Community Blog “I see you. I get you.
We need you.”
October 13, 2022 | 18 Tishrei 5783
I am excited to introduce to you a new initiative we at Hebrew College are launching this year, called, “Who Saw the Rabbi in You?” The impetus for this campaign is simple. I think it is also urgent, and profound.
For so many of us, our path to the rabbinate—or to other forms of Jewish professional leadership—was shaped and inspired by people along the way—teachers, mentors, rabbis, role models, people who encouraged us, who invited us into leadership roles (more or less willingly), people who coaxed and cajoled us, people who nurtured us, people who saw something in us.
When I was about 17 years old, studying in Jerusalem for six months, Rabbi David Forman zichrono livracha said to me: “Cohen, we need you.” I knew intuitively that he was talking about the Jewish people, he was talking about Israel, and he was talking about the world. I suppose those words were a kind of personal summons for me, and they have stayed with me all these years. (I can still hear them in his wonderful resonant voice!)
They were not said, mind you, with desperation. (I discovered when working in Hillel for many years that people like to be needed, but they don’t like to be needed desperately). Instead, they were said with genuine recognition and respect: “I see you, I get you, we need you.”
I thought of that memory a few years ago, when I heard one of my own students from Hebrew College, Rabbi Elie Lehmann, serving as a Hillel rabbi, offer a dvar torah in which he asked his students to step up and make their own contributions to the community. K’rav el hamizbeach, he taught them. Draw close to the altar and bring your sacred offering. In other words: “I see you, I get you, we need you.”
The journey continues. We summon each other and we are summoned. Each of us carries a precious piece—our own Torah, our own offering, our own spark of the divine. And together we find the way forward.
There is much concern these days about the leadership pipeline in the Jewish community, and there are many complex variables to consider as we think about how to cultivate, recruit, engage, and support the next generation of leaders. But, I believe strongly that none of those variables will make a difference unless people hear from us about the rich rewards of this work and about the ways in which they—they, specifically—can make a meaningful difference in the world.
Please see this short video, launching our “Who Saw the Rabbi in You?” series, and think about who in your life—students, friends, colleagues—might need to hear from you about the leadership potential you see in them. There’s no way to know where it will lead—but at the very least, you will have let someone know that you value them and believe in what they have to contribute! That is no small thing.
In this season of harvest, I am thinking about the relationships cultivated over a lifetime in this sacred work—about the students and former students with whom I have been blessed by decades of searching and soulful conversation about things that matter, about the people who are willing to take the risk of caring, even when it hurts—which at the end of the day, is what leadership means. I can think of no greater privilege, no more abundant harvest.
With blessings for a sweet, fruitful, and fulfilling year.
If you or someone you know is considering the rabbinate, please join us for or share information about our fall Open Houses (virtual and in-person). Learn more and register here.