Posts Tagged ‘high holidays’

Testimonials from My Hebrew Students

December 29, 2013

“You’re a terrific teacher, and our students are very, very fortunate to be learning with you. You are really helping them learn.  So thank you!” — Rabbi Andrew Vogel, Temple Sinai, Brookline, MA

“Natasha is a treasure.” – attendee at NewCAJE, August 1, 2010

“I have studied Hebrew with four other people over the past ten years, and none of them match Natasha. I am just thrilled with the progress I am making.” — S.B., college professor of sociology

“Your teaching style and enthusiasm have stayed with me over the years. Now I study by myself, but memories of your class echo in my head. When I started studying with you, I didn’t know the Hebrew alphabet; now I understand most of the Torah portion each week. Thank you for the inspiration.” — A.D., professor of medicine

“This Hebrew class is the highest point of my week.  I look forward to it for the other six days.”  J.L., engineer

“You are an enthusiastic and caring teacher.” — S.L., rabbinical student

People who study with you that I have met along the way over the years are deeply grateful to you for what they learn and how they learn from you. — Rabbi Alan Ullman

“Thanks to your class, I’m more mindful in services and I am actually able to read the real text.” — R.K.

“You made me think, darn you!” — attendee at NewCAJE, August 1, 2010

“I was dead tired and could hardly focus on anything. But learning Hebrew with you woke me up. You could make a dead person learn Hebrew.” — F.P., physician

“This is the first time I got past the place where I always used to get stuck.”– C.C., homemaker

“Wow! I just went to a bar mitzvah and when it was time for the Torah reading, I sat back to enjoy the musical chanting, not expecting to understand anything. I was just sitting there listening when suddenly words and even whole sentences started jumping out at me. I realized, it’s a story and I understand it. Whoa! This is a whole new level! Thank you for that.” — R.L.

“I think there is some magical way that you communicate a knowledge of Hebrew directly.” — P.S., college mathematics instructor

“These days, Hebrew seems to be everywhere.” — J.L.,

“This class is like a cool lemonade on a hot sticky day.” — L.W., general contractor

“Great class. Great group. Great teacher!” — J.H., college English professor

“I have enjoyed your classes very much, as you are an excellent teacher.” — T.B.

“I was able to start reading things I couldn’t read before. I can keep up in services much more than before.” — C.C., Homemaker

“This class is exactly what I need.” — S.G.

“I just love this!” — M.W., rabbinic pastor

“I wanted to let you know that I very much enjoyed the classes. You are a great teacher.” — N.F.

“Now that I know what it (Torah text) means literally, I feel more confident in doing my own interpretation.” — M.A.

“I am thoroughly enjoying the class.” — N.F.

“I like your teaching style — friendly but very professional and focused on task.” — E.F.

“This class is a blessing!” — L.W., general contractor

“Thanks to your class, I am more inclined to try to understand Hebrew words when I read them in the siddur (prayer book).” — A.T.

“You are extremely knowledgeable and you encourage students to try without judgment about outcome.” — M.B.

“I appreciate your supportive and helpful manner. You encourage us without making us feel “dumb” if we make mistakes. You answer questions but stay with your lesson plan. I look forward to coming

“You’re so validating!” — S.D.

“Thanks for introducing me to the miracles of Hebrew!” — L.W.

“This is a whole new world!” — M.W., rabbinic pastor

“I got chills during High Holy Day services! For the first time, I was reading and singing and following along the actual Hebrew.” — L.W., newspaper editor

“I REALLY appreciated all the Hebrew you’ve taught me at High Holiday services this year. I was thrilled that I could read well enough to keep up with prayers I didn’t know or forgot since last year. And, I especially enjoyed understanding so many words and phrases throughout the liturgy; I could actually piece together chunks of what I was reading! It really expanded, and in some cases changed, my understanding of the prayers.” — R.L.

“You are a great, amazing teacher!” — D.P.

“I have enjoyed your dedication, depth of knowledge, patience and encouragement. I would love to continue.” — M.B.

“It was really fantastic to understand a lot of the prayers during the high holiday services. It really adds an extra layer of meaning to my prayers.” — L.W., general contractor

” I will never forget your launching me in learning Biblical Hebrew.” — J.H., golfer

“In the last 30 years I tried to learn Hebrew many times and always dropped out. I have now been learning Hebrew with Natasha for 3 years and I am loving it, really learning it for the first time. The siddur and the Torah have come alive for me.” — S.D., yoga teacher

“I have to tell you that you are such an incredible teacher!!” — S.K.

“During services one Shabbat I glanced at a Biblical selection in Hebrew and was astonished to realize I could understand the whole paragraph, not just a phrase or a sentence. Very exciting!

“I feel grateful to you for the way that you approach teaching, and I feel like I can ask anything and not feel stupid! So, thank you, especially for that.” — S.K.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your classes and how rewarding it is to be able to read the Torah in Hebrew!”

“Thank you for all the wonderful education.” — J.D.

