Rabbinical School Class of 2021/5781
At long last, we the Hebrew College Rabbinical School Class of 2021, are being ordained! During our time at Hebrew College, we’ve made an investment in learning together, working alongside each other, and growing as Jewish leaders. We’ve had the opportunity to learn from extraordinary teachers in a diverse and pluralistic community. We are grateful for our friends, family, and everyone who has supported us throughout our years of learning.
In celebration of our ordination, we created a scholarship fund to support the Rabbinical School and more amazing future rabbis. Thank you for helping us support this institution that is so near and dear to our hearts!
Samuel Robert Blumberg
,הֱוֵי מִתַּלְמִידָיו שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן
,אוֹהֵב שָׁלום וְרוֹדֵף שָׁלוֹם
.אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה
Hillel says: Be of the students of Aaron, loving shalom and pursuing shalom, loving humankind and drawing them nearer to Torah.
— Pirkei Avot 1:12
Hillel’s straightforward statement provides me with an aspirational framework for my rabbinate and in my connections with God, text, and community. Though my formal learning and training for the rabbinate has reached its end and my primary role becomes spiritual guide and teacher, I will always be a student. There is always more to learn; I will never stop engaging with words of Torah and wrestling with our tradition.
One of the Hebrew names for God is Shalom. I experience God in my life as a manifestation of peace and wholeness. On Shabbat, during prayer, and in my learning, I aim to tap into this feeling of harmony and tranquility, which I also find in relationship and in community. It is this feeling of wholeness and inner peace that I aspire to help others pursue in their own ways. Sensing God’s presence in our lives is always possible; internal wholeness can be accessed even in a broken world. Peace and understanding in the world at large begins inside each one of us.
It has been a privilege to be drawn nearer to Torah with the support of countless teachers, mentors, learning partners, and colleagues who have taught me and helped me grow. As a teacher, I aspire to bring others close to the Torah and its teachings, to struggle with, puzzle over, internalize, and make the teachings of our ancient tradition their own. Every text and every mitzvah is an opportunity for connection with the divine, an open door to bettering ourselves and the world around us.
For me, an integral part of being Jewish—Yehudi—is giving thanks to those who have helped us on our way. I am honored to have studied in the Hebrew College Beit Midrash with educators who care deeply about the Torah they impart, and in their own show of humility share not only their wisdom but also their full selves with their students. I am grateful to my classmates with whom I have learned and laughed, and who have pushed me to grow deeper in my convictions.
I am thankful to the communities at Congregation Betenu in Amherst, New Hampshire and Temple Sinai in Brookline with whom I worked and learned during my time in rabbinical school. I am humbled and honored to be in community with the congregants and families at Temple Beth Am in Framingham who have entrusted me to serve as their spiritual leader.
I am forever indebted to my parents, Howard and Sharon, and parents-in-law, David and Leslie, who have supported me unconditionally on this journey. There are no adequate words to express my deep and abiding admiration, respect, and love for my life partner Amalia, who has given so much for our family over these last four years so that my dream could become a reality. My children Zamir and Sol make my life complete with their curiosity, humor, and unending love.
Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that “[t]o be spiritual is to be amazed.” May we always be amazed, may we buoy one another as we grow together, may we find Shalom, and may we always go from strength to strength.
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Tyler Harris Dratch
כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ׃
“No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it (Deuteronomy 30:12-14).”
וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת־הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלוֹת בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ כָּל־הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר מוֹת יוּמָת׃
“You shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, ‘Beware of going up the mountain or touching the border of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death’ (Exodus 19:12).”
Within the Torah exists this paradox. How can divinity be as close to us as inside our mouths and as far from us as an impenetrable mountain? So much of Torah is not prescriptive, but descriptive: the paradox is a realistic description of our own personal journey. The unpredictable and non-linear quest to find holiness and connection.
There are moments when I feel Torah right on the tip of my tongue. I feel God’s presence closely when I engage in joyful ritual with family and friends, when I sing a gorgeous niggun and lose myself in the rich collection of voices, and when I study a Jewish text that seems to immediately brings clarity to an issue I was struggling with in my own life. I am reminded regularly of all of the ways Torah and our tradition is in my mouth, it is the sacred language through which is freely available to me to construct my own meaning in the world.
