking about. We even asked a few police officers about a block away where it was and they didn't know!

We left Tel Aviv and went to Cesaria. Seeing this place was a lot of fun, with a great amount of ruins! The Roman aquaducts were pretty great to see! It was a good day of weather too! From Cesaria we drove up to have dinner in the Bedouin village of Dalyat El Carmel. These people were very gracious, and the food was great! We tried to visit Akko, but there was a big festival going on, so we couldn't get in!

We stayed at a nice hotel in Ma'alot called Hacienda Forestview. The food was great, and the putt putt course was very funny, to say the least. I certainly didn't expect to see putt putt in the middle of Israel! We were able to stop in Tsfat, and it was nice to stroll through the Old City! Our day had only began, as we went to visit the border with Lebanon in Metullah, and then went to see Syria at Har Ben Tal (Mount Ben Tal). Our drive down through the West Bank to Jerusalem was uneventful, thank God!

While in Jerusalem, we visited the Old City, all of the major sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Tower of David Museum, and we also went on to the Temple Mount to see the Dome of the Rock. Of course, it was really exciting, and a wonderful new experience for me! We also went through Hezekiah's Tunnel in the City of David, and although it was very cold, I love going through that tunnel! What was an amazing experience was being at the Kotel on Shabbat evening. It was full of Kavanah (intention/focus), and it was very inspiring to watch as Flip went and prayed at the stones of the Western Wall.

One of the most inspiring parts of Flip's tiyul was our encounter in Dimona with the Black Hebrews. I was totally impressed with the Black Hebrews. They were very welcoming, and they are a very determined people who lead simple lives based on what they feel is the right way to live. What is the most special about the Black Hebrews is that they are very welcoming and not critical of others. They don't expect others to "do it there way," but are always willing to talk and explain their lifestyle.

There were other things that were amazing, like our sunrise Massada hike, but as this blog is already very long, I am going to wrap this up. I was sad to see Flip go, but our trip was so much fun and so worth the work to get it ready. I hope Flip had a great time, as I surely did!

Check out the pictures I posted!

L'Hitraot!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

HUC Tiyul up North

I have said this already, and I will continue to say it...the program at HUC is invaluable. I learn something new every day and I am always looking forward to what I will learn next. These past 3 days, we have been places I have already been to in my life. However, I learned so much more. From the Biblical perspective of the Kingdom of Israel in the North at Tel Dan to the animal bones found in the 300 communities found from the Iron Age in the West Bank...I learned so much.

Being so close to Lebanon and Syria, you would have expected to be terrified. In actuality, I felt safer up in the North than I have felt since we've been here. The air was clean and pure. The views were breathtaking and everything was so clean! Our hostel on the Kinneret was beautiful and we really enjoyed being together in the evenings just relaxing and living!

At Tel Dan, we learned about the tension between the Kingdom of Judah in the South and the Kingdom of Israel in the North. We also learned that the Bible we read today was written from the point of view of the Southern Kingdom. Many, many differences including the idea of golden calves, which in the Northern Kingdom were just places for God to sit, God's throne. But, according to the Kingdom in the South, the Golden Calves were worshipped, and were bad news. Who knows what we would have learned if the Torah was written in the perspective of the North?

I really enjoyed our trip to the North. I can't wait to take Batya and Carlie there to show them the beauty of the North. A trip to Israel without seeing the North is not complete. And, besides, the Chalutzim (Pioneers) did so much to ensure we would be able to see the North; it would be a shame to not visit and pay respect to the work that was done to make the area beautiful! Check out my webshots page for some pretty great pictures!

L'Hitraot!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur in Jerusalem

Yom Kippur has always been about renewal for me. Renewing my soul, renewing everything about myself and complete Teshuvah (repentance). I knew it would be hard to fast this year, as the weather in Jerusalem isn't the most conducive to fasting. However, this was something I needed to do. I had been told my many people that there was nothing like Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. Sitting in services all day, listening to Cantor Eli Schleifer and our beautiful HUC choir made things completely bearable and very spiritual. But that wasn't it. Looking through the windows in the Chapel and seeing the walls of the Old City was very spiritual, but that wasn't it either. Sitting next to Batya during the Yizkor (Memorial) service was difficult, but that wasn't it either.

It was Jerusalem. The city that seems to never be void of cars honking, people talking loud, music always booming...this city which I have grown a complete love for and sometimes a strong distaste for, was quiet! There were no cars on the road (except a few ambulances). All of the traffic lights were out. All that was on the road were walkers and bike riders. It was amazing. And, most everyone was wearing white. It was as if for one day, everyone forgot about all of our differences and baayot (problems) and just remembered. Remembered that it was time to forget, forgive and ask forgiveness. This is what I will take away from Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. The serenity, peace, and quiet!

We are going on a 3 day Tiyul this morning to the North. I promise to take a bunch of pictures and I will post them on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. For now, I wish for everyone a peaceful and healthy new year filled with spirituality, happiness, and love!

