Friday, March 31, 2006

Oo'Knai Lecha Chaver

The 6th Mishna in Perkei Avot (R' Yehoshua ben Perachyah) enjoys all of us "Aseh Lecha Rav, Oo'Knai Lecha Chaver, v'Hevei Dan Et Kol Ha'Adam L'Chaf Zchut." Make for yourslef a teacher, aquire for yourself a friend, and judge everyone favorably.

It seems that as of late, I've been spending a lot of time on the first part of that statement as I've faced the tough decision of which rabbinic school to enroll in. However, the next part of the statement is equally important, and I just wanted to share with you an example of just how good of a friend I have.

Tonight is Shabbat, tonight is also when an NCSYer of mine who got into the University of Rochester (where I attend) is coming to visit me for the weekend and check out the school. Here's the problem. His only mode of transportation here from Buffalo NY (over an hour away) would not allow him to arrive prior to Shabbat. Upon hearing this, my good friend Levi Yitzchak (named after R' Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, so I guess this really isn't such a suprise) aka, Lev, immediatly declared his intent to drive the 2.5 hour round trip to pick up my NCSYer from Buffalo before Shabbat, despite his already hecktic pre-Shabbat schedual. He asks nothing in return, no gas, no tolls, and doesn't want any recognition. Yet, HaKaret HaTov is needed, so I'm doing it here, on a blog that affords him some anonymity, and at the very least, I happen to know he doesn't read it, since he doesn't spend his time online in that fashion. (No Facebook, No Forums, Stricktly Business) His only reason for doing it is his love for Am Yisrael, and for Shabbat, and out of his friendship for me. He is my soon to be Chavruta, my Friend, my Confidant, and a Roll Model. A man whom, dispite my best efforts to employ the Judge everyone favorably part of that same Mishna, I just can't hold him in any higher esteem then I already do.
I'm sure going to miss seeing him every Shabbos next year.

Oh well... Shabbat is Coming... Kol Tuv, Peace

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Two Different Views... No Really... Look...

At this point I'm franticly trying to fill out the formal application for Chovevei that was due in January, but is absolutly unacceptable past April 11th. (That's when they are supposed to notify all applicants of their status and finalize classes for next year.) It seems clear to me now that I'll be there next year. In retrospect this is shocking as it wasn't even a remote possiblility half a year ago. A lot can change in 3 months apparently, and G-d works in really crazy ways. In a way, even though that shidduch didn't work out, it was probalby just about the only thing that could have led to this outcome, and therefore probably for the best. The whole thing just clicks, it makes so much sense. The timing was absolute, with no margin for error, and the circumstances had to be just right. No one could have predicted this outcome, especially not myself. All I can do is say "Mi K'Mocha Hashem" (who is like you Hashem) that you bend the world to shape your will while allowing the whole process to come about by our free choice. Incredable! Though it is hard to think that I'm giving up the latter view for the first. Gee I miss Israel. I've got to come up with some way to get there on all of my breaks, and that year of study abroad that people keep telling me I can do. Oh well... Kach Li B'Yadecha Hashem (Take me in your hands G-d), I can't think of anyone more trustworthy to lead me along the right path.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gahh... Changes...

Shabbaton was Great! Life is Good! A lot is changing. And everything (school, work, new routines, applications, lease issues, need for sleep, and much more) is all happening NOW!!! I'll post more details as soon as I catch up to myself. In the mean time know that exciting times are ahead for me if I can keep my head above water. I'll be posting some things like my new schedual for feedback in the days ahead, but first I've got to capitalize on time and sleep. G'night :)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Closet Creativity

Something invariably always happens to me before or right after ever NCSY shabbaton that I do. It always has, anyway, and tonight the trend continued. Whether bus breakdowns, an accident, a dryer fire, a lockout, each time it’s forced me to face a new last minute challenge, find a creative solution, and maintain my outward calm and good humor so that I can continue to portray the role I need to for all of my NCSYers.

