Sunday, July 22, 2007

Catching Up

I have been in Israel almost four weeks and already so much has happened. I went to Latrun for a Tekes (ceremony) and watched Bryan, my friend and former Carmel student, get recognized as he finished a training course in the army, spent Shabbos in Jerusalem, sat on the beach of Tel Aviv, began HUC orientation and finally began ulpan (intensive Hebrew).

Days before ulpan started I found myself in Tel Aviv dodging waves in the Mediterranean. Watching the waves crash over me I began to realize that my life would be one wave after another. Some waves will crash right over me; some right on me and still others will allow me to ride them. My goal is to ride each wave back to the shore. How I do that is the question. On my way back to Jerusalem, tired and sun burnt, everything began to set in – I am going to be in Israel for almost one year. How can I make each day be a blessing? Only time will tell!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Red Light, Green Light 1, 2……

I want to tell you all a little story about my second experience with the Internet here in the Holy Land. My story begins with a company called Vonage, which is a VOIP phone service – basically I can make and receive phone calls on a regular phone but over the Internet instead of via phone lines. I signed up for Vonage and tried it out at my home before I left for Israel. It was simple to hook up and worked perfectly. That was then and this is now. Fast-forward a few weeks. I followed the exact same instructions that I used back in the US. Lights start flashing, then go solid, the flash, then red and then….NOTHING! No Vonage.

Josh and I signed up for our Internet through a package deal with Netvision and HOT. Netvision is our Internet provider and HOT provides the cable access. Unlike in the US, the Internet provider does not use a dynamic IP address rather it uses a “dialer.” (FYI: I have no idea what that all means). My Vonage box seems to only want to work with a dynamic IP address.

Phone call number 1 was to a very unhelpful Netvision, followed by a second, third, fourth and many more. Finally I decided to call Vonage and got help from a nice lady in India. She gave me suggestions and then said that she would call me back at 11 pm EST. Unfortunately I forgot the 7 hour time difference and received a call at 6:00 am. We sat and talked for two hours getting cut off twice. In the end….NOTHING! Suggestion from Vonage – call the internet provider and ask them to open 3 port ranges on my modem.

I call Netvision and they basically say “it’s not our problem.” I call HOT and they say “Netvision gave you the wrong information.” So Tzvika from HOT got me in touch with Gil from Netvision and BINGO. We got approval for a special type of connection through Netvision similar to the connection I had back in New York.

So Im Yirtzeh HaShem (God willing) Gil or Tal from Netvision will call me back next week and my Vonage will work. The bottom line is keep fighting and pushing for what you want because eventually you will get it

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ani Po or Hineni?

After months of anticipation the day finally arrived; I was leaving everyone I knew, family and friends to go and live in Israel to start rabbinical school. I said by goodbyes and began my journey to Jerusalem – Ir HaKodesh (the Holy City). After taxiing on the runway at JFK for about 1.5 hours we finally took off. The flight was going well and I was getting ready for my gluten free meal. Well wouldn’t you know that the mildly attractive girl sitting next to me was also a celiac. After much conversation and a small amount of flirting I realized that she was not a member of the tribe. Who would have thought that the cute girl sitting next to me on my El Al flight wasn’t Jewish? The conversation stopped after we both ate our gluten free meals and I went to sleep for a few hours. When I awoke I realized that I would be landing at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv in about 2 hours.

We finally landed and I went through customs quickly. I was reunited with my 3 large suitcases, which were overweight, and made my way to the Sherut or Shared taxi which would ultimately take me to Jerusalem. The ride was extra long and in true Israeli fashion the driver made a big deal about the amount of luggage the “American” brought. Of course he spoke Hebrew and assumed that I didn’t understand him. I finally arrived at 19 Keren Kayemet, the Rehavia neighborhood that I am calling home for the next 11 months. I got out and started taking out my luggage only to realize that my small rolling black suitcase was missing and in its place was an imposter. Upset, nervous and pissed I asked the driver in broken Hebrew what I should do. He told me to take that piece of luggage and his number so that both parties could be reunited with their luggage. Josh, my roommate, met me at helped me take my luggage up to out apartment and then I started my detective work. I found a book with a bunch of phone numbers on it. I took and a guess and called one of the numbers. It was the daughter of the person that took my luggage. She apologized for her mom and offered to meet me outside my apartment. 20 minutes later I was reunited – rak b’yisrael (only in Israel)!