“Many thanks. The classes were wonderful. Interesting, well prepared and taught. You are terrific.”

“Thanks so much for a fabulous class. I really enjoyed it and services really are nicer when I can follow along.”

“There’s something so special and interesting about Hebrew that it’s hard not to think about it regularly.”– S.M.

“I wish to thank you for the opportunity I had to study with you. You helped me move along my path!”

“This is such fun!” — M.W., rabbinic pastor

“I’ve been in many language classes and Natasha stands out as focussed, encouraging, knowledgeable, efficient, curious, and tolerant – way beyond the norm. Natasha is a terrific teacher!” — B.W., author

“Natasha’s classes are outstanding, and I will continue taking them as long as she offers them!” — I.K.

“For the first time in my life, I know where we are in the prayer book and where we’re going.” — S.B., college professor of sociology

“Thank you for your wonderful instruction.” — J.F.

“I’ve taken Hebrew classes for years and never enjoyed it, but this class is one I look forward to each week.”

“Thank you for all of your help in getting me to this point. I can (almost) understand most prayers that I read, and am finding translating Biblical passages (at least in the Torah portion!) easier each week.”

“My mother is so impressed with my ability to read Hebrew. Never too old to be happy if Mom’s impressed.” (from a 50+ – year-old student) — H.S.

I really enjoyed the classes and felt like I made enormous progress — I can actually follow along in services (and understand some of the words!). Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and joy.

“Natasha uses her creativity to integrate Jewish holidays, rituals, and current events with the requisite vocabulary and grammar. She always makes the content vivid and memorable.” — D.M.

“Natasha brings incredible enthusiasm to her teaching. She has motivated me … to make a real commitment to studying Hebrew.” — D.M.

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Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond

April 16, 2012

Looking for Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond?  Click here. 

Last Three Days of the Jewish New Year Journey

October 5, 2010

Click to get free emails about the 60-day journey

The first time I read 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, it was summer 2006.  I followed his suggestions for thinking hard about my life, my personal goals, and how to enjoy the Jewish new-year season more deeply.  I made lists, wrote in my journal every day, read the daily essays, asked myself the daily questions, and did my best to do the daily exercises.  It changed my life!  And I learned a lot about the Jewish holidays, too.

Anyone can still sign up for Rabbi Jacobson’s free emails about the 60-day journey, even if you haven’t been following along over the past 57 days.  Just click on the image of the book.

More Jewish Holidays!

September 29, 2010

Three more holidays in our Jewish New Year Holiday Season:

Tishrei 21, which ended at sundown tonight, was Hoshana Rabba (“the Great Hoshana”), which was the final day for waving the lulav and etrog.

Tishrei 22 began at sundown tonight, initiating the holiday of Sh’mini ‘Atzeret (“the Stopping of the Eighth,” i.e., the eighth day, and truly the end of, Sukkot), a less-famous Jewish festival.  Among other observances, we say goodbye to the sukkah until next year.

Tishrei 23 is when we celebrate Simhat Torah, which means, literally, “the joy of the Torah.”  We read from the very end, then rewind the scroll all the way back to the beginning and read from there.

It is truly a holiday cycle.

Hebrew grammar:

Simhat is the s’mikhut (construct) form of simhah. The noun modifies the next noun.

Simhah = joy

Simhat = joy of…

Tishrei 15: The Jewish Camping Holiday

September 22, 2010

Dining
al fresco.

Friends, mosquitoes,
Crickets
Homemade hallah
Homegrown tomatoes
Singing
Looking up through the pine boughs at the full moon, and, later, at the stars.
Delicious evening air.
No TV, no radio, no NPR.  Just crickets.
It’s camping in the back yard.  It’s Sukkot!

Tishrei 17: Quotes from Psalm 27

September 19, 2010
The Dead Sea Scrolls - Psalms Scroll

Image by onBeing via Flickr

The Book of Psalms is called T’hilim in Hebrew.

We recite Psalm 27 every day during the the first 50 days of the 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei.  Starting one month before Rosh haShanah and continuing daily through Sukkot and Simhat Torah, Jews around the world repeat the comforting words of the psalmist:

“Gd is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:2)

When you put it this way, our worries and problems suddenly seem smaller and less consequential, don’t you think?  I guess that’s the point.

There’s a beautiful waltz tune that was composed for the Hebrew lines of the following quote, whose meaning is already beautiful.  I’ve been teaching this one throughout the 60-day journey, every chance I get:

“One thing I asked of Gd, that shall I seek: That I dwell in the house of Gd all the days of my life; to behold the sweetness of Gd and to contemplate in His sanctuary.”  (Ps. 27:4)

One line of Psalm 27 that always startles is the tenth verse:

“Though my father and mother have forsaken me, Gd will gather me in.”  (Ps. 27:10)

Yep, that’s really what it says.  Maybe they really did forsake one.  Or maybe one simply grew up and moved away.

The final words of the psalm are comforting to many:

“Hope to Gd.  Strengthen yourself and be encouraged, and hope to Gd.”