This weekend is a special Sr. NCSY Shabbaton in Schenectady (one of the cities in Har Sinai Region, and also where I grew up,) called Yarchi Kallah. It’s a learning intensive, source orientated convention. And just like every other convention, even though it doesn’t start for 7 hours yet, something has already happened. This time again it was with my dryer. While doing laundry tonight to be read so I could pack for the weekend excursion, the dryer broke. It no longer spun, just blew hot air onto unmoving clothes. Needless to say this wasn’t working well… the top layer was starting to brown and the bottom layer was soaking wet still when I went downstairs to the basement and figured out there was a problem. What was I to do though, I needed the clothing, in particular the NCSY gear for the shabbaton, but now it was all wet. (It had been dirty from the Jr. Shabbaton last week, but the washing machine did its job just fine.) In the end I partook in a multi pronged attack, hanging some clothes up over the shower curtains bar, others in the space in my closet, others I ironed until they were dry, and for my undergarments, I built a clothes rack. (I’m trying to post pictures for the first time, if it works then the picture above is the makeshift rack made of hangers and yarn that was meant for making kippot.) I just hope it’s dry come morning when I have to pack it. But with only 3 hours until I’m supposed to be awake, it’s going to be tight. At least I bit the bullet this time before shabbaton started Bli Ayin Harah…

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Difficult Discipline of Self Discipline

While my mind is yet to be made up, with the help of friends and other people whose opinions matter in my life, I’m slowly starting to lean in a direction. I still have one or two more opinions to seek before the verdict can come back, like my second Rosh Yeshiva from Bat Ayin who is actually speaking at Chovevei as a guest lecturer as I type this. But for the time being it seems more and more like Riverdale is going to be my home for the next 5 years and Chovevei my school. (Wow I miss Israel… How can I postpone going back for even longer I don’t really know…)

I owe a debt of gratitude to my good friend Avi R. who was with me in Bat Ayin, and will be starting Chovevei next year, for helping me to think through all the ramifications, and put things into perspective. As you pointed out, either way it's Torah, both options are good. You’ve helped me out more then you’ll ever know.

With my future moving forward along a more concrete direction, it’s time to start taking more directed steps. I put in my 2 week notice to quit my job on Monday. This is giving me back significant time into my week. (It’ll make my formal week of Classes and Youth Group Job only a 2 day experience. I’ll start my week on Tues. at 3:25pm and End it on Wends. at 7:00pm. If I was a party person that’d be ridicules.) However, what it also means is that I have the hard task of setting up a new personal Seder Lilmud (Schedule for Learning) and forcing myself to actually stick with it.

In my mind, few things are harder then self-regulation. It’s just too easy to come up with an excuse why “just this time I’m going to take an extra break,” or “what’s an extra hour of sleep when I’m already studying a lot,” or the famous “I’ll just check my email, it won’t take long.” But never the less I need to do it. I want to start Smicha in the fall, and to do that I need to get my textual comfort and skill level up, and the only way to do that is through hard work.

Even the act of simply making the schedule is not proving easy. (Not to mention that I’m not exactly sure what the most efficient use of my time is.) I’ve still got to schedule Chavrutas with 2 people, as well as find a way to gain some variety in my learning so that I don’t burn out to fast. All this while focusing specifically on fluency acquisition, not covering ground and acquiring lots of substance knowledge. But even when I figure this out (any suggestions welcome…) I’ve still got to actually sit down and do it, and not cave into the myriads of distractions that only will become more appealing as I become more frustrated. (Again, any suggestions/methodologies for achieving self discipline are very welcome…) It’s a great opportunity, and also a great challenge, I just hope I’m up to it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Expensive Blunder, How My Convection Oven IS Toast

So in my haste and sleepiness yesterday morning I managed to treif up (make non-kosher) my only cooking devise for Dairy food, My Ultravection Oven. Basically, I grabbed a frozen Burrito from the freezer to make for breakfast, and didn't look closely at the package. Why should I have, I only bought the Cheese and Bean ones, even commenting to my friend that there was no point in buying the Beef and Bean ones because my only cooking devise for meat is a Forman grill. Or so I thought...

Apparently, of the 12 Burritos I'd grabbed from the freezer over at the local kosher butcher, one Beef and Bean one had slipped in. (Good ol' Guys at Old City Cafe making both the Meat and Dairy versions look the same from the Packaging at first glance. You actually have to read them to see what one you have...) Anyway, with my interview in the early morning, and my lack of sleep from preparing for it late into the night, I just relied upon the fact that I'd bought "only the cheese ones" and threw it into the Ultravection oven without bothering to read the package.

Needless to say, 15 min later I not only had a great looking, great smelling, piping hot burrito that I couldn't eat, but a now worthless Ultravection oven that because of it's nature I can't Kasher. (The hot parts aren't all exposed; I'd have to take a torch to the internals of the thing, since the blown air moves steam everywhere). I was also of course hungry, and running late for work. I grabbed an apple and bolted.

