In Which Things Are Complex

October 22, 2014

I won’t actually run through the next week or so. Things get wonderful and things get difficult. There are a lot of tears and a lot of happy moments. I make some progress on research and make some backwards steps elsewhere. When we resume our regular feature the Glee Club Show will likely be over, and the missing two weeks will thankfully be over as well.

Among the things I’ve learned this week are the difficulty of forgiveness, the value of close friendships and the ways that different people deal with things. Hopefully I’ll be a better person for it all.

As much as this post reads to be a little morose, the past week has been great too. It’s just harder to focus on those things!

Fall Break – Sukkot

October 20, 2014

Following two disastrous midterms, one of which I may or may not have failed, I finally had a few minutes to myself. Sukkot (the festival of booths) and Fall Break. Given my server issues and how far behind I am post wise, I’ll spare some of the details but needless to say despite the large workload I was presented with for the break, I did manage to get a little sleep over the first two days.

Meals were mainly at Chabad with Rabbi Levi and Nechama Haskelevich. Nechama was from Melbourne originally and as a result of my presence and that of another guest, we ended up with a substantial Aussie presence in the sukkah, which automatically made me feel much more at home. Gedaliah, the other visiting Australian, was a fascinating character. The holder of multiple masters degrees and a worker in the NYC financial work, Gedaliah had grown up in Melbourne and had most recently completed an ultra-marathon in the Sahara Desert.

For both the first and second days I pretty much slept the entire time, reading my textbooks in between. I quite looked forward to the dinners, and it gave me a reason to get out of bed. However, the rest was most certainly appreciated.

In Which I Am In A Professional Play

One of the highlights of semester thus far was this week’s rehearsals for “The Events”. A play being put on at the Annenberg Center for Performing Arts. We weren’t told in advance the contents of the play, other than that it revolved around a choirmaster dealing with the aftermath of a mass shooting. We were to play the part of the choir on opening night and sing the backing music for the show.

I really enjoyed learning the music, some of it was really beautiful and also featured a strong baritone line.

The week also featured two midterms that I studied for on Sunday before the play and rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday night.

The play itself on Tuesday night was really enjoyable and interesting, touching on themes of guilty, forgiveness and trauma. It involved the choir in really interesting ways and I think even had I not been a part of it I really would’ve enjoyed going to see it!

In Which I Could Fast Better

October 15, 2014

Friday night marked Yom Kippur, and after a Penn Pipers rehearsal in the late afternoon, I felt extremely rushed getting ready on time. Dinner at Hillel before the fast however was quite enjoyable as I sat next to someone with whom I had a great many friends at home in common.

After dinner, it was home to change into my good clothes and awkward canvas shoes (one doesn’t wear leather on Yom Kippur) and headed to Houston Hall for the expanded size service. One thing that was particularly enjoyable about Yom Kippur on campus was that a lot of Jews both came out of the woodwork and came from out of town, so I was able to sit with a good few more people I knew than usual. My only disappointment was that Adriel Koschitzky wasn’t conducting any of the services. However, Elan Kiderman’s Kol Nidrei was beautiful and I was eager to hear more of him over the course of the holidays. Aside from being a wonderfully kind and creative person, he also had a beautiful voice that soared above the rest of the minyan with dynamics appropriate to the occasion.

The next day was a little harder. I didn’t arrive too late to minyan, however I already felt tired when I got there. Being sick and fasting wasn’t working out too well. By the afternoon however I was positively exhausted but still made the mistake of going for a walk along the boardwalk with some of the older students. When we got back it was time for mincha (the afternoon service) but I felt so weak and exhausted that I crept back to my room to sleep for two hours.

I managed to recover sufficiently for Neilah, the closing service of Yom Kippur, but felt like falling over towards the end of the service. When fast ended I practically collapsed into a chair with a doughnut. Break fast took place at Naomi Hachen’s with her graduating class, and was really nice and chilled. However, I couldn’t stay long as I had PhD commitments over at Peter Ballen’s  (one of the other PhD students’) house. I stayed only for an hour or so before going home to sleep, thoroughly exhausted.

