Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Judaism and July

Every morning is essentially the same: wake up, prepare for the day, and breakfast.

Unless breakfast is phenomenal (which I doubt, but continue to hope for), I will frequently skip to the beginning of class when blogging about my day and experiences.

Today in class I learned a respectable amount of information about Judaism. Honestly, my knowledge on the religion—or any religion, for that matter—is very limited, so everything we discussed in class I happily absorbed.

We studied the ancient Hebrew Bible—the Torah—extensively today, and one thing that really caught my interest was the many stories documented in the text. We learned that the many religious stories (such as the one where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son) are included in the Bible to demonstrate the devout men of God—almost always testing man’s faithfulness in Him.

I also learned about the origins of Judaism—how it all started, the principles on which it is built, and how it has changed and been altered throughout time to fit into modern day worship.

After about six hours of class (with lunch in between), we finally were finished with the lesson and began Study Hall. Dr. Dunn passed out a packet of about eighty pages titled Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. It is a forged text, and the aim of this reading assignment and reflection is to probe deeper in the critiques the author is making and the ‘stereotypes’ frequently held against certain types of people. It is a very interesting piece of literature to read and analyze, even if it is a hoax.
I hurried through the beautiful, green Vanderbilt campus to my arĂȘte class, Teen Scene.
We presented a short scene of an incomplete dialogue with a partner in front of the small class. In the scene, we were not allowed to add or change any of the words from the script—we had to develop a background story that fit well with the choppy dialogue and make it work.

My partner Bria and I had a lot of fun preparing and delivering the scene, and I found that I actually enjoyed acting—it was entertaining and refreshing to put myself in someone else’s shoes (not literally, of course).

After a quick hour break and dinner, I, along with Aiyana and a group of friends, headed over to the third floor of Hank Ingram House to engage in our evening activity: friendship bracelet making. We had the option of signing up for other activities during breakfast, such as outdoor cooking (they made s’mores!), kick-ball, knitting, and so on.

I had no idea how to weave a friendship bracelet, so I ended up tangling some colorful string into a knot and calling it a day.

I had a relatively enjoyable day, and I am honestly relieved that our schoolwork does not take up a large part of the rest of our crammed schedule. We usually finish the required reading and reflection during Study Hall, where we also have the Teacher Assistant there to assist us. I learned the importance of using one's resources to ask questions, in or out of class, if anything is unclear. I enjoy my education here, and really am excited to learn more every day, of course not simply in class, but outside of it as well.

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: Journey through Judaism

It’s not every day one has the chance to explore Vanderbilt’s campus, especially at 6:30 AM, within their extensive Recreation Facility. Opportunities are all around you at VSA, like the ability to venture with a proctor to the Student Recreation Center to work out as a student at Vanderbilt would. The time was early, but it was worth the trip interfacing with my housemates and enjoying each other’s company with an early morning game of basketball before breakfast.
In class, we continued are adventure through the history of Judaism, a fascinating adventure almost originating at the beginning of time itself. My classmates and I received a lecture reviewing the history of the Israelites from the patriarch, Abraham, through the Deuteronomy Redactors, looking at the patterns of Exile and Return, and really finding a sense on what it means to be Jewish. We read and presented stories from the Judaic text, the Talmud, speaking about how to be Jewish without a temple which is a modern Judaic standpoint seeing that the most vital piece of Jewish worship was knocked out a millennium ago. We finished by reading a book that was forged in the name of Jews, in particular a nonexistent group called the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, claiming that the group and all Jews had plans to take over the world using violence and intimidation. It was interesting to see the ideals stated in the book and how different they were from ideas taught in the Torah, Israel’s sacred text.

After class we continued to our interesting array of ArĂȘte classes. I ventured off to fencing excited to learn the ways of this international sport. We got suited in our protective jackets and put on our masks preparing to sharpen our footwork. Then we learned today we would learn to parry opponent’s blows and to hit your opponent for points. In lines we battled each other, until we were called to stop, first with a glove, then with a saber.
Afterward our instructor promised us that tomorrow will be the day we were going to fence. He instructed me to bring my camera because that was when I’d see my class in action. I insured him I’d have it handy as I walked to get away to get ready for dinner and further Kickball.

