A very personal open letter to all my friends about July 11th 2015CE
Rocky Horror Shadow Cast,
my friends in transition,
BHBI: Beth Hamedresh – Beth Israel
Beth Am (my first Hebrew School!)
Whoovians – fans of Dr. Who,
and all those who think all religion should be kept out of the public arena.
… on the Stardock Forums, (Stardockians, gamers and geeks): So say We all.
And so it begins…
On the 24th of Tamuz, 5775 I and my nine classmates received smicha (Rabbinic Ordination) from the Beit Din (Jewish Court of Law) headed by Rabbi Steven Blane. It was a long and intense journey. However, being ordained a rabbi is not an end – it’s a beginning. We now go into the world to bring hope, healing, and Torah to a world desperately in need of true peace. We bring an unwavering commitment to that which unites all people: living life well. To Jews we bring ways to live authentic Jewish lives no matter where we find ourselves on our ever shrinking and dizzyingly morphing planet. To all of us, no matter our faith, or non-faith – indeed, to all of humanity no matter what planet(s) we eventually find ourselves – my study-mates and I join a growing and evolving cadre of rabbis committed to making this world better - for all people. BTW, if they want me to be the chaplain for the Mars missions, I say “Heneni,” Here I am, send me!” Oh, that’s a later chapter – I digress...
Over a year ago this new chapter’s first sentence was written by us – together. We studied together. We davened - together. We prayed for one another, and for others - together. We argued, debated, discussed, agreed to disagree, and created a truly respectful learning community where our differences came to strengthen each of us - together. We confessed to one another, forgave one another, encouraged one another, cried and rejoiced with one another - together. We lived Tehillim / Psalms 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity.” Or in the immortal closing words of the Red-Green Show: “Remember, we’re all in this together.” Our class grew together – in a truly authentic manner.
Together, or not, early on I felt intimidated by my classmates. They are professional chazzans, lifelong Jewish Educators, avid students of Torah and all things Jewish. Some serve as spiritual leaders of their synagogues. Another travels all over the world – and continues helping the people of Nepal to rebuild a high school (where she taught before the earthquakes). Still another is a pioneer in exploring how ecologically sound dining and food production are actually authentic halachic expressions of our Kashrut traditions. And half the class members are professional quality chazzans. They sat behind me at the ordination –what a joy to hear them sing up close. I felt like the three tenors were singing Aleinu, etc., operatic style – just for us. And yes, they even ‘goofed’ on one another – bringing a smile to my face, and happy joy to my heart. (You know who you are!)
One classmate can open the safer Torah and leyn (sing) any Parsha (bible reading) his eyes alight upon without any further preparation. Several have been educators in Jewish schools most of their adult lives. They articulate, with precision, and compassion, the issues, challenges, and successful strategies for bringing a love of Torah, Adonai, and community, to new generations. They personified, for me, L'dor va'dor (from generation to generation) in a whole new and marvelous way. My classmates share childhood and teen experiences, attended the same camps, exhibiting sense of comradery I can only envision as one standing outside the window looking in. Yet, I remain truly awed by the quality, the experiences, the professionalism, the commitment to living authentic Jewish lives each of my classmates exemplify in their own individual manners - without becoming carbon copies of our ancestors. Just as important to me is the ‘chessed’ (hearts *creating* lovingkindness) my classmates role model so very well.
That chessed enabled me to continue even when I felt so inadequate sitting amongst these giants. However, I was delighted, mid-stream, as my feelings of insecurity slowly diminished. I began to understand that my past, while not that of a typical rabbinical student, does include many things that add unique value to both the Jewish Community and the Rabbinate. Rabbi Blane saw that potential before I did. I may serve as a bridge where few others may. I no longer felt intimidated. I remain awed, but not imitated. Why? Because I came to see the uniqueness that I bring to our table adds to, rather than diminishes, our living jewishly together. My past, so atypical, enables me to bring things few others can. In the areas of interfaith relations, interfaith learning, and dealing with people in transition and the new ‘fluid’ transitions Western Society faces – I offer much. And I continue to rely on my former classmates to help me learn and grow, together. I am there for each of them as they need. For me, that’s a lifelong commitment.
The crown of our class experiences together was the Shabbaton we shared in Delray Beach, FL this past weekend. Among the many experiences I remember and treasure (and there are so many wonderful people and experiences to remember – too many to name) one shines brightly. I rely on a great wisdom I learned from a real life hero. His last tweet in this life stated: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP” … (May Leonard Nimoy Baal LLAP be remembered for a blessing.) That one shining memory I treasure from among the many this Shabbaton is this: I was called to the Torah by my Hebrew name, honored to recite the bracha (Blessing). Elana Ahova bat Avraham v Sarai. (Elana Beloved, daughter of Abraham and Sarai.) How many Jews have a father named Abraham, *and* a mother named Sarai? It reveals that the one so named is probably a Jew by Choice (Convert). So I commented, on the way up, “Yes, I’m adopted.” One gabbai immediately replied “With love.” No hesitation, no time to consider a reply. Uncensored, from the heart, love. I felt so many powerful feelings all at once. And the few steps up to our bema were inadequate for me to catch my breath. Had I the time, I would have laughed, cried, and jumped for joy, all at once. However - bema first. What happened to me as I made that aliyah crystallized, for me, the eternal essence of my classmates, and our learning community as we prepared to serve our respective communities, and all human-kind as rabbis. In that sacred moment nestled among so many other precious sacred moments, (kabbalists will understand), a formerly trapped divine spark was released to freedom, and unleashed to spread Chessed. What’s not to like? And that summarizes my class experiences. Divine sparks unleashed to spread chessed.
On the 24th of Tamuz, 5775 among our study-mates, we received Smicha, together, made vows to Adonai (Father-God / The Eternal). It was our last day together, and our first day together. It was our last day as rabbinic candidates preparing together for smicha. It is our first day as rabbis facing the challenges of this modern world. A page in our lives turns. We turned that page together, yet its meaning differs for each of us. For many, who already hold leadership positions, it re-defines what they do and how they are perceived. For me, transitioning to a new stage of life, it begins an actual new chapter. Yet, like many of my study-mates also said, “I miss our times together.” Several others have stated the hope, that somehow we may continue learning and growing with one another. Who will “make it so?” Nevertheless, we now go our separate ways, back to our respective communities, or on to new ventures. We go with retooled skill sets; with renewed desires to serve, teach, enable, support, and grow with those around us. Many (but not all) people will look to us for leadership, for counsel, for learning, for life cycle events. We are rabbis now. We will do our very best – and where we‘re unable to help – we will help them find the help they need. We remain flawed, human, subject to the same vagaries life offers everyone. But we have also been changed (transitioned?). Perhaps it’s the solemn promise we just made to Adonai (Father God). Perhaps it’s covenanting with, joining, sharing in a new community that spans the globe as well as the ages. Perhaps receiving from Moshe Rabbeinu covers it all. No matter how one envisions becoming Rabbi, (and being Jewish, we are compelled to add that to the very short list of things we argue about with other Jews J ), it’s a done deal. We begin again. Amazed and awed I remain. For the first time in my life I have seen the divine sparks the kabbalists wrote about, shining in the faces of my former classmates, now my fellow rabbis, and our future learning community. We will find many more.
Blessed are you, Eternal, Creator of all, who has made me as I am.
So say we all.