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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Has it really been that long??

Wow...has it really been over a month since my last post? I am so sorry..I know I should do a better job. So, what have I been doing for the past month and a half? Well, here's a list:
I've been to my Student Congregation twice
I have created a Curriculum to teach Mishnah to a Congregation
I have outlined the Torah
I have kept up with hundreds of pages of reading for school
I have taught in the Cincinnati Reform Jewish High School
I have created a Conversion and B'Nai Mitzvah Project
I have written and rewritten an assignment for my Bible class
I have written two assignments for Literature...Ok, I think you get the idea. That list could go on and on, but needless to say I am VERY busy. I am really enjoying myself, and I am learning so much! I now have a passion for history that I never had, and I can't wait to continue learning more history, as well as everything else. I'll blog about my classes next semester after I have attended each of them!

Oh, I am journeying back to Israel in 2 weeks! I am leading approximately 40 22-26 year olds who have never been to Israel. We are spending 11 days in Israel. There is no way to show the entire country in 11 days, but we're going to experience as much as we can! I am traveling with a group called Israel Experts. They are a part of Birthright Israel - a program started 8 years ago to bring Jews (between the ages of 18-26) to Israel. It's an outstanding program...truth be told, my first time to Israel was leading one of these trips when I worked for Hillel at the University of Illinois.

Right now, I am in the middle of "Reading Week." It's the week of studying just before our 2 days of finals. I only have 2 finals, and they are both on Monday. I am looking forward to finishing up this semester, journeying to Israel, and getting ready for next semester! Next semester, I am actually taking on a second student congregation. So, in the months of February, March and May, I will be traveling to my congregation in Arkansas. It will be an awesome experience...I can't wait!

That's all for now. I hope everyone is doing well, and staying warm!


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mid-Terms, Mid-Terms, Mid-Terms!!!

Shalom Everyone!

Well, I thought last year flew by. I never had any idea how quickly this year would fly! We still haven't finished unpacking, and the semester is more than half way over. I am now experiencing what I call the "Mid-Semester meltdown." One of my personal promises when I first started at HUC was to try to stay as far ahead as I could. What I realized very quickly was I wouldn't be able to "stay ahead," but I would be able to prevent myself from falling behind. I worked two to three hours a night last year working on homework, and I was able to spend time with Carlie and Batya on Shabbat. This year, however, things are different...

I will say the classes are so incredibly intellectually stimulating. I am truly enjoying myself, and very much enjoying the learning. We have a lot of information to learn, and it seems that just as I am grasping something, five or ten more things come flying right at me. I am certainly not complaining...I love it, and have not once looked back. I will say doing this with a family is hard, but I wouldn't change it for the world. This year, I am spending more time at home, but less time with Batya and Carlie. I am thankful to have a wonderfully accepting wife who understands how important this is to me. And, she is really enjoying her new job, so at least she is finally doing something she enjoys!

Lastly, as the winter is coming upon us, and the temperatures are dropping, I know we are in for a winter nightmare. I will say, though, that unlike last year, at least we have a heating system that works in our house! So, as long as HUC turns on the heat in their building, and our classrooms start to get warmer, it won't be as bad of a winter as it was last year.

I will BLOG again after midterms are finished, I promise. For now, stay warm, and when you vote next week, make sure you make the decision that YOU feel is best for the country, not what someone else wants you to believe!


Friday, October 10, 2008

"Acting" the Part

Shalom friends and family!

Throughout my first year in Rabbinical school in Israel, a lot of my classmates expressed frustration with not being able to use what we learned. I certainly agreed with them. We learned a tremendous amount last year, but there wasn't a lot of practicality to what we learned, and a lot of us wanted more opportunities to "act out" what we were learning. That is one of the great changes for this year. Once a month, I travel to Trenton, Michigan to Beth Isaac Congregation and lead them in Shabbat prayer. I arrive around 3 in the afternoon, get myself prepared for services...then off to the Synagogue I go. This congregation is so incredibly gracious and accepting...and they have already accepted Batya, Carlie and me as part of their family.


Finally, I get to lead a congregation and learn as I go. And, the best thing this congregation offers me is understanding. When I make mistakes (and I've already had my fair share) they accept me with open arms, and we learn together. On Shabbat afternoon, I lead the congregation (usually 10-15 people) in an Adult Education class. We've had one Torah Study, and one discussion about Minhagim (customs) within Judaism, traditional and Reform Jewish customs. I love this little slice of heaven!

I prepared myself for the High Holy Days by writing sermons, draft after draft...studying Torah portions, writing outlines including the English and Hebrew readings I wanted to have in the service. I met with the Ritual committee from Beth Isaac and went over my outlines with them. They put the ball in my court and said "run with it." This relieved so much of my stress...and the High Holy Days became an opportunity to lead, grow and learn. Instead of stressing about not making mistakes, I was able to focus on praying and reflecting on the things I needed to change about myself. What an awesome opportunity.

I am pretty satisfied with my sermons...and if anyone would like copies of my sermons, please shoot me an email and I would be happy to share them with you. For the first time in my life, I was COMPLETELY exhausted after Yom Kippur, but the family we were staying with - Carlie and Batya were able to come with me to Trenton for the HHD - had a hot it was great last night to sit in the hot tub, have a drink and relax. It was truly an amazing day, and I look forward to continued growth with this congregation.

Beth Isaac Congregation truly is a wonderful place! They are incredibly accepting, and I highly recommend that if you are ever in the area, you should check them out! I hope everyone has a joyful and sweet Shabbat and Sukkot next week. I'll try to blog a bit more frequently now.

B'Shalom for now!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Our home in Cincinnati

Shalom friends and family!

