Saturday, May 2, 2009

May 2

Witnessing the observance of the Jewish holidays here in Israel has probably been one of the greatest highlights of the last ten months.  I walked down the middle of normally very busy roads on Yom Kippur, and I saw giant chanukiot being lit on the sidewalks on Chanukah.  I saw people of all ages wearing costumes on Purim, and I celebrated Passover, the Exodus from Egypt, in Jerusalem.  Most recently, I have sensed the unity that is made so distinct by Israelis during the days of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Soldiers), and Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day).


Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a program at Yad VaShem (the Israeli Holocaust Museum) to honor Yom HaShoah.  It was a very emotional program with a remarkably large attendance. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in addition to many others who are important to Israeli government and society.  This year, they highlighted the plight of children during the Holocaust.  They chose 6 people who were child survivors of the Holocaust to tell their stories and light 6 torches in memory of the 6 million.  It was an incredibly moving event.

Twin-sister Holocaust survivors Lia Huber and Iudit Barnea light a torch for the opening remembrance ceremony Monday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. (AP)
photo from the Huffington Post online

IDF soldier stands at attention at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. (AP)
photo from the Huffington Post online
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a speech at Monday's opening ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. (AP)
photo from the Huffington Post online

Also, on the day of Yom HaShoah, at 10 a.m., there is a siren that goes off all over Israel for 2 minutes.  People all over the country take these two minutes to completely stop what they were doing and pause to reflect in silence over the Holocaust.  The picture below is taken of cars stopped in the middle of a busy Tel Aviv road.
Israelis in Tel Aviv stop, mid-commute, to stand in ceremonial solidarity while a siren blares. (AP)
photo from the Huffington Post online


More recently, I attended another Israeli program honoring Israel’s soldiers as well as Israel’s 61st birthday!  It was an event that combined Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzma’ut.  Israeli soldiers in many different uniforms paraded around with Israeli flags in unique formations.  They also took the opportunity to celebrate the city of Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday this year.  On the eve of Yom Ha’atzma’ut, it seemed like everyone in the city of Jerusalem was out in the streets celebrating.  There were bands playing while kids and adults with silly hats and glow sticks ran up and down the streets spraying shaving cream all over the place.  There were also hot dogs (kosher ones, of course!), drinks, and souvenirs for sale.  When it got very late, a few friends and I found our way to a street party where a DJ blasted techno music and Israelis in their 20s and 30s danced and drank the night away while waving around (and some even wearing) Israeli flags.  I don’t think that’s something I’ve ever experienced in the U.S. on the 4th of July!

People here tend to call these “Yom’s” the secular Israeli High Holy Days.  And they truly are holy days to Israelis and are taken extremely seriously.  To be a soldier is a great honor and is given incredible respect on each of these days, especially Yom HaZikaron.  It’s not too difficult to get used to constantly seeing soldiers carrying guns half their size on their backs walking down the streets every day.  But their presence and their contribution to Israeli life is always felt and a source of great pride here.  For more information and a different perspective, check out the following:


Well, now I only have 2 more weeks of classes, followed by 1 week of final exams.  Then I must pack and make my way back home.  The cantorial students have one more concert to deliver this Thursday as a showcase of some of the Israeli art music we have learned about this semester.  I have a lot of work to do, and I hope I can get it all done in a timely fashion without too much stress!  I look forward to seeing you all soon as I return home in less than a month, but I think I will miss Israel!

Friday, March 6, 2009

March Update

Hi Friends!!!  I have lots to tell you!


First of all, at 7 a.m. one morning a couple of weeks ago, I went to a Rosh Chodesh service at the Western Wall with a group of progressive Jewish women who call themselves the “Women of the Wall.”  I believe I told you a little bit about them in my previous blog entry.  Because there was a Reform Rabbis’ Convention in town, there were many people attending.  There were probably 50 women, including the regular Women of the Wall, some female reform Rabbis, and other HUC students like me.  There were also about 15-20 men that came to support us.  We stood, huddled together, just inside the entrance to the women’s section of the Western Wall and held our short service.  Most of the service was sung by one leader, but there were a few songs that we sang together, out loud.  Because men are not allowed to hear female voices singing in prayer, we raised more than just an eyebrow or two!  There were men from the men’s side of the mechitzah yelling at us to stop singing.  Eventually, a female guard began to yell at us—louder than we were singing—to stop.  When we didn’t stop, she brought over multiple male guards with guns as well as others who appeared to be her superiors.  (See pictures below)  We were able to finish the first part of our service and continue with the Torah reading elsewhere (women reading Torah at the wall is highly illegal).  It was an intense morning, to say the least!  I felt my body fill with adrenaline.  I was terrified and excited all at the same time!  I am so glad that I went.  I have recently been contemplating my personal/religious relationship to the Wall, and after this experience, I feel I have more of a connection to hold onto.  

photo by Mirah Curzer

“Women of the Wall”

photo by Mirah Curzer

A brave reform rabbi (blue shirt) speaking with the orthodox men who were yelling at us from the men’s side of the Wall

photo by Mirah Curzer

just a few of the men who came to support us

photo by Mirah Curzer

the angry female guard who yelled at us to stop singing

photo by Mirah Curzer

multiple guards get involved and speak directly with Anat Hoffman, a leader of the Women of the Wall




In other news, I led my first HUC morning (Shacharit) service with two rabbinical students on Monday, February 9th.  It was Tu B’shevat, so we had fun incorporating Israeli nature-type songs into our service.  We all felt really good about what we put together, and we got positive feedback from our peers and from our evaluators.  