Gamar Hatima Tovah!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

First Israeli Seminar Day

Today was quite a day! I know I have said something similar to that with most of my posts, but there are so many "wow" moments in this program. One of the great opportunities and privileges about being a Rabbinical student at HUC is a program called the Israeli Seminar Days. Each of these days will have their own identity, and today was an introduction to the program. After a few minutes going over the syllabus, we went on a short walk to the back of the King David Hotel. The King David Hotel is the site of a bombing by one of the first underground armies in Israel. This bombing was an attempt to show the British how serious the Jews in Israel were about having their own sovereignty.

After we arrived at our spot, we were asked to think about kodak moments in our lives that really spoke about our experiences or feelings about Israel. It was pretty easy for me to speak about my moments, but what I really was shocked to hear were my classmates' experiences. They opened their hearts and these memories just poured out. Each memory of my classmates brought up new memories of my own. This moment with my classmates really opened my mind, and now this is one of the kodak snapshot moments which define my experiences and relationship with Israel.

I am looking forward to Yom Kippur in Israel. It will truly be a hard day, but will be one I really appreciate when I look back on it. Then we take a 3 day tiyul next week. We are going to the North, and I will take lots of pictures!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

YMCA, Makhtesh Ramon, and Shlichot

Wow, lots to write about.

First and foremost, we finally were able to get Carlie into a Gan (Preschool/kindergarten). The YMCA had an opening, and it is less than $400 a month. I take her to school in the morning, around 8 am, and Batya picks her up at 1 pm. It's great...they even feed her breakfast! This is going to allow Batya to take an Ulpan that is Sunday - Thursday from 9 am - 12 pm. Then, she can join me for lunch! We are extremely happy about this!

Some friends and I went with one of the voice teachers at HUC on a 23 kilometer - 15 mile - hike on Friday and Saturday. We went to the Makhtesh Ramon, a giant crater south of Jerusalem. It really is beautiful, and it was awesome to camp out on Friday night. The night sky was gorgeous...I believe we were able to see 10000000 stars at least! The hiking was pretty intense, and my body is a bit sore right now, but it was a lot of fun and well worth it! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so I didn't get any pictures, but trust me it was beautiful. We saw some wildlife as well, including a ton of birds. I am very sorry I won't be able to go back to the Makhtesh when others do the overnight hike next month!

Last night at 10 pm, we went to a Conservative Ashkenazic Synagogue. We went to experience Shlichot in an Ashkenazic Synagogue. It was short and very spiritual. I enjoyed it, but my body was so sore, that I really had a very hard time concentrating. I still thought it was spiritual, and nice to share that experience with a bunch of my HUC classmates.

Classes began last week, and I finally feel like a Rabbinical student. I will admit that I am going to spend A LOT of time studying, and it is going to be hard. But, it will be worth it as I have dreamed about this for a long time. I am just very fortunate to have Batya and Carlie here to share these experiences with me.

We are now getting ready for the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, and starting to really think about Teshuvah, repentance, as we prepare for the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur. I will write and share my experiences of Jerusalem during this time a little later in this week and next!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Jewish Quarter, Auschwitz Day 3, and Salt Mines

Well, yesterday we all went to the Jewish Quarter. We took some really nice pictures, and both of the synagogues, the Progressive one and the Orthodox one were gorgeous. The Progressive one was actually quite a bit bigger, but the Orthodox one had a HUGE cemetary. I'll have pictures up tomorrow. Of course, as we were leaving the Progressive synagogue, Carlie vomited all over herself and her stroller. This is the first time she's done that in a long time. But, we had a nice lunch in the Jewish Quarter, a real "Jewish meal."

Today, PJ and I went back to Auschwitz because I really thought it was important for PJ to see the Gas Chamber and crematorium. It was a very terrifying experience again, but it was more emotional for me this time. Showing someone else this horrific building was worse than seeing it for the first time. What made matters worse was that PJ and I went and had lunch and went back to the gas chamber one more time before returning to Krakow. There were three people in the gas chamber and one of them took a picture. There is a sign that clearly states that no pictures are allowed. I was very frustrated by this person. I felt it was very disrespectful, but I was able to get that out of mind and say the Mourner's Kaddish one more time before I left.

This afternoon, we went to the salt mines in Krakow. They are 130 meters below the surface. We took some amazing pictures of undergound churches, one that is the largest underground church in the world. The pictures are pretty amazing, and we'll have those up tomorrow as well. We are getting up very early tomorrow to fly back to Israel. We will be in Vienna for 2 hours in the morning, arriving in Tel Aviv around 3 pm. I am anxious to get back to Israel for the last few days of my vacation. I am very excited to begin my schoolwork on Sunday. I'll write more next week with an explanation of the first week of classes.

Laila Tov!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2, Birkenau, Day 2

Today I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau with Batya. This was a very different experience. See, PJ and I were separated from our group toward the end of the tour yesterday. What we missed, Batya and I saw today. What we missed was one of the most horrifying and emotional experiences of my life. We saw a gas chamber. I don't really know if there is a proper way to react, but my reaction was terror. I almost couldn't breathe. As I stared up at the ceilings and walls and saw finger nail scratches, I could only picture in my mind how and what these innocent people went through. I was terrified. Then, when I saw the oven where the bodies were burned to ashes, I knew I had to get out. I was almost suffocating.

