This week's portion: the heart of things
A day in Pittsfield

Field trip to another life

Yesterday morning I woke before sunrise, showered, and stumbled blearily out to the car which idled in our driveway, for a field trip to New York City with my rabbi and the co-president of our little shul. We went to audition student cantors at the HUC-JIR School of Sacred Music.

For me, the most interesting part of the day was walking around HUC with my rabbi, who was a student there and received smicha (ordination) there. It's a fairly small building, actually, adorned with contemporary Jewish art. The library was closed, it being a Sunday, but we took the elevator up to the administrative offices and then walked around the classroom-lined corridors, pausing to look at the rows of black-and-white photographs of teachers and luminaries. ("You have to be off-the-wall to teach here," he quipped. "If you're on the wall, you're dead.")

I interviewed at HUC twelve years ago, so it's fascinating to walk around the building and to recognize that in some alternate reality, this might be my alma mater. It's hard now to imagine what life would have looked like if I'd taken that route. Bennington, The Women's Times, and the six years I invested in Inkberry have shaped me so profoundly that I have trouble picturing who I would be without them, and I'm so rooted in the Berkshires now that I can't really conceive of five years of city life.

And, of course, there's the whole matter of denominational affiliation. I belong happily to a Reform shul, but I don't know that I'm "a Reform Jew," exactly. Postdenominationalism is one of the reasons the Aleph program fits me so well. (I wrote about that in the post Why Aleph, which was meant to kick off an occasional multi-part series; one of these days maybe I'll return to that...)

In a way, strolling HUC as an Aleph student is a little bit like roaming the corridors of a residential MFA program as a Bennington grad. The Bennington Writing Seminars are low-residency; students and faculty live all over the world, and come together twice a year for intensive "residencies" during which we eat, sleep, and breathe creative writing. It was an amazing experience which shaped me profoundly. The community created during those years of study continues to play an important role in my writing life. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Nor would I trade my Aleph student experience now. But it's intriguing sometimes to inhabit the space of a different kind of community of study. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," and all that.

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