My Road to the Rabbinate

Thank you to Terry Ginzburg, Evelyn Rubin and the Sisterhood, for giving me the privilege of speaking about my time at The Jewish Theological Seminary.  It is a great honor to me to be part of a congregation that strongly values its connection to The Jewish Theological Seminary and that has been a generous financial contributor to the school at which I was recently ordained.

I think it is fitting that we honor our Sisterhood Women of Achievement on this Shabbat. This Torah portion is dedicated to Sarah, our first matriarch, who did so much to establish our people. Following in the example of Sarah, Marian Sadick and Cindy Tannenbaum have done so much to strengthen our Sisterhood and give back to Conservative institutions of higher learning.

I grew up in a close-knit, loving family for whom attending weekly synagogue services and celebrating Jewish holidays were extremely important. My parents and my siblings are essential contributors to my strong Jewish identity.  I also attended a community Jewish day school and loved learning Hebrew and Judaics as well as getting to know students of each Jewish denomination.

When I began college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I wanted to become a lawyer.  I planned to get a double major in History and Political Science and then enroll in Law School at Harvard or Stanford.  My first semester I took a Hebrew class that would change those plans.  The course was about the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightnment.  I read the works of Jewish poets who, though largely secular, knew their Bible cold, wrote in beautiful Hebrew and had strong connections to the Land of Israel.  At that time a thought, or as we learned at JTS, a kal vahomer, entered my mind.  I thought, if those secular Jews still had strong roots to their history and tradition, how much more so should I as someone who was religious?  From this class, I decided to change from majoring in Political Science to majoring in Hebrew and Judaic Studies.  In such, my journey to the rabbinate began.

For me, the choice to attend The Jewish Theological Seminary for rabbinical school was a no-brainer-in fact I did not apply anywhere else.  The childhood rabbi who was my greatest role model, Rabbi Lee Buckman, graduated from the Seminary.  Rabbi Buckman taught me Bible one-on-one in high school, and his passion for Jewish education and generosity in giving his time to further my education were strong influences on me.  I wanted to go to a school where I could have both great breadth and depth in Jewish education, where I could become a teacher with a strong Jewish knowledge base and be a role model to others like Rabbi Buckman was to me.  When I visited classes during the JTS Prospective Students Weekend, I was impressed to discover the friendliness of the students and their excitement for Jewish learning.  It seemed like a perfect fit for me, and I was overjoyed when I was accepted and admitted to JTS.

In rabbinical school, I had the opportunity to learn from many of the top scholars of Jewish texts.  I learned Midrash from Rabbi Burt Visotzky, the author of key commentaries on Proverbs and Leviticus, who I also joined in interfaith work with Christian and Muslim groups.  I was also fortunate to learn Medieval Jewish History from Dr. Benjamin Gampel, a world renowned scholar of Medieval Spanish Jewry.  In addition, I learned Jewish Law Codes from Rabbi Joel Roth and Rabbi David Golinkin.  It was exciting to learn from these professors, who in addition to being top-notch scholars are master storytellers and are able to relate their scholarly material to their students.

Another highlight of my time in rabbinical school was being with a class of intelligent peers who shared my thirst for Jewish knowledge and for making a difference in Jewish communities throughout the world.  We had a close class community, especially during our year in Israel, when we studied at the Schechter Institute.  That year, we had monthly Shabbat dinner as a class, and we went on a number of hikes and explorations (tiyulim) of Israel.  It was powerful to spend 6 years with like-minded people in a strong Jewish community.

In addition, I am grateful for the number of internships that JTS helped me acquire during my time in rabbinical school.  I was a rabbinic intern at the Jewish Council of Urban Affairs in Chicago, where I worked on criminal justice reform and learned from top social justice activists.  I was also an education intern at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn, for which I created a Mitzvah Fair and helped develop a professional development program for Hebrew High teachers.  In addition, I served as a student chaplain at Bellevue Hospital, where I administered care to prison psych patients as well as to those in the detox and cardiac units.  I also was blessed to serve at a number of High Holiday pulpits, including one in London, England.  I was able to be exposed to such a rich variety of internships which have and will continue to enhance my work as a rabbi because I was a student at JTS.

I have spoken about the opportunities given to me.  I was very fortunate to receive generous financial aid all 6 years that I attended JTS.  For the first 5 years, I received a scholarship from a family in the Detroit area.  My final year I received a fellowship from the Legacy Heritage Foundation to serve a small congregation in Flint, Michigan.  Although I always had 2-3 jobs in addition, the aide paid for approximately half of my total costs of tuition, room and board, which is not cheap in New York City.  Without this aide, I would not have been able to fulfill my lifelong calling of becoming a rabbi.

I was asked to speak about my road to the rabbinate, and that’s why so much of this is about me, but really it’s about you.  My dream has been actualized in coming to the Jericho Jewish Center, where I have been so warmly welcomed.  I have been privileged to meet in real life people who made my dream a reality.  It is because of people like you in this room that I have the opportunity to do what I enjoy most: teach Torah and build community.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support that you have given and continue to give to institutions like JTS which enrich Jewish communities throughout the world.  I thank each and every one of you who have ever contributed to JTS and to the Conservative Movement.  Rabbinical school is a challenging 5-6 year program, and so many students need financial help.  Your help truly makes a difference.  Thank you.

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