Saturday, January 31, 2015

What makes a city Jewish?

Visions & Voices, the trip that serves as an introduction to Kesher Hadash, lays the groundwork for the questions we are exploring throughout the semester in Israel. Towards the end of Visions and Voices, we spent some time exploring Tel Aviv in order to gain an understanding of the "New Jew" and what a secular Jewish city looks like. A really interesting question that someone in my group raised continues to come up throughout my Kesher Hadash experience. What makes a city Jewish?

At first, I thought that maybe it was a city based on Jewish values. After rethinking that, I realized that the majority of Jewish values are universal values. My next thought was that a place living by the rhythm of the Jewish calendar was a Jewish city. On the surface, this makes sense to me. When I dig a little deeper, the idea of something like Shabbat becomes problematic. What does it mean when an entire city (or a country) observes Shabbat? When I think about Shabbat, I think about going to a Progressive egalitarian shul, complete with lots of prayerful singing and guitar. I also think of communal meals, reading, and catching up on sleep. Israel defines Shabbat in very specific, traditional ways. Most public transportation, restaurants and shops are shut down for Shabbat, because in the eyes of the Israeli government, activities associated with these things don't fit into its definition of Shabbat. My last idea of something that makes Israel distinctively Jewish is the Hebrew language. In Israel, Hebrew is a national language. It is taught in schools, spoken on the streets and seen on billboards.

Since Kesher Hadash has started, I've been thinking more and more about the centrality of Hebrew. I have always found Hebrew to be a big obstacle for me. It denies me access to texts, to my Jewish tradition. While most Jewish texts can be found in translation, all translations are someone else's interpretations. I don't want others telling me what to think. I want to interpret the texts for myself and come to my own conclusions. It has been extremely exciting to be learning Hebrew in a place where the language is alive. Twice a week, I get to take Ulpan, building my foundation of grammar and expanding my vocabulary. I then get to live my life in Jerusalem and hear and see Hebrew wherever I go. I get to learn my numbers in Hebrew, and then figure out how much I owe the cashier at a store when he tells me the price in Hebrew. When I'm going to meet a friend on a Saturday night and get lost, I use the directional words I learned in Ulpan to ask somebody for directions.

I don't know if the Hebrew language makes something Jewish, especially after knowing so many secular Israelis who just think of Hebrew as their native language. When proposing the idea of Hebrew as a defining feature of a Jewish country, the concept didn't make any sense to my Israeli friends..

I'm still left wondering, what makes a city Jewish?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What am I actually doing in Israel?

First day of school at Maale!

If you were to explain my program solely based on the pictures I upload to facebook, it might look like all I do is eat delicious food. This is only partially true. I am on a program called Kesher Hadash, the Davidson School of Jewish Education's semester in Israel program. The program aims to expose Jewish educators to a form of Israel education that teaches multiple narratives, and not just the stereotypical Jewish narrative.

There are 10 of us in the program, all with an interest in Israel Education. As a group, we take several classes at the Schocken Institute, a JTS owned building in Jerusalem. We take 2 main classes here:

*The State of Israel: Origins, Early History with Dr. Dave Mendelsson
*Contemporary Israel in Contemporary Jewish Education with Dr. Alex Sinclair

At the Maale Film School we are taking two classes:
*A class to learn about how to critique and analyze film
*A class to learn how to make a documentary film (our final project is a 5 minute documentary!)

At Ulpan Milah I am taking Hebrew (which is going surprisingly well).

There are also mini-courses built into our program focusing on Israel education through the arts, and a specific class on the conflict over the conflict.

A big part of our program is extended mifgashim "encounters" with Israelis. We do this in two ways. We meet bi-weekly with a group of students from Hebrew University to explore different topics about Israel and Judaism. On the alternating weeks, we meet in American-Israeli hevrutot (pairs) to learn together.

