Blog: Sh'liach K'hilah

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Interviewed by steven

Read more…

Friday night's service

I led services Friday night at my synagogue. (In this congregation, for a lay person, this is a big deal.) It went really well!

Many people commented to me afterwards that I exuded spirit and that helped them in their worship. I wasn't making a conscious effort here (you never want something like that to be, or seem, forced), but I was hoping that would happen. I've gotten similar comments in the past, so I'm ready to believe that it's part of my nature. (Except I don't have the impression that it happens Thursday mornings at the other place, so I'll have to analyze that. It might be the nature of the crowd.) Read more…

Sh'liach K'hilah program (survey)

The folks in charge of the Sh'liach K'hilah (para-rabbinic) program sent around a questionnaire to graduates. They're considering unspecified changes to the program, which is currently in abeyance (sigh). I'm going to share my answers to the non-demographic questions, which have to do with what we found rewarding and under-represented and how we're using what we learned.

Read more…

Meta: conducting torah study

I recently attended a study session about which I want to record some "meta" (structural) notes before I forget. In a lot of ways it reminded me of what our group attempted, but didn't do nearly as well, in the Sh'liach K'hilah program last summer.

(I am being deliberately vague about the specifics of this recent session, for reasons I can't explain right now. I would not normally discuss a class in detail without crediting the instructor.) Read more…

Meeting with my rabbi

I met with my rabbi today and we talked about the Sh'liach K'hilah program. We talked a lot about writing eulogies because I mentioned it early (new content from last year) and because I said I didn't think I did a very good job with mine. He gave me a lot of good advice there, some of it much more general than eulogies.

We talked a little about delivery, especially when working with a set text (not notes). It's fine -- even not uncommon -- to go ahead and write in stage directions to address your weaknesses -- "slow down", "breathe", "look up", etc. Color highlighting can mark phrases that ought to be emmphasized or places where you specifically want to pause. No one else will see your copy; do whatever works.

I mentioned the challenge of the text-study assignment (I characterized it as "working with people you don't know at all, with different backgrounds, to produce something quickly"), but we didn't really get into it. Another time, maybe. Or maybe I've learned all I can from that experience already.

We talked about next steps within the congregation. He's still a little unsure of how to handle Friday-night services; he said he'd be happy to have me read torah, so maybe I'll start with that. We talked about kabbalat shabbat with no resolution; I said that there's only one Shabbat in the next several months I'll be away and he has but to name a date. We got interrupted while we were talking about this and didn't get to finish, so I'll follow up.

I did not get a chance to ask about further study (much); I haven't asked his opinion about Melton, Drisha, Hebrew College, and others. I'd like to hear his thoughts on those. Next meeting, then.

I did ask (on the way out the door) about Hebrew. He mentioned a publisher called EKS as a good source. I mentioned courses at Pitt; he thinks they start with modern and then go to biblical and you can't just jump into biblical there. But, he said, you really have to learn the two together anyway; you can't do just biblical and be effective. So he thinks a two-pronged approach would work: learn modern at JEI and biblical with him, replacing our talmud study with Hebrew study. The next round of courses at JEI should start in September, so I'll see what they have to offer. The course I took there several years ago didn't work for me, but it's been several years and maybe that style of teaching will work better now.

Edit: Ok, I thought EKS sounded vaguely familiar. I actually have one of their books. A friend and I started to work through it a while back. Time to pull it out again.

Post-HUC thoughts

Sunday morning we had a low-key service and then a wrap-up session where we talked about taking what we'd done there back to our congregations. It was a mellow day. Then we turned in our evaluation forms and keys, said our goodbyes, and left.

The drive home took me five hours, with three quick stops. (I've discovered that my steering wheel vibrates just a little; I found I needed to rest my hands. I wonder what that means.) Sunday drivers seem to be more annoying than Friday drivers, but whatever. I was glad to have music and AC in the car. :-)

At the final session one of the other students asked the group how many would be interested in a program next year focused on text study. About a dozen hands went up, which I find gratifying. I feared that there were only four or five of us, which wouldn't be critical mass. (It would be if we were all in the same city or at least region, but not spread out over the country like we are.) And there'd be no reason not to open it up to previous classes too, up to whatever size limit makes sense, so we could do this. A couple people volunteered to host it, but I still want to see if we can do it at HUC. For one thing, it's a compromise for everyone. But more importantly, how can you do serious text study without the resources of a good library? Their library is very good.