And just as often there are moments when I feel the mystery of standing at the foot of the mountain. I am humbled when I contemplate deep injustice in the world, when I sit within the mystery of social distancing and quarantine in the midst of a global pandemic. I feel this mystery when I reflect on my own life and see how much mystery lays before me.
In becoming a Rabbi, I am committing to honor the paradox within the verses. I am humbled by the deep mystery of God’s ways, and I also will not let that unknowing impede in my desire to use the Torah in my mouth, and to help others find the wisdom that exists within them. I am committing to find joy and connection everywhere it exists. I am committing to be curious to honor the mystery in the world, and to build deep networks of support and connection in which we continually walk around the base of our own Mount Sinai, seeking God’s face within each other’s reflections.
What I do know for sure, is that I have reached this day, only with the deep love and support of so many others. Thank you to all of my teachers for giving me the tools to live Torah, and for being deep models of Jewish seekers. Thank you for helping me find the Torah that was already in my mouth.
Thank you to my TBZ mentors, Rav Claudia and Rav Tiferet. You have given me the space and guidance to practice “Rabbing” and have shown me how to joyfully facilitate covenantal community through your wonderful examples.
Thank you to my parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended family, who have been a tremendous support system my entire life. Thank you for making Judaism joyful. Thank you for your love.
Thank you to my chevrutah-for-life, my wife Emily. You are the one I feel most blessed to journey with each day.
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Max Leonard Edwards
וּמַה מַּיִם אֵין אָדָם גָּדוֹל מִתְבַּיֵּשׁ לוֹמַר לְקָטָן הַשְׁקֵנִי מַיִם, כָּךְ דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה אֵין הַגָּדוֹל מִתְבַּיֵּשׁ לוֹמַר לְקָטָן לַמְּדֵנִי פֶּרֶק אֶחָד, דָּבָר אֶחָד, אוֹ פָּסוּק אֶחָד, וַאֲפִלּוּ אוֹת אַחַת
Just like water, where no adult would be ashamed to ask a child for a drink, so too is it in the case of words of Torah. An adult should never be ashamed to say to a child, ‘teach me one chapter, one word, or one verse, or even one letter.’ Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:2
I rediscovered this text just about a month ago, sitting at the bottom of my unread emails in an otherwise blank message from May of 2020. Despite, or perhaps because of its foggy origins, this text seemed like a rather fitting find. Hebrew College has taught me that learning Torah is to be engaged in the process of rediscovery— rediscovering texts and rediscovering shades of ourselves that come and go through time.
This text speaks in the language of time, and rests on the continuity of the cycle of life. When may one find the strength of the child, speaking words of Torah to an adult? When may one find the strength of the adult, humble enough to ask for words of Torah from a child?
Torah can challenge us to confront the parts of ourselves we’d rather leave behind, and the parts of ourselves toward which we aspire. It pushes us to recognize when we’ve become that ashamed adult, too bold to utter the three most sacred words our language has to offer, “I don’t know.” But also to recognize when we’ve become the child, surrounded by family and friends who have sought a chapter, a verse, or even a letter.
The beit midrash of Hebrew College, my teachers and classmates at Macalester, HDS, BWH, Hadar, YIVO, and so many others, mah nomar l’fanecha, what can I say before you? You’ve given me the opportunity to be that child, to share a kapitl, a vort, an oys, a chapter, a word, a letter, and have modeled for me what it means to be a lifelong learner. The time spent among you, my teachers, my classmates, has opened up my entire world.
To my family, rabah emunatecha, abundant is your faithfulness (and patience). I was blessed to grow up knowing all four of my grandparents. Gaga and Sweetie Pie, Grandma and Grandpa, the four of you are my deepest models of menschlikhkayt; you are the well to which I return, my m’kor chayim, my source of life. Mom and Dad, the two most altruistic and open-hearted people I know, you embody the spirit of the Psalmist, poteach et yadecha, u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon, you open up your hand and sustain the desires of all who live. Your chesed, loving-kindness, is a source of inspiration for me, Jeremy, Jessie, and all of our life partners. Evie, my m’kor habracha, my source of blessing. When a weekend in New York back in March 2020 turned into a month, a year, and then an engagement, nothing had ever felt so natural.
Shechecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh. Thank You, Source of Life, for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and bringing us to this moment.
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Dena Rachel Glasgow
יתיב רב אמי ורב אסי קמיה דר’ יצחק נפחא, מר א”ל: לימא מר שמעתתא, ומר א”ל: לימא מר אגדתא, פתח למימר אגדתא ולא שביק מר, פתח למימר שמעתתא ולא שביק מר
Rav Ami and Rav Asi sat before Rabbi Yitzḥak Nappaḥa. One said: Let the sage say words of halakhah [practice]. The other said: Let the sage say words of aggadah [story]. Rabbi Yitzḥak Nappacḥa began to say words of aggadah but one sage did not let him. He began to say words of halakhah but the other sage did not let him. (Bava Kamma 60b)
This little talmudic passage dramatizes the dichotomy between practice and story in Judaism. Is Judaism primarily about what we do or the stories we tell? Should we, like Rav Ami and Rav Asi, insist on one and resist the other?
While these age-old questions have no easy answer, my take-away from rabbinical school is a newfound appreciation of the creativity that comes out of interweaving aggadah with halakhah. We live in the constant interplay between story and action, wrestling with received traditions and creating new practices and new stories for our descendants. Through the careful reading and rereading of our sacred texts, combined with the unique perspective that each person has to offer, we renew Judaism and ourselves, singing a shir chadash (new song) for a new age:
שִׁירוּ לַה’ שִׁיר חָדָשׁ שִׁירוּ לַה’ כָּל־הָאָרֶץ׃
Sing to Adonai a new song, sing to Adonai, all the earth.
In becoming a rabbi, I am indebted to all my teachers, who, each in their own way, introduced me to the rabbinic imagination and invited me into a more than two-millennia-old conversation around meaning-making. They challenged me to see the diversity of stories behind halakhah and the multiple halakhic possibilities embedded in aggadah. Thanks to their tireless encouragement, I am better able to embrace a pluralist approach, lifting up divergent voices and appreciating how contradictory Jewish ideas vie for our attention. It is with this multivocal Judaism that I delight, wrestling with the hard stuff yet knowing that there are always more insights on living a worthy life to be found.
Thank you to my hevrutot, especially Batya Ellinoy and Genevieve Greinetz, who taught me to welcome learning through laughter and tears. I am incredibly grateful to the wonderful Hebrew College community of students who nurtured me through their warmth and creative expressions of Judaism. Thank you to my family and friends who fully supported my decision to become a rabbi, only wondering why it took me so long. Thank you also to my children—Dani, Margalit, Miriam and Ronit—who were my guinea pigs in trying out the new Torah that I wanted to teach. Most of all, thank you to my spouse, Jason, for being my biggest fan and most loving life partner.
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Justin Phillip Held
לא בשמים הוא… כי־קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשתו
“It is not in the heavens… it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”
The first talmudic text I ever learned was the story of the Oven of Achnai, first in college, then again, during my first year at Hebrew College. The story tells of an argument over the purity of an oven. After failing to convince his opponents with logic, Rabbi Eliezer brings miracle after miracle to prove he is correct. Unable to convince them, Rabbi Eliezer says if he is right, a voice from heaven will prove it. At that moment a Divine Voice comes down and states that Rabbi Eliezer is correct. Rabbi Yehoshua, one of his opponents, immediately stands up and responds, “Lo B’shamyim hi! It is not in heaven!” This part of the story concludes years later when Rabbi Natan asked Elijah what God did at this moment. Elijah tells him that God “smiled and said, My children have defeated me, My children have defeated me.”
This story has stuck with me throughout my journey to the rabbinate. I have learned during my time at Hebrew College that my role in serving the Jewish people is to bring Torah to those with whom I am in relationship. My role as a rabbi is to help my congregants and communities hold the Torah close to their mouths, and their hearts, so they can live their most authentic Jewish lives. I view my role in the rabbinate as one that grounds Jewish action in text, and brings text to life.