It's been a LONG time since I blogged...I know. I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I have been extremely busy, however, and I would like to spend a moment discussing this schedule! I have 7 total classes: Bible 401, Rabbinics 401, PDE (Professional Development) 401, PDE 402, History 401, Biblical Hebrew 401, and Hebrew Literature. Also, once a month and for the High Holy Days, I am working as a Student Rabbi at Beth Isaac Synagogue in Trenton, Michigan. Along with one of my PDE classes, I am teaching 9-12 graders about Resistance in the Holocaust and Israel's First 60 Years through Film on Sunday nights. I would say most nights I am home around 7 or so, but sometimes later! I leave at 7 am every, as you can see, these are full days. My classes are extraordinarily interesting, and although I have more reading than I have ever had every day, I am doing my best to chug along, and I am doing pretty well so far.

I even have some time to spend with Carlie and Batya most days! Sunday is our "family day." We start out going to the Jewish Community Center around 9 to take Carlie swimming. She loves it, and we love swimming with her. Since we left camp, we have made our new home (pictures to come later - when our camera returns - we did find it) quite livable, and we are really enjoying it. It's cute, and our neighbors are very nice.

My Congregation in Trenton, Michigan is truly wonderful. They are gracious loving people who really do treat me extremely well. I enjoy being with them, and I can't wait to introduce them to Carlie and Batya when we go there for Rosh Hashanah.

For now, that's it...Oh, I joined a bowling league on Tuesday evenings. This really is just to do something where I don't have to think about school, study, or anything but have a great, fun time bowling. It's fun, and a great escape!

Please check out my brother and sister in law's new blog: Jason is really funny, and it's a very enjoyable blog.

Until next time...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

So long little angel...

As camp comes to an end, and we prepare for our move to Cincinnati next week, I just wanted to write a short blog about an amazing family and an amazing soul. Several times in the past year, I have asked for your thoughts and blessings for our friends as they embarked on a tireless, difficult journey. We have learned so much from this family, and will continue to be inspired and touched by their family and their little girl for as long as we live.

On August 7, their little girl breathed her last breaths, cool San Francisco night air, and continued her journey to be with God. This was a very difficult journey for her parents, but they knew it was the right decision to make for their little girl. Reading their blogs and watching their goodbyes, it seems as if this decision was made by their little girl. It's as if she told them it was time, and they were honoring her wishes. I have so much respect and love for them...I only wish I had had the honor of meeting little Tikva face to face.

As the Spinrads continue on this journey, I ask that you hold their family in your thoughts and prayers and hold your own families as close to you as possible. Never forget to tell the ones you love how much you love them every day. Hold them, love them, kiss them...never let go.

For little Tikva, I will never forget.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Life at Capital Camps

Shalom Friends and Family!

I know it's been a few weeks since my last post, but we have been busy, busy, busy! After a few days in Rockville, Maryland visiting Jason, Rosalie, and our beautiful nieces, we ventured up to Capital Camps. Let me tell you something...I have worked and attended 6 different camps. This camp is by far the best! The facilities are amazing, the staff is incredibly amazing, and the director and assistant director are the greatest!

During Leadership staff week, we talked an awful lot about ways to manage staff and how to train the staff to work with these 600 children that would attend camp this summer. We really bonded as a leadership team, and we were really excited for the staff to arrive. Once the staff arrived, the real fun began. I have 30 of the best staff I have ever had the pleasure of working with in Benjamin Village - the youngest village in camp, 8-10 year olds. The counselors and specialists in my village are truly amazing, and we are a really close group!

The kids have been here for a week, and I don't know where it went! I feel like it was only yesterday that we were in Israel, sitting on Moshe Hess Street, overlooking our little Macolet, and enjoying all of the amazing smells of the wonderful food our neighbors cook! We really do miss our neighbors, and we are feeling quite nostalgic every day!

But, back to Capital Camps. I will admit that Carlie's babysitter, Chen, an Israeli, is very good with Carlie. Carlie loves her, and asks about her all the time when she isn't around. Carlie goes all over camp, and everyone treats her so kind and she loves all of the attention. Batya is working in the office, and I am pretty sure she's enjoying that too. The only downside is that because I am "on call" 24 hours a day, it's been pretty hard for Batya and me to spend lots of time together...but we're trying to make our schedules more conducive to seeing each other!

Camp really is great! The food is great, and everyone is just so welcoming and accepting. It truly is a wonderful place for us, and I expect the rest of the summer to be just as great if not better!

I'll do my best to write again this summer, but for now, Shavuah Tov and L'Hitraot...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Back in the USA

Greetings friends and family! The last time I wrote, I was sitting in my little apartment on Moshe Hess Street, contemplating how I was going to get all of my "stuff" back to the US. I was VERY excited about seeing my friends and family, and also a bit nervous with all of the "transitioning" I, Batya and Carlie would have to do once we were back in the States. When we moved to Israel in June, 2007, jet lag really hit Batya and me a lot. Carlie, however, was fine. Well, this time, Carlie has really been affected by jet lag, and Batya and I have been fine. However, dealing with a 2 year old who is experiencing jet lag can be quite difficult....especially, the constant wake up at 4 or 5 am.

But, I think Carlie is finally adjusted! This means that we will finally be able to really sleep at night! In the past week (yes, it's been a week since we've been back in the States), we have been in Atlanta, Columbia, Atlanta again, Cincinnati, and now Houston. We'll be in Houston until Thursday, then back to Atlanta for 2 days, to the DC Area, and then to camp! If Carlie is able to make it through these two weeks, we'll be highly impressed! Yes, she did scream for about 20 minutes on the flight to Houston (and I can't forget the 2 hours of screaming coming back from Israel), but all in all, she's doing great!

In the past week, we've purchased cell phones, signed a lease on a BEAUTIFUL house in Finneytown (outside of Cincinnati - don't worry, pictures to come in August when we move in), seen lots of friends and family...and we hope Batya has found a job! I don't want to write too much about that until she actually has the job.

I have to admit that Batya and I have been remarking about the "little things" we miss about Israel. Every once in a while, I'll look at Batya and say something like, "That's something else I miss about Israel." We will certainly miss the views of the Old City, the smells of our neighbors' cooking, and being so close to everything...being able to walk everywhere. We'll be spending the summer at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, PA. We are very excited, for sure!

I'll try to write a few times over the summer, but as I'll be very busy, please don't be angry if the next post is in August!