So I plan to ask Rachel (the main organizer) if "we're not doing it" means "we aren't doing the work" or "not here". If they'd let us use the site, I think others of us can arrange for there to be a program of study for the people who come. Heck, I could organize something like this, assuming they're willing to put us in touch with student rabbis and maybe even some faculty. Obviously we'd have to talk a lot about money, but since the actual organization would be by volunteers (mostly) and the faculty shouldn't be more expensive than this year (we'd probably use more students and fewer faculty), it ought to be possible to do it for no more than what we paid this yaer -- unless HUC subsidized the program. Ok, that's another thing to ask about.

I'm also going to look into Melton and Drisha and Hebrew College and other ideas, and I'll see what my rabbi thinks would make sense (since he knows me well). Everything's wide open at this point.

I need to work on Hebrew if I'm going to go much farther, I think. I haven't been able to coax much useful information out of University of Pittsburgh's web site. They offer Hebrew courses (that much I can tell); I can't tell whether Biblical Hebrew is an entry point or if they have you take modern first. And they don't have a fall schedule up, nor fees. I'll have to check back later.

Sh'liach K'hilah: Friday and Saturday

(Written Saturday night.)

I mis-characterized this program before. (To be fair, so did one of the organizers.) I had said that last year was focused on information and this year was focused on practical skills. But that's not correct; we learned a lot about practical skills last year and we certainly had some classes this year that were not directly tied into skills we will use. No, a better characterization, I think, is that last year was about learning how and this year was about doing and being evaluated.

So, for example, when I saw two sessions about homiletics (think "preaching", but it's broader than that) on the schedule, I got excited. I thought these would be classes where we'd get a lot of practical instruction. I think the view of the program organizers is that we got that last year; what these sessions actually were were student presentations for critique. That's valuable (I certainly learned from mine), but I was also hoping for some more structured learning in this area. We barely scratched the surface of the topic last year and hadn't come together for any sort of "what have we learned about this in the last year in our own congregations?" discussion before we went off and did it. So there was a chunk missing.

The text studies were a little better in that regard, but here too I had different expectations based on the advance schedule. I saw daily text study and said "woo hoo! we're going to get down and dirty with our sources for a whole week with rabbis who can guide us!". I was practically salivating. This turned out to be the student-led sessions (after the first day). Now these were generally very good and it was certainly a valuable experience for all of us; I'm not dissing student-led study. But again, it violated my expectations. Here, unlike with homiletics, they did first give us one faculty-led text study (as a model) and a class about text study (specifically, learning styles), so they gave us more of the tools we needed before we went off and did it ourselves. I wanted that with homiletics too. Pretty much everything I know about homiletics comes from observing other people (most specifically my rabbi); I think I've figured out some things that way, but before doing it for critique it would have been valuable to formally look at some of those techniques.

Read more…

Sh'liach K'hilah: Thursday

Today was a mixed day. Most of the classes were quite good; one was not (and I want my hour and a half back). My group's text study is tomorrow morning and there has definitely been tension within the group as different styles and goals have clashed, but I hope things will be better tomorrow and that if there are any lingering issues we'll be able to talk about them. Read more…

Sh'liach K'hilah: our service (Wednesday shacharit)

This is unlikely to be interesting to anyone else unless you happen to have a recent draft of Mishkan T'filah lying around, but probably not even then. This is for my records, as someday I do hope to own this siddur and maybe the page numbers will even still be relevant. :-) And I think my rabbi may be interested. Read more…

Sh'liach K'hilah: Wednesday

I left the dorm at 7:45AM and returned at 11:30PM. Urg. A good "urg", but "urg" nonetheless. Read more…