After we left the gas chamber, we met an Auschwitz survivor. This man was a member of the Sundercommando. The job of the sundercommandos was the most horrific of all the jobs. They were responsible for taking the bodies out of the gas chamber, separating them, taking all of the gold jewelry and earrings off of the bodies, and then taking them to the ovens to be burned. What is miraculous is that the men who were sundercommandos only lived for 3 months at a time, as they knew the secrets of the Germans, and would be killed. This man survived, and we were amazed at his story.

The last part of our trip today, which was the only wonderful part, was seeing a bunch of Israeli high school students together at Birkenau. They were conducting a service in honor of those who had died. Seeing these Israeli Jews there really gave me tremendous hope. I was honored to be there with them. I'll write more in a few days with reactions to Krakow. So far, we're pretty impressed with the beauty of the city!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2, Birkenau

We arrived in Krakow, very glad to have a nice break from Israel. We love Israel, but it was nice to get a vacation. When we arrived at our hotel, we were amazed to see such great customer service, nothing really expected in most places in Israel, especially if your Hebrew isn't so great! We took a taxi to the city center of Krakow and walked around for about 2 hours. It really is a beautiful city and in such contrast to what we saw today. We went to bed kind of early, as we wanted to be rested to prepare ourselves for today.

PJ and I jumped into the bus to pick up other passengers for the English led tour. Once we boarded our coach, we headed to Auschwitz. I am not really sure what I expected. I don't really know if one can really expect anything. I am sure everyone who goes to a concentration camp, especially a Death camp, has their expectations proven wrong. First of all, Auschwitz is made up of two parts, Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2, or Birkenau. Auschwitz 1 was originally a type of Polish army base. When Germany took over Poland, Auschwitz 1 was turned into a prisoner camp, primarily for Poles, especially those who were loyal Poles. The Germans were afraid they might cause an uproar. It's amazing how scared of everyone else the Germans were.

Eventually, because the Polish prisons were completely overcrowded, Auschwitz 1 became a prison camp for many, many people, including Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc. This "camp" became a place to bring people and eventually kill them. What I saw in this place was horrifying. The complete lack of human respect was overwhelming. People were tortured, embarassed, and killed. What did these "soldiers" think? Didn't they realize it was wrong to treat other humans in such a way? Our tour guide was very descriptive, and the pictures I wasn't allowed to take will remain in my mind forever. I walked in and OUT of Auschwitz 1.

What I saw and experienced in Auschwitz 1 in no way prepared me for Auschwitz 2, Birkenau. This was where the Jews were sent. While Auschwitz was a labor camp (or that's what the Germans called it), Birkenau was a death or extermination camp. People were brought here to die. Those who were lucky enough to be chosen to work were only allowed to live because they served the German Reich a purpose. And, they would eventually be slaughtered as well. Now I have read many books about the Holocaust (called HaShoah in Hebrew). I have seen many movies about HaShoah. But to stand in a living barrack and see where these people lived and "bathed" was awful. I wanted to scream...and I was very angry that this could happen.

But, as my friend PJ pointed out, the most important thing I experienced today was the ability to walk out. I walked out with my head held high in a tribute to those millions of Jews and others who died. I left. While I am returning tomorrow with Batya, I expect to experience something incredibly different. I can't have expectations..we shall see.

May we never forget these souls, those who died just because of who they were.

Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,

aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru
upon us and upon all Israel.

Amen

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ulpan is OVER!!!

Wow, what an amazing 6 weeks. I thought I would never make it through Ulpan, but somehow I survived and passed the Ulpan! This was a very intensive Hebrew program with 5 hours of Hebrew every day and it's truly amazing how much I learned. I am now able to write an essay completely in Hebrew, and I find myself speaking more and more to people on the street (especially cab drivers) in Hebrew. It's great, and I am looking forward to continuing my Hebrew classes and learning more and more!

We are now on a 10 day break or so. The beauty of this break is that we don't have any requirements except to relax! So, how are we going to relax? We are taking a trip to Krakow, Poland on Friday. We'll be gone for 5 days, and for two of the days Batya, our friend PJ and I will be going to Auschwitz. I'll go with PJ on Saturday and Batya will go with me on Sunday. It's going to be an interesting Shabbat this week, and I hope to get a lot of perspective. It will be nice to experience this with a great friend on Saturday and my best friend, Batya, on Sunday. We'll take lots of pictures (of what we're allowed to), so you'll be able to see what we see (at least in pictures).

We go back to school, to our regular class schedule on Sunday, September 2. We'll then only have a few hours of Hebrew every day, but we'll have many more classes, preparing us for our long journeys to be Rabbis, Cantors, and Jewish educators!

Lailah Tov!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Slichot

Wow! This morning, and I do mean morning, we met at 4 am. We took a bus to a Sephardic (from the word Sepharad which means Spain) synagogue on the French Hill in Jerusalem. This was a first for me. I can't remember experiencing a Sephardic synaogue. The reason why we left so early in the morning is that the Sephardic custom is to have Selichot services between midnight and dawn, when our prayers can be heard by God the best and clearest. Slichot services are all about asking God for forgiveness. These prayers are a complete admission of our guilt and request for forgiveness. Traditionally, these prayers are completed every day for 40 days before Rosh Hashanah. Of course, most Americans are of the Ashkenazic tradition, meaning Slichot are recited later in the afternoon, usually only a week before Rosh Hashanah.