We played on the lawns of the beautiful Wyatt Center at Peabody campus. We were able to run two games simultaneously making the play time more efficient. Each game was full of action and excitement. For the first game I took to the outfield for my team. We lost that game. The trouble was my inability to throw without causing my shoulder pain. I decided to make a pact with myself, since I couldn’t throw I promised myself I’d catch every ball that came my way so I wouldn’t have to throw. The strategy worked, but my team couldn’t stop the bleeding resulting in an honest loss.

The second game I decided to switch positions to pitcher. At this I was successful because I was able to play the shorter kicks and make the throw to first. I also used my special spin, throwing a lot of the kickers off. We were able to win that game when my fellow California classmate kicked a ball in the gap between third and second base, rolling all the way into the fresh greenery which is abundant on the Vanderbilt campus. We were able to pick the last two runs to win the inning.

The Vanderbilt Student Academy not only offers students time to sharpen each other mentally with six hours of class, but physically and socially too. Every aspect is centered on growing, either in a speech in front of class or even speaking to girls. I seem to find it hard not to encounter new ideas here.

Working out With Rope

After running around in the hot weather yesterday, many of us had shower on the mind. Unfortunately, there were not enough showers for everyone and not enough time. I set my alarm to wake up at 6:45 so I would have an hour to shower and get ready for breakfast. One very, extremely, tremendously important thing to remember when showering at the dorms is to bring three things: your clothes, your towel, and a robe. I forgot the latter. So I had to use some clever thinking to make up for the lack of a robe, with only one towel that I was using for my hair-turban. Let’s just say I made it out fine.

As a few of us began to sit down at our table full of girls of our proctor group, a sort of socially-awkward young man came up to me and asked if he could sit down with us. First of all, I think it is so brave of anyone to ask a random group of strangers, especially women, to sit down with them. So I smiled real big at him (hopefully I didn’t look like a crocodile or a creeper) and said “Sure! Go ahead!” One of my new friends warned him that he would be sitting with a lot of girls, and he blushed and smiled and said, “That’s cool.” It was interesting to hear about his home life and program here at VSA. Apparently he’s a math loving guy, and he talked to me about what are the characteristics of his dream job – a mathematician. We also learned that he can recite 40 digits of Pi!! So of course, we made him prove it, and laughed in awe when he was finished.

Today’s main class teaching was about the history of Judaism. We learned about the origins of the books, and the story it tells. We learned about morals and the changes and adoptions in beliefs. Customs and holidays were also taught to us. We broke up into groups and collaborated on the morals of the Talmud, which explains how to stick to Jewish traditions, even when traditional values have changed or are impossible.

During study hall, we read a packet called The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which is a document that has been proven to be an anti-Semitic forgery and a hoax. It was an impersonation of the beliefs of a Zionist who wanted to take over the world. Keep in mind that these accusations are completely false.
Jump-rope class is no joke. It is pretty much one of the most intense and hardest workouts you can get here at VSA. Since yesterday we did the basics, we moved on to tricks. One of the tricks was sitting on the floor, and trying to swing the rope around your head, bring it down and use your chest muscles (?) to lift you off the seat of your pants and have the rope go under you. The other was bending over and bringing the rope through you and jumping backwards through it. The last trick was jumping rope with one foot, with one hand with the rope handle, and the other hand under your opposite leg, and you have to jump. It is super tricky, and we were exhausted by the end. I'm still trying to take pictures of the course, but trying to be part photographer part athlete at the exact same time is not exactly easy.

Julia, our new friend Mashal, and I signed up for friendship bracelet making during our recreational activities tonight. The other options were outdoor cooking, kickball, knitting, and board game knight. I thought that we were going to be taught how to make awesome designs, but they mostly just let us grab whatever and however many colors we wanted, and go crazy with bracelet experimenting. We made friends with two guys, who, for some reason, were actually excited to start bracelet making; although, they, like us, had no idea how to make them. I made a somewhat nice looking bracelet for my friend Jennefer back home, and I took some material to actually learn how to make a legit one online.
Apparently rain is on the way, and I’m thankful for some refreshingly cool weather.