Once the Israeli Spring semester begins (March?) we have a second mifgash with a group of students from the David Yellin Academic College of Education. This brings together American Jewish, Israeli Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli students to explore issues of identity, religion and nationality.

We also have various trips and Shabbatonim around Israel. I'm most excited about a trip called Encounter, which happens next month.

To help us synthesize all of the moving parts of our Kesher Hadash experience, each of us is assigned a tutor, a professional in the field of Israel Education to meet with on a regular basis.

When people can't understand why I'm not out exploring Israel, it's because my program keeps me really busy. Thankfully, Kesher Hadash is allowing me to explore Israel through the lens of my program.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm here...

I am sitting in my apartment in Jerusalem. I am sitting in my apartment in Jerusalem. I am sitting in my apartment in Jerusalem. No matter how many times I say those words, I can't believe it. I've dreamt about living in Israel since I watched my friends go on EIE (the Reform movement's high school semester in Israel) many years ago. I've only been to Israel as a tourist- first as a birthright participant, then as a birthright staff member, and most recently to attend the Israel Kallah for URJ Camp Educators.
To say I was nervous about living in Israel would be a understatement. Tears, anxiety attacks and the overwhelming fear that I couldn't do a semester abroad consumed me. And then, something miraculous happened. I arrived at the airport to meet my friend Kevin and catch our plane to Israel. I was actually doing this.

Arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv

After we got our luggage, exchanged some money and got our Israeli SIM cards, we headed outside to take a Nesher to Jerusalem. After what seemed like an eternity, we departed for Jerusalem. Along the way we stopped on the side of the road to pick up a random guy. Other than that, it was an uneventful ride to our first "home". This place was complete with bunk beds, sketchy characters to interact with and a tree in the middle of the kitchen. Who could forget the toilet that was in the shower? I don't have the words to describe this place, so I'll just let this picture speak for itself.
We had enough of the sketchy hostel situation after one night, and luckily had a successful meeting with a realtor the next morning. Before we knew it, we were moving into our great apartment in the heart of Jerusalem. We had adventures getting our apartment set up by shopping at the Shuk- one of our favorite activities.
My favorite purchase was shoko b'sakit (chocolate milk in a bag).
After several days of exploring Jerusalem, we headed to the airport to pick up the rest of our group, and I was finally reunited with this character:

The next 10 days challenged and inspired me to think about Israel education in a new light. Watch for my next post to read about my 10 day trip!

If you are following my blog, leave me a comment- I'm curious to know who my audience is!

Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mental Health and Becoming a Jewish Professional