Whatever your tradition, these are very solemn and serious prayers. We are truly begging God for forgiveness, realizing our sins and Mamash ("really", Israelis love this word) doing some serious introspection. This period is when we can realize our mistakes and look for ways to learn from them to not commit them again. We went to an Orthodox shul, which unfortunately meant the women and men were separated. As this was a Sephardic shul, the Bima was in the middle of the congregation, with the Chazan, Cantor, leading the service from behind the Bima, facing the Ark.

This was one of the most special moments for me in my life. The Kavanah (true focus or directedness) of the service was unbelievable. While I wasn't really awake when we first arrived, by the 2nd or 3rd verse of the opening prayer, I was wide awake. The people in this shul had tremendous spirit and kavanah. During the recitation of the confessional part of the service, the man who recited was a very pious man who you could hear sobbing as he confessed for the entire congregation and mamash for the entire congregation of Jews throughout the world. I found myself lost in his words and trying to focus immensely on my own sins and confession.

As a people, Jews are very good at realizing our mistakes and begging for forgiveness. Often times, we joke about our guilt and how good we are at making others feel guilty. But this service points you to your own guilt and causes you to do some serious introspection. This was truly an eye opening service, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to share this service with my classmates and the congregation at the shul.

Now, I am off to go back to sleep!
L'Hitraot!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ein Gedi Spa/Dead Sea and Hiking Israel

Friday, August 10 was an outstanding day! Except for the fact that we started about an hour and a half late and also except for some small squabbling in the car by some wandering Jews, our trek to the Ein Gedi Spa was very successful. Each of us had amazing spa treatment including massages, mud baths, swimming in the Dead Sea, or swimming in the chlorine pool. Now, here's a big difference. In America, when you go swimming, the bottom of the pool is very rough and you can easily cut yourself on the bottom. In Israel, the bottom of the pool is very smooth, and padded. Therefore you are able to walk or whatever on the bottom of the pool without worrying about stubbing your toe or cutting yourself. On the flip side, however, the walls of the pool are the same color as the water, so if you happen to not be paying attention, you can run into the side of the pool. You'll have to ask my wife about that one.

When we came back to Jerusalem, we had Shabbat Dinner at our place. As usual, the woman who I live with who doesn't believe she can cook at all, cooked an amazing dinner, enjoyed by all. Unfortunately, the night ended with a classmate getting sick, but she's better now, and Batya wants to explain that our classmate did NOT get sick from her cooking.

Today, on Shabbat, several of us went on an outstanding 5 mile hike. It was a moderate level hike, with great sites to see, and plenty to enjoy. It was nice getting out there on Shabbat and just enjoying Israel away from the city. I am terribly sunburned, and am learning that I need to wear sunblock if I don't want to have problems with my skin later on in life.

Just for an update, Ulpan is still very time consuming and it's only getting harder. However, our teacher is amazing and she is really working us hard. I am looking forward to the last 2 weeks of Ulpan as we prepare for our first vacation from HUC.

Shavua Tov!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Jerusalem Day #3 and My pinky, AGAIN!

Wow. For the third Jerusalem Day, we went to the Israel Museum on Tuesday night to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, and to the Southern Wall Excavations and Kotel Tunnels on Thursday. The Israel Museum was nice, but I would have liked to have spent more time in the museum. We spent some time studying some text, which was enjoyable, but there is so much to the museum, and we didn't really have enough time to examine everything. We had our second Hebrew test on Wednesday. It was tough, but I think I did ok. We'll just have to wait until Sunday to find out.

On Thursday, we had a great day. We spent some time examining the Southern Wall, even climbing the steps to where pilgrims would have entered into the Second Temple complex. It was a very awe inspiring experience. I just imagined myself 2000 years ago going to the Temple on one of the harvest festivals. After examining the Southern wall, we checked out some pretty interesting things including Robinson's Arch, another entrance to the Second Temple area that is also over 2000 years old, as well as some ancient store sites for purchasing animals for sacrifices. We even saw 2000 year old Mikvahs, or purity bath areas.

The most exciting part of the day, though, was the Kotel tunnels. We walked through tunnels that are under the Arab quarter of the Old City. It was truly amazing seeing the extension of the Western retaining wall. However, when we came upon the area which "leads to the Holy of Holies," I was very excited. It truly was an awesome place, and I would love to go there again. I am now getting ready for Shabbat, to spend some nice relaxing time with my family.

Oh, and one more thing. I went to the doctor today because the swelling hasn't gone down. The doctor told me that he thinks there might be some internal bleeding, which has caused the swelling. I have to go see an orthopedist next week to begin physical therapy. I am not allowed to play any sports for at least 4 weeks.

L'Hitraot!

