Writing Our Rabbinic Histories

Apr 3, 2019 by

Writing Our Rabbinic Histories

As a rabbinical student, I spent a lot of time studying and working with Dr. Gary Zola, and so I am never that surprised to find myself unconsciously mimicking him by referring to, “the historic Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR.”

HUCinci was historic well before I stepped onto the campus, but today, as I returned to 3101 Clifton Avenue for the first time since I was ordained in 2014, I realized that I had become a part of my school’s historic identity.

This understanding was cemented for me during the class “roll call” which highlighted more than 60 years of ordination classes that are present at our convention. As each year was called, I watched as rabbinic classes demonstrated their diverse personalities. Some shouted and clapped, others stood calmly and with little fanfare, and still others sprung up from their seats, waving joyfully.

As we made our way back in time, we eventually reached the classes that had been ordained more than 50 years ago. It was very moving to see how the entire conference stood for each of these groups, applauding the colleagues who have served the Jewish people for so many decades.

Hours later, at the Women’s Rabbinic Network dinner, we repeated the roll call. Once again, each class showed their unique style. Some moved across the room to stand together, others high fived enthusiastically, and upon standing, some discovered that their new vantage points allowed them to see classmates that they had not realized were in attendance. And then 1972 was called, Rabbi Sally Priesand stood with a smile and wave, and all of us who came after her rose as well, applauding in gratitude for her leadership and spirit.

While both of these roll calls were joyous and fun, they also prompted moments of introspection. I couldn’t help but think about what my classmates and I would look like when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our ordination. This May will mark 5 years since we stood on the bimah of Plum Street Temple and received our blessings from Rabbi Aaron Panken, of blessed memory. But, even though it has only been half a decade, it feels as if we have all changed and grown so much already. Who will we be in 10, 20, and 60 years? What kind of rabbis will we have become? What history will we have written for ourselves and our communities?

200 years ago, the founder of American Reform Judaism, Isaac Mayer Wise, was born. 144 years ago, the Hebrew Union College was created by Rabbi Wise, and 130 years ago, he established the Central Conference of American Reform Rabbis. 47 years ago Sally Priesand became the first woman ordained by a rabbinical seminary, and 44 years ago, female rabbinical students created the Women’s Rabbinic Network. Five years ago, my classmates and I were ordained, and in that moment, we were written into the history of the CCAR and (for my female classmates and I) the WRN.

It has been wonderful to spend several days praying, talking, and learning with rabbis of so many generations. At moments, it has felt as if I could see both the past and future of our movement reflected in the faces of the hundreds of colleagues who have gathered together for our convention. It has been a gift to have the time to reflect on the history of our movement, but I know that I will leave Cincinnati tomorrow focused more on our future than on our past.

I’m not sure what the next forty-five years will hold for my classmates and I, but I hope that when we stand together in 2064 and listen to someone call out, “the class of 2014,” we will rise with all the joy, pride, and contentment that comes from knowing that the history we’ve been writing has benefitted our college, our conference, our movement, and the Jewish people. It’s a tall order, but we’ve got plenty of time to make it happen.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman serves Temple B’nai Chaim and is the Marketing and Communications Vice President of the Women’s Rabbinic Network.

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