זֶה־הַיּוֹם עָשָׂה יְהוָה נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בוֹ׃
“This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”
This verse is traditionally said during Hallel, and is one that I constantly try to live out. The Psalmist teaches us to live in the moment, to be grateful for each day as it comes, and to view each moment as a gift that God made. Living in an intentional and present manner has always been a challenge for me, but being able to have Jewish language to serve as a mantra is one way I try to live our textual tradition.
“Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Hospitality toward guests is as great as rising early to go to the study hall, Rav Yehuda said that Rav said on a related note: Hospitality toward guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence.”
I will be forever grateful to my Nana and my mother for teaching me the value of radical hospitality. The lesson of opening our home and inviting strangers to our table is what launched my journey toward loving Judaism. I am grateful for my learning at Hebrew College. I have learned what it means to be a rabbi from all of our wonderful teachers that welcome us into their homes and lives. I was blessed to have deep relationships with students in classes ahead and behind me; I had the best classmates I could’ve asked for. I am so honored to have spent all six years at Hebrew College with my hevruta Rachel Kaplan. I am so honored to have learned from my teachers and classmates, and perhaps most of all, the students I have had while in school and will have in my rabbinate. I will forever strive to fulfill the words of Taanit 7a, הרבה למדתי מרבותי ומחבירי יותר מרבותי ומתלמידי יותר מכולן “I have learned a lot from my Rabbeim, from my friends I have learned more than from my Rabbeim, and from my students I have learned the most.”
I do not have the words to express the gratitude I feel for everyone who has made this journey possible. My wife Sarah, parents Howard and Susie, and the rest of my family and fan club, I truly would not have been able to make this dream come true without you all. Lastly, to Harold Gillman. My papa, my teacher, my rabbi, my inspiration, my best friend. The experience of crying through the phone with you, sharing that I was accepted into rabbinical school, will forever be imprinted upon my heart. I cannot imagine the smile on your face seeing me make it to the finish line.
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Rachel Tali Kaplan
There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.
And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.[¹]
The unofficial poet laureate of Hebrew College, Mary Oliver, may she be remembered for a blessing, beautifully describes my highest aspiration. If only I knew what it felt like to reach out to G!d all day long! In the moments when I forget to reach out, when I forget that the inability to reach G!d doesn’t have to diminish the importance of the reaching, when I forget that it is the reaching itself that begets joy, I fumble around, often in the dark. Eventually, I begin to make sense of my surroundings, looking for my way back. Tshuva—returning, renewal, transformation—is the long and winding road that leads me back to G!d’s door.[²]
For his 80th birthday celebration, our teacher Art shared Torah on the topic of tshuva that resonates deeply. When he was traveling in Ukraine, visiting some of the Hasidic holy sites, at the graves of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz and Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol, he found the same teaching in both of their names.
What is tshuva? What does it mean to return to G!d? Tshuva is an abbreviation, an acrostic, and it stands for:
תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ
שִׁוִּיתִי ה’ לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶיךָ
Be wholehearted with YHWH your G!d [³]
I place the name YHWH ever before me [⁴]
Love your neighbor as yourself [⁵]
Know G!d in all your ways [⁶]
Walk humbly with your G!d [⁷]
May I merit to live the gorgeous, full, wholehearted life I’ve been given, with vulnerability, placing before me, always, the unpronounceable, unimaginable, unknowable aspects of G!d. May each day offer another (!) growth opportunity to love myself such that I can better embody what it means to love others. May I be granted the strength to see all paths as G!d, walking modestly with authentic humility. Please G!d, I will stand on this foundation, continuing to love, learn, teach, and accompany.