L'Hitraot for now!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is it really over?

Normally being up at 5:45 am isn't so abnormal for me. After all, I have a 2 year old daughter. But for some reason, I haven't slept so well this week. I was sick to my stomach (literally) on Saturday night, up most of the night. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and last night I also haven't slept so well, and this morning I was up at 4:30. And for the most part, it's NOT Carlie's fault! So, why am I having trouble sleeping?

For the past 11 months, I have shared with you my life's journey in Israel. You have grown with me Jewishly, spiritually, personally, as a husband, father, classmate, Jew, and as a human being. And, now, in less than 2 days, I will be back "home" in the United States, ready to begin the next part of the journey. While Rabbinical school is 5 years, the first year in Israel is a journey in and of itself. I remember walking into Nancy Lewitt's (our Director of Student Affairs) office on June 25, 2007 and telling her "I know how this works." What the hell was I thinking? Knowing what I know now, I realize I really knew nothing then.

By no stretch of the imagination do I feel this journey is over. This is just the first "leg." For four more years, I get to learn, develop and grow into a Rabbi. Some say becoming a Rabbi is a life long journey...I tend to agree. But, this year has taught me so much more than I ever could have imagined. While finishing up my exams yesterday I realized just how much I have learned. It truly is amazing. And as far as growth is concerned, I feel this year has given me the opportunities to grow more in one year than the rest of my life put together.

This will be my last post of this part of the journey. I will be renaming my BLOG to "Erin's Journey to become a Rabbi" because I want to continue sharing this journey with you. As the name changes, the blog won't. I will still share with you my thoughts on this journey. I welcome any feedback either on this year's blog entries or on any of my blog entries in the future.

I will end this blog with a quote from one of my classmates:
"This moment is quite surreal. While I know we are saying Goodbye to each other, aren't we really just saying until next time? We'll all see each other again, and we'll ALWAYS be the 2007-2008 Year In Israel class...even when we meet for conventions 20 years from now, this will still be the year we remember!"

Shalom, L'hitraot!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Birthday and our last Shabbat together as a class

Shalom Friends and family!

Well, Friday, May 16 marked the second time in my life in which I spent my birthday in Jerusalem. In 2000, I spent my birthday out with my friend Ian, who also has May 16 as his birthday! That was fun, but this year had a special twist to it. I woke up - Batya let me sleep in to 9:30, and was told I wouldn't have to change a diaper at all that day! Since Carlie had a bit of a stomach bug, it was a VERY special present from Batya!!

After Carlie woke up from her nap, we went to have lunch together at a new Falafel and Shwarma place. It was very good, and it was nice to be able to spend the day with Carlie and Batya! After lunch, we met Julie and Noah at the park, and it was really great to see Noah and Carlie running around together at the park. However, at about 4, a ton of older kids took over the playground, and they really weren't paying attention to Noah and Carlie. So, to avoid anyone getting hurt, we came back to our place to rest and prepare for the last Kabbalat Shabbat for the HUC-JIR Class of 2012 in Jerusalem!

We had a beautiful service led by several of my classmates. All 5 of the Cantorial students helped to lead as well, and they really do sound beautiful together. Several of my classmates were given awards for academics, community service, etc. The highlight of the service, though, was when the President of HUC, who had been in town for Shimon Peres's Presidential conference, and who missed his plane back to the states, addressed our class. He addressed at the beginning of the year, and it was only fitting that we end our time together addressed by him again!

After services, we went to Beit Shmuel, a hotel right next to HUC, and had a catered dinner. While the food was just ok, Batya and I spent most of our time with Carlie who became a little sick part of the time. Thankfully she was ok! Once dinner was over, we went back to the student lounge, the Moadon, for the greatest slide show ever. While I didn't cry (I had expected I would), I was incredibly impressed about the slide show, and extremely happy to have been a part of the HUC Year in Israel 2007-2008 class, the best class in the world! (in Israel)

Exams start tomorrow, and while I am excited to finish them and return to family and friends in the States, I am becoming more and more nostalgic every day. I know I am going to miss so many things, and I am already looking forward to a return to Israel soon, in some way!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Another "Closing"

Greetings family and friends!

Today was the finale of our Israel Seminar Program. Every Wednesday we have explored Israel from the period of the "New Jew" (the Early Pioneers at the end of the 19 and beginning of the 20th century) to the present day. We have explored so many different aspects of Israeli society. We looked at Israel through the eyes of Jews, Christians, Arab Christians and Arab Muslims. We've been to Israeli Arab towns and to areas still in dispute with Israel's neighbors.

There have been so many interesting experiences that have truly helped to shape not only my relationship with Israel, but the internal conflict that I feel toward Israel. The Israel Seminar has helped to shape and reshape my Jewish identity, religious, spiritual, etc. My political views have changed over and over again as I have lived in Israel this year. Living every day what Americans read in the newspaper has truly been eye opening. When my friends and family read about the terrorists activity at Mirkaz Rav, it was only about a 20 minute walk away from my home.

Every Sunday, we have read the news in Israel from an Israeli newspaper, feeling as if we were a part of that news, and for much of the news, we have been. The Israel Seminar has given me the opportunity to explore so many aspects of being an Israeli and being a Jew. By no means do I feel I have "learned it all." And, while my Hebrew ability has grown so much while being here, I do have much more to learn before I can even think of myself as fluent. But, living in Israel, and the experience of Israel Seminar has given me so many more tools to use when I discuss Israel back at home.

After all, being able to bring Israel back to the States is one of the goals of Israel Seminar. It's not just about my experiences. It's also about my ability to share my experiences and knowledge with friends, family, and future congregants back in the United States. I only hope when we return to the States, I am able to even touch the surface when I begin to teach about Israel and share these experiences.

The end of the Israel Seminar means I am now charged with continuing my Israel experience and education on my own, without the structure of the Israel Seminar. I am excited about these opportunities!