Maybe you all remember Benny Maiser who came and worked with the cantorial students in a master class last December?  A fellow student, Nancy Bach (who has a great HUC blog on posted a picture of him working with me in the class:

Also, last night, I went to a MASA sponsored Idan Raichel Project concert.  MASA is an organization that helps fund students who want to study in Israel.  The Idan Raichel Project is a fantastic Israeli musical group with many talented musicians that attempts to incorporate musical sounds from all over the world.  Their website is:  I highly recommend checking out their message and their music. 


Purim is coming up!  The cantorial students and a few brave rabbinical students who volunteered will be chanting the whole megilah!  The trope system for the megilah (which is different from Torah and Haftarah trope) is very dramatic and interesting to listen to.  A few people are also doing some short Purim shpiels.  My roommate, Aviva, for example, is performing/writing/directing/starring in “Shacharit, the Musical.”  We’re also all dressing up.  It should be a fun night! 


All of the students are currently working on applying and interviewing for next year’s student pulpit jobs.  I am applying to about 7 or 8.  Congregations (especially the smaller ones) apply to the school for a student to come for High Holy Day services, and various times throughout the year, either multiple times per week, twice a month, or once a month.  As much as I will miss Temple Emanuel, I am excited for next year.  I should find out by the end of March my congregation placement.  My job could be in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Alabama, Florida, or who knows?! .  I am truly looking forward to spending the summer with my Temple Emanuel family, though!


Well, I guess that’s enough for one blog!  I hope everyone is doing well!  I hope to hear from you soon!




Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hello all!  Firstly, I want to apologize for my lack of blog entries!  I promise to try to be better about that in the next 4 months or so.

Well, the first week of classes for our 2nd semester has come to an end.  I haven't found out my grades/results from last semester yet, but I feel pretty good about it.  For the first 3 days of this week, we had a colloquium.  Professors from the 3 North American campuses came to lead us in discussion about many interesting issues currently facing the Reform Movement.  Mark Kligman, from the New York campus, is a Professor of Jewish Musicology.  Sara Lee, from the Los Angeles campus, is a Professor of Jewish Education.  Richard Sarason, from the Cincinnati campus is a Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought.  Dean Rabbi Michael Marmur, from the Jerusalem campus was also involved in much of the colloquium.  We focused on three themes:  America and the American Jewish Context, Reform Judaism and Reform Jews, and Jewish Peoplehood.  We discussed the growing diversity of Jews and the implications for our institutions of Jewish life, embracing inclusivity and pluralism in our communities while coming together around core values, as well as the perspectives on Judaism as a religion and as an ethnicity that shape the self-understanding of Jews.  Although I was jet-lagged, the this we learned and the discussions were definitely worthwhile.  

On Wednesday, we continued in our series of classes called "Israel Seminar."  Every week, we discuss different topics that relate to Israeli society and culture.  This week, we learned about women in Israeli society.  A fantastic speaker, named Anat Hoffman, explained one specific issue relating to women and religion in this country.  She is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and a former Jerusalem councilor.  She is also a part of "Women at the Wall," a group of religious women (from all different observances of Judaism) who like to hold Rosh Chodesh services at the Western Wall 11 months out of the year.  Their group has been in existence for about the last 20 years.  She explained all of the MAJOR difficulties her group faced against the super-religious facet of the government.  They were opposed to women holding the services they were holding, and it's been an ongoing battle for many years between these women and the government.  I found it very interesting to hear how much more difficult it is here in Israel for women simply because of the religious influence on the government even though the Orthodox/Haredi population only makes up less than 15 % of the whole Israeli population.

And today, Thursday, we're back to a regular class schedule.  I've added two new classes this semester:  Bible and Israeli Art Songs.  Both of which, I'm very excited about!  It's good to be back and in a routine again.  It was also really great to be home for a little while.  It was so nice to see so many of you, even if it was only for a short amount of time!  I can't believe I only have four months left before I come back home again!  My goal is to make the most of my remaining time here.  I hope to report back to you on how that's going soon!

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Me and my roommates Aviva and Jon at our HUC big Thanksgiving Dinner

We've hit the 5-month mark!  It's so hard to believe that I've been living here for 5 months already!  Time seems to move more quickly here... 

