Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Speed Week

Hello everyone! I am writing this post from Supervised Study Hall, which probably won't surprise those of you loyal followers out there. I have to grade an assignment that my students submitted last night, but I am being uncharacteristically procrastinatory, so I decided to goad myself into action by checking something else off my to-do list. Here I am now, bringing you up-to-the-week news straight from my own life.

It's a three-day week. WHAT A FEELING. There was school today, and now it's a two-day week! How did it go so fast? Then there will be school tomorrow and heck, it'll practically be over already. I can get behind this system. Pity it's only happening this once.

Anyway, though, the four-day Easter weekend went just about as well as we could've hoped. Daniel and I set sail right when school ended on Thursday, and after an eight-hour border crossing that left us very glad to have each other as conversation partners, we arrived at our destination: Machon Shlomo yeshiva in the Orthodox enclave of Har Nof, a mountaintop neighborhood set off from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Despite the late hour, we were welcomed cordially by a group of familiarly frat-bro-esque American yeshiva students, some of whom were full-timers but most of whom were in Har Nof for a 3-week Orthodox immersion program called STEP. We didn't get to see the view from the yeshiva until the next morning, but it was worth the wait:

That's the largest Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem, just a part of the gorgeous panorama out the windows of the yeshiva. Machon Shlomo is scattered across three floors of an apartment building and its pleasantly, familiarly grungy aesthetic keeps the frat house theme going nicely. Here's Daniel in our room:

It actually belongs to 3 actual students, but 2 were away for the Pesach holiday, so we snagged their beds and the hospitality of their roommate, Aaron.

The weekend itself was quite immersive: davening (that is, prayer) 3 times a day; meals at a few local homes; and study sessions when the holiday schedule permitted. For these sessions, which took place on Friday and Sunday mornings, we and the STEP students paired up with Har Nof volunteers for one-on-one Talmud study for an hour. I was lucky enough to work with our contact, Rabbi Yonason Sigler, a Princeton and MIT grad (and a cappella singer!) who's a published astrophysicist and former NASA employee. Smart, to say the least; and a thoughtful and engaging teacher too.

After that first hour, we'd all group together with Rabbi Sigler to go over the topic; this weekend happened to be a bit from the Gemara about whether it's appropriate to recite the Sh'ma in any language, or just Hebrew. Esoteric stuff, to be sure, but Daniel and I agreed that it was as much about learning the process of Jewish logic than the actual content. Taken as an exercise to that end, our study was quite rewarding.

The third hour was the most thrilling: guest lectures! The first was from a Rabbi Triebitz, who got his Ph.D in mathematical physics from either Princeton or Stanford (but who's counting) at age TWENTY-ONE (I'm counting). And apparently conducted at Juilliard when he was 14. And now sits in a plastic folding chair in an old apartment building lecturing to twenty-somethings about the Jewish conception of the World to Come. Given that I certainly never would've heard any of his physics lectures, I might make the argument that I'm better off for his change in life plans.

The second lecture was from a guy who I honestly might best describe as Chasidic Santa Claus. The jolliest, twinkliest-eyed Danish Jew you could imagine gave us a phenomenal lecture on his studies of the Jewish notion free will, while cracking jokes about his beard and soliciting feedback in a way that rivals the best efforts of the King's Academy faculty. There was some inspired and inspiring teaching going on at this place, and we felt lucky to be there.

And the rest of the weekend? A delightful Shabbos dinner with a South African guy and his Canadian wife and their adorable kids; Saturday meals at the Sigler household, featuring epic 3-part harmony by the Rabbi and his two oldest sons (plus the youngest boy, who'd wail away an octave above his dad); and plenty of contemplative prayerful moments and discussions with the other students, who were fascinated about our work in Jordan and generally kept very open minds.

Some more pics from Machon Shlomo! Here's the dining-type area, where we had college-kitchen-esque eggs and matzah lasagnas and intriguingly gross-but-addictive Kosher for Passover strawberry jelly on matzah:

An actual culinary highlight of the yeshiva: gefilte fish and horseradish. Home sweet home.

All in all, a bizarre and pretty wonderful experience. Am I considering going back for the full three-week STEP adventure? Totally. We'll see what happens.

And the rest of the trip was fun too. We scooted down to the Western Wall on Saturday night and were just in time to see the Gerrer Rebbe, leader of the biggest Chasidic dynasty in Israel and sharer of Daniel's last name. CRAZY crowds of Chasidic dudes trying to catch a glimpse of him as he made his way to pray. Our sheer dumb luck put us in just the right place to see his wizened face paying absolutely no heed to the literally hundreds of men clambering over each other to get close to him. Very weird. Pretty cool.

We spent the last evening with Micah, which was pleasantly reminiscent of last time, playing frisbee in a park and eating Chinese food because it was the last night of Passover and everywhere was closed for the holiday. It felt weirdly like being an American Jew on Christmas, but was somehow very appropriate. Then Daniel and I somehow finished a pint of Ben and Jerry's in like 10 minutes. I think the best explanation is that there's Ben and Jerry's in Israel. It was like an ice cream oasis.

And now I'm back for this cute little school week! Put three asterisks up above in case you were bored of the Israel stuff and wanted to skip it and get back to the present. You're welcome!

On tap: a Glee Club concert, the last big one of the year. We were quite anemic tonight in the cavernous and acoustically deplorable auditorium, but started to warm to it towards the end, and I think things will turn out fine. Then parent-teacher conferences over the weekend, and then a week at whose end is the first of May. Where on earth does the time go?

Well, took more time and wrote much more than I'd planned to. Time to be productive and do some grading like a Real Teacher; if all those weekend lessons and conversations with Daniel led to anything, it was confidence and reaffirmation that I've got a great job and that the challenges are all so worth it. Let's hope those thoughts continue to prove true, and that I can practice what I preach to the kids and finish this year strong.

Oh, and I'm gonna order some mana'eesh in fifteen minutes, because Passover is DONE and it's time to celebrate. Mmmmm.

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