    When thinking about where I was at the end of last year, I felt excited and energized  (and nervous) by the opportunities I would have over the summer as the education director at URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp. I was conflicted about working in a Reform setting. I had become accustomed to being a part of halachic communities, and was unsure about how I would maintain a level of observance that I was comfortable with, while being the best educator I could be for a Reform camp. I attempted to find a balance between my own needs, and the needs of the community.
    I had a fantastic summer. Because of the camp’s remote location (have you ever heard of Utica, Mississippi?) I was considered the expert on Judaism.  I was surprised by the lack of tefillah education from the college-aged counselors, in particular. Most of the counselors had grown up at camp and are considered to be the elite of the region, yet when I attempted to take a day off I found it a huge challenge to find someone with the ability to lead services or teach during learning time for each unit. What the staff lacked in Judaic skill, they certainly made up for in Jewish pride. The enthusiasm and love of being Jewish was unparalleled to other youth programs I had worked for in the north east.
    I am thankful to have been put in the position to have such a large role at camp. I often shy away from being in front of a group, so this position I held at camp pushed me in new ways. I had to be able to find the Torah reading when the Torah wasn’t rolled to the right spot. I had to lead tefillah every single day. As tensions rose in Israel, I was the person expected to address the camp community in some way through prayer. At the time, the majority of these tasks made me anxious. Looking back on the summer now, I gained a lot of confidence in knowing that I can be a Jewish educator. Everytime I felt the spark of connection between myself and the community, it affirmed that I was on he right professional path.
    I did a lot of  “leading” this past summer, and very little “participating”, especially when it came to tefillah. When I got back to New York at the end of the summer, I expected to feel excited about just participating in Jewish communal life. For a little while, I would say that it was nice to spend Shabbat enjoying services as a congregant. As the semester progressed, I found it harder to stay on top of my work, harder to do anything beyond going to class and work, and harder to meaningfully engage with Judaism. While issues with depression and anxiety are not new to me, having it affect my relationship to Judaism  and my sense of spirituality certainly was.
    It’s pretty rare for me to skip out on prayer opportunities, which was a clear sign that something was off. Instead of embracing Upper West Side Judaism on Shabbat, I, more often than not, turned down invitations to daven with friends and share meals together. My values are still my values- Jewish community, prayer,  and ritual are always ways I can access Judaism. Until now. Even when I can get myself to go to shul or a meal at a friend’s apartment, something is missing and I feel like I am often just going through the motions.
    My disconnection to my sense of spirituality and God (or whatever else you want to call it) scares me. I know what expectations the Jewish community has for it’s Jewish professionals. I’m supposed to feel connected to God. I’m supposed to find prayer meaningful. What am I supposed to do when I am expected to be a prayer leader and role model, and aren’t feeling any genuine connection to what I’m doing? As a rational human being, I know that feelings aren’t permanent and they don’t define me, but it is very easy to feel as if this is not allowing me to reach my fullest potential as an educator.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#BlogElul: Change

This was a duplicate prompt, so I'll be short and sweet.
Here is what I learned this week:
Change is hard, and I need to be kind and patient with myself.

Monday, August 26, 2013

#BlogElul: Judge

It is REALLY hard to stop yourself from judging people when you first meet them. I mean really hard. I find this kind of funny because I certainly don't want people judging me! Since I'm going through orientation for school right now, I'm meeting a bunch of new people. With the month of Elul and its themes running through my head, I'm trying my hardest not judge anyone and experience these new relationships by staying as open-minded as possible!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

#BlogElul: Ask

Many anxiety filled months have led up to this day- the day I move to New York City. I somehow made it. I set up my living room and kitchen area, figure out how to get out of the building, enjoyed walking through Barnard and Columbia Orientation and found food to eat! I also successfully set-up wireless, something that concerned me when I bought this lovely google chromebook.

Getting to this point has required me to ask people for lots of help. That's not something I'm very good at. Incredibly generous friends helped me (physically and emotionally) get from North Carolina to New York. I learned who I can count on to truly be there for me. It's comforting to know that I have people in my life who I can call at 3am. They know just what to say, the right questions to ask and how to get me laughing again. Being new to a city, I guess I'm going to have to get used to asking for help...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

#BlogElul: Pray

I love prayer. It's actually one of my favorite aspects of Judaism. I've always found meaning in leading services. I think that liturgy is fascinating. I find prayer to be simultaneously comforting, inspiring and challenging. I've been blessed with the opportunity to teach prayer many times. During my time in Greensboro I was a teaching intern in liturgy and synagogue skills classes. I eventually got to teach my own synagogue skills classes. I also taught prayer in the local Hebrew school. I find it especially interesting that I am so drawn to prayer because I struggle with Hebrew- something I'm hoping to overcome this school year!

As much as I love prayer, I've really been struggling with it this past year. I know it has a lot to do with what is going on in my life, but I still want to figure out how to make it meaningful again. I'm moving to NYC in the morning, so I'll have the chance to explore many different prayer communities if I choose to do so!