Flash forward to this morning and a little online research. The Ultravection Oven that I liked so much and used just about every day (less Shabbat) is no longer being manufactured and it can't be bought anywhere. (Except for one used one on eBay, but if I wanted a used, non-kosher oven, then I've already got one...) So instead I've been browsing for suitable replacements. They run in the range of $100. Talk about an expensive blunder. Especially, when after this summer I'll be living in a different place and might not even need a counter top oven. But as I look in my kitchen and almost everything I eat depended on the ability to use that oven, I'm going to have to break down and buy another one. Oh well... Zoat Kapparati, May this be a Kapparah for me. (A transference of punishment for any of my wrongdoings in this world, kind of like karma, but not really).

Monday, March 20, 2006

Keeping it Kitzer

My first 2 comments were tombs... I'm going to need to learn to keep things kitzur (short, to the point). Anyway, Just wanted to update, my 8:30 am interview went really well. I wasn't so sure about it though until after I unmasked what was a little confusion. You see, I was under the impression, and still am, that I was looking to enter the Mechina (1 year pre-smicha prep) program. Apparently, the Rav. thought that I was trying to enter the first year of the smicha program right away in the fall without doing mechina. He tried to let me down gently that I just wasn't ready. That I showed intellegence and competency with comprehention, but simply lacked fluidity and skills with the anchient aramaic. He asured me that with lots and lots of hard work it MIGHT be possible for me to be ready for the fall, but expressed dought, and was unready to recomend it. Of course, I still thought he was talking about the mechina program, my heart dropped and I thought that another door was closing. Then he told me his recomendation, keep working on my skills now and over the summer, and come do the mechina program. If I could afford (time wise) the extra year, he said, it would really be much better for me. Let's just say I'm still kvelling even now 20 min later.

I still have the formal application to do, but with a very solid bechina (for the mechina level) behind me, and comeing "highly recomended" as I've been told I do, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah may just become my home for the next 5 years... Wow, that's a long time to live in NYC. (I'm not a big fan of the city to put it mildly...) Ok... time to catch a quick hour nap before my 9 hour shift at work. Speaking of which, I believe I have a 2 week notice to submit... That's going to feel really good...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Realization of Priorities

Amechad (I love that Handle) asked me a poignant question in the very first comment to this second foray into the blog world. Namely, how I would be able to make a living as a Rabbi in Israel. He’s absolutely right from a practical sense. It will take a long time, and it will not be easy.

For the first 20 years of my life (I guess it’s less then that because until your 7 or so, what do you really know anyway about your future...) I also worried a lot about Parnasa, being able to make a living. This is why it should be no surprise to anyone that I’m a political science major and legal studies minor. Like a typical good non-observant Jew, as a child I knew I was going to be a lawyer all the way (after all, the site of other people under the needle or bleeding is something I just can’t deal with, so doctor was out), and why not, the pay was good, and I was good at it. (I was captain of my mock trial team since middle school, and led my team to victory more times then not.)

During high school when I began my T’Shuva process, slowly taking on more and more mitzvot into my personal realm of observance, I still kept that mission of being an attorney at the forefront. My family had been poor, and largely uneducated, and I was going to change that, and after living through my parent’s messy divorce I had had plenty of opportunity to be exposed to many bad attorneys. It was now my mission to not just be an attorney, but a good one, a responsible one who actually cared for his clients and for justice.

College started not much differently. However, I started working as an NCSY (Jewish Youth Group) advisor (I’d actually started the year before, but…), and began working for a special needs integration camp during the summers (also started the year before). I’d always loved working with kids. I’d coached Pee-Wee wrestling in High School, and done the CIT (Counselor in Training) thing at the local JCC. But, until now, I had never done it formally, or in a Torah observant setting. I soon realized that it was one of my true loves. I also started to realize just how much the Jewish Education system, in America at least, is seriously messed up. There is a complete lack of transmission; rather there is a large amount of disaffection that comes out of the horrible Sunday school, Hebrew School, and Day school environments. Even the “religious” schools failed to really pass on any real sense of Jewish love or passion onto the next generation. I don’t even need to get into the so called ills that plagued the “Orthodox” schools. My involvement with NCSY at during the summers was my chance to try to share my newfound love for the Jewish people and the Jewish Faith and Torah with the next generation. But don’t get me wrong, I was still set to be an attorney.

In my sophomore year of college I started to become increasingly disillusioned with myself and the path I was on. I decided that I needed to finally spend a year in Israel learning in a Yeshiva. (Previous to this I’d only had spotted years of Jewish education in K-3 and 8th grade). I needed to re-ground myself. I ended up in Yeshivat Bat Ayin, a phenomenal place. The learning was great, the focus on personal development and Avodat Hashem (serving G-d), but the physical conditions of the Yeshiva were not what I was used to. The Yeshiva was a grouping of caravans on the side of a mountain. The caravans were old with all kinds of life to them… My room was the size of my current closet. The food was good, but simple. Vegetarian during the week, and Meat only on Shabbat. (Rav Kook Style) In the end it was a productive soul searching year that forced me to really re-evaluate what was important to me. At the end of the year I’d wanted to stay, but because of army complications I was forced to return to America.