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Remembering and Never Forgetting

Greetings family and friends. I have been teaching 7th graders about the Holocaust for about 6 years. Every year I learn something new and experience something new. Today was no different. I was given the honor to help create and lead the Yom Hashoah service at HUC this morning. We invited the Israeli Rabbinical Students to join us and one of the students helped us to create the service. I knew today would be hard, but I don't think I was prepared really for the rush of emotion I experienced and continue to experience today.

I have been in Israel during Yom Hashoah before. I have even helped students to grapple with the seriousness and emotion of this day. It's different in America. Our care and remembering is not different in America, but there is something different about being in Israel on this day. As 10:00 A.M. comes around and the siren begins, it's a very hard moment, or moments. As you see all the cars come to a sudden stop and experience all of the drivers getting out of their cars in respect and's an experience you can't and won't experience anywhere else. As a matter of fact, there was a baby who cried from the moment the Siren started until the Siren finished. I couldn't help but think how appropriate that was. That little baby, who truly couldn't have comprehended the significance of this day, captured the feelings of all of us in his cry.

Each year on Yom Hashoah, I am reminded of our family friend, Max Krautler, who we drove ride to Kabbalat Shabbat services every week. He didn't have a car, so he depended on us to bring him to Synagogue. He was the first Holocaust survivor I ever met. When I first asked him to speak at my elementary school about his experiences, he refused. It was too hard for him to bring back all of that emotion and those awful experiences. Then, a couple of years later, he approached me. I have never been so interested in someone's life as I was in his. I always felt a special connection to "Grandpa" Max. I used to go to his house on the weekends just to spend time with him. I remember the first time he showed me his tattoo, his Nazi number. I will never forget you, Max, and the immense struggles you lived with your whole life.

At the end of the Shoah ceremony, one of my classmates told a story of two women from Hungary who met on the train to Auschwitz. They occupied the awful 3 day journey by getting to know each other. One of the two girls told the other she had a male friend back home who would be perfect for her. They vowed to meet back at her home town once the war was over and their hell was over.

While in the camp, one of the girls kept alive by the promise of meeting this new male friend. She also dreamed of being reaquainted with her new friend. After the war, she went back to Hungary to look for her friend. Miraculously, she found her friend, was introduced to the male friend, fell in love and married him. She today has 3 children, and many grandchildren. One of the granddaughters is the girlfriend of my classmate.

It is stories like this that help me to realize that we're still here, and we have so much hope for the future. It also reminds me how important Israel is for the Jewish people to survive. I may not always agree with what Israel does, and I may struggle with life in Israel at times. But the bottom line is that I am able to live in Israel, and this is a benefit I shall never take for granted. As long as Israel lives, we will never forget, and we will always remember.

No one yet knows what awaits the Jews in the twenty-first century, but we must make every effort to ensure that it is better than what befell them in the twentieth, the century of the Holocaust.” - by Benjamin Netanyahu

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pesach in Belarus

Wow, where do I begin? Should I begin with my deep fears for this trip? I had no idea what to expect on our trip to the Former Soviet Union. I remember many things from my childhood, and there were many stereotypes from my childhood which kept coming back to my mind regarding the FSU. To be honest, I really haven't known many people from the FSU in my life. I do remember some people immigrating to my hometown (Columbia, SC) when I was in middle school. I specifically remember a very sweet man, Anatoly, who wound up working at my Synagogue and was like a grandfather to me in many ways. And, of course, I have several classmates from Russia and the Ukraine. Also, in Israel there are a large number of Israeli citizens from the FSU.

But, still, even with the programs we did to get ready for this trip, I really had many fears. After all, I had never used a translator before. Would I really be able to communicate with the communities? And, would I be able to lead a Seder for the first time in my life? I knew I wouldn't be alone as one of my classmates was with me in both of the small cities we traveled to. I guess I kept myself calm with the excitement I had with finally using some of the skills I have learned and aquired this year.

We arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv with this same excitement and fear. Once we finally boarded our plane, we knew there was no turning back, and we really were going to Belarus. While I was excited, I was also quite sad. Since I've known Batya, I've never been away from her during Passover. And, I had never been in a different country than her. I knew I would really miss Carlie and Batya, but I'll write more about that in a bit.

Landing in Belarus, I looked out and saw foggy rain clouds. It wasn't that cold, but it wasn't warm either. We spent the first night in Minsk, and I was pretty excited because I knew that I had family from Minsk. I immediately felt a connection to Minsk. We were comforted when the Chief Rabbi of Belarus, a Reform Rabbi, met us at the airport. He had many interesting things to say to us as we took a van into the city:

"There are no terrorists on trains..."
"You might meet KGB...(Ka Ga Beh in Russian)"

That night we were amused to see a strip club, called "Texas," and a bowling alley in our hotel. Oh, and a Casino too. Really, why leave our hotel??? Actually, when we went to the supermarket after dinner, we found eclairs and other pastries for about 700 Rubels (which eqauls to less than 50 cents). The exchange rate was 2100 rubels to 1 dollar. So, for $100, I was able to have over 200,000 Rubels in my wallet! I felt rich for the first time in my life!!!

Anyway, we woke up very early the next morning, met our translator, Ilona (More about her later), and headed out to Polotsk. Here's where things started to get interesting. So, we had heard that people from the FSU love to drink, and especially love to drink Vodka. Well, this very nice man, our new friend, offered PJ and me sips from his Vodka - at 8:30 in the morning. Needless to say, we both took a taste, and that was it. 8:30 is WAY TOO EARLY to be drinking...

When we arrived in Polotsk, we were told we would be leading a Seder for the Elderly and leading Kabbalat Shabbat for the High School group, Netzer. We were excited and nervous at the same time. As you can see by my pictures (link to webshots on the right of the blog), we had a great time, and it was a lot of fun. The Netzer kids were very nice, and had so many questions about life in America and Israel. They had so much pride in their Judaism, and it was awesome to be even a small part of that. When we went to tour around Polotsk, they refused to let us go alone, and we had a great time with them! In Polotsk, we ate every meal at this "Cafe" that was inside a supermarket. The food was really good, and by the time we left Polotsk (in 2 days), we could order for ourselves! Oh, and I can't forget to tell you about the bowling alley right next to the supermarket. It was pretty good, and we bowled both nights we were in Polotsk! Oh, one more thing about Polotsk. When we were walking around Polotsk, we met this very nice Belarus woman. She had the largest fingers I have ever seen. She was about 4 feet tall, but her hands were gigantic!!!