From our apartment it was off to Ir HaAtikah, the Old city and the Kotel. After davening mincha it was time for my first Shwarma dinner. On the way back to the apartment we stopped at the supermarket and I bought a fan. Bottom line – this country needs more A/C! Got the Internet to work on my computer but still working on Vonage. Started to unpack and went to bed.

After this fun filled, exciting and emotional day I am trying to decide if Ani Po (I am here) or if Hineni (Here I am, I am ready). Many of us remember the words Ani Po from Hebrew School. Lets practice – Teacher says: “Shmuli are you here?” Shmuli responds: “Ani Po.”, but Hineni is much more powerful. The most famous example of Hineni is when God speaks to Moses in the form of the burning bush and Moses responds Hineni. Hineni not only requires ones physical presence but ones emotional and most of all spiritual presence. I have been in Israel for less than 24 hours and in that time I have seen a lot, contemplated even more and have begun to search for meaning. I am ready to say Ani Po but am still waiting to say Hineni.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

My Journey to Rabbinical School

The following is taken from my Rabbinical School "Personal Statement."

“Birth is a beginning / And death a destination. / And life is a journey: / From childhood to maturity / And youth to age; / From innocence to awareness / And ignorance to knowing; / From foolishness to discretion / And then, perhaps, to wisdom; […]” As I stood in shul beating my chest at the recitation of the ashamnu and the Al Chet confession, I could not help but think about all that has happened to me over this past year. We read in the Unetaneh tokef, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” As we ask God to write us in the Book of Life, God asks us to ask ourselves what our strengths and weaknesses are. It is as if He begs us to be open to all of the opportunities this New Year presents, to be wary of all the threats that may come our way, and most of all to never to forget our past.

This year, unlike in years past, the Yamim Nora'im took on new meaning. I stood before the Heavenly Tribunal and the earthly court, before God and the Jewish community as a new person, ready to pray, confess, and remember. The last two years have been marked by moments of both great personal joy and sorrow. I received my rejection letter from the rabbinical program at HUC-JIR; only to open my acceptance letter from the New York School of Education at HUC-JIR a few months later. I sat with my 95 year old grandfather after he broke his hip, only to watch him pass away before my own eyes. As a result, I now have a better understanding of what it means to be a student, teacher, preacher, and mourner.

“[…] From defeat to defeat to defeat – / Until, looking backwards or ahead, / We see that victory lies / Not at some high place along the way, / But in having made the journey stage by stage, / A sacred pilgrimage […]” After years of contemplation and soul-searching, I decided to apply to the rabbinical program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. My need and desire to be a Reform rabbi were then compiled into a five page - four essay application. After a relatively smooth interview, I waited for a few weeks to receive an answer, and then it came – Lech Lecha! I was told to “Go to myself,” to find out who I am, to learn and to study.

“The Eternal One said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land, from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you […]’ So Abram went forth as the Eternal had told him, […]” (Gen 12:1, 4). It is at this tzomet, intersection, that we find Avraham Avinu – Abraham our father. God commanded Abraham to change not only his location physically, but spiritually as well. The rabbis tell us that besides the commandment to make a physical move, it was also a call for a change in Abraham’s state of mind. Rabbi Moshe Alshich of Tzfat offers a deeper interpretation commenting that Lecha means "to yourself." By journeying throughout the world, Abraham was setting out on a path of self-discovery, one which would ultimately enable him to understand his own identity. It is that same pursuit of self-discovery that has helped me understand my own identity.

The mitzvah of giving our children a Jewish education is deeply rooted in our tradition. The commandment V'shinantam l'vanecha – “And you shall teach them diligently to your children" – has been a basic precept of Jewish life from the time B’nai Yisrael received the Torah at Sinai. It is that time-honored commandment which has kept us strong as a people. Over the past two years I have learned what it means to teach our children diligently; because I myself have learned what it means to learn diligently. I have studied many theories that have helped ground the way I teach.

In chapter five of Pirke Avot we read about four different types of learners. The Mishna describes each of these learners as having a specific learning style which ultimately must inform the way we teach them. Just as our rabbis had to accommodate a diverse group of learners, we today must do the same. We must learn to see our students’ passion, their love, and their desires. We must recognize that each one is created b’tzelem Elohim, and that they are our future.

“[…] From weakness to strength / Or from strength to weakness – / And, often, back again; / From health to sickness / And back, we pray, to health again; / From offense to forgiveness, / From loneliness to love, / From joy to gratitude, / From pain to compassion, / And from grief to understanding – / From fear to faith; […]” Almost a year ago my family got a call from my grandmother that my Grandpa Munio had fallen and broken his hip. My unstoppable, impatient, and most of all loving grandfather was in the hospital unable to move. For the first time in my life I was speechless and scared.

I went to visit him almost everyday; and on the days I was not able to go I made sure to call him. My grandmother asked me to pray for him, and I said that we should all pray for him. Sadly I did not know what to say to God. Was my faith being tested like Abraham about to slay his son Isaac on Mount Moriah? I was waiting for God to scream out to me. Unlike Abraham, I did not hear the voice of God cry out to me. Without a siddur, without a prescribed liturgy I felt lost. Worst of all I felt helpless, and ultimately alone.

My grandfather received a hip replacement and was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation facility. One Friday afternoon after physical therapy, I wheeled my grandfather down to the social hall for some pre-Shabbat singing with the other residents. My grandfather asked for his kepelah, what he called a kippah, and smiled at me. This was the last time I would ever see him smile, and the last time he would give me a kiss.

I planned to visit my grandfather on Sunday, after Shabbat, but it was too late. He was rushed to the hospital only to slip away. At the hospital my grandma looked at me and said “Lyle what do we say?” With tears rolling down my face all I could say was “I do not know.” Where was God and why my grandpa? Later on that evening after everyone had gone to bad, I sat up reading, searching, hoping for an answer and then I found it: Baruch Dayan Emet – Blessed is the True Judge.

The entire time my grandfather was in the hospital, I was searching for God, waiting for God to find me. At that moment I realized that sometimes we need to find God. As my grandmother and mom went through the mourning process, I too went through my own mourning process. I began to search for meaning in Judaism and gain comfort from all the people that surrounded me. As we left the cemetery my family and I walked through two lines of people saying, “Hamakom yinachem etchem b’toch sh’ar aveilei Tzion v’Yerushalayim - May God comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” It once again hit me: to be a Jew is to yearn for community.

Life slowly started getting back to normal, even though there was a feeling of emptiness. I decided to take a short vacation from Jewish education and work at Robin Hood Country Day School, a secular day camp that I attended and worked at for many years. I was a group leader for twenty-six excited second graders. Of the twenty-six children in my group, about 75% were Jewish.

From the moment I walked into camp I realized that there was no such thing as a vacation from Jewish education. I walked in smiling only to be greeted by tears. Gene Roberts, the owner and director of the camp for over forty-nine years lost his short battle with cancer on the morning camp began. I immediately went into the mode of an aspiring rabbi, comforting the family and answering their questions. All of a sudden I seem to have found the faith that I lost only a few months before.

Later on that week, after the funeral, I went to pay a shiva call. I walked into the house and was immediately greeted with warm smiles from the family. Then Gene’s children, co-owners of the camp, and his widow Paula asked me to lead the shiva minyan. Initially I refused, knowing that the rabbi from his home synagogue would be there. Then his children said that it would be more meaningful if I led it because Gene knew me and loved me. Paula then said, “Gene often spoke about how he couldn’t wait to see me as a rabbi.” Once I heard that, I knew what I had to do.

