I keep having to remind myself that the Ohalah conference this year isn't going to be like the Ohalot I remember.
For one thing, it's in a new location. We used to gather for our student Shabbaton, and then for Ohalah, at the historic Boulderado hotel. I have all kinds of memories from that hotel: arriving on Friday afternoon just in time for mincha (afternoon prayer), traveling there a scant few days after my last stroke, staying up late one night for a final liturgy class with Reb Sami in the hotel bar, celebrating new moon during morning services, sitting on the carpet outside my hotel room practicing a Torah portion for services the next morning. And, of course, that hotel is the setting for the first several poems in Through, my collection of miscarriage poems, because it was there that I miscarried. But this year we'll be at the Omni hotel in Broomfield. A different physical location, though set against the same Rocky mountain backdrop which I've come to cherish.
For another thing, I'll be there with family. In years past I've attended the Shabbaton and Ohalah by myself -- a chance to immerse wholly in the experience of seeing, talking to, davening and singing with my rabbinic school community. This year I'll be flying out with Ethan and with Drew -- and meeting almost 20 family members there, among them my parents and my in-laws, three of my siblings, and several aunts, uncles, and even cousins. This past summer I had the experience of attending smicha students' week and Ruach ha-Aretz week with Drew (and with first Ethan, then my mom, as Drew's caregivers) and it took me a while to adjust to how different the experience was from what I'd remembered. Being on retreat with my child, no matter how awesome the child (and how awesome the retreat), just isn't restorative in the same way as going on retreat alone! I anticipate some of those same challenges during the coming Shabbaton, too: balancing my desire to reconnect with friends & teachers with my desire to spend time with my gathered family.
And, of course, the biggest reason why this Ohalah conference will be different from all other Ohalot: my ordination.
In 2006 I wrote here about the experience of being formally welcomed into the program in what I called the ceremony of liminality -- a ritual designed to welcome new students and say farewell to those who are about to become musmachim. As this Ohalah draws to a close, we'll do that ceremony again, but this time I'll experience it from the other side. The day will contain other new experiences, too: the signing of our smicha documents, a time for us to receive blessings from our beloved teachers, a "mikveh of sound" ritual which we're orchestrating for ourselves in the moments before the ceremony begins, and finally our smicha ceremony. We've spent the last several months planning the ceremony, so in theory I know how it's going to go, but I know that experientially it will be different from any of my imaginings.
I've been trying, in the mornings -- Drew wakes early these days, 5am or perhaps 5:30 if I'm lucky, so I have a lot of time with him before dawn -- to enfold myself even briefly in my tallit and sing a few prayers. When I do that, I try to take a minute or two to ask God to help me be ready for what's coming. To help me empty the parts of myself which need emptying in order that I might be ready to be filled: with blessing, with community, with the intangible transmission which will come through my teachers' loving hands. I know that expectations can get me into trouble; maybe the best preparation I can engage in, as Ohalah approaches, is to ready myself for whatever adventure is coming -- not whatever adventure I might have imagined, but the blessings of whatever actually is.