2014 Rabbinic Ordainees
Following are the personal statements of the 2014 graduates of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College:
Adina B. Allen
Ben Bag Bag would say: Turn and turn into it, for everything is in it; see with it; grow old and worn in it; do not budge from it, for there is nothing better.
— Pirket Avot 5:22
Over the past six years, I have come to understand the mutuality of the relationship between the tradition and ourselves. We breathe life into one another, we sustain one another. We make Judaism come alive when we take it in, digest it, play with it, and interrogate it — when the texts of our lives and the aggregated written and cultural texts of our tradition interact to produce something new. As my teachers have done for me, I seek to provide others with the tools to unlock the magic of the tradition and with new, creative ways of engaging. By activating the imagination, the insights and revelations needed for the present day can emerge. Each and every one of us has a unique capacity to understand and interpret our texts. The greater the diversity of voices welcomed into this endeavor, the richer we — and the tradition — become. As I embark on the next stage of the journey, my cup overflows with gratitude for the gift of being a part of this community. Thank you to my gracious and brilliant teachers, for helping me to bring the fullness of who I am to this work; to my classmates, for the deep learning and even deeper friendships; to my family, for supporting me on this path; to my friends, for providing humor and perspective; to Jeff, for always believing in me; and to Remy, for opening my heart wider than I thought possible.
Alana Chaya Alpert
Is this not the fast that I have chosen?
To open the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the shackle,
and to send free the oppressed, and every chain — break!
— Isaiah 58:6
Our theology of solidarity: Where will it take us? What other world is possible when we reach deep into the roots of our tradition and raise up stories, songs, and questions to fortify us for the struggle? How can this covenant of awakeness stretch our hearts and imaginations? Will we leave the narrow places of alienation, fear, greed, militarism, nationalism, exploitation, and choose life, liberation, and interdependence? I pray to the Source of Life to be broken-hearted and whole, to feel rage as well as compassion. I pray, as Heschel says, to be shocked — but not to be in shock. I give thanks to Hashem for the chance to live out this dialectic of rupture and healing. Gratitude to my mishpacha, my beloved, my comrades, my elders, and my teachers. My dear classmates: I have been so blessed to learn from the Torahs that you are.
Joel H Baron
Indeed God is in this place, and I did not know.
— Genesis 28:16
In the summer of 2012, I enrolled in my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, a training course for hospital chaplains; soon, I knew that I had found my “congregation” — the community I wanted to serve as rabbi. Whether working with the elderly well, the moderately ill, the chronically ill, or the dying — in senior living facilities, healthcare settings, or hospices, as teacher, service leader, or pastor — it was in these places that I experienced God the most deeply and felt able to do the most good. For me, these places are holy ground, where people are prepared to discuss life, loss, joy, regret, meaning, gratitude, God, end-of-life, and afterlife. To be able to accompany them on these journeys is an unimagined gift in my life; not only have I been able to fulfill a lifelong desire to become a rabbi, but I will be able to do so at Hebrew SeniorLife, in its new hospice program. In fulfillment of the Priestly blessing, God’s face has truly shone upon me and been gracious to me. May it always be so.
Jordan Stuart Braunig
Serve the Holy One through joy, enter God’s midst through happiness.
— Psalms 100:2
How difficult it can feel to draw close to the Divine — all the countless strictures, the prudish piety, the heavy reverence. So, how refreshing, how utterly uplifting, to receive this reminder in our morning prayers that happiness itself can be an act of holy service. I know no better way of expressing my appreciation and amazement at life’s myriad blessings than through joy and laughter. As a teacher and a rabbi, I aspire to reach out and invite people into the wild, frenetic, slightly sweaty, and undeniably joyous dance that is Jewish life. I am profoundly grateful to have found in Hebrew College a place where humor and prayer, merriment and Torah study, jubilation and Judaism can intermingle and even harmonize. I want to thank my teachers and mentors, my fellow students and dear classmates, my beloved family and friends for all the wisdom and love they have shared with me on this journey. Most of all, I thank Casey, Levi, and Asa for bringing me endless joy with which I can draw close to the Holy One of Blessing.
David Benjamin Fainsilber
Reb Nachman said: For each and every shepherd has their own unique melody according to the grasses and according to the place where they guide their herd.
A melody begins, within each of us: grown from the context in which we each live, rising up from the heart, expressed and given voice for others to hear. What is your melody? What deep parts of yourself might you share with others? I want to sing a song with you in four-part harmony, a song for the individual lives we lead, bravely, with care and intent; a song for our people, for love of bonding and collaboration; a song for all of humanity, working with our differences in hope toward peace and wholeness; a song for all of G-d’s creatures, to learn from the birds and the mountains how to live at one with this awe-inspiring world. With each interaction of rabbinic work, melodies become harmonies, as we are given an opportunity for collective liberation. I am deeply grateful to my teachers, classmates, friends, and family for each of the melodies you have sung throughout this journey with me, making harmonies that know no bounds.