Friday, August 23, 2013

#BlogElul: Awaken

"Am I awake? Am I prepared? Are you listening? To my prayer?
Can you hear my voice? Can you understand? Am I awake? Am I prepared?" -Noah Aronson

I first heard this song when I met Noah Aronson at NewCAJE a few summers ago. I rarely find a melody that has words that also move me. It's often one or the other. The words and melody are inspiring and uplifting (and I can play it on guitar, which is always a plus). The idea of being awake is prevalent during this time of Elul. If we are awake and in tune to ourselves, we can figure out what we need to do in the following year. One way I try and be in tune with myself is through prayer. The song by Noah Aronson has become a melody that I've used several times to begin t'fillot when I am leading. So much of the song gets at the heart of the hagim. May we all be awake this holiday season!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#BlogElul: Change

While living with teens for four years, I noticed that girls change their outfits A LOT. I don't remember doing this in high school, but maybe I did. I only remember owning and wearing a lot of shirts with words on them representing my love of NFTY. On a Sunday I once had a conversation with a student who changed her clothes 5 times! That's ridiculous. She had reasons for why she changed so frequently. I guess I don't put a ton of thought into what I wear. For my students, clothes are an extension of themselves, a way for them to individually express themselves. For me, well, I'm usually lucky if I can find something clean in the morning...

One of my better outfits:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

#BlogElul: Learn

Top 10 things I learned while working at AHA (in no particular order)
10. Food makes people happy
9. I can function on very little sleep
8. Parents are usually right
7. It's okay that I don't know everything
6. A hug can fix most things
5. You are never too old for arts and crafts
4. I am passionate about Jewish education
3. I love liturgy
2. Friends can really become your family
1. I'll be a really good Mom one day

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

#BlogElul: Remember

I was going to apologize for writing about the same thing during all of Elul- my move. I decided not to because it's my blog and I can write what I want. Also, this move is a giant transition for me, so it makes sense that it is all that I'm thinking about.

I am trying to remember everything I did when I transferred to Binghamton because that transition was pretty easy for me, and I loved my time there. I don't actually remember my orientation all that well. I remember really liking the people I lived with. Most of us became friends pretty quickly. I felt pretty comfortable in my surroundings surprisingly quickly. A friend suggested that I try and make plans in the city once I get there so I have things to look forward to. I'm having a Binghamton reunion almost every day next week!

I think I have all of the essentials, and for once I'm not living in the middle of nowhere so I can buy what I need when I figure out that I need it. Just 5 more days!

Monday, August 19, 2013

#BlogElul: Forgive

I really have nothing profound to say about forgiveness, to be honest. Judaism says we should all be open to forgiveness, and ask for it when necessary. I think it's really dumb when people post on facebook or send a mass e-mail asking for forgiveness for anything they've done in the past year. Do people actually write back to those things? I doubt it.

If I'm done something to offend you in the past year, feel free to call me...just don't post something random via social media because I'll probably just ignore it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

#BlogElul: Trust

I've been thinking a lot about trust lately.

I trust that I'm smart enough to do well in grad school.
I trust that I will eventually remember how to study.
I trust that I'll eventually make NYC feel like home.
I trust that I will find a good community of friends in NY.
I trust that I will be able to find a comfortable prayer community.
I trust that I will find a way to continue to improve my guitar playing.
I trust that I will find a fun way to be active.
I trust that I will find a way to make cooking for myself a fun activity.
I trust that I will come to enjoy the fact that for the next three years, I'm really only responsible for myself.
I trust that, no matter how painful this transition is, I am ready for it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

#BlogElul: Count

I feel like all I've been doing this past year is counting. I made a decision at some point over the course of the  past year that it was my last year at AHA (at least for now). I counted down all of the major AHA events I had come to know and love. I counted down the days leading up to the day I took the GRE. I counted down the days until vacations. And then I counted down the days until students returned from breaks. The dreaded move out day that loomed over me. I honestly tried not to think about it. It was pretty painful to have to say goodbye to people that had become my family, and a place that felt like home. When I arrived in NY, I began to count down until Genesis. Towards the end of Genesis I started to countdown the days until I was back in NY. And now I'm counting down the days until I move to JTS. To be honest, this has been one of the most emotionally challenging times I've experienced in recent years. People keep telling me it's normal, that I'm making a big move. The only thing that I'm finding comforting is comparing this move to my move four years ago to Greensboro. I knew zero people in Greensboro. In NYC, my college roommates all live in the area, among many other old friends from other parts of my life.

