Here’s the difference between studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary (where I earned my MA) and Aleph (the Jewish Renewal movement’s ordination program):
At JTS they start a class by starting class. No prayers, not even the one traditionally said before studying. The teacher starts teaching and the students start taking notes.
At Aleph, my first class started with an hour-long guided meditation and then a discussion about what we experienced during the meditation. Only after that did we start studying. I kid you not. And no, I am not exaggerating about the hour.
But the difference goes deeper than that. There is a spirit here, a delight in learning and a delight in davvening (praying) that is, well, delightful. People enjoy their prayers. They feel a connection to God (however you define the Divine) and to their community. They walk out of the prayer services feeling uplifted and joyful.
I’m taking a class with Mike Comins, who wrote “Making Prayer Real.” It happens to be one of my favorite books. In fact, I make the parents of bar/bat mitzvah kids buy it as part of their child’s training. It’s not for the kids, mind you. It’s for the poor parents who aren’t sure exactly why they’re making their kids do something that they themselves don’t understand or enjoy.
And the class that began with the long meditation? Wonderful. I can’t wait to go back, even though he starts every session the same way (thankfully, today it was only half an hour).
I feel pretty lucky right now. It’s not every day that you get to make one of your dreams come true….and especially a big dream, like wanting to be a rabbi.
And it doesn’t hurt that this is a beautiful college campus in the mountains in California…. Or that a bunch of other rabbinic students invited me to share some tequila and laughter this evening. Mountains, tequila, meaningful prayer…what could be better? Maybe a little lime next time. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.