Rabbinic Reflections Statements

Remembering Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD, z”l: ‘At the Turning: Reflections on My Life’ (2014)

The Central Conference of American Rabbis mourns the death of our beloved rabbi, teacher, and friend, David Ellenson, PhD, z”l (1947–2023). The former president and chancellor emeritus of our Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Ellenson was a mensch of the highest order who imparted wisdom and kindness in addition to sharing his voluminous knowledge and scholarship.

Rabbi Ellenson was a devoted and generous member of the CCAR and a friend to CCAR Press. His forewords or afterwords appear in three CCAR Press volumes: The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival, The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality, and From Time to Time: Journeys in the Jewish Calendar. In fall 2014, to mark the close of his first term as HUC-JIR’s president, CCAR Journal published “A Tribute to David Ellenson,” with articles by Rabbis Robert Levine and Rachel Adler. The issue also contained an autobiographical piece by Rabbi Ellenson entitled “At the Turning: Reflections on My Life.” We share excerpts of that piece in his memory.

The forces that have animated my life and work cannot be understood without recourse to my family and my past as a Jewish boy growing up in the South during the 1950s and 1960s and the multilayered world I experienced. Everything in my world talked about difference and exclusion. My grandparents had all emigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States in the early 1900s. My maternal grandparents had settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while my paternal grandparents improbably came to Newport News, Virginia. My parents, Rosalind Stern and Samuel Ellenson, met at Harvard Hillel in 1945, immediately after World War II, and they married in 1946. A year later, I was born, and six months after my birth, my father, a degree from Harvard Law School in hand, returned with my mother and me to Newport News, where he began the practice of law….

To this day, I cannot fully capture how very much I love the South and the Peninsula. The approximately 2,000 Jews located on the Peninsula lived peacefully and prosperously among more than 150,000 gentiles…. My entire extended family lived in the same pleasant neighborhood, and my childhood and adolescence were filled with family gatherings and events at which aunts, uncles, and cousins were present. …

I was and remain at some very deep level of my being a Virginian. However, I was also a Jew and that was “the rub.” I never felt I fully belonged. My being a Jew in a Christian world made me an outsider and different from the time I was a small boy, an observer even as I was an eager participant in the larger world. It left me feeling alienated even as I was overwhelmingly social and active.

In sum, the fabric of my identity was fraught with tensions. The inequities and evils I witnessed as a child and as a teenager in matters of race and gender and the sense of being an outsider as a Jew to the gentile culture in which I was raised all left a permanent mark on me….

* * *

I enrolled [eventually] in the Religious Studies Department of the University of Virginia, where I received an M.A. degree… There, for the first time, I read the works of Durkheim and Weber, where I was provided the beginnings of a vocabulary that would allow me to frame and illuminate my concerns. It was also equally clear to me that I had so much more to learn if I was to ever explore seriously the nature of what it was to be a Jew in the modern world.

This led me to move to Israel for two years. The first year I lived on Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek in the Jezreel Valley—where I worked in the fields and advanced my spoken Hebrew—while, in the second year, I enrolled in the rabbinical program at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. Although I seriously considered remaining in Israel and making aliyah at the end of that year, I decided to return to the United States, where for the next four years I would pursue rabbinical ordination at HUC-JIR in New York and doctoral studies in Religion at Columbia University….

The precise character of my [doctoral] work was shaped by two men. Towards the end of my formal graduate education in 1976 and 1977, I came under the tutelage of Fritz Bamberger of HUC-JIR and Jacob Katz of Hebrew University, who was then at Columbia as a visiting professor…. [Professor Bamberger’s teaching made] me aware that the hermeneutic of tension I have employed in all my work is embedded in a narrative that emerged from my own childhood experiences as a Jewish boy in Virginia…. Professor Katz provided me with the content and even more importantly the methodology that would guide and inform my work for decades to come. [He] pointed out that Germany was the crucible in which modern Judaism was born. It was here that the conflict between an inherited Jewish tradition and a highly acculturated Jewish community first played itself out… Indeed, it is a primary reason that I wrote my dissertation on Rabbi Hildesheimer, an Orthodox Jew completely committed to Jewish tradition, who received a doctorate from a German university and who was completely comfortable in Western culture. A study of his life would indicate precisely how Jewish religious tradition could be and was adapted to the demands of the time and place in which he lived. In so doing, I could hold up a mirror to my own being and provide a case study of how Judaism could be adapted to the modern world….

My decision to employ his model to study Rabbinic responsa and prayer book compositions in Western Europe, North America, and my beloved Israel reflect my deepest personal commitments to Judaism and the State of Israel. It also led me to believe that academic scholarship was a vital means to illuminate an understanding of life for myself, my Jewish community, and others in the larger world…

* * *

As a Jew who is commanded every day to remember my bondage and my exodus from Egypt… I cannot forget the books of my Jewish past, nor do I want to. Instead, I hope that my children and my students and their descendants, as our daily liturgy phrases it, will be “yodei sh’mecha v’lomdei toratecha” (knowers of God and students of Torah). My years as president of the College-Institute have been an extension of my entire life and all my values. I have aspired as a Jew born in America and connected deeply both to Israel and the larger world to place myself and my students in a chain of Jewish tradition that is humane and inclusive. Rabbi Leo Baeck provides me with a language for that aspiration…:

Every generation by choosing its way, its present way, at the same time chooses an essential part of the future, the way of its children…. Ways bind, wind, and wander. When a man forms his life, he begins to create community. He is not only born into community as if by fate, but he has now been called to the task of molding it.

My own Jewish way has wandered. Surely, the ways of my own children and grandchildren as well as my students will wander as well. Nevertheless, I and they are also bound, and my way, just as theirs, emanates from those who lived before us. I have tried—through my researches and through my work as a teacher and as president of the College-Institute—to honor the way I have inherited even as I have struggled to mold a direction for a way that reflects who I am. I look forward with confidence to how the students and graduates of HUC-JIR… will mold their own directions for the Jewish people and humanity in the days ahead.

Read the entire piece here.

Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD, z”l (1947–2023), served as president of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion from 2001 to 2013 and again from 2018 to 2019. He was a prolific scholar of modern Jewish thought and history.