Monday, July 30, 2007

First Hebrew Test

Alright! We had our first Hebrew test last week, and I scored an 87. I had some trouble with a little bit of the Grammar portion of the test. But, at least I know what I need to improve on. My teacher is really great, and I enjoy our classes. We have another test coming up on Wednesday, so we'll see how I do this week.

I am beginning to realize just how busy I am going to be this year. I am having a difficult time balancing my "real life" with my "school life." With the help of my friends here, and of course Batya, I am beginning to balance things out a bit. I just have to schedule time for myself and prioritize my life a lot.

It's challenging, but it will be fun and extraordinary year!

We have another Jerusalem Day coming up on Thursday, and a trip before that on Wednesday to the Israel Museum.

Lailah Tov!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jerusalem Day #2

So, today, we were told we were going to "Hell." Really, we were going to the Valley of Hinnom. Many refer to this place as Gehenna. This is actually a wrong interpretation of the Hebrew. Ge in Hebrew means valley and Gehenna is actually Ge Hinnom, which is the Valley of Hinnom. I can tell you, and you can see the pictures when they are posted to my webshots account, that this is the closest I hope to ever get to what people call Hell. Now, granted, it was 95 degrees or hotter and in Jerusalem there are rarely clouds. So, it was pretty darn hot. And, if you don't drink water in Jerusalem, surely you would die, probably in Ge Hinnom.

Of course, the fact that Jerusalem is a city of hills and valleys, and you are always walking uphill, adds to the heat factor. But, we learned a lot about this valley. Basically, according to legend, this was the place where bad people were sent before they could descend to Olam Haba, the dwelling place in which you joined your fathers and mothers. If you were really a bad person, you would have to wait approximately 12 months. It's now a place for outdoor concerts, although I couldn't imagine going to a concert there in the dead of summer. It's hot! (as Carlie would say)

From there, we walked up to the Old City, and saw a film about 1st Temple Jerusalem. We were able to learn about the City that David built, and see the walls of the city that Hezekiah added and built. It was a pretty hokey video, but it explained a lot. We then spent about an hour on text study, looking at the Monarchy of Hezekiah and the prophecies of Isaiah. It was very interesting stuff!

As I was walking around the Old City, I had a very meaningful conversation with one of my classmates, Daniel Bar Nahum. He said something that will remain true in my heart for as long as I live, "You can't be an example to your congregants, you must be a Madrich (guide) for them." What he was explaining was that if I tried to live my life by example, I would never be happy enough with the example I was showing. It is better to live my life and guide my congregants and those I come in contact with. This way I can help them find their own way without compromising what is important to me and my family. It was a wonderful conversation, and I am thankful to Daniel!

I then walked around the Arab Shuk for a while and bought a Shesh Besh (backgammon) board. It's a really fun game, and I am looking forward to playing often. Before I forget, I think it's important to add that last night we saw ancient burial tombs from the 1st Temple period. The site we saw was one in which they found bones, jewelry, and many other things. It was pretty exciting to look in and see the caves the bones were buried in! They even found a priestly amulet with one of the priestly blessings!

As we were on our way to experience the Israel Baseball League, our bus was hit by another car. Fortunately, we weren't that delayed. What a funny incident...to be driving in Israel and actually hit a car. The baseball game was very fun. It was a little league sized crowd, but they were really into it. I bought a really cute blue glove for Carlie, and we took pictures of it, so you'll see those when I post them. The HUC students that attended were even asked to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 5th inning stretch. They only play 7 innings in their games. What's cool is that if the game ends in a tie, they have a homerun derby to decide the winner.

So, tomorrow off to Tel-Aviv for the day to relax and hopefully buy a clarinet! Pictures from that trip will come later!

L'Hitraot!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tisha B'Av

So, today was not much different than most other days we've been here with a few exceptions. As I had never commemorated this day before, I tried to fast as most people do. It's not like Yom Kippur in which you are in services all day, and are distracted from your hunger. This was a day of class, text study, prayer, and a few hours of free time in the afternoon. And, to make matters even more crazy, I was even fasting from water. This is not a great idea in the desert temperatures of Israel, especially on one of the hottest days of the year. I made it until about 4:30 when I was beginning to get a headache. I must admit that even though I didn't really feel much today, the struggle of making it until 4:30 was difficult, and it shed some light on some of the pain that Israelis feel on this day, and all Jews for that matter. It is a different kind of fast day than Yom Kippur, and until you have experienced it in Israel, it's hard to explain. But, I am glad I was able to accomplish what I accomplished. I learned a little bit about the meanings of Tisha B'Av, and felt a little bit of the difficulty.

This evening, I met with some friends to study for my first Hebrew exam. I think I'll do ok, but I always get a little worried before tests. The study session went well, and it was nice to get together with friends to review. We'll see how tomorrow goes. I'll write tomorrow afternoon, if I have time to talk about the test. Just to get an idea of my schedule here, take a look at my schedule for tomorrow:

7:00 wake up
8:00 - 8:30 study for Ulpan test
8:30 - 10:00 Test #1
10:05 - 10:25 Shacharit Services (morning services) led by me and a friend
10:30 - 12:00 2nd period of Ulpan
12:15 - 1:00 3rd period of Ulpan
1:00 - 1:30 Lunch
1:30 - 3:00 Reform Liturgy Workshop
3:00 - 4:00 Experience the "Time Elevator" with some friends
4:15 - 5:00 Give Carlie a bath and hang out with Batya
5:30 - 6:45 Tzedakah meeting at HUC
7:00 - 9:00 Text Study for Jerusalem day #2
9:15 collapse from the day!