Tishrei 13: Sukkot Is Coming

September 17, 2010

image

It’s Day 43 of our 60-day spiritual journey.  If you haven’t already joined in, please come aboard; it’s not too late!

Of all our happy holidays, Sukkot is the only one on which we are actually commanded, straight from the Bible, to Be Joyful.  Now that we’ve been judged on how we behaved during the past year (Rosh haShanah), spent ten days trying to make it right (Ten Days of Return), and got in touch with our purist selves (Yom Kippur), it is time to party.  Yes, it is!

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot always starts on a full moon, on the eve of the 15th of Tishrei. This year (5771) the holiday begins at sundown on Wednesday night, September 22.

Sukkot Basics:

1. Build a sukkah and live in it as much as possible during all seven days of the holiday.  A sukkah is a hut or booth (or “tabernacle”) that we build with a deliberately flimsy structure so that it is quite subject to the weather.   This small hut is built out in the open, directly beneath the sky, not under the shade or protection of other structures or trees.  To make it even more vulnerable, we leave lots of holes in the roof, quite on purpose.  The roofing material, or skhakh (schach), is largely what defines a kosher sukkah.  The skhakh is made entirely of natural material (detached from the ground), provides shade to at least 50% of the sukkah but leaves plenty of holes through which rain can fall.

Living in a vulnerable little house reminds us that ultimately our safety and comfort and happiness all depend on Gd.

My sukkah, with pile of skhakh ready for creating the roof

2. Every morning inside the  sukkah we take up the Four Species and shake them in the six directions.  These comprise the etrog (citron, pictured above), plus three kinds of branches: hadasim (myrtles), ‘aravot (willows), and lulav (palm frond).  The branches are tied together in a bundle that is usually referred to as the lulav.

3. An important part of observing Sukkot is hosting guests in your sukkah. The more the merrier!  In addition to our family, friends, and neighbors, we also invite the “Exalted Guests” in spiritual form, in this specific order: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.  These guests are called ushpizin, which is Aramaic for “guests.”  There’s a wonderful movie called “Ushpizin,” which I highly recommend, for learning more about Sukkot and just for pure entertainment.

4. On Sukkot we read the Biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).  Many famous quotes come from Kohelet, including “To everything there is a season,” “The sun also rises,” “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and my personal favorite: “Futility of futilities — all is futile!”

If anything in #4 above reminded you of a song, you’re well on your way to experiencing the joy of Sukkot. Singing and dancing, common expressions of joy, are a big part of celebrating this holiday.

Hebrew names for the holiday include

HeHag (The Holiday)
Hag haSukkot (Holiday of Booths, or “Feast of Tabernacles”)
Z’man Simhateinu (Season of Our Joy)

‘Tis the season.  No matter what’s been going on in your life lately, you must now be joyful.   Sing.  Dance.  Find a way.

Tishrei 9: The Melting Heart

September 17, 2010

There are many things to say about Yom Kippur, which begins tonight at sundown.   Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.  We remove ourselves from the distractions of the material world and spend one whole day in prayer, traveling inward toward our purest spiritual selves and our true home in Gd.

But I still have some Rosh haShanah liturgy on my mind as I approach the biggest Day of Awe.  The Hebrew text above comes from one of the prayers we recite at Tashlikh, the ritual of symbolically casting away our sins of the past year into a body of water, which we performed nine days ago on Rosh haShanah. Although I’ve read them many times at Tashlikh in the past, these words struck me particularly deeply this year.   As I stood on the shore of Walden Pond on the first of Tishrei and contemplated the chasm between the person I’ve been and the person I want to be, this simple cry to Gd jumped off the Hebrew page at me.  In English:

Our heart melts within us and becomes like water.
What can we answer?  What can we say?

(more…)

Elul 29: Last day of 5770

September 9, 2010

Today we are halfway through our 60-day spiritual journey.  For the past 30 days we’ve been using the power of the month of Elul to consider what we accomplished in the past year, successes and mistakes, and what we’ve learned as a result.  We’ve also taken a close look at our Divine souls and how we might honor and cherish them in the coming year.

Most poignantly, perhaps, we’ve reviewed the past year through the lens of relationship — between ourselves and Gd, between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and our Selves.  What was good?  What hurt?  How shall we address the broken parts and make them whole again?  We try to emulate Gd by bringing compassion to all our relationships, with unconditional love.

Tonight, as the sun goes down before Rosh haShanah, the universe goes into a comatose state.  A slumber descends on all existence, everything comes to a standstill in cosmic silence, in apprehension of its contract being renewed.

Regardless of how you took advantage of the first 30 days of the journey, you still have 30 more days to experience spiritual transformation, thanks to the energy of the month of Tishrei, which starts with Rosh haShanah and contains all the “high holidays,” including the solemn and cleansing day of Yom Kippur and the week-long festival of joy that is Sukkot.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider subscribing to Rabbi Simon Jacobson‘s free daily emails about the spiritual journey.  Click here.

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness, and learning.

— Natasha Nataniela Shabat