Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Chanukah!

Wow. What a week!

Last Shabbos we had a Shabbaton (a community Shabbat) with Midreshet Rachel v'Chaya. My roommate Rebecca gave a beautiful d'var Torah and there were a lot of students speaking about the Torah portion. It was really great. Unfortunately I was pretty sick but it was nice to have all my meals just down the street with people I knew. We had a bunch of girls sleeping in our apartment because one of the school's apartments is too far to walk. It was cool to have everyone together. It was also my last time seeing a few of the girls who went home this week. Weird to see another changing of the guards here at school. The dynamic changes so much.

Chanukah began on Sunday night. I was a little nervous, because last time we had a holiday in Jerusalem I found it to be totally stressful and overwhelming. (That was really because I was in charge of placing the girls for all their holiday meals, but I associated it with the holiday.) Chanukah is such a beautiful holiday... all about acknowledging the miracles around us and being grateful for them. We commemorate the military victory over the Greeks... but the miracle we remember is the oil that burned for 8 nights. The Greeks were defeated militarily, but more importantly they were defeated spiritually. They wanted to wipe Judaism out, but on Chanukah they failed.

There were a lot of Jews that wanted to be like Greeks. They gave up their Jewish names, clothing, and traditions to fit into Greek culture. Had all Jews done that, there might not be be Judaism today. Last night Omri and I went to a hotel to visit with some college students on the same trip he did last summer. After living in Israel for six months and being surrounded by people who made their decisions based on Torah, it was so interesting to see people who made their decisions based largely on Western culture and Hollywood. They were amazing... it's so cool to see people who are just starting to ask the big questions and to hear what they are confused about, what they like, what they don't like...

Omri and I also saw our Rabbi (Rabbi Lawrence) who was here on a trip with the JEC. We skipped class and went up to the seminary where his students were in class and sat with him for hours going over all the things on our mind. He helped us by showing us what is not worth worrying about because it's out of our control. It was great to see him.

Other than that, Omri and I have spent a lot of time together going downtown, seeing Jerusalem during Chanukah. It's really beautiful. I got to do my holiday shopping and we went from the most secular area with bars and teenagers and fancy stores to the most religious areas. They're a ten minute walk from one another, and worlds apart.

I'm all packed and can't wait to be home! I leave right after Shabbat so it will be interesting over Shabbat trying to focus on being in the present and not packing or planning for the trip.

All my love,

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jewish arts and artists...

My Rabbi at NYU recently responded to my request and sent me copies of some lectures he gave and articles he used to a Jewish artist fellowship. Writing out my email in response to his articles gave me some clarity about the issues on my mind in the arena of Judaism and art, so I thought I'd share them here...

While I am interested in all aspects of the art world, the bulk of my experience is with acting and the issues with Jewish arts are distinct in this case. So while my personal questions relate also to directing and writing, I'm mainly focused here on the issues that present the Jewish actor.

Rav Feinstein's tshuva was the hardest to read of all the articles I received. (Rav Feinstein writes that it's a problem to be in a play as they often portray illicit relationships or take acts like murder lightly.) While it seems pretty far-fetched to say that if I play a murderer I'm going to think that that's okay and go out and murder, what he says has a foundation in (of course) Judaism and (perhaps more surprisingly) acting theory.

In our Mussar class we are studying Rambam's writings on Mussar (I need to find out exactly where this comes from). Recently we read his idea that to change our bad middos (character traits) we need to practice the other extreme, many times, over a long period of time. The example given is that a miserly person should give a bit too much until they have balanced out and are generous, but neither miserly nor a spendthrift.

In my training I heard over and over that action begets feeling and feeling begets personality. Be on time. Always be on time. Even for things that really don't matter--because it will help you to become--to change into--a punctual person. On stage, we see the same idea. Isn't the classic director's line, "again"? There's good reason for that. Repetition of a phrase and gesture internalize the feeling until the feeling comes freely with the action (hopefully in time for performance). Very Pavlovian. So my biggest issue with the concept of a Jewish actor playing in a show that defies Torah values is that I've seen no logical argument that can "disprove" this concept that the repetition of this part won't have a bad impact on the character of the actor.

My second question is the issue of priorities. Am I a Jewish actor or a Jew who acts? (Or directs, writes...) Do I take what I have learned from Judaism and bring this fresh perspective back to my stage, or do I re-learn to view the stage from this new perspective of a religious Jew? Priorities state the latter, but I'm unsure if that's the best use of me. Perhaps, as a religious Jew, I find a religious obligation to engage in "secular" theater (I don't really think such a thing exists... artists are avidly religious in their own way). This needs more thinking.

