Thursday, July 21, 2011

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: A day for an excursion

World Religions at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy is a wonderful experience because it exposes you to so many different perspectives and views. Today was my first time visiting a synagogue and I was excited to hear that I would also be able to wear a Yamalka, or Jewish head covering. We visited Sherith Israel, a synagogue serving the Hillsboro Village area in Nashville, Tennessee where the Canter, Mr. Leberman, let us on a tour through his place of worship.

I felt the trip was special to me because I’m a Christian and I was able to see the original people of God in their house of Worship. I learned about their customs and how their church services are run. I also learned about the Jewish feelings on salvation and Jesus. They feel as though Jesus was human therefore he couldn’t be God and that if we are good people, after our deaths we will return to the Garden of Eden where there are 7 houses waiting for us. We toured the chapels, the mikvah(place for ritual washing) , the auditorium, and we passed by the Rabbi’s office which I failed to take a picture of. Tomorrow we will visit a controversial Islamic prayer center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee which has received lots of attention in the news.

It's A Colorful World

I made sure to wake up early this morning to hurry downstairs to the Commons to sign up for our priority evening activity: Tie-dye.

Today was indeed going to be a colorful day; our World Religions class was going to have the amazing opportunity of visiting a local synagogue: the Sherith Israel.

Upon arriving at the sight, we were warmly greeted by Cantor George Lieberman, who gladly gave his time to conduct a tour of the synagogue as well as debrief on Orthodox Judaism, covering aspects such as what sets it apart from the other sects of Judaism (Conservative, Reform, etc.).

Orthodox Judaism strongly believes in a strict interpretation of the Torah, also known as the Hebrew Bible. Adherents of Orthodox Judaism, therefore, closely observe any and all Jewish holidays. They also regard many forgotten principles during worship, such as the separation of women from men during prayers.

We were led into the main sanctuary where daily prayers are held, and my breath was taken away from the intricate wooden designs and colossal stained glass windows. Although the building was a bit warm because of the lack of air conditioner, the atmosphere of the sanctuary was peaceful, secure, and very holy.

Cantor Lieberman was energetic and was such a pleasure to meet. He granted us the liberty to view a few Torah scrolls, which were all hand-scripted onto parchment by scribes. The price of Torah scrolls, I learned, could vary anywhere, from a few thousand to even fifteen-thousand American dollars.

After kindly answering a few questions from us curious students, Cantor Lieberman said goodbye as we headed back to campus just in time for lunch. I am very grateful that I had the chance to experience being in a synagogue and learn about the rituals and beliefs of such a divine faith—actually standing in the holy place and meeting a cantor allowed me to learn about Judaism in a way I never could have in a regular classroom environment.

After such an enlightening episode, I felt very refreshed and could not wait for Tie-dye Night to begin.

I had never tie-dyed before today, so after watching our proctor Malaka, our activity leader for the night, give a quick lowdown about the basics of the art, we all began twisting and tying and dyeing our white t-shirts. There was a shortage of the cloth dye, so I decided that I could perhaps salvage some of the last drops by diluting it with some water to create more. It would be less pigmented, of course, but it was something. Soon enough, Aiyana and I were finished dyeing our shirts and left them with Malaka for the night--they need to soak for a while so that the dye will sink in. I cannot wait to unravel my creation tomorrow.

Since we finished our tie-dye activity about an hour earlier than scheduled, our group decided to crash the Spa Night party downstairs.

We had fun painting our nails and putting facial masks on to relax and unravel from the long week.

Overall, today was a very fun day, and I can almost bet tomorrow will be just as enjoyable—we have yet another field trip scheduled to a mosque (about an hour drive away) and a pool party/luau in the evening. I am enjoying my engaging studies as well as the Vanderbilt summer program overall thus far. I am afraid next week may fly by just as quickly as this one did.

"The Day is Short and the Task is Great"

First field trip today! We went to the Congregation Sherith Israel, which is a Jewish synagogue. The synagogue is 105 years old, though it used to have a different location – at the Opry Center. It moved over in 1947 and has had about 3 Rabbis since the move. This synagogue is an Orthodox Judaism worship center. Orthodox Judaism is the strictest form of Judaism. The other forms are Conservative, Reformed, and Reconstructionist (a new version which allows absolutely everybody in). While listing these other divisions of Judaism, the cantor we talked to seemed to look a bit down towards the other, mostly because he feels like Orthodox is the only true form of Judaism, since it follows the Torah exactly.

The room that we were in was packed with shelves full of hundreds of Jewish texts. He pulled out huge scrolls of the Torah. He said that they were etched by hand into parchment. These scrolls run for 12,000 dollars or higher. The chapel was gorgeous with stain glassed windows depicting holidays, holy places, and other associations of Jewish history and culture. The one on the left depicts Jerusalem, and the one on the right depicts the Holocaust. We were also told of the customs and rules of Orthodox Judaism. The congregation is very stricit on who they admit and who they convert. One has to prove that they wish to be there and a part of the community. They have rules on the mourning period of families (12 months); rules of no touching with the opposite sex until marriage after one has reached puberty; rules of observing the Sabbath and also the cleansing of one’s self in a Mikvah. Something new I learned was that there was such thing as Jewish Court. They settle non-federal cases of members of the Jewish community on issues like money, conversion, etc.

Most of what the man talked about was stuff we had learned about in class. But the rules were something we were not aware of. We knew that Orthodox Judaism was strict, but not that strict. They have their reasons though. It’s the word of God through the Torah.

We continued the class discussion today with Hinduism. The religion is starting to make a bit more sense. We learned the different incarnations/avatars of God (Brahma). Hindus visit a temple usually dedicated to a particular god or goddess that is an aspect of the true One god. They worship the God that’s best for them. Make sense?

Julia and I are partners for a Minority Religions project. Our religion is Scientology. I haven’t researched enough to give a full report on it, but from what I know so far, it’s so strange. I will report back after we do more research.

Our recreational activity tonight was tie-dying t-shirts! I’ve only tie-dyed once in my life, so this was yet another blast to the past experience (the first was re-discovering my childhood memories of fish sticks). I tried to keep my colors limited to two – blue and yellowish gold. Yay Spartans! But there ended up being a lack of dye for all 20 of us, and I didn’t get to color the sections purely that color, so some white is still showing.And we all learned in Kindergarten that blue and yellow make green. I just wish that that weren't true when tie-dying, since my colors bled together. Blue dye is also all over my hands, so my clever things to say about them when people ask are: “I fought a Smurf”, “I’m actually part Avatar”, and “I am the Hindu god Vishnu”. I can really only use that last line for people in my World Religions class, since no one would know what I’m talking about otherwise.

We finished the tie-dying pretty early, so we took over the Spa-Night rec. activity. I painted my toenails and Julia did the same, plus she gave herself a face mask.

It was a fun day. I’m planning on sleeping in a bit later tomorrow and cutting down on breakfast time.