Until tomorrow, B'Shalom!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Erev Tisha B'Av in Jerusalem

Wow. I knew a little bit about this night, but not nearly enough to prepare myself for the emotions I would encounter during our service this evening. Tisha B'Av commemorates the 9th of Av in the Hebrew Calendar. Traditionally, this is the date in which the 1st and 2nd temples were destroyed as well as other horrible events like the slaughtering of Bar Kochba and his students. This is a very solemn night, but it brought some happiness and satisfaction as well. For after all, we are here, and we are continuing to be here. While no Israeli or Jewish person for that matter agrees on all political and cultural decisions, we can all celebrate our existence in the land promised to us, Eretz Yisrael.

A commitee was formed to write and lead a service for our HUC community, overlooking the walls of the Old City. It was truly an amazing sight to see hundreds and thousands of Jewish people flooding into the Old City, to get a glimpse or touch of what remains of the outer wall of the area surrounding the Temple. The beginning of the service felt just like the first time I touched the stones of the Kotel, the Western Wall. I felt nothing. But, as the service moved on, I began to feel sadness, lamenting all of the horror that has befallen our ancestors.

And, then, at once, I experienced some sort of satisfaction. I was here, sitting on the ground in Jerusalem watching the walls of the Old City. I wasn't scared or even remotely worried. I was able to sit there and pray how I wanted. This is truly an amazing feeling, that I am beginning to feel more and more everyday. We are here, in Eretz Yisrael, in Yerushalayim, praying. I thank God everyday for this opportunity.

I am looking forward to a meaningful fast and day of thought and spiritual escape from my everyday reality. We only have one period of Hebrew tomorrow, followed by Text study and an afternoon service, Mincha. I'll write tomorrow with impressions of my first ever Tisha B'Av in Jerusalem.

Baruch Hashem!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jerusalem Day #1

Wow, what a day! We dropped Carlie off at the home of one of our dear friends whose mother is here this year. We arrived at their house at around 7:05 am. We then were dropped off at HUC for a day long tiyul (trip). First, we went to the Tayelet--the Jerusalem promenade. We had Shacharit, morning services, overlooking Jerusalem's Old City. It was gorgeous, and very spiritual. After services, we sat down with our teacher, Moshe, and looked at texts revolving around David Melech. We were looking for areas of the text we might have questions about, and we found lots of questions, with lots of answers!

Then, we were off for a very nice hike around the Tayelet. The pictures we took of Jerusalem are priceless, and when you get a chance to see them, you'll marvel at the beauty of the pictures. We then took a short bus ride into East Jerusalem, the Arab section of Jerusalem. It was a complete balagan (mess) as our busses barely made it through the small streets. I am truly amazed how the bus driver was able to manuever the bus around all of the other cars.

Once we were out of the mess of cars, we went to Ir David--the city of David. We saw an interesting video about the history of the city. Then we walked around and a saw of couple of archaelogical sites. We saw excavations of what could be David's Palace, and a 2000 year old toilet! Then we waded through Hezekiah's Tunnel, a 3,000 year old natural spring water system that was used and developed by Hezekiah, a former king of Jerusalem.

Then we walked around the Old City of Jerusalem a bit, stopping at a few places along the way, such as the supposed Tomb of David. We even saw a Christian group who was experiencing the path of Jesus when he carried his Cross. What was interesting about this Cross was that it was on wheels! Tonight, Batya and I are going to have dinner with some friends and have a few drinks at a bar, a great way to relax after a long day of hiking and learning!

Until next time, B'Shalom!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What a Day!

So, the day began with another Hebrew exam. It seems there was not much of a difference between the Alef and Bet Hebrew classes, so they wanted to retest us and restructure the classes if needed. I am still in Alef, and perfectly happy with that. The teacher is VERY nice and does a great job explaining things. I think I will learn a lot from her. The only problem is that several of my friends were unhappy with the way things turned out. This was pulling on my heart strings all day. It took the words of one of my classmates/friends who made me realize that we should all be happy to be here. I hope these words ring true for those of my friends who are unhappy.

For dinner, we celebrated another friend's birthday at a restaurant called Spaghettim. Unfortunately, it wasn't kosher, but I made do. Carlie really enjoyed it and many of my friends are really enjoying spending time with Carlie, so it makes life A LOT easier. After dinner, I walked with two of my friends to my friend's store, Ora Jerusalem. I actually met this store owner 7 years ago when I was here in 2000. When I went to his store for the first time 3 weeks ago in 7 years, he remembered me by name, on the spot.

