Nance in Manhattan

Summer School at the Jewish Theological Seminary


Shalom from Manhattan


Week 2 update

Week 3 update

Week 4 update

Well, three weeks down and two to go!! I would be happier about that if it wasn’t for the immense amount of work that I have to do in that time period!  I am looking forward to getting home to Seattle to Steve and he is looking forward to me getting home, not only because he misses me but because Lolita, my cat, is driving him nuts. I am also looking forward to getting to see my new niece Eliana. My dad was in Seattle this past week and got to meet Eliana and I haven’t met her yet.  I will actually get to see my Dad before I see her as he and Ginger will be in New York this coming week and I will get to see my first Broadway show with them.


This past week has been quite busy. I have been having an ongoing email exchange with my cousin Bill who has decided, in light of the Magic class I am taking, that JTS is a variant on Hogwarts (the school in Harry Potter).  Events this week have not really conspired to prove him wrong!  A student in my Elijah class asked a professor what our final would be like on Tuesday.  He replied “you will need to bring a candle and sit focused on it and let the spirit of the Lord descend on you and then you will need to dance in ecstasy and prophesy for me.” He was of course joking and the prophets in the Elijah stories didn’t have candles – but it was funny. Saturday was the release date for the new Harry Potter book and some Potter obsessed grad students planned a “Potter Potluck” for those of us living in the grad student dorm this summer. I was a bit leery but it was a good time. We were sorted and some people were in costume. But Potter mania aside, it was a good time with really good food and fun people.  So, I am not sure that Bill’s theory is far off. Though I did tell a professor this and he thought it was highly amusing considering how staid and conservative JTS really is.


My Magic and Mysticism class got a bit more interesting this week as the students have to each do a 30 minute presentation and those began. We had four this week which were all interesting. My friend Jennifer did hers first and set the bar pretty high for the rest of us. Her report was on incantation bowls which were used, mostly by women, to ward of demons and protect their household. They were often for specific problems, and though we didn’t get to see any of these, quite often related to “bedroom issues” as Jennifer put it! We did learn from the text of the bowls that sleeping during the day was considered quite dangerous – special protection was requested for this activity. This was bad news for me as I love to nap! I guess not only ancient Jews thought this but many ancient cultures. The other really good presentation was on the text known as 3 Enoch – mostly because there are 2 other ancient texts about Enoch that were found before it. It is about Rabbi Ishmael who goes up to heaven and is given a tour by Metatron – the head angel – who is actually Enoch (lived prior to Noah, there is no indication in the text that he died and he is considered to be one of the immortals, like Elijah). It is an interesting text and gives a full detailing of the hierarchy of angels and levels of heaven. After the presentations the professor takes over, which is unfortunate as he really knows how to suck the excitement out of a very interesting topic. He looks at this material with an academic, scientific eye and really makes it almost boring!!  I did get a topic approved for my research paper for class and will be writing on angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the mystical literature we have been reading for class.


The class on Elijah is still very interesting and fun. The professor is super and quite engaging. He gets very excited about his topic. We are looking at the stories of Elijah in the political/social setting of the disputes between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. It was the goal of Elijah and the other prophets in his band to destroy the Northern monarchy so that all 12 tribes could be reunited under a king in David’s line.  This puts a new and interesting spin on the stories and it is interesting to look at the different Elijah stories and see just how manic depressive he must have been!! One minute he has a major victory and the next he is “all alone” and wants to die.  It is interesting to think about how this zealous and not so pleasant prophet in the Bible became the harbinger of the Messiah and doer of good deeds that Jewish folk tradition has made him into.


Friday night I went to Bnei Jeshurun for Kabbalat Shabbat services. This is a famous service – I went last year as well. They use musical accompaniment and a variety of moving tunes to get people really into the service. They had changed their setup since last summer when I went and it was not as good. I have been to more moving services without the instruments and don’t really see what is so great about their service. It is nice enough but it again was not what one would think to hear others rave. Saturday I went to services at the Hadar minyan was at the Columbia University Hillel building.  This was a nice service and I ran into a friend from Seattle there. It was nice to see a familiar face and catch up.


Not too much else to report other than hours spent in the library looking for books and in my room reading. I have the paper on angels to work on, my presentation for class, which I give a week from Tuesday and my Spinoza paper I am writing. So, like I said, as happy as I am that there are only two more weeks till I get to go home, there is a lot to do between now and then.


Take care and have a good week.


Love Nance