Back at college my disaffection continued to grow with American and with the prospect of being an attorney. It also continued to grow towards the system of Jewish Education. I’d now been working for NCSY and for that summer camp for an extended period of time and had the wonderful blessing of being able to see the many kids that I’d been working with for years grow and develop into young men and women. The mark that I’d made on there lives also was becoming clearer and more evident. It’s the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever experienced. I’d found my path. A little late considering I’d already completed my major and minor, but that wasn’t going to hold me back. Rabbinic school though was still another year or two out. At this point I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew three things. First, whatever happened, I wanted to end up back in Israel, which in my heart of hearts is always going to be my home no matter what. Second, I wanted to be involved with molding and shaping the Jewish future. I wanted to work with Kids. In what capacity I still hadn’t managed to figure out. Finally, I knew now that money was no longer even remotely a priority. I’d lived on next to nothing my entire time in Israel, and yet I’d never been happier because I was enjoying what I was doing. I was enjoying life and its simple pleasures. With this last barrier gone, the attorney thing was no more. (Of course I still realize the need for Parnasa, especially as someone who wants to provide for a family and wishes to provide an easier life for his kids then how he grew up.)

It’s only in this past year that Smicha became a real viable option for me. I realized, that while I never want to do pulpit Rabinics which is what I’d always associated smicha with, I would need it if I were ever going to qualify myself to transmit the traditions and beauty of Torah Judaism to the next generation. So… To answer Amechad’s question, I plan on making a living out of sheer determination and passion for what I love. I want to love what I do, I want to have that feeling, knowing I’m making a difference, even if that means sacrificing a little of the extra material wants. (But none of the needs, and even some wants are still important…) So, I can’t necessarily answer your question of how, I can only say that my priorities are different. I want to be a Jewish Educator, and I want to live in Israel. Now I just need to do whatever steps it takes to make that a reality. It’s not for everyone, but I’m pretty sure now that it’s for me.

Anyway, I don’t know if that helps at all. But, Shabbat is coming, and I’ve got a lot to do still to prepare for my Shabbos Bride and Queen. (Not to mention all the NCSY’ers that I’m spending it with.) I wish everyone a good Shabbos, a Shabbat Shalom. And pray that it brings comfort and rest to us all.

The Hardest Part... Begining

So... Here's the thing... I was reading my friends blog Holy Laughter in the River, when I realized that she'd taken down the link to my blog. While I'm by no means offended, after all it's a completely expected thing after failing to post even a single response, I realized that in a way I had let her down. I was under no obligation to start a blog, but nevertheless I'd started one, and allowed her to be excited about it. Looking over the logs, it's clear that in the early stages she kept checking it to see if I'd ever update the content. (I know this because I never checked it, and she was the only other person who knew it existed, and I've got to account for the page views somehow...) Anyway, I feel as if I'd set her up for disappointment, and for that I have to apologies. She's a great person, and will probably just brush aside my apology, and even tell me how ridicules it is to apologies for such a thing in the first place. However, if I'm to stand by my principles of Unity, Faith, Responsibility and Action, then I have to recognize even my smaller failures.

Now, with that aside, I've been struggling for the last several minutes trying to figure out how to begin this second attempt at the whole blog thing. I feel that I need to somehow provide background about myself, and update people as to where I am. But at the same time, I do not really want to focus in that direction and the time and effort I'd need to exert would probably deter me from following through. Therefore, I'm just going to jump in to today.

Today I had my second phone interview with the head of the Mechina program for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. B"H it went well and I'm scheduled for a more extended interview on Monday morning. I should clarify that by interview, I mean skills evaluation. (A see, background will come out as necessary by the posts...)

I'm a Bal T'Shuva. (I hate labels... I should mention that now, you'll probably hear me rant about that a lot; however, sometimes they are the only way to convey a message.) I've been on the path, increasing in my personal Torah observance, for about 8 years now. The Journey is far from complete, as it can never be complete, but I'm well on my way. My basic problem, however, is that while looking for Yeshiva programs for myself I have a real hard time. My breadth of knowledge has grown steadily over the last 8 years, but my textual skills with Hebrew and Aramaic have not, and remain very rudimentary. Schools have a hard time placing me into a Shiur/Class because my text level is a true beginner's, but the questions that I ask and material that I bring to a class are well beyond the other beginners. Often this leads me to become a disturbance for the overall class. The other option is not much better though, as when I'm placed in a class on the same comprehension level as myself I quickly fall behind as I simply can't work through the textual material and keep pace with everyone. I'm less disruptive, but my personal growth is stunted.