My final problem is the position of theater artist within a community. Community is very important in Judaism. As an artist, my learning always showed me that the artist/storyteller/clown was the position of the outsider or "other." The artist is in the classic position of just beyond the walls of the home, looking in on the family. Or in our case, just outside the eruv, looking in at the community :) Does this unique position afford the artist the "luxury" of maintaining absolute purity, avoiding the stage and it's inherent grime? If our position is to reflect back truth to others, then when it's not a nice truth we maintain our obligation to reflect. This makes us a vehicle of something base... and if actions beget feelings and feelings personality... it follows that we then become base. I have met some very unhealthy actors who always chose to play unhealthy characters. There's no coincidence there. It seems to me that Hashem chooses His artists carefully. (While everyone is artistic to some degree, not everyone is the Artist/the outsider/the Enneagram Type 4... whichever label works.) He knows that this makes us somehow different, impatient with the status quo. Again, if we are designed differently, where does this leave us in terms of the community?

In response to the NYU Rabbi's ideas about the need for Jewish organizations to provide a substantial link between Judaism and art... for sure there is something much richer in Judaism than Jewish a-capella will ever provide, as nice as it is. Jewish art has more potential than an event of a group of Jews who happen to be doing art together. And I think the students must know that. I recently told my Rosh Midrasha in a meeting that I had trouble thinking of leaving theater because, before I got to Israel, actors were the most spiritual, searching people I'd ever met. The issue arises, I think, when you find one truth conflicting so drastically to another. I see "truth" in Shakespeare. And I think it conflicts with the truth I see in Torah (this needs more thought, also).

Probably good to go to bed now. Just a few thoughts that need to be muddled through. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hello again!

This week was another doosy. I am slowly slowly getting over a killer cold/flu bug that I caught just a few days after getting over last week's sickness. The germs here are Powerful. It's like they know they're in the Middle East and have to be fighters.

But that negative news leads me into good news!! I will be going home for TWO WEEKS! My gorgeous, wise, and endlessly charismatic mother and amazing and generous stepfather are coming to the rescue over my poor mental and physical health and bringing me back to the Florida sunshine to recuperate for a few weeks. It is badly needed and will be so great in terms of catching up and sharing all this AMAZING knowledge I've been getting here.

This week we talked about one of my favourite Jewish concepts. In Judaism, time is not really considered linear. It is considered cyclical and progressive... imagine a coil or slinky. Every year we pass through the same "areas" of time--around the New Year is a time for renewal and repentance, Tisha B'Av is a time of destruction and mourning, and Pesach/Passover is a time of freedom. The beautiful thing about this is not moving forward, but moving backwards. The rabbis say, Pesach isn't when it is because that's when we escaped from Egypt. We escaped from Egypt because it was Pesach--the time of freedom. I don't know if I made this sound so cool but it's really cool when the right person explains it!

What else..

The music is playing over the loudspeakers to let the Jerusalemites know that Shabbat is coming in soon.

I also wanted to say a really amazing thing about our rabbis. It seems simple, but whenever someone drops something in class, the Rabbi stops his class and gets it for them so that they can take notes. To contrast this to a university class... I could never imagine a University professor stopping class to pick up a dropped book for a student. They would usually see that as beneath them or demeaning. These Rabbis never hesitate to take the opportunity to help a student learn better... they love to do the good deed. It's a really beautiful thing and, since we have a few pretty clumsy girls in school, one that I get to see quite a lot :)

Finally, this $50 scam on Wall St (apparently about 49 billion of that was Jewish money) has really been hard on the Jewish community. Yeshivas, universities, and seminaries like where I am are all feeling the hurt. We are trying to be extra careful with our use of heating and electricity to make sure we don't spend any money we don't really need to. It's crazy that these things happened one on top of another. I hope that one day I have lots of money and can donate it to my school because they work so hard on such a shoestring budget and they really turn peoples lives around in such an amazing way... its so admirable.

We have a Shabbaton this weekend... the whole school is staying at the two apartments in our neighborhood and we are having speakers and activities and big group meals. I'm really excited to hear my roommate of 5 months, Rebecca, give her D'var Torah (speech on the Torah portion). She's going to be amazing! And she gets extra points for her adorable Australian accent :)

Shabbat Shalom everyone! I hope you get some rest and reflection time and are all prepared to begin the next week refreshed and reinvigorated! I have more "r" words if you want them...

Oh, last thing!
I finished editing a book for a rabbi in the neighborhood. It's all about recognizing G-d's hand in our lives, especially when we are faced with difficulties. It's been a great read and a lot of fun. And after 260+ pages, I'm pretty excited that I actually finished!!!