אִלּוּ פִינוּ מָלֵא שִׁירָה כַּיָּם
וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה כַּהֲמוֹן גַּלָּיו
וְשִׂפְתוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁבַח כְּמֶרְחֲבֵי רָקִיעַ
וְעֵינֵינוּ מְאִירוֹת כַּשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְכַיָּרֵחַ
וְיָדֵינוּ פְרוּשׂוֹת כְּנִשְׁרֵי שָׁמָיִם
וְרַגְלֵינוּ קַלּוֹת כָּאַיָּלוֹת
אֵין אֲנַחְנוּ מַסְפִּיקִים לְהוֹדוֹת לְךָ
Were our mouth as full of song as the sea
and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves
and our lips as full of praise as the breath of the heavens
and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon
and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky
and our feet as swift as deer
we still could not thank You sufficiently
The Shabbat morning liturgy above best expresses my gratitude for my:
Parents’ unwavering love and support
Brother’s curiosity that taught me there was something to reach out for
Grandparents’ unending affection and adoration
Aunts and uncles stepping in as surrogate parents
Family offering roots and wings
Chosen family stepping up to fill and overflow the gaps
Sister-friends encouraging and teaching me how to—
Forget (my) perfect offering (as) there is a crack in everything—that’s how the light gets in[⁸]
Dear friends keeping me grounded and keeping it real
Beloved teachers for sharing themselves through their Torah and their avodah
Chevruta Rishona v’Achrona (Achrona Chaviva)—the younger (little) brother I always wanted
Classmates for holding all the space and inspiring me to be, do, and learn more
 “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does it End?” by Mary Oliver
[²] “The Long and Winding Road” by The Beatles
 Deuteronomy 18:13
 Psalms 16:8
 Leviticus 19:18
 Proverbs 3:6
 Micha 6:8
 “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen
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Amalia Leah Mark
וְנוֹעַדְתִּי לְךָ שָׁם
וְדִבַּרְתִּי אִתְּךָ מֵעַל הַכַּפֹּרֶת
מִבֵּין שְׁנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים אֲשֶׁר עַל־אֲרֹן הָעֵדֻת
There I will meet with you
and I will impart to you
from above the cover
from between the two keruvim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact
I want to meet God here—
We will whisper small words of love to one another
in between the wings of the keruvim
As we encounter one another
My life has been a constant search for the Divine–a wondering, wandering quest.
Sometimes, God is the traveler who just slipped out the door only a few minutes before I arrived, and sometimes, Hashem has been my companion on my longest, darkest journeys.
This pasuk from Shemot reminds me that the place where we meet God is in the holy experiences of mutuality and intimacy. This is the relationship with God that my body and soul desires. The place where Hashem and I both show up is in the Beit Midrash. Sitting with my chevruta as we argue words of Torah, I feel the living letters of the text intertwine around me and suddenly, God is right next to me, where of course, s/he was the whole time.
I am deeply grateful for the places I’ve merited to learn Torah, from Hebrew College of the past four years, to the Torah School of Greater Washington where I first attended day school. I offer hakarat hatov to my parents. I am fortunate that they worked hard to inculcate a love of Torah and Jewish life in me. I know what it’s like to live deeply in Jewish time because of them.
There are many Jews who do not enjoy that same access to the depth and breadth of Jewish life and learning. My goal as an educator, as a rabbi, and as a Jew, is to open up rituals that have long been considered irrelevant or out of reach. Turning text into lived experiences has been a powerful motivator and connector for me: exploring the ritual and then creating modern-day ketoret, supporting the work of Mayyim Hayyim by throwing open the doors of the mikveh, and developing a ritual to atone as a modern-day Eglah Arufah, the cornerstone of my rabbinate is to develop new ritual opportunities that are accessible for the entire Jewish people.
I’m deeply grateful to my teachers at Hebrew College who have encouraged my approach to text and desire to play with and (re)create ritual.
I thank my dear classmates, without whom I would not have been able to complete this journey. I also want to thank each and every one of my friends who supported, loved, listened, and cheered me on through all of my narrow places. I am so blessed to have you in my life.
Thank you to my ezer k’negdo, Louis, whose middot teach me more Torah every day than I could ever have thought to learn. The love we have is held in the space between the two keruvim.
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Kenneth P. Richmond
אָֽנוּ מַאֲמִירֶֽיךָ וְאַתָּה מַאֲמִירֵֽנוּ
We are the ones who cause You to speak,
and You are the One who causes us to speak.
(Yom Kippur Liturgy, Nusach Ashkenaz)
During the month of Elul, late last summer, I developed a practice of posting a daily video in which I would sing a prayer from the High Holiday liturgy and ruminate briefly about it. When I came to the piyyut “Ki Anu Amecha,” near the end of each Yom Kippur amida, which describes the relationship between God and the Jewish people using metaphors of sovereign and subject, shepherd and sheep, parent and child—I was struck by the last pairing: “anu ma’amirecha, v’ata ma’amireinu”— אָֽנוּ מַאֲמִירֶֽיךָ וְאַתָּה מַאֲמִירֵֽנוּ. Channeling my inner grammar geek to emphasize the causative hif’il form, I translated: “We are the ones who cause You to speak, and You are the One who causes us to speak.”