Spirituality in the Rabbinate

I was ordained in 2007, and accepted the position as the solo rabbi in a very small, extremely remote congregation in southeast Alabama.  My nearest colleague (Rabbi Elliot Stevens) is a two hour drive away.  Mine is the only synagogue in 100 mile radius, and we are located in the buckle of the Bible Belt where it is assumed if you walk and breathe, you must be a Christian.  My congregation is wonderful, and I have really enjoyed my 8 1/2 years here.

However, I should tell you that while I learned so much at HUC, I was not prepared spiritually at all.  We never talked about our relationships with God, we never prayed, except at services. Every meeting here in the south begins with a prayer, and I swear I was a deer in the headlights the first time I was asked to begin a meeting with a spontaneous prayer.

I think the lack of spiritual training hurts us and it hurts our congregations.  I have never once been asked to translate Talmud; in fact, most of my congregants only have a vague idea what Talmud is.  But when I do sermons or adult education on prayer or God, I am overwhelmed by the response. There is such a hunger among our congregants for a relationship with God, to learn about God and prayer.  And it is the area where I seem to have the least expertise.  Thank goodness for good books!

And I have so felt so empty spiritually myself so much of the time.  I cannot pray during services.  I have no cantor, so it is just me leading services and the music.  How can I do all that and focus on God?  It just doesn’t happen. I tried praying on my own using the prayer book.  That did not work at all.  And I am so busy because I am the only rabbi around.  It is truly a 24/7 job. Finding time to enhance my spirituality falls on the back burner.

I have been fortunate to be involved with a group of Christian clergy women, all seminary ordained. We meet once a month to study, or to let our hair down and complain about how the robes never fit right, or why dresses and slacks don’t have pockets to put your portable mike in, or most importantly to share serious problems we are having. There are many people down here who don’t think women should be leading a congregation, so we are a support group for each other.

I was surprised when I found out that all of the other clergy in my group are REQUIRED to have spiritual direction.  Required!!  The nun from the Catholic Church is REQUIRED to go to a spirituality retreat every year.  I wondered why we Reform Rabbis do not have anything like that.  I thought about it for a very long time, and finally approached one of the women ministers to ask about spiritual direction.  Of course, a Jewish spiritual director is out of the question here in Alabama, but I have a director who is Methodist. I have been seeing her once a month, driving two hours each way.  I’m slowly but surely getting my head straight and reestablishing the relationship I had with God before I started HUC.  I find it ironic that I lost the relationship I had with God which helped propel me into HUC while I was at HUC.  In any event, I look forward to seeing Lesley each month, and think I am becoming a better rabbi because of the explorations I am doing with her.

So I want to ask, why do we not have any training in this most important aspect of our rabbinate?  I took four required classes in Talmud, yet never talked to anyone about God, except theoretically as part of a Bible class or Philosophy.  I know now that the Institute for Jewish Spirituality does very good work in this field.  I am also aware that some inroads for spirituality training have been made on the LA and NY campuses of HUC, but I have not heard anything about Cincinnati.  And Rabbi Rex Perlmeter wrote a blog post around the High Holy Days about spirituality programs he is doing through the CCAR.  We are becoming more aware of the need to talk and teach about spirituality and our relationship with God.  I hope it continues and becomes an integral part of training for future rabbis.

Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith serves Temple Emanu-El of Dothan, Alabama

General CCAR News Rabbis

Celebrating the Class of 1965: Retirement, Change and Continuity

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate.


A wise friend once told me, “Retirement is not necessarily everything it’s cracked up to be.”  At the time I didn’t believe him.  Already retired a number of years, on a scale of 1 to 10, I felt I had a 12.  But opportunity often strikes when you least expect it.  A small part-time congregation arose near my suburban Atlanta home.


Marilyn, my eshet chayil of fifty-four years, and I discussed what this change might mean in our lives.  We decided that reentering the congregational rabbinate would add immeasurably to our retirement. That was seven years ago.  We have not regretted it.


Friendly baalbatim, on average our children’s ages, have made our lives easy.  Our congregants lovingly regard us as bubbie and zeyde.  This rings favorably in our ears.  As the senior members of our congregation we enjoy both teaching them and learning in return.  It is a mutual endeavor.  Together we’re searching for life’s meaning at different stages of our lives.  Judaism assists us in our quest.  Our involvement also softens some of the inevitable changes retirement brings.  Rabbinic continuity of service makes a real difference.  Now we understand better why Moses remained vital to 120.  Now when asked about retirement satisfaction I respond, “On a scale of 1 to 10, we have a 20.”


It seems unbelievable that we’ve reached the fifty year milestone since receiving s’micha.   Incredulously, we ask, “Can this be true?”  We are grateful but it is humbling.  Throughout this span Marilyn and I served congregations as a team.  In addition, Marilyn was for many years an educator, a public school and Hebrew school teacher. Commitment to a life of service came naturally to her.  It was also part of our covenant with each other, the Jewish people and G-d.

Change and Continuity:                                                                                                                          

Like you, over the decades we have fulfilled many roles.  Teachers, chaplain, college lecturer, community positons, interfaith representatives, counselors, comforters, writer and exemplars of the Jewish faith are part of the familiar mix.  Congregations, a full time nursing home position, retreats, URJ camps and conclaves, Confirmation class trips, CCAR shaliach to kibbutz Nir Eliyahu, president of the GCAR/Greater Carolina Association of Rabbis, regional and national boards, a Doctor of Ministry degree in Counseling from Boston University School of Theology, four children and seven grandchildren – make for many blessings.  Throughout fifty years the transcendent meaning of our faith, G-d, Torah and Israel, enabled us to hear the “still, small voice” motivating a life of service.                                                                                                                                                       

Retirement and Continuity:           

Recently, to our delight, our baalebatim signed us up for two more years.  We are looking forward to it.  Judaism is infectious.  We want to keep teaching it.  Nothing gives our lives more direction, usefulness and continuity.  Ihm yirtseh haShem, when these two years conclude, we’ll have reached another milestone, four score years.  Ken y’hi ratson.                                            

CCAR Convention General CCAR Israel News Rabbis

Celebrating the Class of 1965: Fifty Years and a Lot Has Happened

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate.

