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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 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!


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'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, 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!