In preparing for smicha, for rabbinic ordination, I’m reflecting that this kind of deep, reciprocal listening and speaking, modeled on a relationship with the Ultimate Listener (and sometimes Communicator), has been at the heart of the gift of these years at Hebrew College. Sharing with my colleagues at class meetings sometimes ends with the speaker ritually saying דברתי—dibarti—I have spoken, and classmates responding שמעתי— shamati—I have heard. The Hebrew College davening culture allows for expression of our thoughts and prayers in a range of language, accent, poetry, movement, and melody, as well as the opportunity to pause our verbose and heartfelt offerings to try and listen to what the Divine is saying to each of us. In class, we speak the texts out loud, turn them over with a chevruta, a study partner, listen to the wisdom that our classmates and professors bring from their ideas and life experience, and then breathe a little of our own Torah into the conversation. Some classes focus on listening deeply and pastorally to those whom we serve, to hear both what is said and what is left unsaid, and others focus on listening to the stories of those we hope to lead, in order to better shape our shared mission, the changes we strive to realize both within and beyond our communities.
I am deeply grateful to my teachers and fellow students at Hebrew College for all they have taught me, to my family, for making the last few years possible, and to my congregation, for giving me the opportunity to spend this time with the Hebrew College community. I appreciate the chance to immerse myself in Torah, and in the process to learn to listen more deeply and to hone my voice. The journey from Cantor to Rav-Hazzan has been transformative for me, and I hope that those I spend time with will feel that I have emerged a better teacher, thinker, leader, human being, davener, and listener, than when I began. May each of us be blessed to widen our circles of chaverim makshivim, of listening companions, to speak in a way that others can hear us, and to listen generously in a way that encourages those around us to share their thoughts, their dreams, and their Torah.
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Shoshana Leia Rosenbaum
—”וְהֵאָסֵף אֶל עַמֶּיךָ”
אֵצֶל אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב
אֵצֶל עַמְרָם וּקְהָת
.אֵצֶל מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ
“And be gathered to your people” —
To Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’akov
To Amram and Kehat
To Miriam and Aharon, your siblings.
(Sifrei Ha’azinu 339)
When I was preparing to move from Jerusalem to Boston, I sent words of Torah ahead of me. I was anxious, though sure I had made the right choice: I sensed then, and know now, that Hebrew College was the sort of place where I could immerse and emerge not just with deeper Torah in my body, but also with softer edges, a greater attunement to how to meet others with genuine curiosity, care and love.
Still, leaving my home of six years was destabilizing. I began my studies at Hebrew College that year while still living in Jerusalem, giving me nine months to prepare for the move. As the ground beneath me shifted, I wrapped myself in Torah like a blanket.
The margins of my notebooks were filled with pesukim and bits and pieces of midrash that I wanted to savor. In a favorite book shop, I bought six artisanal postcards, copied over one of these quotes on each, and addressed them to my new apartment in Boston.
…צהלי קולך בת גלים – הקשיבי read one postcard: Raise your voice, Daughter of Galim—listen! (Isaiah 10:30) The midrash in Eicha Rabba (Petichta 1) plays with the ambiguous word “galim” to render it “golim”—daughter of Exiles. It describes a moment of exile for each of our forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At a moment of terrifying transition for the Jewish people—as we processed our own exile—the rabbis offered this as solace: an image of your ancestors, one after the other, setting out from home. It may feel as if you are losing yourself as you leave the known behind you. But you are, in fact, becoming yourself—becoming Bat Galim, daughter of Exiles—what we have always been.
I’ve been thinking about how we prepare for transitions from a place of deep home to something thrilling but frightening and new. This year in Allan Lehmann’s class on Devarim, I encountered a midrash that speaks to this question, and to what has drawn me to Torah, to learning and teaching.
