It has been a wild time here. I have been made at times to feel almost scarily glamourous, a real Jewish performing artist. At other times the curtain has been pulled back to reveal some of the nuts and bolts, the inner workings, of a large synagogue community, and I have learned much by simply listening and observing. I have rehearsed and sung and worshipped and led others in song and prayer, and I have grown so much through this process that it's hard to quantify it all, even now that most of the big stuff is past. All that's left, really, is Simchat Torah, that wild affair where the Torah is unrolled from end to end and there is much music and dancing and wild abandon as we celebrate starting the annual cycle of Torah readings all over again. Simchat Torah remains one of my absolute favorite Jewish holidays and I look forward to dancing with Torah on Wednesday night.
It has been a lovely time. I have deepened some friendships here, ventured a little farther afield by bicycle (though I still cannot ride all the way to KCMO, too far away and not enough time), and learned a ton of new music (some of which I'll brng home with me). The relationship I've grown with this sweet community is deeper and more affectionate, and the truth is that when I go home, I will really miss B'nai Jehudah. I am so blessed to have found a second home here.
And yet, I am ready to return to Portland. I am ready to go home and turn the buckwheat into the third vegetable bed, to take down the tomato cages and lay the compost and cardboard, to arrange for some social rides with friends and hang out at Velo Cult, to see my Hebrew students again and help move them along towards B'nei Mitzvah. I am even ready to deal with the recent sad news that one of our cats is probably dying (sooner rather than later). I am ready to go back to the simpler life I live there and most of all to my Sweetie's loving embrace. She has been amazing, dealing with all the chores and burdens in my absence and freeing me up to do this work. We are still both feeling our way through the new landscape of my career change, nearly two years into it; and I am sure we will have much to talk about as we share our perspectives with each other. I am blessed to love her and be loved by her, and can't wait to get home to her.
I am forever grateful to Rabbi Art Nemitoff, who has become, in addition to a mentor and friend, my teacher and rabbi. I love working for and with this compassionate, visionary human being, whose visible example of Keeping It Real inspires me and encourages me to be my better self every day.
I am so blessed by my friendship with Rabbi Alex Shuval-Weiner; I hope her adventures will take her to new and good places after this, her final year at TTBJ. Thank you for being my friend and teacher and a key inspiration behind the notion that it is never too late to change your path and to learn more in this life. I want to be as good a teacher as you when I grow up.
Cantor Sharon Kohn, now director of all things Chesed (Pastoral care coordinator for the entire congregation) has been gracious and kind to me in all ways, even as she has found herself in the deep end of a powerful new spiritual path in her personal and professional life. She teaches by quiet example and believe me, I have been paying attention.
Coleen Dieker, serving TTBJ this year as Interim Music Director, is sweet, kind, and ridiculously talented and I have loved every minute we've spent making music together.
Very special thanks to Jeff and Jody House for being my unbelievably easygoing and gracious hosts, for putting up with the tight squeeze of the bicycle and trailer in their garage, and for extending so many simple, quiet kindnesses to me throughout my stay.
The staff and the congregation have been as warm and welcoming as anyone could possibly be. More than a few have asked if I might move to OPK full-time, which I find both utterly sweet and completely impossible. In an ideal world, B'nai Jehudah would be located in or near Portland. But the challenge of my landscape seems to be finding the proper balance between my work and my home lives, which for now are mostly in far-flung and very different places.
I am grateful to God, The Great Whatever, for the gift of my music-making. I have consciously made this specific gratitude my starting intention on many of the days I have been here, and especially during services on the High Holy Days. The fact is that, while my parents gave me life and my start in music, the capacity for it had to come from Somewhere Else, something "bigger than human," as one of my students likes to say when describing God. So I thank that Bigger-Than-Human for giving me my musical capacities and a lifetime of opportunities and teachers through which to develop them.
I recently read this, written by Jewish musician Rebecca Teplow:
Our voice is a loan from God. We must surrender our egos and trust in God, because we are all merely God’s instruments. God is playing a melody through us. Sometimes we compromise the good we may do by assuming that humility requires stepping out of the spotlight. However, there is nothing wrong with confidently recognizing our talents and strengths. On the contrary, there is something wrong when we don’t: “You shall serve God with all your heart and all your soul and all your resources” (Deut. 6:4–5).
Next up will be a few days in Central Oregon with family, and then my second visit to Temple Chai in Phoenix in early November. It will be a different community, a different rabbi and new teachers to work with and learn from. I look forward to it. Overland Park, for all its car-centric, transit-free craziness, holds a special place in my heart. But there may yet be other special places for me to discover and to be discovered by. I hope so.
am so grateful for this adventure. May I be heart-fully and mindfully open to whatever comes next.