Just this past Wednesday, our cantorial class held a master class with Cantor Benjamin Maissner.  He is a prominent Cantor in both the Reform and Conservative movements, and he is also a teacher.  He gave us a lecture on his uncle, Cantor Israel Alter.  Cantor Alter composed many Jewish pieces in a very traditional, Jewish, eastern European way.  A few of us each prepared an Alter piece to sing for Cantor Maissner.  He then helped each of us through specific parts of the piece, giving us suggestions on interpretation and vocal styles.  I sang "Atah Chonantanu."  I found it to be an incredibly difficult but beautiful piece.  The other cantorial students were great!  We have an 11th cantorial student who is not part of our class, but attends many of our classes.  He (yes, I said "he") is from the Abraham Geiger College in Germany and is in his 4th and final year of cantorial studies.  It's really nice to hear such a great tenor voice!  The class was very exciting, and I think we all got a lot out of it.

Now that we're in the last month of this semester, all of those final papers and tests are beginning to hang over my head.  We have finals during the week of January 5th.  There is a lot of work to be done!  Next Shabbat, I'll be chanting Haftarah.  The Shabbat after that, I'll be co-leading the music in services with another cantorial student.  And I believe it's the following Monday that I'll be chanting a short Torah portion.  

There's so much to do and surprisingly little time left in the semester!  I'm really looking forward to the Temple Emanuel trip here to visit!  I'm also looking forward to coming home in January for a few days!  It will be a needed break!  Talk to you soon!


Friday, November 7, 2008

November Update

Hello again, everyone!  I hope you're all doing well!  I'm doing very well, keeping extremely busy, and learning a lot!  

High Holy Day services were interesting.  They were different from the services at home because here, they read no English in the prayerbook.  Cantor Shleifer did just about all of each service except for the sermons and the parts that the cantorial students sang.  He is an amazing cantor!  When he wasn't singing with the piano, to get his pitch, he used a tuning fork, which he kept in his front shirt pocket underneath his white robe.  He also wrote many many pieces that we cantorial students sang.  I sang his B'Rosh HaShanah.  He's proving himself to be quite the cantorial genius!  I use cantorial and not musical, not that he isn't a musical genius either, but because he is able to so easily fuse the Judaism and music together in his services, his compositions, and in his classes.  Unfortunately, as I may have already told you, he is retiring this year.  His retirement ceremony, at which the cantorial students will be singing, is November 11th.  It is sad, but I am so happy that I am able to study under him this year.  

Classes are moving right along!  Yesterday morning, I had a test on singing the nusach (traditional way of chanting) for the beginning of a weekday morning service.  We had to chant it, not from our books with the musical notations, but out of an orthodox prayerbook, called "Rinat Yisrael."  We chanted everything the Cantor is supposed to chant before the Bar'chu, which is apparently a lot!  I'm glad they're having us learn the traditional chanting of the service.  We're also studying trope (Torah, Haftarah, etc.), and currently we're working on the portion where the Ten Commandments are read.  I think we'll probably move on to Haftarah trope next week.  

Our class just took a trip to Masada earlier this week.  It's too bad I forgot my camera!  This trip was for my Second Temple History class.  It's great to see places like Masada with real historians/archaeologists as your guides!  I'm also learning a lot about current Israeli culture and its recent history in our Israel Seminar class, which is a full day class on Wednesdays.  We've talked about things like the 6-Day War, the different waves of immigration, the establishment of a state, and many other things.  We've also watched movies and traveled around Israel.  In a couple of weeks, we'll go to Haifa and Tz'fat for the day.  

And... there's always Hebrew class!  I have 1 class each week dedicated to Biblical Hebrew and 5 classes each week dedicated to modern, conversational Hebrew.  It's a lot, but well worth it!  I can actually speak a little bit of it!  My teacher is great!  She's an Israeli woman who seems to wear the exact same dress every day, but she's very good at what she does!

Also, I have a great vocal coach!  Her name is Judy Axelrod.  I feel I'm learning a lot from her, and will have a much greater handle on good vocal technique by the end of this school year.  

The weather has finally started to change here and it's getting a little cooler, right around 70 degrees during the day, and in the 50's at night.

My friends here are wonderful!  It's really a neat thing to have close friends who are peers that share so many of the same interests as I do.  As much as I miss you all and as much as I miss being home, it is truly a blessing to be here!


Monday, September 29, 2008

Shanah Tovah Um'tukah!!!

Wishing everyone a good, sweet new year!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hello all!  So, real classes have finally begun!  The school week here goes from Sunday until Thursday, and our weekend is Friday and Saturday.  I’m taking some really interesting classes!  I have one class of Biblical Hebrew and about 5 classes of Modern Hebrew per week.  I also have a history class and a T’filah/liturgy class.  My cantorial courses include History of Jewish music, Cantillation of the Bible, Sight-Singing/Music Theory, Israeli Folk and Popular Music, and a Cantorial Workshop.  Although he is not the head of the Cantorial program this year, Eliyahu Schleifer, a highly renowned cantor, is one of our professors.


The first week of classes is over and we already have lots of work to do!  I have solos to prepare for High Holy Days and a cold that’s preventing me from practicing!  Nonetheless, I’m very excited that things here are moving along.  I still have to keep convincing myself that I’m living in Israel and in Cantorial School at HUC!


Also, during our break between summer ulpan and classes, I went with a group of students on a vacation to Greece.  We had a lot of fun visiting an Acropolis and playing on the beach.  Here are some pictures: