through the looking-glass

I made it.

!ברך אתה יי אלחינו מלך העולם שהחינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה

Summer classes ended yesterday, and I passed Hebrew 4, as my teacher told me this morning. She asked me to meet with her the day after the final because I panicked during it and couldn’t quite finish. We talked through the text together, and then she gave me opportunity to answer the questions I hadn’t gotten to. This is just one of the ways in which she is a great teacher.

It was disappointing to leave the last class feeling completely frustrated by my performance (although there was also an odd symmetry to having the last class end in the same way the first class did). But yesterday was not at all indicative of my experience in the second four-week class. I got an A- on my midterm, and almost everyday the teacher told me that my homework was “superb.” I felt relaxed in class, and I even made Hebrew jokes (dorkiness acknowledged). Perhaps most importantly, I feel prepared for Hebrew 5, which begins in just a few short weeks, since I will continue with the same teacher. In fact, I pity my future classmates, the ones who did not share with me in the experience of this summer, because they have no idea what they’re in for. She is fair but tough, and I am so glad that I now know what to expect from her class.

Recalling the anxiety, fear, and complete incompetence that I felt during the first course (Hebrew 3), I can still feel the knot in the pit of my stomach that I had almost every day. In this case, ignorance served me well, as I don’t know that I could have knowingly put myself in this situation. (Well, one type of ignorance served me well: I certainly wouldn’t have minded actually knowing more Hebrew before the start of the class.) But as the cliché goes, I am stronger for this experience.

One of the highlights of the summer was the minyan on Wednesday mornings. Two upperclassmen started it, and we had a consistent if small showing each week, a mix of faculty and students who were still in Boston this summer. I loved starting those days with prayer, quiet, reflection, and meditation. It’s not a surprise that I enjoy davening, but it has been a bit of surprise to me how much I’ve loved it. While I enjoy praying on Shabbat, I haven’t had a more regular prayer practice until now. Even when I was facing the possibility of more sleep, I went to minyan anyway, and I was always glad that I did. I felt calmer and more centered — and so ultimately more ready for class on Wednesdays. Various people led the morning service, and the different selections, melodies, and readings made what can become rote into a new experience each time. This is an intentional prayer community, and I am excited to do this regularly in the school year.

Peeps supervises midterm studying; photo by joe grossberg

I have learned more Hebrew in the past two months than I have in the previous two years, when I started studying seriously to be able to enter the rabbinate. I unearthed all of the skills that I developed in college (most of which were based on already having a good grasp on the material) — and learned new ones (based on generally not knowing what the hell is going on). I also got a glimpse of some of what I might be able to expect of myself as an older student, especially in contrast to the other students in my class, all of whom are 7-10 years younger than I am. First and last days notwithstanding, I felt like I generally panicked less and apologized less, trusting that the instructor would both see my effort and know where I was developmentally, as a good teacher does. And she is an excellent educator.

I also realized the difference between a class taken simply to fulfill a requirement, or even to learn something interesting, and one that is the basis of vocational calling. My success in this class is vital to my future as a rabbi, and I had to be mindful not to let my frustration and anxiety about my limitations become dislike of Hebrew, while still giving myself permission to count down the days and be glad that this intensive Hebrew experience is over. A two-hour Hebrew class three times a week is going to feel like a breeze after this summer!

Orientation starts a week from Sunday. Bring it on.

a peeps profile

Note: This post, originally published on my Tumblr, was the second in a two-part series about our cats that I wrote as a birthday present for my husband. The first part is about the boy cat, Miju.

In late 1998, a small black-and-white cat was born, and Joe Grossberg adopted her two years later from the Washington Humane Society. Records indicate that Joe paid $65, provided by his mother, since the cat was a Chanukah present and (meant to be) a friend for her big brother.

She was being fostered in the Adams Morgan apartment of Marjan Philhour along with many other dogs and cats. A solitary and … tempermental creature, the little cat was often on edge in this environment. So naturally, she bit Joe when he first visited. And thus, Joe met Peeps.

photo by katie jett walls of red turtle photography

Over the years, Peeps has gained more names than pounds. Because of her size, people always think she’s a kitten. But she’s not; she’s full grown.

Peeps’ hobbies include sunbathing, staring at the wall, sleeping in the puff chair, eating cat grass, and jumping on bookshelves. She would more often opt to be alone than with others, but she at times likes to snuggle underneath a blanket. She earned the nickname “Spider Peeps” via her intrepid climbing to the top of wherever she can mange to get.

Peeps’ favorite food is tuna. She gets a can twice a year — on her birthday, and then again on Miju’s birthday; she devours each serving in one sitting. She also likes ice cream, milk, and coffee, much to Joe’s chagrin.

Peeps is not good at understanding the concept of “the phone.” She is good at detecting arrival at the apartment. She likes sniffing and hates being brushed.