In Which I Take Care of Social Needs

My Sunday was largely composed of travel time, with a quick farewell in the morning to Jeannine and Rocky. I got a little lost on the way to the airport but soon enough made it and had just enough time to grab a quick drink and a few bananas from the United Business lounge before hopping on for a jaunt back to Philly. When I landed I was fairly exhausted and had some pressing work, so I unfortunately did not make the regular glee rehearsal. However, for what seemed like the first time at Penn, I went to bed at a reasonable hour.

The following week was right back to it, with intense work required to catch up on missing the past few days of class. Additionally, I had two exams to prepare for, one in Machine Learning and one in Algorithms. Thus, most of my week went by without major event other than many intense hours working and studying, often with the other PhD students.

Two notable points were my short breaks with Steph Li (of previous blog fame) and, Amy Miller. I hadn’t had the opportunity to catch up with Steph since returning to Penn as both of us had been neck deep in work and other commitments, however as with most of my close friends, it didn’t matter that there had a been a time delay, we were still as close as ever. Thursday I caught coffee with Amy Miller, a wonderful woman working for Wharton who had previously helped me remain at Penn for a second semester after I had run into troubles arranging it. We went to a relatively new coffee shop around campus ‘HubBub’, where I had a delicious iced-tea.

Other than that, much of my week was in preparation for Yom Kippur and the further holiday to come ahead.

In Which I Go Out On the Town

October 13, 2014

The next day was another long sleep in. More board games and relaxing and then a walk back to Chabad fourty-five minutes away. The Friday night service was pleasant but not nearly as wonderful as the Rosh Hashana ones. Dinner however, was even better than the time before. More new friends and a few more exciting occurrences.

The first amusing moment was when the Rebbetzin moved me from my seat to ensure that I wasn’t sitting amongst women other than the one that was ‘mine’, ie; Rocky. This was already a little amusing however, it escalated far more when the Rabbi started to give a speech about welcoming ‘the new couple in town’ and Rocky yelled out “we’re not dating!”. Her face turned bright red as the Rabbi addressed her and informed her that he was in fact speaking of a couple on the other side of the room.

The other great moment of the night was the sing-off, initiated by the Rabbi when he discovered that a number of people in the room were semi-professional musicians.  First off we heard a little upbeat pop music, followed by a rap about a guy’s movement towards Judaism. I then sung ‘Fly Me To the Moon’, that was very well received. Following me, the Rabbi’s son sung a song by Jewish RnB artist Matisyahu and Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim, which almost brought Rocky to tears. However, the highlight of the night was the performance by a man into his eighties singing “How Lucky Am I” to his wife, crooning beautifully with the voice left to him at his age.

After many hours hanging out, we helped reset the room for services in the house the next day and then walked back to the apartment, tired again, but happy.

The next day we continued our track record of sleeping in, Rocky missing her Yoga class yet again. When we woke up, we madly prepared for lunch as guests were to be arriving at 1PM. I was excited to meet some of Rocky’s friends and she told me about them as we prepared. Just after the o’clock, there was a knock on the door and a average height, blonde girl walked in the door with a smile. I soon learnt here name was Jeannine and from her accent guessed she was Dutch. I asked her and she seemed pleased that I was able to figure out where she was from correctly without any more guessing.

Next walked in two Norwegians, Erik Ericsson and his girlfriend whose name escapes me. She was a little worried about the lack of meat at our meal but they had both brought beer along so that at least we’d be ‘doing something right’.

The final guests to arrive was an apartments worth of guys with whom Rocky had stayed before she was able to find a room. They were all relatively chilled, though didn’t stay for too long after lunch.

Following the meal, everyone left sat around to play Settlers again, with Rocky narrowly missing out on the victory, which instead passed to Jeannine. I had originally assumed that she was around Rocky’s age, but learned soon after the game that she was in fact only a few months from my age and not yet a PhD student.

After the game, Jeannine was the only one who hang around, and we chatted for a few hours until Shabbat ended. When it did, Rocky suddenly went into overdrive getting dressed up fancily and arranging plans for the evening. We weren’t told exactly where we were going but she pulled Jeannine and I into an Uber and we were off. After a somewhat meandering route, we arrived at a fancy apartment at the party of one of Rocky’s friends. I won’t spill all the details publicly but it was quite exciting and again, we met many new people.