As the time for Moshe’s death draws near, God gives him one last command:
עֲלֵה אֶל־הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה הַר־נְבוֹ . . . וּמֻת בָּהָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹלֶה שָׁמָּה וְהֵאָסֵף אֶל־עַמֶּיךָ
Ascend these heights of Abarim to Mount Nevo… and you shall die on the mountain that you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your people. (Deut. 32:49-50)
What does it mean, asks the midrash, that Moses will be gathered to his people? To Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov; to Amram and Kehat; to Miriam and Aharon, your siblings. You are not, God reminds Moshe, the first to stand at this crossing. You will be received in death, as in life, by your ancestors, who have gone before you; by your siblings, your companions and guides.
The gift of Torah, to me, is the gift of ancestors. Opening the door to that great we, I am always met by someone who has gone before me, who is ready to walk with me. In the Beit Midrash, where time and space collapse and Abaye speaks to Rebbi, the Rambam to Rebbe Nahman, I am held and made whole by the words of Torah and their speakers. It is this gift—to be enfolded in an ancient and growing family, to find a home in Torah—that I hope to share with others as a rabbi and a teacher.
I am grateful to those who have brought me here: to my family, especially my grandparents, parents, brother and spouse, for walking before and with me always; to my cherished friends, chevrutot, and teachers; and of course to the Divine and to my ancestors, for the precious inheritance that has formed, shaped and sustained me. It is to all of you that I owe this moment, and the moment when I arrived in Boston, my postcards from Jerusalem awaiting me. Then, as now, the words of Torah greeted me at the doorstep, inviting me in, welcoming me home.
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Jamie Ellen Silverstein Stolper
אֶבֶן מָאֲסוּ הַבּוֹנִים הָיְתָה לְרֹאשׁ פִּנָּה׃
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
One of the things for which I’m most grateful to Hebrew College Rabbinical School is the learning that has allowed me to make connections and find meaning between our ancient Jewish texts and contemporary life situations. The above beautiful verse is one example of this.
Although part of the Hallel liturgy, I never gave it much thought until it totally captured my attention during a Bereishit class. Most siddurim explain the verse metaphorically, with Israel being the stone that is rejected by the nations of the world, but the Divine One has made her the cornerstone, the strong piece that holds up the universe. A midrash in Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, however, explains that the builders of the Tower of Babel literally rejected bricks; they were so intent on quickly building a big, strong tower, that they rejected and threw away any brick that wasn’t perfect. This didn’t work out too well for them.
A few months later, at a special day of learning devoted to the topic of inclusion, my mind went immediately to this verse in Psalms. Although times were changing and things were improving ever so slowly, I thought of individuals with physical and other impairments, with whom I’ve had experience in many settings, as imperfect bricks that our society was ignoring, leaving out, or “throwing away” in some sense. They were not seen as being able to contribute to society in a productive way. I knew that teaching ourselves and others strategies that would empower these individuals and allow them to share their gifts with the world, would only make this a stronger, more just society. Rather than being discarded, these are the ones who should be made the cornerstones of the better world we all want to build.
This verse gained even more meaning for me since the death of George Floyd last spring and America’s awakening, and mine, to the long-time oppression of black people and other people of color and our own complicity in it. These groups have been ignored, rejected, and discarded in our country. What would happen if we instead righted our wrongs by setting them up as cornerstones of our society? Not only would they be stronger and better off in almost all ways, but the entire edifice, our whole country, would benefit, as a society standing tall, living the values of the Jewish people, treating everyone as created in the Divine image.
The Rev. Al Sharpton Delivered a fiery, heart-breaking eulogy at George Floyd’s funeral, which was also a call to action. It was laced with references to the Hebrew Bible, including the following:
“…God took an ordinary brother from the third ward, from the housing projects, that nobody thought much about but those that knew him and loved him. He took the rejected stone, the stone that the builder rejected. They rejected him for jobs. They rejected him for positions. They rejected him to play certain teams. God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s going to change the whole wide world.”
כֵּן יְהִי רָצוֹן
With gratitude to all my teachers and classmates from whom I’ve learned so much in rabbinical school, and as I continue my commitment to the Jewish people and begin my rabbinate, my hope is that I can be a rabbi who will help stones that have been discarded become cornerstones in the world we are continuously creating.
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