Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yeshivat Hadar #2

The three-sided mobile hanging in my bedroom (a triptych of sorts, you could say) depicts a group of people (a kehila? an am?) standing on a cliff above a grassy land with a river running through it. I just realized while reattaching one of the chopsticks serving as a hanging post that I made the dirt of the cliff and the faces of the people out of the same sandpaper.

The first Hadar Shabbaton took place (took time?) in Washington Heights Sept. 7-8. That Shabbat already feels so long ago--I was still having "first conversations" with some of my fellow fellows. I guess it was technically last year. We talked Torah and life stories, caring for others and how we make decisions within and/or outside of a halakhic framework, Yiddish and interpersonal connection. We prayed and sang and ate and napped on various pieces of furniture. We learned. We were comfortable.

Fort Tryon is one of my favorite places to daven in New York, and I invited a friend to join me there after Shabbat to experience Selichot (a series of penitential prayers and verses that started, for Ashkenazim, the night of Sept. 8 and continued through this past Tuesday morning). We prayed in a small room, the same place we had inhabited for Friday night services, and the sound filled. I remembered the loudness from last year. A space and a group of people that invite you to sing out, to add harmonies that expand, that deepen and darken and create bells, vessels, simplicities of speech, communal speech, a community speaking.

There is a drawing or a poem I have been thinking about for months and months. A morning service at Fort Tryon. Silence, the Amidah. Silent figures wrapped in tallitot, tallitot over heads. Back and forth, the bending. Silent figures, upper bodies bend, back and forth. And young children weave around them, run around them, playing among the silent swathed benders, the ivory-swathed trees, the old trees, a forest of them and the children play, burbling water coursing around old old stones.

"I felt joy out of my fear and fear out of my joy"

Classes over the second and third weeks of yeshiva incorporated a mix of straightforward, philosophical, and personal discussions. Under Devorah Zlochower's guidance, we charted the ordering of sacrifices on Yom Kippur in the Temple. Rav Shai spoke of various ways of thinking about awe, including the connection between awe and humility--awareness of our own smallness and simultaneous internalization of grandeur (with significant input on this particular point from Laynie). He commented that the presence of God means that "all these things that seem private are not private." Dena Weiss led a discussion about mercy, judgment, fairness, showing favor, forgiveness, cleansing, restoration, reconciliation, vindication, etc. with specific attention to the phrases "nesiat panim" and "nesiat avon." (Is mercy fair? Is this a paradox? If so, how do we get out of it? What is the mechanism involved in "nesiat avon," the lifting/cleaning/concealing of guilt/sin/punishment of iniquity? When our punishments get lifted, what happens to our sins?) Rav Aviva helped us tease out an argument regarding the placement of declaration/remembrance of God's kingship within the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. Dori reminded us of what was beautiful in the cores of our conversations. Rav Jason challenged us to look more closely at the passage in the Torah that describes the 13 midot, the 13 attributes of God.

Rav Shai gave us the space to discuss whether or not--and in which cases--forgiveness is a moral as well as a religious obligation, reminding us that this involves "talking about some of the deepest hurts and wounds that people are carrying around." "Do we believe that emotional decisions are possible?" Is forgiving an act, a process, or both? When might it make sense to forgive but not reconcile? "The moment you condone you can no longer forgive....Excusing actually makes forgiving impossible...superfluous." Like the teasing out of knots.

Rav Eitan spoke about the need "to build...communities...that are radiant." His shiur on tefilah, prayer, delineated parameters and qualities to consider when constructing or fine-tuning a prayer community and its services: choreography, sustainability, constituency, and the balances between charisma and predictability, excellence and democracy, and poetry and prose.

I took pride and joy in the way that my classmates, having learned certain material in pairs together for an hour, then cited each other in the concluding shiur (group class) and resolved to bring observations made by my chevrutah to the larger group more often.

The other fellows continue to be one of the highlights of the year program. Each of us has introduced ourselves to the group through teaching something, or about something, dear to us:

An introductory--and immersive--Yiddish lesson
"The Six Steps of Nonviolence"
The prophetic nature of science fiction
Drumming patterns
Her family
The creative self
The Theater of the Oppressed
A poem she wrote
Three stories from her life
The importance of learning/knowing a foreign language
Silence and calm and the connection between Quaker Meeting and graphic novels (me)
Theater, including Shakespeare and directing/stage management
Two yet to come!

On October 15 we will start our primary learning projects for the year. Soon, I will write Hadar #3 in order to elaborate upon the above, which currently contains too much listing and not enough thinking, and to share a few more experiences, such as our first visit to Jewish Home Lifecare.

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