So, I have to speak about our translator, Ilona. She really was very special. She was incredibly nice...her English was fantastic, and she was a tremendous amount of fun to be with. She taught us quite a bit of Russian, and we even taught her some English slang expressions. I hope I can stay in contact with her. She was awesome!!! Even though we are 12 years apart, I constantly referred to her as "Ilona our mother" because she really took great care of us!

On Sunday, we were off to the Cultural capital of Belarus, Vitebsk! Vitebsk was quite a bit larger than Polotsk, and our hotel overlooked the city square. It was really beautiful. We met a new friend, Stas, another person I hope to stay in touch with. He was with us the entire time we were in Vitebsk, and we had a great time with him. While we were in Vitebsk, I experienced the most interesting and maybe the most fun Seder I've ever experienced. They had microphones set up for the leaders of the seder right next to a synthesizer. They acted out the Pesach story with dancer, actors, and a "time machine" that took them back in time to experience the story. There was an Israeli named Boris who is actually from Vitebsk. He sang two Israeli Songs in Hebrew, and I really began to realize how much I missed and appreciated Israel.

Even though there have been times when I really felt uncomfortable here in Israel, I have realized how much I love Israel and will truly miss Israel when I leave. Israel is a part of who I am, and the experiences from this year have truly helped me to learn and grow more in 10 months than my previous 31 years. I also decided I didn't want to be away from Batya and Carlie for that long EVER again! I actually began to cry when Boris was singing because his song was all about returning home to Israel, and all I could think about was how lucky I am to be able to go home to Israel, and how much I missed my girls!

So, while we were in Vitebsk, we also led a Seder in a kindergarten. THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!! It was really great to dance and sing with the kids. They were so inspiring, and they were so knowledgeable about Judaism. Returning to Minsk for two days was tiring but a lot of fun. We participated in a Cantorial Music Festival...and the community really appreciated us. We also were asked to lead a Seder for a college aged group. It was a little frustrating because we were all exhausted, but it was a great experience.

What have I learned from this awesome experience? The reasons why I want to be a Rabbi were reminded to me and confirmed to me. I truly love being Jewish, and the opportunity to lead others was educational, inspiring, and rewarding all at the same time. I only hope I am able to keep my relationship and connection with Belarus. I also hope to be able to return to these communities in the future. I end my blog with the "informal" way of saying goodbye in Russian -


Friday, April 11, 2008

Just some random thoughts

It truly is amazing how quickly life flies by. I remember a conversation I had with Batya about 16 months ago as we were beginning to think about how life would be in Israel with a small child. Granted, Carlie is a pretty calm kid, but she was still a baby, and we knew life would be hard, especially for Batya. Thank God we found the kindergarten at the YMCA, and Batya has been able to do things she wanted to do this year! And, it's been so good for Carlie. Her Hebrew is progressing so well. She even speaks more Hebrew than English. Just the other day when Batya asked her to put her bowl on the table, Carlie said, "not table, Mommy, Shulchan (Hebrew for Table)." Back to the conversation Batya and I were having...we were so excited and scared out of our minds at the same time. How would we get everything done we needed to do before we went? How would we figure out how to pay bills in Israel? How would we be able to take care of our financial and other responsibilities in the US while we were abroad?

I have always believed God held us in God's hands, and would help us along the way. Batya has always been more of a realist. She believes in God, for sure, and is deeply engaged Jewishly - I've actually been quite surprised at her interests in my studies this year - but she has always kept more of a "realist" belief toward life. While I am talking about things like b'sheret (fate), Batya is talking about coincidence. But, somehow, we come together and are able to get things done. Truth be told, I would be nowhere without Batya. Her deep understanding of who I am (which is quite difficult at times) and where I want to be in life keeps me in check. She is the first person to stick her neck out for me, and she never is anything but supportive. Even when we have arguments, she is coming from a place of support - something I sometimes have difficulty realizing until after the fact.

Here we are, 6 weeks before our return to the States, and these same conversations are beginning. How are we going to reenter our "normal" lives in the States - a place where we are comfortable, where we understand completely the language and culture? How will we get all of our loose ends tied up before we return? Somehow, our love and deep sense of family has and will continue to help us even through our most confused times.

I am going to Belarus - to Plotzk and Vitebzk - to help with Pesach programming for a week. We (myself and some of my classmates) leave on Thursday. While this is going to be an amazing experience, and I am incredibly excited, I am also weary of the fact that when I return we have 4 weeks to "get things done." This doesn't only apply to packing and school. We want to cherish every day we have in Israel, as we aren't sure of when we'll be back. Sure, I might be able to staff a Birthright trip in the future, but who knows when we'll come back as a family? Although this year has been difficult in some ways, it has been more rewarding than we could ever have imagined. We have grown as a family, and I have grown individually more in this year than in my whole life - spiritually, Jewishly, and personally.

We are excited to enjoy these last 6 weeks and take advantage of everything we are able to!

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tabili Mayim!!!

Ok, for those of you looking at this title and wondering what the heck that means, I'll tell you. One way of "asking" (I put this in quotes because Americans asking and Israelis asking are two totally different things) for water is to say "Tevili Mayim." (pronouned Tu vee lee Mah yeem) As Carlie is going to a Hebrew speaking (and sometimes Arabic) kindergarten at the YMCA, she is speaking more Hebrew than English. Actually, the other day when Batya asked Carlie to place something on the table, Carlie responded, "Lo table, Shulchan." (Not table, table (in Hebrew).

Yesterday, Batya, Carlie and I drove to Eilat for a nice family vacation. The Israel Progressive Movement for Judaism (IMPJ) holds a bike ride to raise awareness for Progressive Judaism in Israel. The bike ride begins in Tel Aviv and ends in Eilat - a 5 day bike ride. So, along with our family vacation, we went down to cheer on the riders as they ended their ride. It was nice to see so many of my classmates participating.

