Thursday, August 28, 2014

Graduate School: Week 1 Recap

As I mentioned previously, over the summer I started a graduate program in Washington DC!  The summer was jam-packed with new friends, new projects, and new museum jargon.  After a whirlwind 6-week summer semester, I returned to Birmingham for the month of August to digest all this new information and to pack up my life for a permanent move to DC.

I've been back for a week and I've hit the ground running!  It seems easiest at this point to split my life into three categories: Personal, Religious, and Academic.

Personal
My new apartment in Silver Spring is wonderful and still has that new-apartment smell!  I quickly learned how to get from my building to important places like the Metro, grocery store, and Starbucks, but I'm still working on remembering how to get to the downtown shopping center.  There is a Ben and Jerry's and a New York & Co. downtown, so I'm sure I will find my way back there soon enough.  Yesterday, I learned how to take the bus to the day school I will be working at for the semester.  The apartment itself is beautiful.
My living and dining room
We have a great view of the Metro tracks and what will eventually be a landscaped park area.  For now, Marc is still in Birmingham, so the apartment is pretty sparse and quiet.  I can't wait until he moves here with me permanently to start his new job (three weeks and counting).  This summer and the next three weeks are the first (and hopefully last) time I have ever lived alone.  It's incredibly boring and lonely to live alone, so it has forced me to become more of an extrovert.

Religious
Learning my way around a new town also means finding the kosher food and the synagogues.  Silver Spring (and Southern Maryland in general) has a large Jewish population, so I have many options to choose from.  The local Giant carries plenty of kosher products, but I also have two kosher grocery stores within driving distance for even more variety.  I had heard very good things about Moti's (formerly Kosher Mart) in Rockville.  The accompanying restaurant of the same name has excellent falafel, pita, and hummus, but I was more impressed by the grocery selection at Shalom Kosher right here in Silver Spring.

On the synagogue side of things, I have at least four options within about a mile of my house (and that's not including the Reform synagogue), all somewhere between Conservative and Modern Orthodox.  The High Holidays are coming and, for the fourth year in a row, I am in a new place shul shopping in a rush to find a community in time for Rosh Hashanah.  So far, I have visited one - Ohev Shalom.  It was my first experience in a Modern Orthodox shul with a mechitza.  The mechitza is a half-wall that runs down the middle of the room, so men and women can see each other and have equal space and sight lines to the action.  The community was welcoming and we had a very nice lunch after the service with a few members (thanks to one of my classmates, Rena, who coordinated it at the last minute).  We have since been invited to the Rabbi's home for dinner.  I plan to continue my Jewish firsts this weekend with a trip to my first independent minyan, Segulah.  After that, I will head back to my comfort zone in the Conservative movement at Tifereth Israel.

Academic
It's been a long time since I was in school with readings, assignments, and projects to do.  I have to say that I was starting to like the nine-to-five professional life, but education has sucked me back in.  I'm hoping that I have outgrown some of my worse undergrad habits - like procrastinating and drinking too much caffeine - over the past four years, but I guess we'll see about that.  I couldn't be more excited about this program.  It combines everything I have ever wanted to do.  For those who don't know, I will be receiving a Master of Arts in Education and Human Development (M.A. in Ed. & H.D.) in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA).  Yes, it's a mouthful.  Basically, it is a combination of Museum Education and Jewish Cultural Studies.  There are seven of us in this "pioneering" cohort trying to find our ways into the wide-ranging field of experiential Jewish education.  In addition to learning about Jewish life in DC with my EE/JCA cohort, we are also part of GW's Museum Education Program (MEP), which is a class of thirteen.  Together, the twenty of us spent the summer learning the history and best practices of museum education.  My vocabulary now includes phrases like "entrance and exit narrative," "lofty outcome," and "MEPiphany" (credit to my MEP friend Alli for that last one).  I missed them all on our month off and was so glad to see everyone again this week.

Coming from Knox's trimester system, where each term was only ten weeks long, I am having trouble envisioning a regular sixteen-week semester, but I'm sure I will appreciate the extra time later.  This semester I have three classes:

  1. Contemporary Jewish Life will cover Jewish life in America after WWII, including topics like Jewish cultural and religious identity, food, and music.  There is not a single thing on the syllabus that I am not excited to read about and discuss.  The Pew survey on American Jewish life?  Can't wait to re-read it!  Judaism in the Diaspora?  Awesome!  Interfaith marriage?  Bring it on.  Join me in my love for this class by watching Stephen Colbert's 1-800-OOPS-JEW Atone Phone segments.  The class will require weekly blog-style papers in response to our readings, so hopefully that will make me better at keeping up with my own blog.
  2. Museum Audiences also promises to be fascinating.  I look forward to building a skill set that will allow me to engage museum visitors of all ages and backgrounds.  It is important in any public presentation to know your audience and museum audiences are no different.  My classmates have wide-ranging educational and professional experiences that I hope to learn from in this class.
  3. Field Placement and Seminar is designed to give us experience with an audience we are not particularly familiar with.  I have been assigned to the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation's Capital, where I will be teaching two special needs fifth grade Judaic Studies classes about art in relation to the Book of Exodus.  I don't know anything about special needs education or art, so this will be fun.  If you know of any art exhibitions in the Washington DC area that contain Biblical art (specifically about Exodus, if possible) and would be suitable for a fifth grade field trip, please give me suggestions!  Thank you!
This has been my first week of fall term.  I will keep you posted as the weeks go on.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quote of the Week: Antisemitism

In May, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum interviewed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks for their Voices on Antisemitism podcast series.  His comments seem especially appropriate in the current global climate.
"People trying to understand antisemitism study Jews, but Jews are always only the objects of antisemitism, they are never the cause of antisemitism.  And the result is that you find antisemitism in countries like Japan that have no Jews at all.  So when you try and understand antisemitism by looking at Jews you're looking in the wrong place.  To understand antisemitism you have to learn to understand antisemites."
Listen to the entire insightful interview with Rabbi Sacks here and subscribe to future USHMM podcasts for free on iTunes.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Quote of the Week: Improve the World



US Capitol Grounds Memorial Tree

Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut)
Sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to honor Anne Frank

"No one need wait; start right now to improve the world"

You may remember in April that I was very excited about the upcoming planting of a sapling from Anne Frank's chestnut tree outside of the Capitol.  Well, last week I moved to DC to begin a brand new graduate school program at George Washington University (more on that later) and celebrated my first full week in the city by walking down the Mall to find Anne Frank's tree.


There are a lot of trees across the west lawn of the Capitol, so if you are looking for the Anne Frank tree, go up to the steps of the Capitol and follow the path south.  The tree will be on your left, right about where the circled tree is here:

I love the quote that they have chosen to accompany this tree, though I think it is a paraphrasing of this longer Anne Frank quote: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."  It seems especially appropriate in this location.  The city seems constantly charged with a sense of purpose, perhaps because of its transient nature, which is inevitable in a city built around our ever-changing politics.  Even when our government is at a near standstill, the people are active.  DC is filled with long-time residents, newcomers, students, and visitors, who use every moment to learn and grow and improve the world - and the world needs a lot of improvements.  Here are some recent issues that Congress has failed to make any better:
No wonder Congress' approval rating is only seven percent, the lowest it has been in history.  I think it would do Congress some good to take another look at this little tree on their way to work.