Fifty Years and a lot has happened… “I am closer to death today than I was to puberty as an infant.  What a chilling thought for one with a couple of diseases knocking on the door.”

“Hamishim Shana, Uchmo shenohagim lomar:  Ken Mashehu Kara beintayim ba’olam.”  Lea Goldberg wrote lines like this about lovers re-meeting after “twenty years.”  Yes, something has happened in the meantime.

Fifty years is longer than Goldberg’s lovers’ hiatus, but I experience the same astonishment about time’s way of confounding us.  I entered College just after Brown vs. the Board of Education, which occurred shortly after Campy and Jackie Robinson were allowed to stay at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis as long as they didn’t swim in the hotel pool.  I went to a fancy college “un-prepped” (both literally and figuratively) and—since there weren’t any “preparatory” schools for seminary, I entered HUC with little thought about getting ready.  My main motive, I think, not cultural-ethnic, to be a kind of Jewish Unitarian, but I left with deep ties to Israeli life and Hebrew culture.  I began to serve my “Unitarian” self some years after ordination when a surprise illness drove me into self-care and attention to people who needed attention as they entered their own worlds of illness.  Just as apparently good things sometimes have unintended problem consequence, so may the bad things that happen yield fresh life and important achievement.

And that became the two sides of my rabbinate:  vigorous, I hope “progressive” attachments to the Jewish nation (my parents called them “pinko”) and a dedication to the problems people experience as they go through their journeys into the world of illness.  So I retired from HUC (a partial retirement, I hasten to add) as a teacher of Hebrew literature and as a trainer of hospital chaplains.  The Kalsman Institute, established by our friends the Levy – Kalsmans, urged me on in the pastoral direction, hard work, and (frankly) batting a little over my head, led me to a life of scholarship about matters Hebraic and literary. I have enjoyed my scholarship, although living in Hollywood has made me aware that more people read a stray blog in one day than have read all of my hundreds of essays over 50 years.   Along the way I helped HUC California grow with a school of education, a school of Jewish studies, and a museum education program that flourished and grew many heads.  A full rabbinical school emerged with a special spirit that maybe I have helped create.

But back to what happened in fifty and more years:  The Civil Rights Movement, our changing relationships with women, The Six Day War, new freedom to Russian Jews, the digital revolution which continues to give me the finger as I try to navigate all the gadgetry that makes life easier and busier.  As with people, progress seems paradoxical, and when I think of Israel’s management of the territory that a few wild eyed dreamers made part of Jewish history, I cry for all we should or might have done as Jews.  But Agnon won a Nobel Prize, and there has been more Jewish American creativity (much of it clumsy but all of it interesting) than I ever imagined when I thought I owned all the creativity that was available.  And the culture that comes out of Israel—good grief, it is amazing, created by geniuses, who are my friends; and scoundrels, most of whom are my opponents (I hope.)

In fact, what I have learned in fifty years is how deceptive people can be in the midst of their goodness; and how many great victories are won at a huge cost to others. Some of the good people:  My first rabbis as a rabbi, Leonard Beerman (z’l), and Sandy Ragins, my first boss (with whom I had a problematic relationship, but who was a major and gracious mentor) Alfred Gotschalk (z’l), the funky but wonderful Ezra Spicehandler, and complex Gene Mihaly (both separated out to death), and many others including my own unruly, gutsy and generous father.

A couple of years ago Hara Person asked me to reflect on my retirement for a little squib in the Newsletter.  I look back at what I wrote then and realize that I was too sanguine.  I retired voluntarily, and enjoyed some great years on account of that; but had I known how well I would manage cancer, heart disease, and a tendency to broken bones, and how I would deal with those unmentionable deep dark things of the soul, how much energy I have, and how attached I was to the institution that made my professional life possible, I would not have taken the deal.  Anyone want to hire a near 80 year old?

Is everything built out of contradictions?  I don’t know, but sometimes I think so.  I am a kosher man (a la Yehuda Amichai, another mentor); I am a kosher man whose soul is cleft and because my soul is parted I seem to be better able to stand.  Chewing the cud is like regret — that other part of Kashrut.   It’s not the best part of my game, but it works for me.

But who would dare regret American efforts at civil equality for minorities and a different consciousness about women; who can regret the multiplicity of Jewish voices that one would not even have dreamt of 50 years ago (although it too has been mixed with some issues) who can regret the privilege during those fifty years to serve people, to teach young students aspiring to be old (some day) just like us? And who would ever regret a life of friendships, a marriage that finds me looking forward to seeing my partner every morning! And who would hesitate for one moment to smile as my wonderful son and colleague daughter in law send pictures of the (belatedly wonderful) little boy who bears my father’s name.

I do “regret” (but it’s the wrong word) that my father and mother could not live to see that little boy, but—as the sunset and the sunrise never actually meet (that phrase is plagiarized) so it is God’s way that each generation has new interpreters—interpreters whom the old timers aren’t really comfortable with.  I hope little Kobi (Jacob, that is) and the Kobi cognates (my students) will interpret my life as contributing to the great citizens and Jews he and they will become.

CCAR Convention General CCAR Israel Rabbis Reform Judaism

Celebrating the Class of 1965: Shaping What Tomorrow Will Bring

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate. 

As with all of my jubilee classmates, life has brought me much undeserved joy: Resa, my life partner who shares with me a nurturing, forgiving, healing, joyous love; children for whom I am still a desired part of their world; grandchildren who regularly turn to me with challenging questions and unsolicited hugs; and a career of meaningful, often satisfying sacred service, rich with human interactions.

As with most us, life has also brought me much undeserved pain: sitting by my young mother’s bedside, helpless before the malignancy that was consuming her brain; confronting a professional failure that challenged my too fragile self-worth; bearing the agonizing burden of deciding whether my sister should be administered sufficient morphine to quiet her pain, morphine that would also stop her heart; trying to internalize what it meant, what it really meant, when for over ten years – every six months — my physicians would tell me that I had only three more months to live.

