Posted by The Jewish Center on 05/18/2018
I had a very powerful experience yesterday that took me a bit off guard. I attended the Commencement ceremonies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. I first decided to attend because my nephew was receiving his degree in Jewish Education. Some of you may remember my nephew Sam who led four youth services this past High Holidays. Sam and his fiancé, Danielle both received their Graduate Degrees in Jewish Education and it was a special moment to be there with both families. I have great hopes for Sam as he enters the field of Jewish education and I believe he will do great things in a Jewish day school setting, in a Jewish camp setting or perhaps someday becoming a Director of Congregational Learning at a synagogue somewhere in North America. But that was the part of yesterday's experience that I expected.
What I did not expect was how it felt to be back at JTS on the 19th Anniversary of my own Commencement and my Ordination from Rabbinical School. As I looked around at the people in attendance, as I spoke to many of my former teachers and classmates and friends who still have a strong connection to the institution, as I listened to Chancelor Eisen present powerful words and a strong charge to all of the graduates and as I was touched by the personal words of the student speakers, the day was transformed into something I did not expect. Perhaps it was being back "on the campus", perhaps it was talking with my parents about the difference between watching your grandson receive a graduate degree in Jewish education vs. watching your own son achieve his ultimate dream of becoming a Rabbi, or perhaps it was just feeling again how important an institution JTS has been for the greater Jewish community for over 125 years - there was something about the day that was almost magical.
Dr. Eisen challenged the students in all of the schools, to take their education with them as they go out to build Jewish communities. He told everyone to not be afraid to take chances and look for ways to help the greater Jewish community to feel connected to our people, our traditions and our God. One student spoke about what it meant for him to feel welcomed into the community when he first arrived and how powerful it was to feel a true sense of belonging. Perhaps the most impressive speaker was the Jew by Choice who spoke about her conversion process with a Rabbi in Israel and how much it impacted her studies and her life. In preparation for the festival of Shavuot, this student told of when she was asked about the story of Ruth, the first Jew by Choice in history. The Rabbi asked her what was the pledge that Ruth made to her mother in law Naomi when she promised to not leave her. This student's answer to the Rabbi was that Ruth said, "Wherever you will go, I will go. Your God will be my God." The Rabbi told her that she left out the most important phrase. Before Ruth said anything about God she said, "Your people will be my people - Your God will be my God." In other words, being part of the Jewish people is what comes first - feeling connected, being part of a community, being accepted for who we are, and joining a group that is greater than any one of us.
These lessons were powerful for me yesterday and they took me back to my Ordination as I completed my studies at JTS and began my career as a Congregational Rabbi 19 years ago. I feel honored to do what I do and I feel proud to have had the teachers and the experiences that have formed my Rabbinate - both those during my years at JTS and many more since then. Some of the most impactful moments were those I planned for and expected while others were more spontaneous. My goal as a Rabbi is to help others achieve similar moments that help us all feel connected to our community, our traditions and our God.
Tomorrow night we begin the Festival of Shavuot, the moment we recreate the Sinai experience, the one moment in Jewish history that God spoke to the People and gave us the Torah. I hope you will consider joining us for our Tikun Learning Program beginning on Saturday night at 7pm or for our morning services on Sunday when we celebrate with our Siyyum Tichon students or on Monday when we recite Yizkor. As we experience this holiday and think about our own connection to the Torah and Jewish traditions, let's look for moments when we can help others feel a sense of connection and community so that we can help everyone feel that "Your people will be my people and then Your God will be my God."
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach
Rabbi Adam Feldman
Mazal Tov Siyyum Tichon Class of 2018!
Sunday Morning - May 20 at 9:30am
First Day of Shavuot