Getting back to Carlie...we were having dinner at our hotel last night. Carlie finished her juice and wanted water. So, she started screaming at us and at everyone in the restaurant, "Tabili Mayim!" Now, as Carlie's Aba, I was very impressed with her Hebrew, and Batya and I both laughed. At the same time, we were immediately hushing her because it was kind of loud and quite rude. Several of the servers looked at us funny, and some giggled with us!

We had a yacht ride in the Gulf of Eilat last night with many of the riders. It was really nice...the weather is great here, and Carlie had a blast. I will post pictures up to our webshots page in the next couple of days. Today, we walked on the boardwalk in Eilat. It was really nice to just get out and be a family without any worries...and Carlie enjoyed the sun!

Next week, I'll be hiking with some classmates up North a bit. I am looking foward to getting out with some classmates, and enjoying nature!

Purim....I am sure you've already seen the pictures. Carlie's 2nd Purim, and first in Jerusalem, was a lot of fun. She really enjoyed being Minnie Mouse, and Batya and I had a great time too. It was really a spectacular sight to see so many people in costumes around Jerusalem. Not much else is going on. We are officially 8 weeks away from our return to the States. In just a few weeks, I'll be traveling to Belorussia with some classmates to lead Passover Seders in the FSU. It will be a great experience, and I am looking forward to it!

I'll try and get another blog up before the trip to the FSU, but I'll for sure have one after the trip!

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, March 7, 2008

We're Okay...and the Southern Tiyul

Shalom Friends and Family!

Last week, the HUC Year In Israel 2007-2008 class went on our final Tiyul of the year. As it has been a very cold and difficult winter in Jerusalem with snow twice, we were excited to be able to go "down south," especially with our shorts and bathing suits to go swimming in the Gulf of Eilat. We started our Tiyul at Sde Boker, which was the Kibbutz that Ben Gurion retired to after his service in the Israeli Government. He is buried there with his wife. His vision for the future included settling and developing the Negev Desert. His famous line was, "The border begins where the plow stops." So, developing the desert was of vital importance!

We then went on a wonderful and exciting hike in the Mahktesh Ramon. Mahktesh does not translate into English as this type of landscape was discovered in Israel. It is basically a naturally made crater in the South of Israel. It is a beautiful area of Israel, and I highly recommend anyone who visits Israel to visit there. This is the place where a few of us went on an overnight hike in September. It is gorgeous! From there, we went to Kibbutz Yahel, one of the two Reform Kibbutzim in the Arava Valley (just north of Eilat) in the middle of the Negev Desert.

Over the next two days, we went on an awesome hike on Mount Shlomo. This is a long hike, not very hard, but with a few quite difficult places. It leads to a beautiful overlook of the Gulf of Eilat. Check out my pictures from the Tiyul by clicking on the Webshots link on the right! There are some gorgeous pictures. We also spent the night in a Bedouin tent called Shacharut. It was a great experience, although it was a little "hollywood"esque...too planned and too touristy. But, it was in a beautiful place.

On Friday, we went to Kibbutz Lotan. This was my favorite part of the Tiyul. Kibbutz Lotan is a Reform Kibbutz in which the residents live their lives based on a VERY eco friendly lifestyle. They recycle everything, and they really make good use of everything they recycle. Check out their Kibbutz: Anyone who is eco friendly or "green" should check out this Kibbutz. They really lead by example, and are very innovative in their ideals on being eco friendly.

Shabbat was very nice and relaxing. We had Shabbat Shacharit out in the desert, and we spent a lot of Shabbat afternoon playing sports. We also received some very troubling news about our classmate and his family in California. I ask that everyone who reads this blog keep the Spinrad family in their thoughts and prayers as they are in the process of making some very difficult decisions.

About last night...yes, there was a shooting at an Orthodox Yeshiva/Seminary in Jerusalem. It was about a twenty minute walk from our house. We were enjoying the Engagement party of a couple of friends of ours when we heard the news. We are ok, and our awareness of security is certainly heightened. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and injured last evening. We only hope and pray for a time when we don't have to phone our families and friends to let them know we're ok. For now, just keep these families in your thoughts and prayers.

Tonight, I am going to Ramat Hasharon, a Reform community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, for Shabbat services and dinner. This should be a great experience. Next week, we have a "Rabbinic Seminar." I am not sure what we'll learn at this seminar, but we are really beginning to get excited about being able to come back to the States and share our new knowledge and experiences with family and friends.

Until next time, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shabbat at the Great Synagogue!

Shalom family and friends! Since we arrived here, I have been trying to find great Shabbat experiences and develop my own Shabbat practices and family Shabbat practices. In my Liturgy class, during the first semester, we were asked to write journal entries every few weeks discussing our unique Shabbat experiences, and what we observed in the Synagogues around town. I have had quite a few uniquely special Shabbat experiences throughout Jerusalem from Carlebach services at Yakar and Shirah Chadasha to Reform services at Har-El and Kol Haneshamah!

I had decided at the beginning of the year that I would go at least to one Shabbat service a week, whether it was Friday night or Shabbat morning. And, in some instances, I attended services on Friday and Saturday. There have only been a few Shabbatot where I have missed services. Tonight, I had an extraordinarily amazing Shabbat experience! I went with my friend PJ to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. This Synagogue looks like what "The Temple" would look like if it were around today. Or, at least it's pretty close, and pretty amazing from the outside. When we walked inside, it just got bigger. We had to go upstairs to enter the Sanctuary, and it was huge and incredibly beautiful. The Ark was amazing.

Then, Mincha (afternoon services) began. It was a pretty normal Orthodox service. It was enjoyable, especially since I could follow along. Then Kabbalat Shabbat (just before Maariv-Evening Services) began. There was an all male choir that sounded like an orchestra of instruments on the Bima (raised platform). They were amazingly good. And, when the Chazan (Cantor/Soloist) began, it was like a voice from God. The Synagogue was filled with all types of people from Yeshiva students to the most Orthodox to non-Jews. The services were very spiritual and enjoyable. It was the most amazing Shabbat service I have experienced in Israel. I certainly plan on returning there again!