In the pursuit of meaning in the presence of such a mixed bag of life experiences, I have dedicated my rabbinate to the Jewish People. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just happened. I came alive to our world in the ’60’s; I embraced the anti-war movement while still in uniform; I entered into the struggle by African Americans for human and civil rights; feminism; choice – yet through all of that I found myself inexorably drawn to my people’s right and obligation to secure its own future. The Six Day War. The Soviet Jewry Movement. The birth and flowering of Reform Zionism. High school kids at Kutz. College kids. Israel. The Aliyah that Resa and I embraced as full partners.

For four decades as a congregational rabbi and now for one decade as a retiree – the meaningful survival and evolution of the Jewish people have been at the center of my day-to-day concerns. Over the years that struggle became a unifying theme around which I could organize my thoughts and actions. Even today, even now, it ignites within me hope and purpose. To put it simply, that struggle keeps me alive. Perhaps it is not the most worthy of causes, but it infuses my being with a shot of metaphorical adrenaline.

Maybe that is why I find myself today still trying to shape our people’s tomorrows. Maybe that is why so many of my classmates have made similar choices in their own ways, in their own lives: refusing to give up on trying to have an impact on the future.

It’s not that I see better or know more than anybody else. I know that I don’t. But I believe based upon what I have seen and learned and experienced that the survival of Israel as a Jewish democratic state is a sine qua non for the survival of North American Jewry, even as the reverse is equally true. And that belief for me is a mandate for meaningful action.

So when I received a call from a close colleague and friend in early January, asking me to help him raise some funds quickly so that he could effectively compete for a position on the Labor slate in the forthcoming Knesset elections, I could not refuse. That election has a real possibility of overturning what I consider to be an intransigent government incapable of launching positive initiatives which might, just might, move us closer to a two state solution. If a new government is formed this Spring linking parties of the political right with the ultra-orthodox parties, many of the recent ground-breaking achievements in easing the stranglehold of the Rabbinate over matters of personal status and life cycle events will be reversed. To shape the future, outspoken advocates for religious pluralism like my friend are needed by the Knesset. There is a job demanding to be done. I tried to help.

Elections for the World Zionist Congress are currently on-going. A victory for ARZA in these elections will pour more than $20 million into the activities of the IMPJ and the Hebrew Union College over the next five years. Israeli Reform Judaism now tracks support from more than 7% of the population. We are growing, evolving, changing. We offer new definitions as to what a synagogue could be; we demonstrate how the manner in which we treat the stranger in our midst helps determine our relationships with an increasingly hostile world. With a western understanding of democracy and with a liberal and embracing vision of Jewish identity both embedded in our Reform DNA – Israel needs us to win and to win big in the Congress elections. Another job yet to be done. By us. We can still help. We are very much alive. We are relevant. We are needed.

I don’t know how many quality months or years that I have left. The door to that mystery is firmly shut. And I am painfully aware of my own personal limitations and weaknesses. But like many of my classmates, I am not yet willing to turn my back on how the future will emerge. Being in a struggle the outcome of which will not be known for many years after I am gone doesn’t diminish the vitality that I feel today because I am still engaged.

So whatever the worthy issues that command each of us: Israel or environmentalism or racism or economic justice or the strengthening of our families or writing that book that really needs to be written — we who are growing old can continue to find what Frank Bruni recently called in The New York Times, “slices of opportunity” awaiting us. So long as our hands can reach, so long as our souls can yearn and our minds can comprehend – so long can we yet have a vital role in shaping what tomorrow will bring. We who were once the future and then were the present are not ready to lay down our burdens. Not yet. Not now. We have too much to do. We are needed. You see, there is life to be lived. And we are still choosing to live it.

CCAR Convention Rabbis Reform Judaism

Celebrating the Class of 1965, 50 Years in the Rabbinate: First and Foremost a Rabbi

My relatives and my childhood friends in my native Israel keep wondering to this day how in the world I ever became a Reform Rabbi. Back in Haifa in the 50th we never heard of Reform Rabbis. We heard of Nelson Glueck, whom we knew as an archeologist. We also heard of Abba Hillel Silver, whom we knew as a Zionist leader. We heard of Judah Magnes, whom we knew as co-founder of the Hebrew University. But we did not know that all three were American Reform Rabbis. In my late teens I was living in Uruguay, and one day I met a Reform Rabbi named Isaac Neuman who told me about the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. I told him I was accepted at Brooklyn College and was getting ready to go there for my undergraduate studies. He convinced me that HUC was a better choice for me, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The last fifty years since I was ordained at the New York school have been a wonderful journey. My first pulpit was in Guatemala, where I had to create my own Spanish-Hebrew Reform prayer book. The second was associate rabbi to the late Arthur Lelyveld at Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. In Cleveland I founded the Agnon School against great odds, which has since become one of the finest communal Jewish day schools in the country. From there I was “called” to Commack, Long Island, where I spent seven years as the rabbi of Temple Beth David, which grew from 300 families when I arrived to 700 when I left. I recall doing over 1000 b’nai mitzvot ceremonies during that time, probably some kind of a record. After Commack my focus changed from the pulpit to other venues, but over the years I helped small congregations grow and performed other rabbinical duties.

Since then I have had several careers besides the rabbinate, including national director of education for BBYO, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization; founder  and president of two companies, Schreiber Publishing, which publishes Jewish books and books for translators, and Schreiber Translations, which has become one of the main providers of foreign language technical  translations for the U.S. Government. Currently, I am serving on cruise ships as Rabbi and discussion facilitator, and I love the life aquatic. Through it all, I never stopped writing, and over the years I have had over 50 books published. My latest book is called Explaining the Holocaust: How and Why It Happened, due soon from Cascade Books, and I am working on a new book titled Why People Pray, which gives me immense satisfaction and which makes me realize how important prayer is.

Through it all, I am first and foremost a Rabbi. The essence of my life is to impart the Jewish heritage and lore to my fellow Jews and to the world. I am very fearful of the decline of Jewish life and knowledge in our goldeneh medineh. But my greatest satisfaction is that all my three children have a strong Jewish identity, and my three grandchildren show every sign of carrying on our glorious chain of tradition. I am sure my wife Hanita and I have something to do with it.

I would like to thank ribono shel olam for having kept me alive and sustained me and allowed me to reach this great milestone of 50 years in the rabbinate.