Anyway, back to today... Chovevei is a Smicha/Rabbinic program. And while I’m not ready to enter the actual smicha program, the do have a one year pre-smicha prep program (the mechina program) that I may be able to do. That’s what these interviews are about. I’ve got some supporters in the school who are really pulling for me, and I also was originally “found” and recruited by the Dean and Founder of the Yeshiva himself who liked my “energy” and made the push for me to look into it in the first place. However, if my skill level is not on par to start the Mechina program in the fall, then it’s all a moot point, and it doesn’t really matter who’s pulling for me.

Today’s interview consisted of the Rav asking me to prepare about a paragraph of material out of the gemara. He gave me 25 min to do so, at which point he was going to call me back. Needless to say, with the interview at 8:30 in the morning, I was not only tired, but now frantic as I tried to piece everything together with the help of my Frank. (Dictionary) I lucked out and the passage used a lot of language I was already familiar with. I pulled it off, not perfectly, but good enough, that I seemed to at least keep his interest. He assigned me a larger section from a different gemara to prepare over this weekend with our next interview scheduled for 8:30am on Monday. (For a 5th year senior in his final semester, that’s really early, especially since I have to work until 2am the night before…) I looked over the section briefly today, but I can already tell that it’s going to be much more difficult, as a lot of the language is new to me. I’m also trying to figure out the larger question of just exactly what I should be doing with my life next year.

Chovevei is just one option in the line of several that has dropped in my lap, all in the last month or so. Prior to this I’d been planning on returning to Israel in Sept. to serve in the army and officially become a Ezrach Oleh (returning citizen – my mother is Israeli, so I am also by default, this is just my version of Aliyah) However, Hashem has an interesting way of doing things, and this is simply no longer the case. (Another long story, maybe I’ll cover it later, or if there is interest…) Rather, if I return to Israel ASAP with Nefesh B’Nefesh (which is the only financially feasible way for me to do so) then the earliest I can return is Dec. This leaves me needing to find something to do in the states for at least another half year after I graduate. This change of events is what opens the door for Chovevei to begin with, because the answer to the question of “What are you doing next year?” was “I don’t know.”

Chovevei is a great opportunity, but it comes with a great commitment. It will train me to do exactly what I want to do (Informal Jewish Education, Summer Programs, Youth Groups, and Campus Work – an area I’m especially partial to) and train me well. It will also provide me with a stipend which takes care of my financial issues for the duration of the program. But that duration is also a cost. Going to Chovevei would mean 5 years at the school (one year pre-smicha, four year smicha) and then another 3 year commitment to working in the states in the area of Jewish Leadership/Education. This is not something that I’m opposed to in principle, and definitely in line with my long term goals. But it means spending at least another 8 years away from Israel, which in my heart of heart is my home.

Just to throw my other options out there… I’ve been informally offered a job working for Chabad on Campus next year for the fall semester. It would take me right up to the point when I would be able to make Aliyah again, and be practical work experience in a field I want to pursue. I could then make Aliyah, serve my half year in the army, and be ready to go back to Yeshiva in Israel by Elul Zman of the following year. In a way, I’d love to go back to Bat Ayin, I just don’t see the financial feasibility of such an action, but what G-d wills can and will happen, especially if I work hard for it. Bat Ayin would be a 5 year smicha program, and the focus and end result would be quite different then Chovevei. Afterwards I would also be urged to do a period of Shlichut. These are really the two options I’m playing with at this point. There are some others, but non that really keeps my attention that long. Of course the whole thing is still moot if I don’t pass my interview.

As far as advice, I keep getting all kinds of conflicting responses, sometimes even from the same people. There are pluses and minuses to both, above and beyond what I’d mentioned above. Not to mention the impact the decision has on the subsequent years, and on the shape of my future family life that I’d like to be starting. Even dating is going to be starkly different depending on where I end up. At this point I have faith that Hakodesh Baruch Hu will lead me to the right path. At the same time, I have to do everything I can to bring myself there. My prayer each night is for guidance. I ask him to mold my will into his own, to help me to fulfill my mission in this world, to find my basheret, and to bring comfort to all his people. I keep my options open, and try to continually re-evaluate both options. It’s going to be interesting to see how this one shapes up.