This week, we are headed south for our southern tiyul. We are going to a couple of Kibbutzim, camping out in a Bedouin tent, and even going snorkeling in Eilat. I think the best part of the Tiyul for me will be the hiking. I haven't been hiking in a long time, and I love to hike, so I am looking forward to this week! I'll post some pictures when we return!

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Snow in Jerusalem, Take 2!

Really? I've learned a lot of things in my life, especially in the past 8 months. One thing I learned very young was that weather forecasters in the States were either always wrong, or sometimes right. All those times they predicted snow or other types of weather that would have cancelled school (especially the days before tests or big projects) were always wrong. Undoubtedly, I was never prepared because I expected them to be right...big mistake.

In Israel, the forecasters are right about 99% of the time. That number may be a little high, but they have successfully predicted snow, twice. And from what I've been told, this kind of snow only happens once in every seven years...we've now had it twice. We've more than doubled the amount of snow we're going to see in Cinci next year. Of course, we'll have real heat in our house, and the misery of this winter will be a distant memory.

In the past couple of weeks, we've been pretty busy. I took Batya to a great restaurant, El Gaucho (ALL STEAK), for Valentine's Day. It was nice to go on a date, and we have some great friends who have been very helpful by offering to watch Carlie from time to time to give us a night out. We also met with the Dean of the Cinci Campus, Rabbi Ken Kanter. He is a really great guy, and he brought us gifts from the States, and lots of information to get us ready and excited for the next four years, and more specifically our return to the States in May.

It was sad to say goodbye to our parents, but we are now in the midst of second semester, and we are starting to get sad for all of the wonderful things we'll miss when we leave in just a few months. This has been a great experience (at least for the most part)! Our football team finished up the playoffs, unfortunately losing in the first round. Some of the calls by the refs were quite questionable, but we had a great fun season!

The biggest thing that has happened recently was saying goodbye to a great friend and classmate and his family. They had to return to the States for very personal reasons, of which I am not so comfortable speaking about publicly. It's important to keep them in our prayers and we are sending lots of love and support to the Spinrad family from our house to theirs!

Oh, and the New York Football Giants---who would have thought, huh? I was in a room full of Patriots fans, but my love for the Giants never waivered! Let's hope for a great season next year! Now, we turn our attention to the Atlanta Braves, and what promises to be a great baseball season!

Remember to hold your families close, give them lots of hugs and love!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Really? I didn't expect to see snow this year. We have now seen snow twice in the past week, first in Athens (for about 15 minutes) and today in Jerusalem. Actually, it started snowing late last night, and is expected to continue through tonight. Everything shuts down...schools, restaurants, businesses, etc. It's a bit like Yom Kippur, but with some cars on the road, and REALLY COLD!!!

I'll post some pictures of this, it's pretty fantastic. Except for our apartment being freezing, it's pretty cool. I know we'll have to get used to this because it will be like this in Cinci next year, but next year we'll have working heat and we'll be living in a place that doesn't leak. We have several leaks in our laundry room and one in our kitchen. So, just like when we first moved in, we have been using towels to keep the floors dry, and we just hope we don't run out of towels!

Anyway, school starts next week, and we are looking forward to a great semester. I did pretty well first semester: 5 B's and 3 A's. It seems I am cut out for this, and I am glad to know that I've kept my good study habits from college which sometimes seems like many years ago. Anyway, the NY Football Giants are in the Super Bowl, so Sunday night/Monday morning will be a LONG night, and then Batya's Mom heads out Monday. It will be a long few days, but we'll get back to our normal lives next week, and then just a few short months before we are home.

I'll write some more next week!
Stay warm!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two More Things

I need to tell you about our dinner last night and tonight. Last night, when we returned from our day cruise, Susan had made dinner. It was seasoned chicken with pasta pomodoro. IT WAS AMAZING!!! If you have any question as to the cooking abilities in my family, then you need to eat some of Susan's cooking!

Tonight, we went to a great steak restaurant called Argentina. The steak was outstanding. It wasn't as good as Susan's cooking, but it was pretty darn good.

I'll write more next week....and I'll post pictures from Greece on my webshots page soon.


Vacation in Greece with Susan, Scott and Kaylin

Well, we've been in Athens, Greece for about 3 days now. I always have loved Athens, Georgia(GO DAWGS!!!), but Athens, Greece is pretty awesome too! We arrived on Wednesday night. Carlie was really great on the plane...she bounced back and forth from my lap to Batya's lap to Mom's lap! We arrived a bit late, but it was really great to see Susan waiting for us when we arrived.

After a good night's sleep, we headed to the mall in Athens with Susan and Kaylin to do some shopping for Carlie. We bought her a few pairs of shoes, and had lunch at Ruby Tuesdays!!! It was our first American meal in 6 months...and boy do we enjoy it. Susan, Scott and Kaylin's house is VERY pretty and they have helped to make us feel very welcome. It's so nice to be with family as we miss home soooooo much! And, it's nice to shower in a clean shower!

Yesterday, we left the house at 6:30 am to catch a bus to a day cruise. We sailed to two islands, Poros and Aegina. We were able to take some time to walk around the islands and take some great pictures. The only bad thing was that Carlie got sick and threw up on the bus on the second island. We have learned that Carlie very easily gets carsick and really can't sit anywhere but the front of buses!

Every single person on the boat loved Carlie...and I should have started to charge people because everyone wanted pictures with Carlie. We could have made a fortune...maybe next time. We have two and a half more days in Athens. We are really having a great time, and I am now getting excited about 2nd semester and the new classes I will take. Next semester I will be continuing with Hebrew, modern and biblical, taking a history course on the Arab/Israeli conflict, continuing with Liturgy, and taking a Rabbinics class. In this class, we'll be looking at the Talmud and Midrash....from the Rabbinic period. I am very excited for it.

