- Thursday, November 12, 2015
I am so excited for learning, I get to engage in Chumash with great minds. In Chumash we get to familiarize ourselves with the story while simultaneously asking the question how is this serving me? I am so blessed to be in a place that wants to give the gift of growth with the love of Torah. Today we are going on an adventure with the Shochen institute. I am always pumped for the experiences that this Yeshiva provides me with. I just cannot get enough of this place. For instance I am still here and school got out two plus hours ago. Have a beautiful blessed week filled with Mitvos and learning.
Alexander E. Epstein
- Wednesday, November 11, 2015
I am just checking in about my time for the last couple weeks here at the CY. I have been pushing myself beyond where I have in the past. Learning all day has been just such a blessing and a privilege. This past week I have had the opportunity to be back in the full swing of things. I was previously not feeling healthy. As I am here this week I am able to give a full effort. There is the ability to dig into the minds of people that lived so many years ago.
I was studying Midrash earlier Breishit Rabbah 68: “He matches them to their will, not to their benefit.” This in the context of being matched with our Besheret by Hashem. In this text today I was able to learn that Hashem would not match people “to their will.” Instead he decided to match people according to his will. Why would this be so? Hashem is the one that has the whole picture of people we think we know what is best but in the end the ultimate Avinu Malkinu knows what is best for us. Due to ourselves being finite, we cannot compare to Hashem’s infinity. Our Chochmah can never be as vas and expansive as Hashem’s. Due to this it is Hashem that gives the ultimate Shidduch.
Alexander E. Epstein
- Tuesday, November 03, 2015
Notes from Jerusalem #3 – as I write this, my wife, Joyce is en route to land here in two hours. Being away from her and my children, their significant others, my siblings, extended family and close friends has been my most difficult challenge.
My best experiences in Jerusalem so far have been going to places where Hebrew is the only language spoken. If I can get the gist of what’s being said, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. Last shabbat I went to Kol HaNeshamah. Many of the congregants are native English speakers, but the entire service is conducted in Hebrew and the dvar Torah is given in Hebrew as well. I’m fairly sure I understood most of the talk and want to share the ikkar/the essence of the teaching that I received and my own take on it.
Just before Avraham is about to slaughter Yitzhak, the Angel of G-d calls to him and tells him NOT to harm the lad. (Genesis 22:12) Then we read: “And Avraham lifted his eyes and saw, a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.” (in Hebrew – neh-eh-chaz basbach b’kar-no). The ram is sacrificed instead of Yitzhak.
What does it mean to be (neh-eh-chaz basbach) “Caught in the thicket?” One way to interpret it is: “stuck in your own mindset.” This was the teaching. I’m looking at it through the lens of a foreigner. It is very easy to do this regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of us think we understand what the main problems are. Many of us, especially we who do not live here and do not actually experience the day-to-day reality of being an Israeli or a Palestinian think we know what the solution is or the solutions are to all the problems between Israel and Palestine, Jews and Arabs. I try to speak to as many Israelis as I can and will hopefully have the opportunity (once things calm down) to speak with many Palestinians and to go into the Territories to hear their stories. I am trying very hard not to get “caught in the thicket.” There is no one solution; no silver bullet (bad metaphor – sorry) to solve all the problems facing Israel. Whatever you may think, think again, and then again….. and as we learned in a wonderful Talmudic story, ‘one should always be soft/flexible like a reed and not hard like a cedar.’ (Babylonian Talmud, M. Ta’anit 20a-b).
Rabbinical Student at Hebrew College
- Wednesday, October 28, 2015
This past Tuesday evening I intended to get to bed early in order to be able to get to the CY by 7:15 the next morning. At that hour I planned to get on a bus arranged by the Yeshiva to take us safely (there and back) to what some refer to as “the liberated Kotel,” near Robinson’s Arch. The necessity for the bus is sadly due to the current security situation. There is a tradition at the CY to davven there once a week, weather permitting. This part of the Kotel is an extension of the Western Wall that is used by many in the liberal Jewish community, to pray according to our own traditions, and where women participate fully as leaders and are counted in a minyan. I intended to be out the door in time to take my fast paced, cardio-pumping, uphill morning walk to school.