So, I've been taking a lot of my friends there, and I think I'll take my friends there tomorrow as well. He has everything you could want to buy, and some things you haven't thought of! He invited me to join him for Maariv (evening services) at his Shul which was just around the corner from his shop. It was a Sephardic (from Sepharad meaning Spanish) Shul. I was actually able to follow along, and it was nice to clear my head and just pray. It really helped to put things in perspective, and it was the closest I have felt to God since I have been here.

After services, I went to play poker with some of my classmates. It was a good end to the day. I am ready to turn in to bed, and enjoy a nice night of sleep, to awaken to a day of promise and hope!

Baruch HaShem!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

First Day as an HUC Student

Wow! What a first day. I have to admit that I was a little nervous about the first day of the Hebrew Ulpan. Our teacher, Chana, is very nice and funny. She speaks very fast and mostly in Hebrew, so it takes an incredible amount of concentration to follow her. We worked on Grammar today (Dikduk). We conjugated words from present to past and future tense. This was actually pretty easy for me because I think logically. Since most of the grammar follows a bit of a construct, it's pretty easy. It's the vocabulary which causes me trouble. It will just take some time having to hear words over and over again to learn them. I think it will be ok in the end...it's just going to take some major studying on my part.

We had dinner with Rabbi Julie Schwartz, our Rabbi in Atlanta, tonight at a great steak restaurant called Norman's. It's a favorite spot for Americans, because the burgers are huge and the steaks are GREAT! It was nice catching up with Julie. She is a tremendous Rabbi and person. She's vacationing for the first time since her kids were born, and she looked so relaxed and happy!

After dinner, we spent some time with friends celebrating the birthday of one our new friends, Stephanie Clark. We had already eaten, so it was just about the company. It was fun, and it's nice to get out and spend some time with our friends, especially after a long day of school. 8:30 am - 1:00 pm is long...but it went by pretty fast. Tomorrow, we are off to buy school supplies and refill our kitchen at the Shuk, which is an experience all by itself! If you come to visit, you have to experience the Shuk!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Schmooze Fest with HUC Alumni

Tonight was fun. The HUC Class of 2012 celebrated Havdalah, the separation of Shabbat from the new week to come, with many alumni of HUC. It was an ice cream Havdalah. We had lots of fun, and Carlie had a great time pouring the ice cream all over herself! Having ice cream and celebrating Havdalah while overlooking the walls of Old Jerusalem was a tremendous experience, one I am sure will remain with me as a memory for a long time.

I'll write more tomorrow after the first day of the Hebrew Ulpan. Word is that I will be exhausted, but I'll make time to write more.

Shavuah Tov!

Why Rabbinical School?

I have been asked by several people why I am going to Rabbinical School. It's a long answer, so I'll try to make it as short as possible. Basically, it goes all the way back to 1985, when I was 8 years old. I was hit by a car while waiting for the bus. There were about 20 kids at my busstop, and seven of the Moms were nurses. In the history of the stop until that point, none of the parents had stayed at the busstop. But, on that day, all of those nurses stayed at the busstop, and kept me alive until the ambulance arrived. Weeks later, the doctors told my parents I shouldn't have survived as the injuries were so severe. Those moms kept me alive. With over 180 stitches in my head and a broken left femur, I was in intensive care for 2 weeks. I also lost 4 pints of blood, and was in a coma for 4 days. So, let's fast forward a few years when I was 15, and was introduced to the director of admissions at Hebrew Union College as my Rabbi's successor. I think that was then when I really began to seriously think about becoming a Rabbi.

But, I had to think about why, why a Rabbi. I began to think about my life, and all of the things that had happened. It came to me one day. I was reading the story of Jacob when we fled his brother Esau, afraid for his life. He stopped for the night, and slept, laying his head on a rock. When he awoke the next morning, he realized that God had been in that place, and it was a holy place. He promised his life to God if he stayed with him and protected him. So, that's it. God kept me alive that day for a reason. I have thought long and hard about that reason. I faithfully believe that my life journey to first become a Rabbinical student, and now to start the process of becoming a Rabbi is my calling. I pledge myself to the Jewish people, to continue to learn and study all that I can to give back to the Jewish people and all people for as long as I am alive.

Science shows that people who are in a coma for up to 4 hours can lose great amounts of their memory. I was in a coma for 4 days. While I did lose almost all of my episodic memory (situations in my life), I retained all of my semantic memory (knowledge). This is something else I have to be thankful for.

I will end in two ways. First, although my relationship with my mother wasn't always perfect, I am sure she is in heaven looking down on me and proud of my accomplishments in life--my beautiful wife, daughter, and my journey to become a Rabbi. It might have taken my mom dieing to kick me into gear to finally start this journey. Who knows? But, I think of her often and every day. I hope I can continue to make her proud.

Second, I was asked to write a personal version of Tefillat Ha'Derek---the traveler's prayer. As my family begins this journey, it's only appropriate to begin tomorrow with this:

Adonai, Guide my steps, my thoughts and my actions. Help me to create within my home and Kehillah a community without strangers. Help me to live Betzelem Elohim. Help my family and community to always live in peace, caring for one another. Protect us along the way, healing us in time of need and helping us to enjoy our time here with our community.

Until next time....

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13!