David Wynn Finkelstein
A song of ascents: When God returned Zion’s captives, we were like dreamers.
Then our mouths were full of laughter and our tongues full of song.
— Psalms 126:1–2
We Finkelsteins have two tunes for Shir haMa’alot, a march and a waltz. Everybody agrees the waltz is better, but it gains so much by comparison to the march! Passed through the generations from Lesko, Galicia, the Finkelstein waltz for Shir haMa’alot filled me with a sense of connection to Jews and Judaism throughout the ages. Learning it and singing it inspired me to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Without Shir haMa’alot, I never would have met Rabbi Sara Meirowitz or interned at Mass General, the Boston Synagogue, and Temple Shalom. Rafael Noam would never have been born, and I would not be a rabbi. Here’s to you, Finkelstein tune for Shir haMa’alot! May you continue to be sung by people everywhere, and may good music sung with gusto continue to stir the souls of our people to self-actualization and deep connection!
Ari Lev Fornari
It was taught: On that day they removed the gatekeeper to the House of Study and permission was given for all students to enter, [having undone what] Rabban Gamaliel had decreed, “Any learner whose insides do not match their outsides may not enter the House of Study.” On that day [hundreds] of stools were added...Rabban Gamliel remorsefully exclaimed: “God forbid I had withheld Torah from Israel!” Wherever the expression “Bo Bayom—On That Day” is used in the Talmud, it is referencing that specific day...[With all the new students] there were no perplexing laws which could not be fully interpreted.
— Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28a
I first encountered this passage in 2005. I was captivated by the image of rows upon rows of once-alienated, now-eager learners unlocking the mysteries of our sacred texts. I remet this text in rabbinical school. This time I understood its context, and I could parse each and every word. I was sitting on one of those newly added benches. I carry this passage with me as an inspiration for what I hope to do as a rabbi: open the doors of the beit midrash and invite in people of all stripes, adding rows upon rows of learners. Together we can create a more just, liberatory, and whole Judaism. I did not get here alone. I am deeply grateful to the members of Trans Torah and Bnot Esh, aware that I am standing on the shoulders of feminist and trans people before me (and what strong shoulders they are); to my rabbinic midwives, Benay, Julie, Shayna, Andreas, Lynn, Andrew, and Mary Martha: Thank you for helping to part the waters; to my mentors, RS”K, Rim, and Beth; to my havrutot, our learning has been the greatest salve on the broken places in my heart and in the tradition; to Nina, for teaching me that there is One God; and to my family: Shosh, my parents, my siblings, and my dearest of friends. Bo Bayom. For me, this is that day.
Shoshana Meira Friedman
Am I not alive? And who is this aliveness that I am? Is it not the Holy Creator?
— Me’or Einayim
My six years in rabbinical school have taught me the depth of Jewish tradition and empowered me to lead in community. But most importantly, this training has helped me feel at home in the world. Through hevruta study, our school community, and the wisdom of our teachers and sages, this journey has brought me down to earth, to the warm company of other seekers. I feel my very “aliveness” is part of the holy force of life. When I teach children or adults, lead prayer, give a d’var Torah or sit with someone who is suffering, I can see the people in front of me as manifestations of the Holy One, doing Her best to show up in a challenging world. I pray for compassion, courage, and genuine connection to inspire and guide my work. I am ever grateful to my parents, sisters, good friends, and life-partner for their support and love.
Hillel Jacob Greene
Ben Bag Bag used to say: “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”
— Pirket Avot 5:22
At Hebrew College, with the help of my classmates and teachers, I have had the opportunity not just to turn Torah, but also to poke, prod, pull apart, throw away, fix, expound, learn, unlearn, grow, and overall, deepen my relationship with it. Torah invites us to come back to it at each phase and stage of our lives and to see it through new eyes each time. And everything is in it, which is to say that there is room in Torah for each of us. I believe that at its heart, Torah study is an expression of freedom; I have experienced firsthand its power to transform and add meaning to my life. How blessed am I that I get to take this love of learning and share it with others? I want to say thank you to my friends and family who supported me along the way, especially my wife, Lily, and my son Elisha. I can imagine nothing better.
Avi Sarah Killip
You, who cling to God, your God, you are all alive today.
— Deuteronomy 4:4
The divine invitation to find connection through the covenant of Torah drives my work as a rabbi and teacher. I believe that God is your God, that clinging to God can be life-giving, and that a relationship with the divine helps us feel alive and present in each moment. I believe that this is a covenant shared by the community of the Jewish people, and that we are stronger, happier, and holier when connected to each other through Torah. Studying Torah in the Hebrew College beit midrash has brought me closer to God and filled my life with meaning and joy. Together, we have immersed ourselves in text and prayer. We have learned from each other, from our teachers, and from our ancient tradition. I enter the rabbinate with a deep sense of pride and gratitude for having had the chance to study here, with this community.
