August 21st, 2006

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Institute and Fest '06: Activity (part 1)

Well, that was one hell of a vacation.

Two Mondays ago, SGG and I set out at the crack of dawn for New Hampshire. After a nice traffic-free drive (during which my car did that freaky speedometer-flopping-around thing again...the dealership helpfully told me that I have a broken speedometer), we arrived in Rindge, NH early to kick off a beautiful week at the National Havurah Committee's Summer Institute.

This year, it really felt like something had tangibly shifted in the NHC community. It was partly because BZ and ER were co-chairs, the first time to my knowledge that the two people in charge (and, for that matter, most or all of their planning committee) were both born after 1970. The under-35 energy there was astounding. And from what I hear, the older folks, far from being bothered by this, are generally welcoming it, exhausted as they are from keeping their Jewish scenes humming the past few decades.

But it wasn't just that. The whole event just felt much less isolated than in the past, in terms of both the Jewish and secular worlds. Nearly half of the crew of Everett fellows were bloggers. There were a lot of new attendees from the already active NYC and DC (and even Philly!) independent Jewish communities. By the time Shabbat rolled around, the number of people there who I knew from other scenes was just astounding; there were certainly enough to make people from their home communities wonder why so many folks were missing, thus spreading the good word about the NHC even more. And then there were the sweatshop-free t-shirts, the fair-trade coffee, the constant talk about and even phone-banking for the Lamont/Lieberman primary (thanks in large part to Ruby K), and the excellent evening program facilitated by Brent Chaim Spodek about Jewish ethics. The politics were out there. The sense, more so than in my past institutes, was that we were part of something greater, and not just there for a week to better ourselves and perhaps our own little communities. There was enough energy there that things might just explode by the 2007 'tute. We shall see. But things are looking bright.

Of course, things within the Institute itself were quite incredible, as usual. It was very nice to be back in classes this year after spending my days working in the Institute office last summer. There were some great workshops, especially ER's updating us on the state of ordination of gays at JTS and Mitch's reading from his new book and discussing where stories come from. (Workshops are best when the teacher is talking about something they care so passionately about.) I skipped the Mount Monadnock hike again this year, but fully intend to go next year. There was non-stop music and singing, something that might've been drifting away from the Institute week in recent years. There were late nights and groggy people at morning minyan. There was a kick-ass outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat. There was community, more so than anywhere else I know. Changing community, but growing and learning and thriving.

(Read more about Institute via BZ's meta post, if you'd like.)

[To be continued...]
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Institute and Fest '06: Activity (part 2)

[Continued...]

I stuck around for almost the whole 'tute, but unfortunately I had to skip out on the closing program. It was for a great reason, though: Yossi & Jamie's wedding! Nem and I set out at the crack of dawn to head to Teaneck.

It was one hell of a wedding. It's always a bit strange going to a wedding where you only know a few people other than the bride and groom, but this one was plenty cool enough to make up for that. The suggested attire was "casual, non-traditional formal, or costume", and we had plenty of people following that. So in addition to the usual suits, we also had pink suits, top hats, casual clothes, and at least three star trek uniforms. There was a fire alarm and evacuation at the start of the wedding, early enough to not disrupt things too much, and it led to some great pictures of the happy couple in front of a fire truck. There was a fun party game, invented primarily by Nem, that was played throughout the wedding. The groom's tisch dispensed with teaching and ketubah-signing in favor of a game of Mafia. The Star Trek (original) theme was playing as the ceremony began, and the groom walked down the aisle to "Rainbow Connection", one of the songs sung at the mid-reception group singalong later. The glass failed to break initially, and was helped along by a severe beating from the groom's cane. And the dancing was so enthusiastic that I realized I'm not in good enough shape to attend many weddings. Great time. Mazel tov, Y&J!

I came home and crashed after the wedding. I woke up several hours after the crack of dawn, at which point it was time to pack and head off to Fest! Lots of the people I camp with (specifically John, Carissa, and 60% of the K-C clan) had already been there for a night by the time I arrived on Monday morning. I spent the next four days before the music started just relaxing, working in my volunteer committee's office, and enjoying more and more old friends filtering in. Lots of people I think of as Fest friends (though this certainly includes folks who I'll be seeing more of in non-August months in the future), and then Jeff and Damion, and then Uel, and then Annie! Three of us at both Institute and Fest this year, and I'm cautiously optimistic for more next year.

I say this every year, and it's still true: Prefest is the most relaxing few days of my typical year. There's something freeing about needing to adjust a life around not having plumbing or a bed or air conditioning or much electricity. And there's something reassuring to me about doing something that I've been doing longer to this point than anything else in my life, longer than I've been a college graduate or an employed person or an observant Jew or a Center City resident.

The music this year was unfortunately a bit disappointing. I bet the Sunday night sequence of The Duhks, Amos Lee, and Shemekia Copeland was quite impressive, but I wasn't around long enough for that. My two favorite acts were both there in 2005 as well: Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams (even I, a newly minted big fan of theirs, admit that they performed much better this year in their prime evening slot than they did last year in a more challenging afternoon slot) and the Avett Brothers (excepting Natalie MacMaster's dancer, I've never ever seen anyone have as much energy on stage as they did, and that's saying quite a lot). Jackson Browne was good (and packed the hill full of ticket holders more than anyone else I've ever seen) but didn't play Stay. The Arrogant Worms were alright but didn't play The Mountie Song, and honestly could've done better given how much the Philly crowd embraced Da Vinci's Notebook in the past. The one new band that I really enjoyed was The Roches, but my favorite song of theirs, Jesus Shaves, isn't even theirs! So I'll have to content myself with either downloading someone else's version of it or downloading other songs of theirs. Oh well. It's not like I go to Fest for the music anymore anyway.

The reason I had to leave early was yet another wedding! I drove home from Fest around 12:45am Sunday morning, took a much-needed shower, got two hours of sleep, got up before the crack of dawn, and then took two cars, two trains, and a plane to Rochester for Charley and Megan's wedding! It was a fantastic party, still rocking when I left 6 hours after it began, when they were on either the third or fourth band of the day. It was a beautiful event, though I might be biased because I cry multiple times at every wedding. Naftali is still quite cute. And it was so good to see tons of Institute people again, both people from a week earlier and people who couldn't make it to New Hampshire this year but still wouldn't miss the wedding. (I sent lots of love from Uel and Annie.) It was a wonderful epilogue to my wonderful vacation, celebrating and dancing and eating and dancing and singing and dancing with such beautiful people for hours and hours...