Peeps’ most prized possession is her cardboard scratcher, which she somehow managed to gain dominion over, despite her brother’s alpha cat tendencies toward all their other shared possessions in the apartment. On the few occasions he has dared to use it, her eyes turn black upon hearing the noise of claws on cardboard, and she shoots over to it and hisses and bats at him until leaves.

When she wants to be petted, Peeps rolls over on her back and shows the potential petter her “secret dot.” A majority white cat, Peeps has seven black patches (seven being a mystically significant number in Judaism), including one not readily able to be seen. Her face is half-black and half-white, like a yin-yang symbol, or a black-and-white cookie.

In her free time, Peeps studies Torah. She recently became bat mitzvah (on her 12-1/2 birthday) and has shown supernal devotion to learning. Indeed, as Joe is fond of noting, Peeps is an angel from heaven.

All About Peeps
Full name: Peeps Labanit Choni Hamagel Chetzi v Chanukah Heather Feather Grossberg-Pearce

Nicknames: Pea, Peebee, Peapod, Peasoup, Peek-a-souk, Peashoot, Peashoot Salad, Soup, Soupy, Soupy Sales, Soupselah, Peepselah, Bubelah, Spider Peeps, Speep, Bean, Beanselah, Chetzi

Breed: domestic black-and-white shorthair

Gender: female

Birth date: November 15, 1998

Adoption date: November 14, 2000

Total adoption cost: $65

Adoption weight: 5.3 lbs

Current weight: 6.1 lbs

Likes: talking to Joe, sitting on the heater, sleeping in the couch crack, eating cat grass, barfing up cat grass, grooming, small cakes, Torah study, alone time, smelly clothes and shoes

Dislikes: being picked up, large groups of people, other cats, sneezes

a miju memoir

Note: This post, originally published on my Tumblr, was the first in a two-part series about our cats that I wrote as a birthday present for my husband. The second part is about the girl cat, Peeps.

In the summer of 1999, a small orange cat was born, and Joe Grossberg adopted him the following July from the Montgomery County SPCA. Records indicate that Joe paid $75, made a $20 donation to the organization, and spent an additional $5 on a “box.”

The kitten still had the rather unfortunate name of Tommy Tune when his foster mom, Kim Deserio, entrusted Joe with his care. After some brainstorming, Joe quickly invented a new name and Miju was (re)born.

photo by katie jett walls of red turtle photography

By all accounts, Miju was a rambuctious kitten, a quality he continues to exhibit today. In those early days Joe would come home from work to find Miju bouncing off the walls. Miju was also very soft and very sweet: As soon as Joe picked him up in the shelter, Joe just knew this one was the one he wanted to adopt.

Now fully grown, Miju is deceptively large because of his fluffy coat (which is simply luxurious), but also in comparison with his sister (who is just a very small full-grown cat).

Miju’s hobbies include yowling, eating flowers and other plants, sleeping in the box at the bottom of Salem’s closet, and chasing after his baby sister. Miju feels that focus should always be on him, so, for example, he insists on lying between Joe and Salem when they are in bed. At Passover this year, Miju tried to sit on the seder plate.

The need for attention also makes a very afffectionate cat. Miju is a champion head-butter and loves to sit next to new people (particularly if they pet him).

Miju and Salem engage in an ongoing power struggle for control of what should be Salem’s pillow. He slept with Joe for six years before Salem came along, so in his mind, she’s sleeping on his side of the bed.

Miju’s favorite food is string cheese, and he knows as soon as Joe opens a package. His eyes widen, and he camps out in front of Joe until the treat is gone. Meanwhile, he generally lets his sister eat most of his birthday tuna. However, Miju has to eat the shabbos wet food before she does; in fact, it takes six seconds or less for Miju to appear in the kitchen once the wet food bowl clinks on the counter on Friday night.

Miju is not good at sunbathing or sitting in cat beds. He is good at relaxing on the back of the couch. He loves being brushed with the Furminator and drinking water out of glasses. If he were allowed outside, it is thought that Miju would like to climb trees.

Miju has a heart murmur, a tiny nick in his right ear, mottled gums, and (according to Joe) only five nipples. And he defies convential wisdom about cats by being kind of a klutz. But as Joe is fond of noting, he is still perfect.

All About Miju
Full name: Miju Boon Grossberg

Nicknames: Mooj, Mista Mooj, Mi-juuuuuuuuuuu, Mookie, Mee-who, Mijou, Miju Las Vegas, Mijulicious, Hazzan

Breed: domestic medium hair orange tabby

Gender: male

Birth date: August 15, 1999

Adoption date: July 9, 2000

Total adoption cost: $100

Adoption weight: 7.8 lbs

Current weight: 10.3 lbs

Likes: licking books, batting at any small object that can move, sitting in the highest place in the room, stalking Peeps, grooming Joe

Dislikes: belts, having his undercarriage brushed, grooming himself