I was privileged to attend the ordination of 12 new Rabbis this past Sunday in Los Angeles from the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Because the ordination ceremony was held in the Sanctuary of my synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood, HUC invited me to offer the invocation.
I was ordained myself 36 years ago from HUC-JIR in New York and remember well the excitement, exhilaration, pride, optimism, hope, and, not a small amount of trepidation that must have filled the hearts of these young men and women (see names below).
As the 500 family, friends and members of the HUC community (faculty, staff and rabbis) gathered in our Sanctuary, the 12 “almost Rabbis” processed and took their seats. I approached the podium and offered these words just moments before Rabbi Aaron Penken, the President of HUC-JIR, placed his hands upon each of their heads in the traditional gesture of s’michah (“the laying on of hands”) and pronounced them “Rabbi in Israel.”
“Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagilah v’nism’cha bo!
This is the day that God has made, let us sing and be joyful!” (Psalm 118:24)
B’ru-chim ha-ba-im – Welcome esteemed teachers and faculty, colleagues, parents, grandparents, friends, and kim’at (almost) “Rabbis in Israel”…
As rabbis, in whatever ways you will serve our people and faith, I can assure you this after my own 36 years tilling the soil in this unique vineyard of matter and spirit, that you will be challenged and tested as you’ve never been before, to think broadly, to learn from our traditional sources every day, to respond with uncommon passion and compassion to the needs of others, to be endlessly patient with people and ferociously impatient for truth and justice, to dig into your soul’s wellsprings seeking God’s life-affirming power, and then, working and reworking what it means for you and us to be progressive Jewish religious leaders amongst our people.
The only thing I can say with any certainty at all is that if you wish to rise to your best selves, and you allow yourselves to be pushed to your limits, you will feel exhilarated in ways few others will understand, for being a rabbi in Israel is unlike anything else I know.
In these brief moments, I wish to leave you with a few truths I’ve learned over the years serving our people:
First – Always follow your heart, but be smart about it.
Second – Never compromise your values and principles, but choose your moments carefully and go “to the wall” rarely, for there’s much truth possessed by others that will expand and enrich your own sense of the truth.
Third – Find the very best and brightest, the most creative, kind and special among our colleagues, your congregants and friends to join you as partners in your sacred work, for only then will you soar as if on “the wings of eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Fourth – Never stop even for a moment studying our sacred literature. Learn as much Hebrew as you can. Memorize as much text as you are able. And push yourself to break through convention while at the same time respecting your community’s rhythms and needs.
Fifth – Put your emphasis always on the half-full glass, and regard the half-empty, but don’t dwell there nor allow yourself overexposure to toxic people who will steal your heart, soul, mind, and strength if you let them.
And finally, place your family’s and friends’ needs over work even as you give your all to your congregants and community.
I know I speak for all HUC alumni scattered around the world in wishing you well, joy, happiness, and fulfillment in this sacred work.
On this Yom Y’ru-sha-la-yim, despite its history of violence and strife, may the Holy City that lives at the center of our people’s heart and soul inspire you in your sacred work as ohavei am Yisrael u-m’di-nat Yis’rael, lovers of the people and the State of Israel.
The Jewish world needs you, and remember that you are never alone.
Ma-zal tov, chol ha-ka-vod, ti-hi-yu ba-ri, ta-a-ko-vu a-cha-rei lib’chem, teil’chu b’dar’chei sha-lom!
Congratulations and much respect; may you be healthy; follow your hearts; go the ways of peace, and “May the works of your hands and the meditations of your hearts” (Psalm 19:14) make you worthy to stand before God and before the people of Israel. Amen!
The Los Angeles HUC-JIR Ordination Class of 2015 (5775):
Rabbis Courtney Leigh Miller Berman, Allison Dorie Fischman, Amanda Beth Greene, Rachel Kaplan Marks, Molly Beth Plotnik, Lara Leigh Pullan Regev, Jason Samuel Rosner, Gavi S. Ruit, Todd Harris Silverman, Samuel Louis Spector, Beni Wajnberg, and Bess Bridget Wohlner.