Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Return to Manhattan -- on two wheels!

The most exciting thing I'm doing this summer is leading a chaplaincy education group at JTS, my old alma mater (and a place that had so much to do with my early days of spiritual formation and growth in my early 30s as I was just starting to consider becoming a rabbi). But that is not the only _return_ I am going through -- it's also a return to living again (albeit only for about three days a week) in Manhattan, where I once lived for over a decade. So much is wonderfully familiar, but there are also great changes. One of those changes is the amazing (I could barely have imagined it would happen!) transformation of New York into a bicycle-friendly city.

I got a taste of the new _friendliness_ today when I chose to ride the 6.5 miles or so from JTS to FEGS Manhattan PROS, an amazing daytime program for people with mental health issues, where two of my students are interning this summer. Almost the entire ride was down the waterfront of the mighty -- and beautiful! -- Hudson River. This was a waterfront that was long almost completely inaccessible to pedestrians and bicycles; now there is a beautiful and generous bike path down its full length in Manhattan. It was so great to partake of it! Cycling is such an important part of how I care for myself amid the strains (and rewards!) of being in chaplaincy and chaplaincy education. Even on a very hot day like this one, the feel of the air quickly brushing past me as I ride through it always makes me feel a sense of freedom (as well as a little bit cooler). I even went on a short ride on my lunch break yesterday; upper Manhattan is such a great place for it -- and I was able to stop at the amazing Fairway supermarket to buy some stuff for lunch, etc.

I am grateful for Minna for helping me see how this summer of working in NYC could be about more than work -- that I could also approach it as a personal "adventure in New York City," one of the two cities (along with Jerusalem) that I love most in the world (as well as the place of my birth!). . . . The personal adventure of this summer is part of a larger personal adventure I've been on in NYC. As I type these words, I am in the basement of the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU's main place for training filmmakers and game-makers and alike. It -- like so much of New York -- is a place where the surrounding buzz of creative energy is powerful and palpable. Being here makes me feel like my creative energies, too, continue to burn strong and have something new and powerful to offer the world -- I feel young, again! And so I am glad to be a doctoral student in NYU's Education and Jewish Studies program as I have for the last two years.


What I'm sure, however, will never be bicycle friendly about NYC is the issue of bike theft. I've tried to defend myself as best I can, first and foremost by using a _junker_ bicycle that I hope will not be so attractive to thieves and vandals. It's an old Schwinn mountain style bike I bought used for $35 about a year ago just for this purpose. I've got three locks on it (one a small cable lock just to keep someone from taking the seat). I put an old rack on it with an old "Around Town" REI basket-style pannier that -- teamed up with a reusable Fairway shopping bag -- gives me pretty significant carrying capacity

In only a few days I will be at the Hebrew College ordination to see some new rabbis take up the mantle of being teachers of Torah in Israel (Minna is going to sing!). And a few days after that we will celebrate Shavuot, the holiday that marks the giving of Torah to Israel at Mt. Sinai. I am reminded -- as I begin these two personal adventures in NYC of leading this summer chaplaincy program and of taking a bicycle to these transformed streets -- that Torah comes in many places, many forms and from many sources, all of which enrich us and lead us towards service of the Holy. My students at this mental health center will be walking the halls of a place that may not seem spiritual at all to many eyes at first. But I know that the Ultimate Questions about spiritual matters like the role of suffering in the world are particularly powerful and present for people coping with mental illness. I am confident my students will bring much Torah to the people they minister to, and, perhaps even more so, that they themselves will learn much Torah from the people so experienced with suffering who they will be caring for. May it be the will of the Holy Blessed One that they will all be enriched by this sharing of Torah!

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