As the saying goes, “the best laid plans…” I went to bed very late, decided to skip it, and set my alarm for my normal wake-up time. For some inexplicable reason I woke up way too early, 5AM, to very strange sounds seemingly surrounding my street; sounds I had not heard since my arrival three weeks ago. At first it made me nervous. Was something going on? Should I force myself to get out of bed and look around? I decided to relax and tune into the sound. After a few minutes I began to understand what it was. The crisp morning air was acting like a giant microphone, carrying the sound of a Muezzin to my neighborhood. For a short while I wondered where it was coming from but then let go and simply listened.
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- Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Thursdays at the Conservative Yeshiva are a unique experience. Every other week we all sit down to a communal meal cooked by yours truly and we enjoy some sort of educational or community building program called Kehila Midaberet, or community speaks.
Two weeks ago was our first Kehila Midebaret of the year with all of the students for the fall semester present. We enjoyed a tasty curried butternut squash and pumpkin soup for lunch (recipe below!) and sang some songs followed by a creative program led by Nathan, a Ziegler Rabbinical School student. The activity started by asking us to write a single sentence that summarized the beginning or end of something in our lives. It did not have to be specific or major, but it needed to be real. We then broke into groups and each group got two of the sentences at random. Our task was to compose two scenes using those sentences in specific ways. The results ranged from a scene about a woman looking for lemons to impress a new girlfriend, finding only etrogs in the markets and later having her new girlfriend mention a love of etrogs and strong dislike of lemons, to a scene of a young woman who is not allowed to play football for her high school team because of a third arm sticking out from under her shirt and her anxiety about having it removed. Each scene portrayed a light and comical version of real emotional reactions to the small and large changes that make up our lives, even if the scene could never happen in the real world.
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- Monday, October 26, 2015
Earlier today yet another Israeli was stabbed in Hebron and a little while ago there was vehicular terror in the West Bank wounding two Israelis. We heard many sirens outside the CY building this afternoon. It always makes me wonder what’s going on. Since there was no instantaneous report of an attack, we assumed it was something benign, perhaps a traffic accident. Needless to say, this is a tough time to be in Israel. For me it’s the first time in my six visits here that I feel a fairly constant hum of anxiety while walking around and exploring the neighborhoods. We’ve been advised to avoid the Old City, unless going to the Kotel in a bus hired by the CY. This security problem means I cannot visit a very friendly Palestinian acquaintance of mine who owns a wonderful shop there. He and I have had several good, spirited and meaningful conversations during my two previous visits to Israel and he was one of the first people I went to see as soon as I got here (before all the attacks began). He is a Sufi Muslim and a man of peace in possession of a quiet dignity. He asked me to come see him as often as possible and I said I would. Right now this isn’t possible and it makes me sad and angry. The Israeli trope goes, “ye’heyeh b’seder,” which idiomatically means, “It’ll get better.” Reasonable people on all sides hope so.
On the other side of the coin, it is possible to completely enjoy this amazing place. I had dinner the other night at Tmol Shilshom, a wonderful restaurant/bookstore tucked away in a charming alley near Jaffa and Ben Yehudah Streets. It’s named for a novel by SY Agnon, the Nobel Laureate, whom I always enjoy attempting to read in his magnificent mishnaic Hebrew. The name translates as “Those Were the Days.” There is a certain irony to the fact that we were eating inside a restaurant named for this novel which evokes a time when tensions in Jerusalem were not high at a time when they are. And yet, my young friend and I lucked out in going there because that night there were two folksingers and a poet reading from her new book. Both of us were delighted that the singers and the poet sang and spoke slowly enough that we could actually understand much of what was being said. So, in a sense, we felt as though we were back in “those days.” Incidentally, I just ran into the very same poet on my way home from class today on Emek Refaim. We had a lovely conversation in Hebrew and she was sweetly patient when I was halting with the language. Moments such as these are not uncommon.
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- Thursday, October 22, 2015
Alex checking in to tell you about my experience currently at the Conservative Yeshiva. I feel deep profound connection. There is such an absorbent amount of love that flows between teachers and students. The teachers are oozing with wisdom which gives me the opportunity to attain greater intellect, and a different way of thinking. I can safe to say gain wisdom from these teachers teach me what it means to be an observant Jew. There has never been a time more important in my life to attain the knowledge as to how to follow the path of Judaism. What a gift from Hashem it is to be in a place that surrounds one with people that have a serious love of G-d.