For now, I'll continue to work on my deep breathing. In the spirit of counting, I move one week from tomorrow!

Friday, August 16, 2013

#BlogElul: See

When I was little I always wanted glasses. I thought they made people look really smart. At the not so young age of 24, my childhood dream came true. When I thought I was going to spend a year in Israel doing text study, I decided that it would be a good idea to make sure I was physically ready to go. I had a physical, dental exam, and I also decided to get my eyes checked. I'd never been to an ophthalmologist before. I'd always had 20/20 vision, so an eye exam never really crossed my mind. After staring at a bunch of eye charts for a few minutes, the doctor asked me if I ever get headaches. I laughed, thinking about the awful migraines I often got. Before I knew it I was picking out frames (this was quite a decision!) I now feel naked if I'm not wearing my glasses, and I sometimes even try to buy clothes that match my frames. To be honest, I don't know what I was thinking as a small child. I often find my glasses really annoying. However, it beats sticking my finger in my eyes for contacts!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

#BlogElul: Hear

I just got a BCI (that summer program I did in CA) care package sent to me, and it couldn't have come at a better time. I had a bad day, and the package made me smile. When I saw that today's BlogElul theme was "hear" it reminded me of a specific activity we did at BCI. At one point, Gabe Goldman (an awesome outdoor experiential Jewish educator) led us on a walk. He instructed us to look up. He pointed out how our instinct is to look down the ground when we walk. I was surprised by how correct he was! I also noticed that when I looked up noticed more not just visually, but auditory as well. The whole experience with Gabe helped me to feel more open, and to be aware of what is going on around me through my senses. Try going for a walk and keep your head up, and let me know if you feel a difference!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

#BlogElul: Believe

Just like almost every other post for Elul, I have no idea what to write. It's not because I don't believe in anything, I do. Lately, I've been working on believing in myself. During my time in Greensboro, I often did believe in myself. I had many reasons to believe that I was good at what I was doing, and the decisions I made were positive. Now I'm about to dive in academia. I have a very inconsistent academic track record, and I am determined to do well. I'm spending the is next year focusing a lot of my time on learning Hebrew. Hebrew has always been a big headache for me. I know that a lot of it is mental- I need to get over the fact that I've struggled with learning the language in the past. I need to believe that I can do it. I'm excited for all of the academic challenges that lie ahead. Months from now when I'm studying for a big Hebrew test, someone will need to remind me that I wrote this post!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#BlogElul: Be

I often like to remind myself of the difference between wants and needs. Sometimes I can't tell the difference.

This year, I want to be:

-engaged (not in the marriage sense, but I wouldn't be opposed to that either)

This year I need to be:

-on a budget
-making health decisions
-kind to myself

Monday, August 12, 2013

#BlogElul: Do

After my first year of community college I spent the summer working at the URJ Kutz Camp. I had spent the school year spending many of my weekends at Kutz helping to run the retreat center. When I desperately needed a place to live for the next semester, some kind souls offered to let me stay at Kutz. It allowed me to continue to go to school, have a job and have a roof over my head (If you are reading this and helped make this possible for me, I cannot adequately express how grateful I am. Thank you!)

At the age of 20 (give or take a few years) while living at Kutz I understandably had a limited social circle. One dear friend at the time also lived and worked at Kutz. When I hear the word "do" I think of him. Why do I think of him? He used to find it hysterical when someone would say "do do" consecutively in a sentence. Real mature. Oh, don't worry, I also found it funny. While I may not laugh out loud if I heard it today, I'm certainly smiling on the inside.