Lots of love,

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three random tests... two career suggestions in common... probably doesn't mean anything anyway...
You are a Guide, possible professions include - career counselor, psychologist, educational consultant, special education teacher, librarian, artist, playwright, novelist/poet, editor/art director, information-graphics, designer, HRM manager, merchandise planner, environmental lawyer, marketer, job analyst, mental health counselor, dietitian/nutritionist, research, educational consultant, architects, interpreter/translator.
Possible Career Paths for the INFJ:
* Clergy / Religious Work
* Teachers
* Medical Doctors / Dentists
* Alternative Health Care Practitioners, i.e. Chiropractor, Reflexologist
* Psychologists
* Psychiatrists
* Counselors and Social Workers
* Musicians and Artists
* Photographers
* Child Care / Early Childhood Development (this is just about every job ever...)
Computer programmer
Computer software designer
Data base manager
New market or product conceptualizer
Research and development specialist
Strategic planner
Systems analyst
Biomedical engineer
Business analyst
Financial analyst
Investment analyst
Management consultant
News analyst
News writer
Academic curriculum designer
College faculty administrator
College professor
Editorial writer

Friday, December 12, 2008


Hello everybody!

So I don't know if this will last beyond this week but who knows. I thought it might be nice to try to write a weekly email before Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) to update my friends and family about life here in Jerusalem. I was trying to blog but blogging is weird because if you don't know who you're talking to how do you know what to write?

So, this week wasn't quite the average week at my school. It was actually pretty stressful! During the week we have (by my last count) 22 classes a week-a few of which repeat two or three times a week and are only counted once. So we are in class steadily from 9 AM to anywhere from 5:45 to 9 PM depending on the day. On Thursday we are out early for our required chessed project (chessed means kindness--we choose a sort of community service project. Some girls do things like working in soup kitchens or tutoring kids with special needs.) I help out with the daughter of my Rabbi who had her first two children right away when she got married. She manages fine but going over is definitely helpful. She is just as helpful to me as I may be for her. I hang out with the babies or do dishes and she answers all sorts of questions for me about Judaism, motherhood, etc.

Anyway, this week one of my teachers was alone at home with her youngest because her husband and another son were in America to help move a family member into a nursing home. Her youngest is an eight year old with autism and it's hard for her to be there alone. So a friend of mine and I traded off nights staying over and keeping her company and helping with her son. This is theoretically a really easy one but somehow I found this chessed very stressful. I had also just moved rooms and aquired a new roommate so I was really longing to sleep in my own (new) bed! Anyway, I think we managed to be helpful so that's the important part.

This week one of the things we're learning about is anger and bearing a grudge (both of which are against Jewish law). It's really interesting to see how people react to being told that they need to give up their grudges. It reminds me of being in middle school when me and my friends all felt that what made us strong was that once we were crossed we never forgave. Now I realize that that was weakness. The lowest level is to let yourself be walked all over. The next level is to hold a grudge and defend yourself. The highest level is to realize that you can't stand in that person's shoes and that you must ultimately find a way to forgive them.

On Wednesday we had an extra fun day. We went on a tiyul (field trip) to the Neot Kedumim Biblical Nature Reserve and we saw what the land would have looked like during the days of the earlier Jewish settlers--during the time of the Maccabees and the Chanukah story. This was about the 2nd Century BCE which is actually quite far into the story of the Jews in Israel. It's amazing how long we've been here and what a miracle it was that we could come back--and within 5 years of the Holocaust. Imagine what a difference it would have been if Israel had become a state just a few years earlier. 6 Million Jews and their legacies would never have perished.

After that we had a party for two girls who finished studying one of the books of the Prophets (all in Hebrew! They also studied the commentaries in Hebrew!). One of the girls just lost her mother so it was done in her honor and we had a big meal to commemorate the end of shloshim (the first 30 days of mourning, which have the strictest restrictions).

I've also been working on proofreading/editing a book by a Rabbi in Har Nof which is GREAT but I had forgotten that I had another week to proofread and got very stressed, thinking I only had a few days. I wound up catching the MRC virus by Thursday and stayed home all day.

This morning I got to go help out around my friend Malka's house to help her prepare for Shabbos--and this is the first Shabbos that Omri and I will be going to her! We're stoked to get to spend Friday night with them. And Saturday we have a really cool Shabbat lunch that Omri lined up.

Final note: halfway through this email we got a knock on the door. The woman next door apparently just had a baby and this is her first Shabbat with the new baby. Although the entire community came to bring her food, nobody had time to help her with dishes and tidying, which she's too exhausted to do. Her friend came and knocked on our door to see if anybody was available to help. Luckily, I had time so I got to go over and meet some of her family and see the baby and do some more dishes. She felt awful for accepting help, which is too bad, because it's fun to help and she deserves it. Anyway, I love this community when I see how much people care about everyone else. Her friend was so sweet for coming over and asking for one of us to go help--she would have herself but she has her own family to cook for. Oh, and they invited me to their shalom zachor (welcome party for a new baby boy) tonight. So sweet.

Ok, time to change and do hair and makeup.

Shabbat Shalom!


Now that I see how long this email is I feel kinda bad sending it out to some of the friends I was going to. I'll post it to the blog and just send to immediate family :)

Pictures from our field trip are on facebook!


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