My favorite class of mine right now is a transformational Mishna that will become a Gemara class taught by Yarden Raber. His style of teaching is flawless. He is so passionate about Gemara that one could feel it energetically. As we have shiur he explains everything in great detail that we had previously discussed in Chevruta. Having teachers like him here makes it a better place and an environment that is over all welcoming. I will not talk of every teacher because they all have their great gifts and bring a different light as we discuss Torah. I will however, mention how grateful I am for the vision that these teachers share of a liberal and open-minded Judaism. When I study here can truly call it a second home as it is a Beis Midrash. Look forward to sharing with you guys soon. Have a beautiful day and a GREAT SHABBOS!!!!!!
Alexander E. Epstein
- Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Every year we sing “Next year in Jerusalem!” as an aspiration to be able to spend our holidays together like we did thousands of years ago when we still traveled to Jerusalem to offer holiday sacrifices in the Temple. I was lucky to be able to spend Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem, where I visited the houses of teachers and friends and opened up my home to friends. Over the holiday, I prayed with the Tzion and Nava Tehila congregations. Tzion has a unique blend of Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs and melodies. The prayer service usually starts with a few minutes of meditation to help focus our intentions during prayer. At Nava Tehila, there is often some meditation throughout the service and many of the songs are small excerpts from the liturgy sung to a lively or powerful melody with drums and dancing. Both were amazing places to celebrate the new year.
Right after Rosh Hashana, I left Jerusalem with my husband and the other students of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and the students of the Jewish Theological Seminary to spend two weeks at Kibbutz Hannaton in the southern part of the Galilee. While we were there we got to take several tours throughout the north of Israel and meet people from various communities in the Galilee including a local historian from Kfar Manda, several immigrants to Israel and a Druze man. Each person had a different set of ideas about their role in Israeli and culture and aspirations for how this county should be run. The biggest lesson I gained from these experiences is that coexistence is a complicated issue and the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know. What is encouraging is that every person we met with seemed to desire a peaceful coexistence and that they were all working towards that goal.
We went to visit the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes to hear one of the monks, Mattias Karl, who lives there speak about the arson attack that happened there. He spoke about the attack frankly and the pain in his voice was evident. He made an interesting comment that the Aleinu verse to destroy utterly all idols spray painted on the wall of his church did not bother him because it exists in a Jewish prayer, it bothered him because it was being used to describe Christianity as worshiping another God, which he believes is untrue. We may disagree about major parts of our religion’s separate theologies, but he feels that we both worship the same God and how could either of our religions see the other as idolaters? There was no answer to this question. How could there be?
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- Wednesday, September 16, 2015
As the first week of class draws to a close, all of the students studying at the yeshiva this year are beginning to settle into learning and living in Jerusalem. For many of us, this is a once in a lifetime chance to spend a year learning Talmud, Torah, Kabbalah, and Hebrew in the middle of this holy and wholly confusing city, for others it is part of a longer journey to become a rabbi, and for even some others this is a chance to study our traditions and history before going to college and taking that first step into adulthood. No matter what brought us to the Yeshiva, we are all here because we are Jews who want to actively participate in our faith and culture while getting an up close view of the country we can all call home. A blessing that this year will be one full of Torah, kavanah, and kehila as we share this year together.
This is my second in a lifetime chance to study in this amazing community. I attended the CY during the 2012-13 year and loved every moment. I remember forming strong friendships that will continue to last for even more years to come and I am excited to see the beginnings of those relationships forming again with everyone this year. Our beit midrash is a unique space where a group of people can grow closer to each other and to Judaism. Even when each of us returns across the seas to our native communities, we will remember our home in the beit midrash and we can know that there are always people developing their own Jewish lives within its walls. This thought has made me smile countless times while I was away and I am blessed to once again have the opportunity to be a part of this community.
Pre-school Teacher in Los Angeles
Synagogue: Temple Beth Am
Hometown: Livermore, California