Israel News Rabbis Reform Judaism

Our Colleagues in Israel: Rabbi-ing Under Fire

“There was a siren as we readied for Chupa… and after breaking the glass the sirens sent us back to the shelter…”

 “I am gripped with fear for my son in Gaza, yet I must serve the needs of my community members too…”

 “Our Oneg Shabbat was filled with emotion – we give spiritual power to one another…”

 “Can you imagine? We need to move our 700 children from summer camp into a shelter and yet our work is to stay calm…”

 “Our Beit Knesset became the Gan (preschool) because it is closer to the shelter…”

 “Our society is more united than ever…. And we must not allow the extremist groups to define us…”

 “I am distressed over the loss of human life on both sides…. I know many Palestinians in my work… Hamas holds these people as hostages.”

 “Many of my community feels isolated, alone… one of us being strong helps another be strong…”

 “We move from funeral to shiva to shelters….”

 “I will not thank you for coming to Israel this week. What you are doing is a Mitzvah and we do not thank someone for doing a Mitzvah…”

CCAR Rabbis with MARAM colleagues in Tel Aviv.

It is impossible to capture in writing the emotions of the many people with whom we engaged during the CCAR’s Israel Solidarity Mission this past week, let alone the voices of our Rabbinic colleagues serving in Israel. It was a moving moment to simply sit with the Rabbis of MARAM – the Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel –who are also members of the CCAR, and to listen to their stories.

Serving as a Reform Rabbi in Israel presents its own unique set of challenges for sure. Yet, like rabbis in North America and throughout the world, our Israeli colleagues regularly serve as teachers of Torah, religious leaders, pastoral guides, community organizers, fundraisers, and advocates for a just society that includes pluralistic voices and the right to practice Judaism as Progressive Jews.

But these past few weeks our Israeli colleagues have had to reach deep within themselves in ways that few of us in North American have ever experienced. They must rely upon their own spiritual and emotional anchors to find the strength to serve as rabbis to their congregations, communities and Israelis in general. They are caring for those who run to shelters, who fear for their children and grandchildren on the front lines, and are concerned for the future of their country, even as carry their own worries and fears.

Israeli Reform Rabbis serve as leaders in building sacred and safe communities Israeli society; in established locations in Tel Aviv, Modiin, Jerusalem, and Haifa, as well as emerging towns like S’derot, Ashkelon, G’dera and more. They lead the way in creating an Israeli society based upon Jewish values through Jewish education that extends far beyond the Hebrew language to the essential teachings of Jewish tradition; by creating holy places where men and women are equal in ritual matters and daily living; by welcoming new Jews into their community through their conversation and beit din; and importantly by educating the next generation of Israelis in the meaning and practice of Judaism.

And in these challenging weeks these rabbis provide the religious spiritual and emotional leadership that will enable Israel to move past this war as a healthy and fulfilled society.

The Israeli Reform Rabbinate is making significant strides in the religious life of Israel, and we must all commend our seminary, Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem, for its visionary work ordaining Reform Rabbis in Israel. Once ordained, these rabbis are members of MARAM, which continues to support, encourage, unite, and empower these rabbis as leaders in Israeli society. Of course, MARAM plays a significant role in this work, especially in cultivating new Reform communities throughout Israel and in partnership with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ).

CCAR with Rabbis Kinneret Shiryon and Nir Barkin at  Kehillat Yotzma in Modi'in.
CCAR with Rabbis Kinneret Shiryon and Nir Barkin and some of their members at Kehillat Yotzma in Modi’in.

Amidst all this, it comes down to the human side of the rabbinate and our rabbis. Last week, we sat with Rabbi Nir Barkin and Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon to study texts.  With Kinneret we studied the Akedah, looking at through poems of Yehudah Amichai and relating it to the current situation in Israel.  Kinneret spoke of her own tremendous fear for her son who had just been called up to serve in Gaza as a reserve soldier.  With Nir we studied about Tisha B’av and were challenged by him to rethink the meaning of the Tisha B’av. During our study session, Nir revealed that their middle child, Omri, was somewhere in Gaza, and that they had gone days without hearing from him. (See what Nir wrote about this experience at Rabbi Nir Barkin Relates His Experience as the Father of a Soldier). A few hours after saying goodbye to Nir, we learned that Omri’s unit had come under attack and suffered devastating losses with three people killed and fifteen injured. Omri survived, others did not. Within hours it was Shabbat; a Shabbat for Nir’s congregation and community, but not a Shabbat of Shalom for Nir, his wife Anat, their family, friends and country.

CCAR Convention News Rabbis Reform Judaism

Celebrating the Class of 1964: “Blessed in Every Way”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years.  In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of the members of the class of 1964.

I have spent all but four years of my fifty as a rabbi of Temple Israel in Memphis.

I met my wife, Jeanne, fifty years ago at Temple Israel. Our three sons grew up in Memphis and became b’nai mitzvah at Temple Israel. Our granddaughters became b’not mitzvah there, and a grandson is to become bar mitzvah there next Sukkot. My whole life turned on coming to Memphis in1964.

In the spring of 1959, I had finished two years of pre-rabbinic classes at HUC and the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Samuel Sandmel z”l called me in and suggested that I could start the rabbinic program the next fall a year early. As a result, in 1964, I was ordained a year ahead of schedule. Rabbi James Wax z”l and Temple Israel of Memphis needed an assistant rabbi. In that summer of racial turmoil in the South including the murder of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi, I came to the South.

Welcome to the rest of my life!!

I have been blessed beyond any dreams with my rabbinate. At Temple Israel, I had the challenge and the privilege of orchestrating our transition from a great and historic Classical Reform congregation of the old school to a proud and historic congregation in the mainstream of Reform Judaism. Because I was blessed with a receptive and trusting congregation, the stresses and conflicts that so often accompany that transition were minimal for us.

Thirty years ago, I gave a sermon calling on people to cook for, to drive for, to visit, and to care for other members in time of crisis. I called it God’s Unfinished Business, a reference to our not knowing why bad things happen, focusing instead on what is demanded of us. Hundreds of volunteers have continued that program of gemilut chasadim member to member for three decades. That is one of the proudest achievements of my rabbinate, precisely because it has become part of the lives of so many laypersons as both volunteers and beneficiaries.

My goal for a temple staff was always this: When one of us does well, everyone scheps nachas. For the most part, that has been true with the talented clergy and staff I have worked with. That neshama at Temple Israel was shared by our lay leadership: never adversaries, they have always been true and real partners and friends in the years of my rabbinate and beyond.

Most of my rabbinate was spent in a very large congregation. I am grateful that, nonetheless, I could be “someone’s rabbi.” I could not be what my father z”l was called at his funeral, “a member ex-officio of every family in the community,” but some of my greatest rabbinic moments were being included as a member of a family whether sitting with a couple discussing their coming marriage or sharing with the bereaved after they had suffered a loss.

Not only did the people of Temple Israel welcome me fifty years ago; so, too, did a whole region of Southern Jewry, because Temple Israel is a hub for many small Jewish communities in the South. A highlight of my rabbinate was serving as a long-time rabbinic advisor of SoFTY (now NFTY Southern) and being part of the very beginnings of the Henry S. Jacobs Camp where Jeanne and I still spend an occasional summer week on staff. Our grandchildren, now third generation campers, have joined the many for whom HSJ has been a second Jewish home for over forty years. Since I retired in 2000, I have had the special opportunity to serve Congregation Adath Israel in Cleveland MS monthly and for the yamim noraim. The community there, Jewish and beyond, has become part and parcel of Jeanne’s and my life.

My opportunities to serve our Conference, our movement and my colleagues have been many and wonderfully gratifying. Even in the work of our Ethics Committee or the Commission on Rabbinic-Congregational Relations where we encounter some of the difficult times for rabbis, I found satisfaction in the lay persons who support and work with us, as well as the great mass of colleagues who are overwhelmingly dedicated to our mission. Of course, the honor of being president of the CCAR is a highlight of my rabbinic years, and I prize that honor even as it carried burdens and responsibilities I did not always anticipate.

In my community, I have had the opportunity to teach Judaism for twenty-five years at Rhodes College, to chair the local NCCJ, and to chair the board of Family Service as well as that of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, the largest single social service agency in West Tennessee. I have had the chance to share with able and dedicated clergy from all faiths, going back even to the Sanitation Strike of 1968 which led to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To be a rabbi in Memphis in that April and since carries its own sadness but its own mandate and mission.

Finally, the best thing that happened to me in my rabbinate was showing up for work one day in the summer of 1964, hearing a typewriter hesitatingly clicking in an office that should have been empty, and finding a lifelong love in Jeanne. In these fifty years, we have been joined by three sons, Jeffrey, David and Michael; their three wives, Rona, Shara and, most recently, Lindsey; and three grandchildren, Caroline, Madeline and Nathaniel.

I can only wish for our children and grandchildren and for all my colleagues what I feel at this anniversary. As is said of Abraham, I can say, “Va’Adonai beirach et-Tzvi bakol – Adonai has blessed me in every way.”

CCAR Convention General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

Celebrating the Class of 1964: “Beauty in Holiness”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years.  In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of the members of the class of 1964.

Being on the Right Side of History I would begin this write-up by expressing personal satisfaction that, in my not so humble opinion, I have taken the side of the zeitgeist, the rational spirit guiding our times, in important issues of environment, church/state, and civil rights, GLBT rights, rights of the powerless and marginalized, elder care, mental health, and justice for juveniles.

One of my proudest moments was marching with Florida Governor Bob Graham to show support for the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) on Sunday, June 6, 1982. Following the march, I offered the invocation on the Capitol steps. I had the honor of sitting next to actress Elizabeth Rolle.

I come by my propensity for Feminism honestly. My mother, Louise Mayer Garfein, had her hair cut short, when short hair was not considered ”ladylike” for a young woman. Mother also refused to ride side saddle on her Appaloosa horse, “Circus,” though only side saddle was considered proper for a woman.

The greatest highlight under the category of church/state relations was my March 1994 ejection from a Florida Senate Education Committee hearing on the subject of prayer in the public schools. During the hearing, two senators were talking loudly to each other while a minister was testifying at the podium. A balustrade separated the senators from me. They were seated, while I was standing over them. I asked them to listen to what was being said at the podium. In a burst of anger they asked a Sergeant-at-Arms to tell me to leave, which I did. But reporters caught the whole scene, and the incident spread like wildfire throughout the Florida press. An editorial in the Pensacola newspaper quipped about the irony of the two senators arguing for freedom of religion, while trying to impose school prayers on the non-conforming public, and clamping down on a rabbi’s freedom of speech. The incident was a highlight in my rabbinate, because it alerted and aroused the liberal clergy and laity throughout the state as to what might be happening to conjoin church and state, rather than keeping them apart. The Friday night worship following my ejection occasioned the one and only time in my career that our congregation accorded me a standing ovation.

Interaction with Scholars and Friends Another highlight of my life was my study with Dr. Moshe Greenberg, z”/ . Dr. Greenberg was my premier professor at the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Greenberg had the gift of lecturing with great clarity and responsiveness to students’ inquiries. He became my adviser and mentor when I chose to major in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. I took every course he offered and wrote my senior thesis with him. For the first time I entered into a serious study of Biblical Hebrew. I gained insight into Biblical criticism and I came to understand why there might be duplications or contradictions within the same passage. I learned about differences between the approaches of Julius Wellhausen and Yehezkel Kaufmann. I grew in my conceptualization of God. I studied fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which at the time had recently been discovered.

Learning from Travel Experiences After completing my second year of rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College-JIR in Cincinnati, I spent ten months (1961-62) in Israel. Attending Ulpan Etzion, I became somewhat adept at conversational Hebrew. This enabled me to get by in Hebrew and travel by bus to all parts of Israel. Also, along with my classmate, Ron Goff, I benefited from private tutoring from Rabbi Dr. Yehoshua Amir. Dr. Amir provided us with many rich learning experiences at his quaint home in the “German Colony” of Jerusalem. They included a Passover Seder, during which, in the Dayenu, Holocaust survivors recounted how they had been rescued from annihilation, and were thankful for their deliverances.

Much of the time I was alone. Speaking with strangers, many of whom were happy to teach me a little Hebrew “on the run,” I had a variety of life experiences. Subsequently, during my rabbinical career, I have taken numerous trips/pilgrimages to Israel. From them I have garnered many anecdotes, one of which includes an awesome surface survey of the western Negev with Dr. Nelson Glueck.

