With friends on Friday evening.
My last smicha students' week as an ALEPH rabbinic student has ended. There were some amazing moments. Sweetest of all has been seeing my friends and teachers again; I missed them all desperately in January, and it's been a long year since we were together last! It was also incredible to introduce Drew to these people who I know and love, and to see them coming to know and love him in return. Seeing him kicking and burbling happily in my friends' arms. Watching some of my revered teachers trade raspberries with him. Dancing with him around the back of the room where we've been gathering for prayer. Sitting (and standing and waltzing) with him in my arms at the front of the room with several of my friends on Friday morning, and reciting my psalm as he clung to my neck.
Other highlights: watching friends roleplay the story of Job and his friends as though it were a pastoral care encounter. Facilitating my first group hashpa'ah (spiritual direction) session. Hearing Hazzan Jack Kessler chant the Declaration of Independence in haftarah trope on the Shabbat of the Fourth of July weekend. Being moved to tears when a friend held the Torah scroll and called out the shema for us to repeat on Shabbat morning -- he was caught up in such deep emotion that he took me along, too. Singing half a dozen different pieces of our liturgy to American tunes this morning in celebration of American Independence Day (my favorite: psalm 150 to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.") Leading the student community, during this morning's closing ceremony, in singing a filk I wrote (set to the tune of "The Boxer") about being ALEPH students.
Of course, the week wasn't all easy. These retreats used to be a time when I could set my mundane responsibilities aside and immerse in the exquisite joys of praying and learning and community. It's different with Drew here. I didn't attend the beit midrash in the evenings last week, or make it to mincha/maariv after the first night; I didn't stay up late with friends studying and talking and singing. He doesn't sleep well when we travel, which means many night-time feedings, and less sleep than either one of us is used to getting at home. I nodded off one afternoon during an in-class meditation. I missed most of Kabbalat Shabbat because he was so overstimulated, and Shabbat dinner, too. The week has been an exercise in being present to what is, enjoying the unique blessings of being here with my son instead of longing for the experience I remember I used to have.
And, of course, there's the bittersweet knowledge that this is my last student retreat. It's not entirely the end; for one thing, we'll be here for a second week, the Ruach ha'Aretz retreat, where I'll be taking a lifecycles class that I'm really looking forward to. I'll see everyone again in January at Ohalah, and again next summer at the 2011 ALEPH Kallah (in Redlands, CA, June 27-July 3 -- save the date!) Still, this is the end of an era, and that's a strange thing to contemplate, especially since this retreat has been so different from all the ones I experienced before Drew's birth.
Despite the challenges, though, it's been wonderful. Once again I'm reminded of how blessed I am to have found this community and to be able to learn with and from them. I am incredibly grateful.