Margot S. Meitner
Blessed is God who made a miracle for me in this place.
— Midrash Tanhuma, Vayehi 17
According to the midrash, after reconciling with his family, Joseph returns to the pit where his brothers left him for dead, and recites this blessing. Joseph’s survival was not the only miracle. The miracle exists in the act itself — that Joseph turns the source of his pain and near destruction into a blessing. On my journey to the rabbinate, I have come to see that the miracles in our midst reside in our capacity for change and transformation, and I have learned that my work as a rabbi is to help transform brokenness into blessing. In the Jewish tradition, I have found an endless storehouse of tools through which to humbly do this work, whether it be the healing of hearts, spirits, bodies, psyches, relationships, communities, governments, or the natural world. I am ever grateful to my teachers for entrusting me with these tools; to my parents, family, and friends for holding me up in this work; to my counselors, body workers, yoga teachers, and farmers for sustaining it; and to my beloved classmates for truly making (and being) miracles for me in this place.
Jessica Kate Meyer
When the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah, no bird twittered, no fowl flew, no ox lowed,
none of the Ophanim stirred a wing, the Seraphim did not say, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the sea
did not roar, the creatures did not speak. Rather, the whole world was hushed and silent.
— Shemot Raba 29
I pray to approach my rabbinate with the depth of listening, anticipation, curiosity, and sense of awe painted by this midrash. My teachers and mentors at Hebrew College have given me the tools to marinate in words of Torah, to read closely — with and against the grain — to ground my practice in tradition, to inherit and to innovate dynamic Jewish life. Since I began rabbinical school, I have dreamed of serving a prayerful, Torah-filled, music-filled community, community that reaches toward divinity through prayer, song, and action. Thank you for preparing me to realize this dream. In addition to my mentors and teachers at Hebrew College, I want to thank my classmates — it has been humbling to learn with and from you; Rabbi Claudia Kreiman, Or Mars, and Rabbi Sharon Brous, rabbinic role models and mentors; my colleagues at Encounter, for teaching me how to run an organized organization; and Lynn Torgove, Ruth Wieder Magen, Jay Shir, and Roni Ish-Ran, for drawing my voice in song. A special thank you to Rabbi David Ingber and the soulful Romemu community, for hiring me. And a thank you beyond thank yous to my parents, Roger and Sheila Meyer. I am grateful to be called rabbi today. I look forward to a lifetime of growing into this role.
Becky A. Silverstein
Direct our hearts to understand and to elucidate, to listen, to learn and to teach, to guard and perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teaching in love. Enlighten our eyes in your Torah, and cling our hearts with your mitzvot, and unify our hearts to love and to be in awe of your name.
— Ahava Rabbah, Morning Liturgy
By seeking to ground our personal narratives within the Torah, our holy text, and the Mitzvot, our way of interacting with the world and God, we can create a strong foundation from which to contribute to the growth and healing of our world. By bringing our full selves to the text and tradition, we give names, faces, and stories to the rich fabric of identity in our community. By bringing compassionate hearts motivated by honest curiousity, we commit ourselves to listening to each other, to the voice of God that flows through each of us, and to the possible transformation that lies within the uncovering of the unknown. That we seek to do all of this with love and with an awareness of God’s love is a reminder that it is God’s unconditional and overflowing love that unites all of creation. I seek to teach Torah that creates a container for this exploration and to support individual and collective growth that will contribute to a living Judaism. Thank you to all who have shared their Torah with me along this path. I am especially grateful to my family and teachers, as well as to my classmates, without whom I could not imagine being on this journey.
Lisa Rose Stella
And you shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Place these words, which I command you this day, on your heart. Teach them diligently to your children, and speak of them — in your home and on your way, when you lie down and when you get up.
— Deuteronomy 6:5-7
These are the first words of Torah, and of prayer, I ever memorized. And yet, today, I feel as though I am learning something new from placing these words of love, of God, and of Torah on my heart. Love in all forms is about relationship — about seeing and being with each other — and it is what builds community. Being in relationship with others and with the Divine connects me to our tradition more deeply. The more we look into Torah with curiosity and openness, the more we see ourselves in her. As I embark on the journey of my rabbinate, these are the words I take with me, and I pray for the ability to jump wholeheartedly into this sacred work. I am grateful to my classmates and teachers, who have taught me so much, to my family, for supporting me on this path since I was a teenager, and especially to my partner, Zach.
Rabbi Daniel Klein
Director of Admissions