Probably the most memorable of my trips was in 1976. Senator Richard Stone, Monsignor William Kerr, and I escorted forty Catholics, Protestants, and Jews to Israel and Rome. Almost as memorable was my tour in January 1994 to Israel, Sinai, and in Jordan, Mt. Nebo, Amman, and Petra. For this there were some thirty rabbis, who were members of ARZA (American Reform Zionist Association). The time was nigh for a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.

In June, 1981, I participated in an archaeological dig in the City of David, the oldest section of the city of Jerusalem. This is south of the “Dung Gate” of the Old City. This area has been number one on my list of archaeological interests. Dr. Yigal Shiloh, z”/ was Project Director of the dig. In January of 1987 my travel-lust took me in a different direction. Rabbi Larry Halpern of Orlando and I volunteered with the movement for Soviet Jewry to go to Moscow and to what was then known as Leningrad.  Our mission, along with that of many others, was to deliver medications, tennis shoes, blue jeans, cameras and other non-perishable commodities to Refusedniks, Jews who had applied to leave the Soviet Union. Not only had the regime refused to let them go, it forced them out of their existing jobs, so that they had no way to make a living. Rabbi Halpern and I, like many others, took suitcases replete with goods that the Refusedniks could use or sell, so as to tide them over through their limbo status. We had to memorize their addresses and phone numbers, so we could deliver these items without being detected by the authorities. To contact them we had to go to public pay telephones situated outdoors in 40 degree below freezing weather.

Genealogy – Israel and Galitzia From my travels I gained interest in my family history and genealogy, picking up bits and pieces of information from here and there. My Garfein relatives in Israel had come from Sambor, Galitzia, which is where my paternal grandfather, Harry Garfein, was born. Galitzia was a province in southern Poland, which was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1772. Harry Garfein was a young teenager, trained as a tailor, when he migrated to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1886. He married my “Granma,” Rosa Weil, who was a native of Louisville, born of Alsatian parents. My mother’s parents migrated to Louisville from western Germany in the late 1800s.

I have visited some of the cemeteries where my ancestors are buried. In 2003 I took a roots trip to central and eastern Europe, including Sambor, which is now in Ukraine. In Sambor I may have seen the house where the Garfeins once lived. Like so many other homes where Jews have lived in Europe, there is a hollowed out place on the right front entry doorpost, where a mezuzah had once been affixed.

While Rabbi at Temple Israel in Tallahassee, I helped build up our archives and became acquainted with the genealogies of its member families. I also helped acquire silver ritual artifacts for display at Temple Israel. When church groups asked for a tour of the temple, I presented them with a sight and sound visit and explanation of some of the basic beliefs and practices of Judaism. On several occasions I spoke from church pulpits. I also conducted demonstration seders. I received numerous notes of appreciation for such appearances and presentations.

Dissertation, Sermons, Picture Book One of my greatest highlights was my ability to create literarily. For my dissertation before Ordination I translated the esoteric passages of Maaseh B’raysheet (God’s Work of Creation in Genesis} and Maaseh HaMerkavah (God’s Chariot in Ezekiel}. These were commentaries written by Rabbi David Kimchi a.k.a. RaDaK, a student of Maimonides. RaDak, 1160-1235 lived in Narbonne in Provence. I could not have achieved this feat of translation without the help of my mentor, Rabbi Dr. Alvin Reines, who was an expert in the vocabulary of medieval Jewish theology and mysticism. It was not until 30 years after my Ordination that I came to realize that these esoteric passages were probably a foil, with Maimonidean theology opposing the definitions of Jewish mysticism, when it came to the usage of various vocabulary words.

I was fortunate to be able to turn out some sermons that did not just sit in a file cabinet. Two were published in So That Your Values Live on – Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them edited and annotated by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer. They are: “Finish Your Final Business” (about preparing for ones own funeral) and “Organic Immortality” (about the mitzvah of donating ones organs after death).

I also wrote a picture book of children’s stories, Tales of the Temple Mice. These were stories written for religious schools, first at Temple Israel in St. Louis, and then at Temple Israel in Tallahassee. The stories are value oriented, and are somewhat autobiographical.

The Beauty of Holiness; The Appreciation of Hebrew I tried hard to promote beauty in holiness, as the Psalmist said, “Worship God in the beauty of holiness.” Aesthetics, of course, is a highly subjective matter. God is in the details, as is the devil. I tried to be on the side of God. I strove for the best in music for our congregation: professional vocalists and lovely liturgical music accompanied by organ, especially that of our Classical Reform tradition. I decorated both our home and our bema for the holidays with floral arrangements and plants.

For the Torah service at Temple I designed a Lucite lectern for reading the Torah. I chose this transparency for the lectern, so that congregants, especially children, could see what the unrolled Torah looks like. For the Torah scrolls, we designed vestments of different colors that were changed at the onset of each major liturgical season.

For bar and bat mitzvah services, I taught the youngsters to translate their Torah readings, not just to read mechanically without understanding.

Nachas fun Kinder; The Joy of Judaism and the Pleasure from Children

I have saved the best highlight ’til last, like the baked Alaska at an atrociously wondrous banquet.

I met Vivian at her sister Ellen’s Confirmation luncheon. After three dates we were engaged, and on January 23, 1966, we were married. When Vivian appeared in the portal to the sanctuary, she radiated a beautiful glow down the dimly lit aisle. She has remained an exquisitely lovely bride. Shortly thereafter we went to Tallahassee to be interviewed by the rabbi selection committee of Temple Israel. We were warmly received and almost immediately invited to become Rabbi and Rebbitzen of the congregation.

Florence Reichert Greenberg, daughter of a rabbi and sister of two rabbis, was a member of the selection committee. She assured us that the congregation would be engaging just the Rabbi, not the Rebbitzen. Vivian would be free to pursue her own paths. Nevertheless, Vivian did contribute to the religio-cultural functioning and well-being of the congregation and general community. She was a strong support to me and could serve as a conduit of communication from congregants to me. She enjoyed entertaining. For Shabbat dinners and Passover seders she set an elegant table, often inviting guests to be present.