I hope you weren't expecting a serious post. Sometimes we all just need to be able to laugh.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

#BlogElul: Know

The older I get, the more I realize I don't know anything. I remember my first year as a Fellow at AHA. I thought I knew everything. I just graduated from college and successfully secured a job. What more did I need to know? Someone should have told me that I didn't know what I was taking about.  I remember thinking that my camp counselor experience would help me to shine residentially, and my Bachelor's Degree in Judaic studies would be all I need to be the teaching intern the Judaic Studies Department had every seen!

To make a long story short, I was wrong. Camp is only a month, or two months at the most. In the beginning of the school year, living at AHA felt like camp. I spent my nights helping my students wind down and spent a lot of time helping people through homesickness. Orientation was suddenly over and my kids started classes. At camp, there is a bubble. It's like the world outside of camp doesn't exists. To some extent, AHA has a bubble as well. However, you can't be out of touch with the rest of the world for 10 months out of the year. Whatever challenges my students needed help with became something we worked on the entire year. At camp, we often do what we can to help our campers with the understanding that it was short term. Sometimes, it was challenges like having a student on crutches for several months, or dealing with the loss of a family member. Those things don't just go away after a few months. The challenges my students threw at me always reminded me that I knew nothing, and had so much to learn about life. All I knew I could do was listen and give hugs. Lots of hugs.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

#BlogElul: Accept

Writing every day is hard. Really hard. I'm hoping my posts get a little more creative (and maybe lengthy?) as the month progresses!

I find acceptance to be a funny thing. I feel like I'm a pretty accepting person, especially coming from a public school education and comparing that to my professional experience working at a private Jewish school. I am extremely liberal, and while I surround myself mostly with Jewish friends (it's the nature of the work, I guess) I interact pretty regularly with a diverse group of people. While I certainly accept and embrace others for who they are, I find acceptance most difficult when it comes to myself. There are things about me that I struggle with on a daily basis that I find hard to accept as part of my life. They are often the same things that other people in my life also struggle with, and I am always cheering them on. Why is it so much harder to accept things for myself?

Friday, August 9, 2013

#BlogElul: Bless

For a long time, I used to try and convince myself and others that I was an optimist. I felt like I was supposed to be one. As an aspiring Jewish professional, I think it might even be an expectation. To make myself sound less pessimistic, I sometimes use the phrase "realistic optimist" to describe my snarky self. If we're being totally honest here (which is probably a good goal during the month of Elul), I guess I'm pessimistic. I imagine that my outlook has a lot to do with my life circumstances, and where I am in life right now. I often really struggle with seeing the blessings in my life.

Here are the top 10 blessings in my life, as I get ready to enter 5774.

In no particular order, I am thankful for:

10) the roof over my head 
9) the opportunity to continue my education
8) friends in my life who are always there for me
7) mentors of mine who go above and beyond what is expected of them
6) my strong Jewish identity
5) technology allowing me to connect to friends all over the world
4) AHA for giving me a great first professional experience
3) the teens I have worked with since I was old enough to not be considered a teen who taught me so much about myself
2) my musical ability
1) my ability to laugh at myself

Thursday, August 8, 2013

#BlogElul: Act

I'm already experiencing writer's block, and it's only day 2 of Elul. Today I did something, or an "act" to prepare for the hagim. I put some serious thought into how I want to spend the hagim. This is the first time it is completely my choice (some could argue I had choices in previous years, I guess). Until I graduated high school, I went to services where my parents belonged, and ate meals at home. When I was in community college, I celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my camp director, and at Binghamton, I spent the hagim with my Hillel. When I moved to Greensboro I spent the following four years working, and helping the hagim happen for the rest of the community. This year, the possibilities are endless! I am not responsible for anything, and am excited to experience the holidays in a part of the country where I am not the minority doing this. Hopefully the hagim will be an opportunity to meet new people and reconnect with old friends! Oh, and my classes start right around the same time...

Have you spent the hagim on the Upper West Side and found it really meaningful? Let me know where you went- I'm looking forward to hearing any and all suggestsion!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

#BlogElul: Prepare

I feel like all I've been doing is preparing for what's next over these past few months. I spent the greater part of this past year preparing for my move from Greensboro to NYC. It was somewhat challenging to figure out the logisitics-getting my grad school apps done, figuring out what to do with all of my furniture, deciding how to get my belongings back to New York. In retrospect, that was the easy part. 
What I knew would be difficult but didn't really consider how to prepare for, was the emotional and spiritual preparation I would need to make this a successful transition. After all, I was leaving the place I called home for four incredible years. While I am extremely excited and grateful for the educational opportunities that the Jewish Theological Seminary present me, this move has me feeling extremely anxious to know what lies ahead. My life in Greensboro was very predictable, and now I'm about to begin a new chapter of my life with a lot of unknowns, and I find that very unsettling. 
As we enter the month of Elul, I'm looking forward to experiencing new Jewish communities in the area to prepare for hagim. How else do I prepare for this new year? I'm slowly filling out all of the paperwork I need for school. I'm interviewing for part time jobs. I'm registering for classes. What do you do to prepare for new transitions? I'm open to any and all suggestions!
Hodesh Tov!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Educational Investigation at Genesis

One of my favorite parts of Genesis as an Educator, is how seriously Genesis takes education. The best example of this is that Community Educators and Interns are expected to explore an educational practice and reflect on it throughout the summer. I chose to examine the question, “How do I balance my personal prayer experience with my role as a prayer leader/educator?”
I chose to explore this question because I wanted to reflect on something I was personally invested in. I’ve led t’fillah in various settings since I was in high school. Until very recently I found t’fillah to be most meaningful when I was leading. Through my investigation, I wanted to figure out what was missing. How could I make prayer meaningful for myself again?
I interviewed and observed several Genesis and BIMA staff and faculty members to see what they had to say about my investigation. One person suggested that I redefine what prayer is. Another person suggested that it was okay to not find prayer meaningful at this very point in my life. That same person suggested that I spend time during the school year exploring how to make prayer meaningful to me as a participant, and take leading out of the equation. Another person suggested that I develop my own ritual to do before I begin leading services to set an intention for myself.
One of my new favorite teachers encouraged me to try and define t’fillah for myself. He suggested that t’fillah is a journey towards holiness. Thinking of t’fillah as a journey implied that the prayer leader has to move people from one place to another. While my investigation left me with more questions than answers, I am looking forward to continuing my investigation and reflection throughout the next year and beyond.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

That uncomfortable feeling you get when you step out of your comfort zone...

One week ago I was packing up my life in Greensboro while figuring out how to say goodbye to my friends who have come family. At the same time, I was wondering how I accumulated so much crap? A few summers ago when I was a participant at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute, I spent an entire summer being encouraged (and often forced) to step out of my comfort zone. When I was uncomfortable, I knew I was doing it right. I was so willing to do this repeatedly, mostly because I was within a community that made me feel safe and cared for. It was okay to make mistakes and fail.

On Sunday I'll head to Brandeis University to work as a Community Educator for the Genesis program. I've heard such incredible things about this program, and am really excited to spend a summer with teens who want to explore their Judaism. I'm excited to see pluralism in action in a context other than AHA, and to see what I can learn in the process.

At the end of August I'll make the big move to New York City to get my Master's in Educational Leadership in Synagogues and Communal Settings at the Davidson School of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Being completely overwhelmed by change is normal, right...?

I'm going to attempt to keep up this blog a little more regularly with insights from the summer and what I'm learning about at JTS, along with the ridiculous stories that will come out of me becoming a city girl.

Have you been holding out and hoping I'd write about a particular topic? Let me know what you would like me to be writing about. I'm open to suggestions!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

#BlogExodus 1: Believing

I believe in the beauty of friendships.
I believe that a smile can really brighten someones day.
I believe that I have a purpose in the world.
I believe that the intense connections felt between people is God.
I believe that it truly is what's inside that matters.
I believe in the power of community.
I believe that one person can change the world.
I believe that music can transform people.
I believe that human touch is more powerful than we tend to acknowledge.
I believe that most people don't actually know how much they mean to you. So tell them.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend

Below is an article I was asked to write for the HUC blog in the Fall. It hasn't been published, but it might be in the future. Enjoy!

Just a few months ago I received my Certificate in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults from HUC-JIR in the mail. An entire summer and fall have passed since I completed my coursework, and life after this program has begun. This new certificate will soon be proudly displayed on my wall in my office at the American Hebrew Academy, an international Jewish boarding school in Greensboro, North Carolina. Founded in 1996, the Academy was established to provide an outstanding co-educational college preparatory program and Jewish secondary education to intellectually motivated and high achieving Jewish teenagers from around the world. In addition to being the Administrative Coordinator for Student and Jewish Life and a teacher in the Jewish Studies department, I have the honor of being the House Parent for approximately twenty freshmen and sophomore girls.

As I entered my third year at the Academy last year, I knew I wanted to continue my education. I loved the Academy’s ability to create a unique Jewish environment, truly blending formal and experiential learning in a way that I had never seen before.  When the new Certificate Program was announced, I jumped at the opportunity presented to me and applied.

My HUC-JIR program was cohort-based, in addition to being a combination of face-to-face seminars and distance learning. We met as a cohort in person three times during the year in addition to taking online courses via videoconferencing technology. Our very first class, taught by Dr. Betsy Stone ( a warm, funny and charismatic psychotherapist and HUC-JIR adjunct faculty member), focused on adolescent development and emerging adulthood. Fascinated to learn the science behind the teenage brain, I began to create a knowledge base of adolescent psychology based on fact, rather than my own personal experiences. My favorite lesson I learned from Betsy defined the term “emerging adult.” As we learned about the identifying characteristics of emerging adulthood, such as marriage, job stability, kids, and so on, I came to a slightly terrifying realization. This was about me but I hadn’t yet achieved any of the abovementioned milestones! I was not alone in my realization as the younger part of our cohort came to the same conclusion, while the more mature end of our cohort probably giggled as we panicked. The most interesting fact of the day came at the end of the class; your brain doesn’t really finish developing until you are 25 years old! In fact, emerging adults are really just teenagers without the raging hormones.

When I heard these facts about brains still growing until this age it was if a light bulb went off in my head. The Academy has a Fellowship program designed for recent college graduates to work and live on campus with students doing social, educational and Jewish programming with the students. In return, they gain work experience by having various internships on campus geared towards their interests. We expect that these staff members are adults, regardless of where they are developmentally. My HUC-JIR course has resulted in me giving serious thought to the idea of restructuring our program with the understanding that emerging adults have different needs than adults.

This past summer, when it came time to brainstorm for a keynote speaker for our Student Life Staff Orientation, it was a “no–brainer” (no pun intended!) My campus invited Dr. Stone to spend several of our sessions teaching about adolescent development and counseling skills to enable us to better work with our students. My time learning at HUC-JIR has already extended beyond the virtual classroom. I am still in close contact with my cohort, amazed by the bonds we developed in just nine months.
Kelly Kossar is the Administrative Coordinator for Student & Jewish Life, a synagogue skills teacher and Beit Shalom (Freshman & Sophomore Girls) House Parent for 20 awesome teens at the American Hebrew Academy (, an international Jewish boarding school in Greensboro, North Carolina. In her non-existent free time she enjoys singing, learning guitar, figuring out how to transition from being an emerging adult to adulthood and blogging at

Friday, August 31, 2012

BlogElul: Excuses

"The only reason you ever have an excuse is because you're afraid of telling the truth." - David Levine, current Academy Fellow

Shabbat Shalom <3>