Emma was a summer 2016 iEngage Fellow
It was 9:30 on a Jerusalem morning, our eyes still filled with morning dust and our throats still croaky from laughs and late night conversations about our learning. Nonetheless, we gathered in the Hartman Hevruta room, our home-base, and I prepared to share with our group of interns my “shacharit,” an idea developed by Danny, one of our program directors, to allow us to share a part of ourselves with the community.
Music, particularly Jewish music, has always played a profound role in my life. As we gathered for our work every day, I found myself humming the various melodies left as residue in my mind from Shabbat or other occasions.
It was as if my mind was creating a melody to accompany the rhythm of my research. Consequently, I decided to share a series of niggunim, wordless melodies, with the group.
Niggunim are particularly unique because anyone can sing them – they are the most inclusive form of music making. Anyone can hum or “yaynainai” to a simple tune. This meditative acts bring people together and acts as an equalizer. Yet, even when engaged in this comforting art, the pregnant silence between creation of melody and the end of a niggun can often feel like a state of awkward limbo. Even so, I have come to realize, that this moment of silence is crucial. It is that very moment in which we sit in sacred tension between the end of one melody and the beginning of the next that is a time of holiness – it is in many ways our state of Jewish existence.
This unique moment in time and space illustrates my experience learning and working at the Shalom Hartman Institute this past summer. There is something profoundly holy about discomfort, and the Shalom Hartman Institute revolves around creating space and opportunities for productive discomfort. Hartman is about God wrestling and leaning into the tension within our relationships, our tradition, our community, our people, and ourselves. These moments of change and understanding can be summed up in a simple phrase: sacred tension. Hartman is about immersing ourselves in the texts, words, melodies, and values of our tradition. It is about clinging to tension and letting it take hold of us.
Not only was my time at Hartman essential to my intellectual and spiritual growth, but also, on an even grander level, Hartman imbued within me and my peers a way of being in this world. In every talk, every iEngage session, every lecture, each conversation, we were poised between comfort and discomfort, between certainty and uncertainty, between ease and challenge.
We existed in a state of sacred tension. This is not an easy or comfortable place to be, but this sacred state of being is the vital ethos of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It reinforces the importance of asking questions, and propels us forward on a journey of questioning. This state of being takes us to places of greater understanding, depth, empathy, and questioning. Hartman is not solely a place where one learns, but rather the vessel by which one enters a highly intentional state of being.