One more's official! Carlie, Batya and I will be at Capital Camps in Pennsylvania this summer. I will be working as a village director for 13 and 14 year olds while Batya will be working in either the office or the infirmary. Carlie will be with a babysitter all day getting to experience all of camp life! It will be a lot of fun!

Only 4 months to go....this semester should pass really quickly. I'll post again next week during the first week of 2nd semester! Oh, btw, our HUC football team is the 4th seed in the playoffs with our first playoff game the first Tuesday in February. Wish us luck!!!

L'hitraot for now!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dad's Visit to Israel

You don't know how excited I was to finally see Dad on Saturday at the airport! Although it had only been 6 months since I had seen him, it felt like years. But, there he was, sitting in the airport waiting for me to come and get him. After we sat in the Sherut Cab for what seemed like an hour, we were on our way to Jerusalem. We walked in the front door of our apartment, and Dad was greeted with, "Pop Pop!!" from Carlie. Needless to say, Dad was excited to receive such a warm greeting. The reunion of Dad and Carlie was very cute!

This week, we've done quite a bit. We went to the Old City and saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and walked through the Arab Market. We also took Dad to our bi weekly shopping location, Super Deal! This store has a lot of American products, and it's pretty reasonably priced. We've also gone to the top of the YMCA tower for quite a view! I think Dad enjoyed taking a tour of HUC...and I know I was pretty proud to show him around. After spending so much time there, it was a relief to just be walking around without having to stress about any homework or tests!

I took Dad to Yad Vashem. He was there last summer, but I wanted to give him the chance to see it again. At night, on Tuesday night, we went to the Israel Museum. We saw the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the model of Herod's 2nd temple Jerusalem. It was cold outside, but it was an enjoyable visit. Yesterday, we went to Kumran, to see the history of the group that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ein Gedi, a beautiful nature reserve with a lot of waterfalls!

When you visit Ein Gedi, there are some pretty interesting hikes. There is also a pretty difficult hike that is intended for pretty fit hikers. Dad and I made that hike, and I was very proud of him. It was tough, and Dad was very scared, but he did it. It took us about two and a half hours, but when we reached the top, the views were amazing and well worth the hike. Dad joked several times that I had almost killed him, but in reality although it was very hard, neither of us were ever in real danger.

Today, we went to Bethlehem. I took Dad to see the "Fence, Wall, Barrier," or whatever else it is called. I also wanted Dad to meet my friend Tamer, a very educated and nice man who works for peace from the Palestinian side. We went to the Church of the Nativity and had a great lunch at an awesome restaurant "The Tent Restaurant." Tomorrow, we are going to Shabbat morning services at HUC, and then off to the airport for Dad's return trip to the States. It will be sad to see him go, but Batya's Mom comes to visit, so we're looking forward to that!

We've posted some more pictures from Dad's visit, and we'll post some more from Greece and Mom's visit...and also from Carlie's 2nd Birthday party!

Shabbat Shalom!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

2nd Semester Rabbinical Student!!!

Yep, that's right! I finished my exams on Wednesday, and it's now really beginning to hit me that I finished my first semester as a Rabbinical student! I have to admit that while many of my classmates were very stressed about Finals, I was never really stressed about it. With so many other things going on in my life, I haven't had time! Besides, I went to classes and did the homework. In reality, the exams tested us on what we studied, so I thought they were very fair!

The past 2 days have just been about relaxing and getting the apartment clean and ready for Dad to come (TODAY!!!) and Batya's Mom next week. We're excited to get a taste of the States by seeing our family. We probably would have enjoyed going to the States, but seeing our family here in Israel will be great. And, if we had gone back to the States, we wouldn't have been able to go to Greece!

So, today it's me and Carlie! Batya is babysitting most of the day. Just a good "Aba/Carlie day!" We have fun during these days! I promise to take lots of pictures while Dad and Mom are in town, and I'll get them up to Webshots by the beginning of February. We'll have some great shots in Greece, I am sure.

What's amazing to me, and this occurred to me while I was taking my exams, is how much information and knowledge I have gained this semester. HUC tells us all the time to "Test the Process." It's really true. I never would have guessed how much I could have learned this year, and I am really looking forward to next semester when I begin studying about the Rabbinic Period and the Talmud. As I've said before, each day, each class brings me something new, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

I'll post next week while Dad is here...until then, L'Hitraot!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Broken finger on Christmas???

That's right, I did it again, and this time on Christmas! In the first 31 years of my life, the only broken bone I had was my left femur. In 6 months in Israel, I have severely dislocated one finger (the pinkie on my left hand) and broken another (the index finger on my right hand). You see, I play on the HUC football team in the American Football in Israel league(AFI--, click on the TNFL link). We are the HUCstables, and I am Grandpa Russell! Well, we were playing our second game against Pardes, the only other religious institution that supplies a team in our league. It was the last play of the 1st should have been a touchdown pass. Instead, it was an incomplete pass (a great defensive play by the Pardes player) and a broken finger for me! It could have been worse as it was a small fracture in the finger. The good news is that I get to take the "cast" off on Monday just before my first final.

That's right, finals...the first set of finals at the end of my first semester in Rabbinical school! It's awesome that I've made it to this point. It was a long, very demanding semester, but I made it. And, as for my finals, I definitely feel I am prepared. I attended class 99% of the time, and completed all assignments. All that is left is for me to study...and then take the exams. I am excited and nervous at the same time!

I want to say something about New Years in Israel. It was a pretty quiet night. After putting Carlie to sleep, Batya and I settled down to watch some TV and enjoy a bottle of wine. There were a couple of parties hosted by my HUC classmates, but I just enjoyed a quiet night with Batya watching some football. We are enjoying our time here, but we are getting quite homesick. My Dad is coming to visit next weekend and then Batya's Mom is coming to visit after that. It will be a great needed rest, and we are excited. Of course, going to Athens, Greece to visit Susan, Scott and Kaylin at the end of January will also be awesome!

I'll try and write some more after exams...what a great relief it will be to have those finished!

Until then...