The View from the Apartment

The View from the Apartment

Next destination was a fancy restaurant with a few celebrities on the loose around us. We stayed a while, having drinks of various varieties while I chatted mostly to Jeannine (Rocky was off at the center of attention). From that location we were whisked off again by Rocky, this time to a club with a line that wasn’t moving anywhere fast. After a little maneuver pulled by Rocky and her friends, we were soon inside. Clubs definitely aren’t my normal destination, but I had a fairly good time despite that. After we danced away a few more hours, it was back in a cab home and given the time Jeannine came back too.

From Left: Jeannine, Me, Rocky

From Left: Jeannine, Me, Rocky

Back at the apartment we chilled for a little while and Rocky brought out her guitar. We sang a number of songs to Jeannine, ranging from Missy Higgins to a really nice mashup of ‘Radioactive’ and ‘Pumped Up Kicks’. Finally, after about an hour of music we were all ready to drop our heads and fall fast asleep.

In Which I Am Treated By An Old Friend

October 7, 2014

The next day both Rocky and I woke up fairly late, around 10AM, which left just enough time to rush to shul to hear the shofar and to stay for the Mussaf festival service. The synagogue we went to was unfortunately not nearly as warm and welcoming as Chabad so we resolved to return there for any following services. Lunch was quiet and at home. Rocky made me tea with coconut oil because apparently it was good for all my ailments.  Rocky was great in taking care of me and kind of nursed me back to health slowly from the state I was in upon arrival. Meals were simple but delicious, beans, bread, veggies. Everything I needed.

That evening we both stayed in, too tired to really do much else. However we broke open the copy of portable settlers that I had bought for the purpose and played around five games in a row, with me mincing Rocky a few times over until she got the hang of it. She resolved that we wouldn’t stop playing until she had won, so the games went on for quite a well. When it got too late to play anymore, she had to throw the towel in and we left the rematch till the next day.


In Which I Rush For the Shana

October 5, 2014

Up early in the morning I caught a cab to the airport. I was a little rushed but thanks to my newly acquired Star Alliance Gold Status, I sped quickly through security and onto the lounge. After an orange juice and the morning paper, I was well refreshed for my flight into Chicago. The flight itself was uneventful and I landed safely at O’Hare airport within two and a half hours of leaving. Getting in at a little after nine, I texted Rocky Neumann (a youth counselor of mine from Hineni when I was in grade four) and asked her for directions as to how to get to her.

At first the instruction was to catch the train and then a bus to her place. Dutifully I hopped on and started on my way. A few minutes into the ride I received another text that things weren’t quite running to schedule and that I should head into the city and meet her at Wellington Station. On arriving there I was redirected yet again! This time to Michigan Avenue. Though I had visited Chicago before it was far more beautiful in the autumn than in the dead of winter. Walking through the streets, gazing at the architecture I ambled along till I reached the road when I called Rocky for more instructions. As it turned out she was running so late that I now needed to navigate a system of underground tunnels to find my own way via express train to the University of Chicago. When I arrived, Rocky was no longer able to meet me, having had to enter an important meeting. With my knapsack on my back, I wandered around till I found the Hillel and then texted Tova, another good friend in Chicago. She immediately offered to take me to her apartment for me to relax. I walked there for a few minutes and met her outside, when she realized that she’d locked us both out and that her roommate was out too and thus couldn’t unlock the door for us.

After a minute or two of pondering, we decided to do the shopping for the chag (festival) and so we walked together to Hyde Park Produce and wheeled back eighty dollars of food in a shopping trolley, enough to feed a good number. After finally getting into the apartment we now found ourselves with not enough time to relax so it was off for more errands; to pick up some challah and then to another supermarket for regular groceries. By the time we were at the checkout counter, I realized I was running late to meet back up with Rocky. Hurriedly I raced back to meet her on the corner and both of us stressed an me fairly exhausted, we caught the bus back up to Lakeview in the north of Chicago.

It was now a race against the sun, we had to make it to the shul (synagogue) in time to pick up tickets for services over the next two days. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of a synagogue charging people to attend, however it was apparently the norm across the United States. Everything here is so commercialized, even religion! It was at this time that I also started to realize quite how sick and exhausted I was. After acquiring the tickets and a little more shopping, we finally arrived at Rocky’s studio apartment, where I would be staying over the next four nights. Pretty quickly I collapsed on the couch, only to be woken a few hours later, told that it was time to get dressed and was quickly rushed out.