I led the shiva minyan stopping at the v’ahavta as an opportunity to reflect on Gene as a lifelong educator who cared about each and every child that he met. With tears once again rolling down my face I led the mourners in kaddish yatom. For the first time the mourners kaddish took on new significance. I was not just a leader; I was a mourner and a comforter. The camp's educational philosophy states that “Robin Hood is a world for children to explore, to enjoy, to learn new skills and to make new and lasting friendships.” It was not until camp was over that I realized just how Jewish their philosophy is and how transformative my summer camp experience was. Jewish education takes place at all times and in various different ways. Sometimes all it takes is for us to open our eyes.

“[…] Birth is a beginning / And death a destination. / And life is a journey, / A Sacred pilgrimage – / To life everlasting.” A person once asked Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, “what is a Jew’s task in this world?” Schneersohn replied, “A Jew is a lamp-lighter on the streets of the world…That is the true calling of a Jew – to be a lamplighter, an igniter of souls.” Rabbi Dr. Gerald M. Meister, who works for the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, asked me what I thought my role and purpose was as a Jewish educator and rabbi. He then said perhaps one of the most profound and striking things. He said to me that the job of a rabbi or Jewish professional is to take care of and nurture Jewish souls.

Until that time I had never actually thought about my future as a Jewish caregiver. More then a caregiver, according to him, my role would be to help guide people’s souls to realize their Jewish potential. In some strange way it took failure and tragedy for me to ultimately realize how to prevail.

My need, desire, and yearning to be a Reform rabbi cannot be marked by one significant moment, but rather by a series of defining events that I have experienced in my short lifetime. Rabbi Sergio Bergman of the NCI/Emanuel Synagogue in Buenos Aires Argentina once said that “the Promised Land could be anywhere as long as we walk in the path of Torah to get there.” My Promised Land is the Reform rabbinate, and it is my hope as a Reform rabbi to help, teach, and nurture Jewish souls to lead meaningful Jewish lives.

Just as God writes and seals, records and recounts, we too must do the same. I used this past High Holy Day season to write my own book. It was my time to look at my life and decide what I want to do in the year to come. I became my own judge and arbiter, counsel and witness. Hopefully in doing all of these things, I will hear the sound of the great Shofar: Tekiah G'dolah!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

It's Been 1 Month!

Well it has been 1 month since I arrived in Israel as the Madrich for the Carmel Program, and what a month it has been. The best way for me to write is to start from the present and work my way backwards. For starters I finally have the internet in my room. Everything in Israel takes so long so I thought getting the internet would be the same. Would you believe I signed up and had the internet working in less than 24 hours? And people say miracles don't happen! I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Bezeq phone company and Bezeq international for making this all happen in 1 day. So now we can always speak and always be connected like "New York Telephone."

The Carmel group spent 10 wonderful day in Jerusalem over Sukkot. Our educator and guide while in Jerusalem was Steve Israel. Steve is a Jerusalem-based educator who has worked in the fields of Jewish education and Israel education since 1975. While in Jerusalem we visited the house where Israeli author S.Y. Agnon lived, the Old City, the Kotel (Western Wall) and the Israel Museum. We have also met with Paula Adelstein from the IMPJ, Rabbi Marmur (dean at HUC), Rabbi Uri Regev (director of the WUPJ) and Rabbi Na'ama Kellman (director of HUC American Program).

While in Jerusalem we stayed at Beit Shmuel which is on the Hebrew Union College-JIR campus. Preparing for Sukkot in Jerusalem was very special, we went to Meir Sheiarim, a very religious area in Jerusalem and bought the lulav and etrog. It was amazing to see all the different sukkah's around the Jerusalem area. Part of the Carmel program is experiencing reform/progressive synagogue life here in Israel. In Jerusalem I went to Congregation Har-El for Sukkot morning and on Friday night we went to Kol Haneshama, not to mention spending Shabbat morning at HUC-JIR.