It was not too long after we’d settled in Tallahassee that our children came into the picture. Rebecca was born before our Sabbath evening service. When I led the service at that special moment, the words of our prayerbook rose up off the page. Almost every word was full of meaning, evoking my choking and tears. The Temple members thought something terrible had happened. But the choking and the tears flowed from my innermost joy, not sorrow.

Susanna was born after our Sabbath evening service. When I walked out of the sanctuary our custodian, Allen Ransom, who’d just received the phone call, was anxiously awaiting me. “Rabbi,” he said, “you’d better get yourself to the (Tallahassee Memorial) hospital!”

I immediately drove from our Temple at Copeland and St. Augustine streets to the hospital. It seemed as though I had to stop for a red light at every corner. Finally, I got to the threshold of the delivery room. After a few moments, I heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl!”

Our home life as a family was quite within the parameters of Reform Judaism. There was consistency and regularity of ritual observances and prayer. We aimed at infusing joy, meaning, and beauty into our spirituality. Conferences and camps associated with our Federation of Temple Youth reinforced the values of our home life. I kept my vocational advice, hints, and direction to a minimum. What a pleasant surprise it was, therefore, that Susanna and Rebecca chose professional careers akin to my own. Rebecca is a cantor; Susanna is a professor of Biblical Hebrew and cognate languages and history.

Our daughters are married now, and they have their own families with children. It appears that they are keeping up the tradition in which they were brought up.

L’dor Va-dor– From Generation to Generation.

General CCAR News Rabbis Reform Judaism

Mentors and Mystery Partners

Just a few years back – or at least it feels that way – I started seventh grade at a small private school in West Los Angeles. The spring prior I graduated from the Jewish day school I’d attended since Mommy-n-Me, housed at the synagogue in which I’d spent most of my childhood. Though I remained deeply connected to my home community throughout high school, after sixth grade I decided it was time for a change. So, one hot September morning I began a new chapter at the 7th-12th-grade middle and high school where I would spend the next six years of my life.

To say the transition was rough is an understatement.

No longer was I one of the top dogs. Gone were the uniforms I’d grown accustomed to. Overnight, everything and everyone changed. The kids around me were now cooler, hipper, and obviously, older. Some of them even had cars. Classes were harder; it was middle school after all. I was an awkward new kid on the block, complete with braces, glasses, and a whole lot of tsuris about this new experience.

Thankfully, to help with the transition I had my very own “mystery partner” to introduce me to the greater student body. At the start of the school year, each seventh grader was assigned an older student as a secret buddy. The older student knew who the younger was, but for the younger it was left a mystery. This longstanding tradition took the form of passing notes, small gifts, and even singing telegrams to one another throughout fall semester. By winter break, identities were revealed, hugs exchanged, and we seventh graders felt much more connected to a greater student body; to a campus filled with “big kids.”

Now, nearly two decades later, I’m experiencing a modern-day version of the mystery partner: the CCAR’s mentoring program between graduating HUC-JIR rabbinical students like myself and established rabbis from all over the country. This program (which began in 2002 as a voluntary and is now required), stretches over three years; it begins our last year as students and carries us through two years in the rabbinate. This mentoring aims to help us soon-to-be new rabbis on the block transition out of the academy and into the field. And so far, it’s been a tremendously valuable experience.

To be fair, my mentor isn’t a mystery. I do, in fact, know who he is and where he’s based. Though we’ve never met in person, it feels as though the relationship has lasted years. When we met for the first time over the phone last spring it quickly became clear to me I’d lucked out with this match. Since that day I have felt a strong and unique level of support from an individual far away from my home base in Southern California. Though we’ve never met face-to-face, I know he’s got my back; that he is committed to helping me navigate this strange, surreal experience of preparing for ordination and all that lays beyond it.

In our sessions my mentor has demonstrated an extraordinary awareness of what it means to be a rav. He is warm, engaged, funny, and genuinely curious about me. He wants to know who I am as a person, what my experience at HUC has been like, and all that I anticipate – or don’t – in this next chapter of my life. In turn my mentor is open about his own story: about his rabbinate, family, personal interests and relationships, triumphs and struggles, and what being a rabbi has meant to him. His depth, generosity, and openness are remarkable. We make each other laugh, commiserate about shared challenges, and pose thoughtful questions to one another about what we hope to achieve in our careers and our lives.

My mentor is not the only person to whom I look for guidance and support. He joins a long list of individuals to whom I’ve grown close over the years: rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders, colleagues, and friends. While I feel incredibly blessed to have these people in my life, there’s something different about this specific mentorship. First, there’s no background: no context, no baggage. We have no history with one another, and if it weren’t for Google we wouldn’t even know what the other looks like. We’re two people who were matched together, who know a few of the same people but really come from two different places. The near-anonymity is liberating and refreshing.

Second, there’s no hidden agenda. We talk for the sake of professional and personal growth. He dedicates his time and energy toward helping me acclimate to the world of the rabbinate and in turn, I offer him food for thought on every topic under the sun. That I am still present in the HUC-JIR community is very much a form of connection and memory for him and reminds us both of the many gifts the College-Institute bestows on its students.

Finally, and most importantly, this mentorship provides a specific level of insight onto the roles we play in our lives. Each of us wears many hats: rabbi, husband, father, friend; rabbinical student, wife, daughter, teacher, etc. Day in and day out we engage with those around us while wearing one or more of those hats. We play our roles, deliver our monologues, and transition from one to the other with relative ease. Yet when it comes time for our conversations we remove those hats. We step into the roles of “mentor” and “mentee” and discuss, honestly and openly, the experience of wearing and sharing those very roles. It’s a level of reflection I did not know was possible until now, and I am so grateful that I get to experience it.

One year from now, I have no idea where I will be. I can only hope to have just completed my first High Holiday season as a full-time rabbi with a dynamic and vibrant community, settling down in a great place and exploring my new role. While I do not yet know where, when, or how any of this will come to fruition, I do know one thing for certain: that my mentor will be right there alongside me; pushing, encouraging, and challenging me to be the best rabbi I can be. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get a singing telegram, too.

Jacyln Fromer Cohen is a rabbinic student at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles.