Community Blog Responding to the Call

By Tom Reid
Tom Reid, Assistant Director of the Miller Center

Good morning, Boker tov Hebrew College!

What a tremendous honor it is for me to speak to you all this morning. And, if I am being honest, it is a bit intimidating as well.

This is my third year working here and my first in a full-time capacity. The past two years have been filled with learning of countless varieties — from the mundane to the sublime. Where can I find out what time Shabbat ends in mid-February when planning an evening program? Is it appropriate for me to attend a Hebrew College ceremony mourning the atrocity at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh?

Thank you for welcoming this stranger into this foreign land. And thank you all for being my teachers, my colleagues, and my haverim (friends).

I do think it is important to name the “strangeness” of my role in the College community. Despite growing up in a midwestern American city — Kansas City — with nearly 20,000 Jews, and having lived in the Boston area for the past nine years, my knowledge about Jewish culture and practice is limited. I continue to be surprised about how much I have learned the past two years, and how much I continue to learn every day.

This awareness serves as a testament to the importance and urgency of the work of the Miller Center. As I was reminded last month at a national seminar hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, respect requires knowledge. And in order to gain this knowledge, we must be willing to explore our similarities and differences, learning how to do both well. This means that we move at least one step beyond our comfort zones. Thankfully, my work at Hebrew College requires me to do this daily, and I could not be more grateful for this challenging gift.

As a Christian, today’s theme of the call of the shofar does not have the same immediate resonance for me that it likely does for many of you. What first surfaced for me when I heard about this theme was a vocational calling — a subject I have been thinking a lot about the past three years as I turned my life upside down to purse a Master of Divinity. Not only did I switch careers and join a new community of learners and practitioners, I have also been drawn into conversation and joint action with people from several different faith communities.

In reflecting on the symbolism of the shofar, I also began to think about the sound of church bells tolling, calling people to Sunday worship or to celebrate a joyous occasion. It reminded me of my time living in Dubai and hearing the sound of the adhan — the Muslim call to prayer — ringing throughout the city at regular intervals throughout the day. “Remember God’s greatness; remember the oneness of the Divine.” “Come to prayer… come to success.” It is in these images, sounds, and sensations that I feel a connection to the shofar; a resonance echoing across traditions and cultures.

So, what is my message today? What can I, a gay, midwestern-born, European-descended, aspiring Presbyterian minister and interreligious professional say to a room full of Jewish colleagues and friends at the start of this academic year and in preparation for the High Holy Days?

What I can do most authentically is offer up a prayer that this year be filled with meaningful relationships — both within and beyond your religious group. I pray that it is a year in which you have the opportunity and wherewithal to cross new thresholds; to experience moments of productive discomfort and unexpected growth. And I look forward to learning with and from you as we set out on the next stage of the educational journey that lies ahead of us this year. May the peace of Adonai accompany us all. Amen.

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