My trip to Jerusalem would not be complete without hanging out with my friends who are studying for their first year of rabbinical school. I was invited to Shabbat dinner at Rachel Larkins house with her parents who were visiting. David Singer and I went to the Kotel on Yuntif and I spent Erev Sukkot with Melissa Zalkin at her house for a BBQ.
Jerusalem was not all fun and games and that was even more true after the "lost tallis incident." So I have a beautiful tallis that I got when I was in Israel a few months ago. I wear every morning for Shacharit and it has become part of my family. Well on the morning of Sukkot after services I returned with it to Beit Shmuel, or so I thought. The next morning when I went to go look for my tallis it was gone and so I began to freak out. I called Congregation Har-El, with no luck. I spoke with security at Beit Shmuel, no luck. I thought all was lost. So I decided to go to the Old City and buy another one at the Cardo. Unfortunately they didn't have mine so I was without Tallis. I decided that I would purchase a Tallis when I got back to Haifa. Well on the last day I decided to ask the security again if they found it. After looking again it was still not there. Then the security said that another Tallis was found a few days ago. I went and after a few days of being gone my Tallis and I were reunited. Jerusalem really is a magical and special place.

Before leaving for Jerusalem we spent the Yamim Noraim in Haifa at Ohel Avraham, the synagogue at the Leo Baeck Education Center. Even though it was all in Hebrew I have never experienced anything like it. Words can't describe the energy in the room and the Kavanah.
With 1 month gone I can truly say that I am at home in Haifa and in Israel. While I miss all of my family and friends I know that being here this year will be just the medicine I need. From now on I will try and write often. Later Gators!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Going Away Party

A few months ago my parents, in preparation for me going to Israel, thought that I should have a going away party. Having a party is never easy, when should the party me made, where, what time and the list goes on. Originally my parents felt that the party should be Saturday night September 11. Can anyone tell me the first thought that pops into their head? Ahhhh yes, the day that the United States was attacked by terrorists. That is also the night of S'lichot, preparation for the Yamim Noraim. It is also Shabbat I didn't feel comfortable about having my party on Shabbat. So then my parents wanted the party on Saturday, August 21. The problem still remains that it would be Shabbat and now it was also Lauren's, my best friend, birthday. So it was finally decided to have the party on Sunday, August 22. The invitations were really nice and the poem on it was even nicer:

"Lyle is leaving, he's following his dream
He's happy, excited and a little sad-it seems
So come to our house on this very special day
Hug him and kiss him and send him on his way"

After months of planning yesterday was the big day. And it is a good thing we did not have it Saturday night because it rained the entire day and night. Everyone started to arrive around noon, just in time for the extremely good lunch catered by Ruven's Kosher Deli. Now the "frummers" that came could not eat the meat. You may ask why?...well even though the slogan for Hebrew National says they "Answer to a higher authority" they obviously don't answer to the "highest" authority...the Glatt G-d. So aside from great deli platters we had wraps! We also had an array of desserts including a sheet cake from a great kosher bakery, B&B, as well as great 7 layer cake that Nanny (AKA Ruby Kalish, Belferder Grandmother) had specially made for me.

The day was filled with great guests and lots of laughs. I can honestly say after all of that hard work (especially cleaning my room) a great time was had by all. For all of you that could not come, check out some pictures from the day by clicking here

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bruchim Habaim - Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog, a spot created specifically for you, the reader. No matter where in the world you are, you will be able to experience my life life in Israel. The only thing I ask is that you write to me and respond to the things I write that way I know that I am not just doing this for my health. On September 12, 2004 I leave for Israel where I start my new job as a Madrich (Counselor/R.A.) on Carmel: A Progressive Beit Midrash and Israel Study Program. The University of Haifa dorms will be my new home from September 12 - June. I look forward to hearing from you while I am in Israel.