Hey everyone! Well, Batya and I needed some time alone to just check in with each other. Since we have such great friends here who adore Carlie, it was easy to get a babysitter. I took Batya to a restaurant called La Boca. It's a Latin restaurant---yes, believe it or not, Batya has turned me into a person who likes Latin food. Anyway, it was a bit pricy, but certainly worth it. We had an appetizer, bottle of wine, main course and dessert. I recommend this restaurant to everyone---I guess you need to be in Israel first, quite a bit of a commute if you're not. By the way, it's on Emek Rafaim, past Mcdonald's.

So, we came home expecting to sleep well for the first time in a while as our friend, Julia, moved out to her own apartment. Yes, we've become sort of a hostel for our friends in need. Carlie, however, had a different idea. She didn't really expect to be sleeping in her own crib---as she's been sleeping in our bed for about 2 weeks. So, at about 11:15 pm, the monster awoke and by monster, I mean the version of Carlie that NO ONE else gets to see. She screamed off and on (2 minutes of silence for every 10 minutes of screaming) for about an hour. I was really afraid our neighbors were going to come and politely bang on our door. We gave Carlie some food, played with her for a little while, and by about 12:45, she was ready to finally go back to sleep. She actually walked herself to her bed and put her hands on the bars of the crib as if to say, "What are you waiting for?"

This morning, we met with the students who are going back to our campuses with us. We met also with a 5th year student, who was able to answer questions about the Cinci campus. This was a nice chance to see who we'd be studying for the four years after we return. So, we are really looking forward to this evening. We will get to share Kabbalat Shabbat with a bunch of HUC alumni. Our Rabbi from Atlanta, Rabbi Julie Schwartz, will be in attendance, so we are looking forward to seeing her.

I'll write more tomorrow night after the HUC schmooze fest!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Orientation and 10 fingers again

Yesterday was the first official day for me as a student at Hebrew Union College. We started orientation. It was really great gathering as one whole community with all of the students and many of the professors. Michael Marmur, our Dean here in Jerusalem, is a very funny man and I am looking forward to many conversations with him over the year. David Ellison, the president of HUC, was also there to welcome us and had some very nice things to say. He also was quite funny. The director of our program, Rabbin Naamah Kelman, was the first woman ordained in Israel. She seems very nice, and really on top of things. So, we did a lot of sitting and learning about who and what would be going on for the year. And, we ended with some time with smaller groups and our interns. It was a nice way to end the day and get us all thinking about the year to come.



So, I took off the bandage this morning. While it's nice to have all of my fingers again, my pinky is still quite sore, and it's going to take some more healing time before I am ready to play sports again. Of course, I am not afraid of dislocating my finger again, because it wasn't so enjoyable the first time. But, I'll be alright...just can't keep thinking about it. We are having a nice Shabbat this weekend with some Alumni of HUC, and I believe my Rabbi from Atlanta, Rabbi Julie Schwartz, will be here, so it will be nice to see her.



More to come later...

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Oops, I only need 9 fingers!

Shabbat afternoon was really fun! A bunch of my classmates and I decided to play football on a concrete field. It was very hot, but as we were playing 2 hand touch, we thought for sure noone would get hurt. After about 2 hours of playing, a bunch of kids from Young Judea's Machon program came over to play with us. The HUC gang was winning, so we were pretty pumped. Then it happened. I was going out for a pass that would have been a touchdown. The quarterback threw a perfect pass, but instead of catching it the right way, I tried to catch it with my pinky. Two seconds later, I looked at a disgusting dislocated finger. After about an hour at Magen David Adom (the 24 hour clinic open on Shabbat), and after the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced, I walked out with my finger wrapped. Unfortunately, I am done with football and softball for 5 days...so, my blog won't be as great as it would have been for the next few days. Bear with me...I'll do as much as I can!

Friday in Tel Aviv and Adam's Birthday

Going to a bar with a bunch of your friends in Israel can be a lot of fun. However, if you have plans to go to the airport at 5 am, it's not too incredibly smart to go to bed at 1 am. But, Dublin bar in Jerusalem is a great place to go and just kick back and let off some steam. It's a little loud, but the drinks were fantastic. I went to pick up one of my classmates, Julia, at Ben Gurion airport. Although I was exhausted, it was nice to meet Julia and to make her transition to a new country easier. So, after we arrived back in Jerusalem, we rested for a few minutes and went to Kikar Zion (Zion Square) to meet up with some more classmates and Daniel, one of our interns. We were then on our way back to Tel Aviv to spend a day enjoying the Shuk and artists shuk. It was crazy busy, but a lot of fun. There was a tremendous amount of artwork, and I really believe many of my friends would have enjoyed the opportunity to peruse some of the art. We then spent some time enjoying the hot sun and beach in Tel Aviv. It was beautiful! Friday night, we went to Shabbat Dinner at Vicky and Vlad's house. Vicky is a Cantoral student and her son Adam was turning 3. What a great dinner! And the cake was delicious. Most importantly, though, the company was a lot of fun, and it's nice to spend time just relaxing and discussing life with classmates and friends! I'll write some more after Shabbat in the park!