We barely made it to shul on time. Tonight was at Chabad Gold Coast (which amusingly is also a major Chabad in Australia) and the service was conducted by the Rabbi’s son who had one of the most beautiful untrained voices I’d ever heard. A tenor with a naturally pure tone, his songs lifted up the mood in the room. While the Rabbi’s sermon went for quite some time, it was well natured and we were kindly invited back to their place for the meal. The meal itself was highly enjoyable, with people from around the world and of all different ages crammed in. A particular highlight was the Rebbetzin’s  (Rabbi’s Wife’s) challah, that was fresh and homemade. The ambiance was warm, much like the people we were with and after the meal we were invited back for another on Friday night. We graciously accepted having had such a nice evening amongst very open people.

The walk home took around forty-five minutes, but it all seemed too fast for me as I was enjoying the time with Rocky. We had years worth to catch up on and being so far away from home, we had a lot to share. When we made it back neither of us had any more stamina to stay awake, so in short order we were both asleep.

In Which My Blog Misses Choir

October 2, 2014

This week was much shorter than usual due to the presence of Rosh Hashana. This meant that the start of my week was fairly hectic work wise. In addition, my blog went down while I was on retreat and I was struggling to bring it back up. To combination of exhaustion and technical frustrating led me to miss Choral Society on Monday night and spend a few hours on server administration instead, finally bringing my blog back up and starting to get back to my writing routine.

Homework seemed to be going a little better, although there was still constant deadline pressure and not nearly enough time to get everything done.

At this point, I started to get sick. The next day I woke up and something definitely wasn’t quite right. My body was drained, my eyes blurry and my nose and throat a mess. I struggled through the day, regretting the time spent practicing piano and not sleeping. Finally, when it came time for Glee Club rehearsal I just couldn’t do it anymore. After an hour I let Tony the section leader know that I wasn’t up to the rest and went to my room to pack my bags for my flight early the next day to Chicago. Given the state I was in, I did really pay much attention to the packing and would pay for it later, but gladly, at 9.30PM I was fast asleep.

In Which I Retreat

October 1, 2014

The weekend was marked most significantly by the Glee Club Retreat. It was the best chance to get to know the new members, and also served as a bit of a break from the hectic lifestyle I’d had up until that point. Leaving early Friday afternoon, we arrived at Camp Onas by sundown, with me lugging along a whole lot of fruit, granola and a few other assorted food supplies, for what I knew might be a difficult weekend for meals. Friday night was filled with singing, introductions, games and laughter and the lights were shut out in my room well after 2AM.

There wasn’t much of a sleep in to bed had, breakfast (two bananas and a nectarine) was to be had, and team building exercises outside in the sun. For the sake of future clubbers, I won’t go into the details (as previously) but I came out of the two/three hours of games much closer to a few people. One particularly nice guy was Bhavish Malkani, a sophomore newman who came with a whole lot of talents (more on that later).

Lunch was sandwiches which fortunately I could partake in. Also it was the first time I’d had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a great many years. Following lunch we had the presentation of ‘the newman talent show’ in which all the newmen had to present a non-singing talent. Pearl, a really friendly girl on the tech team, started it off with a sorrowful reading of a poem about bullying. Phillipe led with shakespear in many accents. More poetry from David, some oddball comedy from Mack and a few others. The highlight for most people however was Bhavish’s magic show, which comprised mostly of sleight of hand tricks. There were so well done however, that even though I had some idea of how they worked, I was still thrilled along with the rest of the audience.

Another highlight of retreat was getting to know Sam Soik and Pearl Lo a bit better. They were both very warm personalities and I spent plenty of time talking to both of them over the weekend.

From Left: Shaanan, Sam and Pearl

Finally, late Saturday night it was time for the camp fire. This was the best part of retreat because it involved us singing our favorite songs from our repertoire, albeit without a conductor and at times a little off. However it was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by my brothers in song and spending some time reflecting on our years ahead.


After the campfire it was straight to bed for me. I woke up barely a few hours later for the drive back, and when we arrived home I spent most of the morning in bed. I had a good few hours to work and then it was back to rehearsal, this time dancing with Penn Dance again. After that, I was thoroughly drained and promptly put an end to my weekend.

Glee Club Around The Campfire