In Joshua’s Shoes: A Refresher

The View From Blaustein Hall

I have only been in Rabbinic School for the first two months of a five-year program, but mid-terms are already upon us and here the stress sets in. Yet after last weekend I feel refreshed, and I can already see to what the end might look like.

Before I begin, I should explain that HUC-JIR is not only a seminary for Reform rabbis and cantors in America. They offer programs that complete a Masters Degree in Jewish Education, an M.A. in Jewish Communal Service, as well as a variety of other graduate and undergraduate studies. In addition to all of the programs that finish in the stateside campuses, they also offer an Israeli Rabbinic Program (IRP).

Last Friday afternoon was the ordination ceremony. The only thing I can say on the subject is; Wow!

First of all, the Israeli ceremony is very different from what I would expect in the USA.  It got started with a three-piece band playing a very jazzy processional that included drumbeats that made me want to dance. The heads of the college and the Board of Governors walked in with the soon to be ordained rabbis.

Before the ordination of the class of four students, honorary doctorates were presented to distinguished guests, and we were even treated to the performance of Shabbat HaMalkah  by one of our professors, Cantor Dr. Eliyahu Schleifer. This was followed by the presentation of degrees to students in the other Israeli programs that are conducted in Jerusalem. (Click on this link if you want to see the press release of all of the degrees that were presented.)

After another musical interlude, the rabbis to be were called one at a time to stand before the ark. Each one approached the bimah accompanied by their sponsor. I assume the sponsors were the same rabbis who advised each of the students in writing his/her Rabbinical Thesis.

The rabbis were draped in a new tallit, each student was draped in one of the vibrantly colored talit and was presented with their Certificate of Ordination, which was handed to their sponsor. After the ordianee was presented with their certificate, Rabbi Dr. David Ellenson, the President of HUC, opened the ark as the community rose to their feet.

The first time this happened, I felt an incredibly strong emotion coming to the surface.

Let me set the scene. The ceremony was being held in the Blaustein Hall, the same place we were for Yom Kippur Services. The building was built on what used to be the border between Israel and Jordan before the War of 1967. This gave us a clear view of the Old City of Jerusalem.

The sun, being at the highest point of the day, illuminated Jerusalem. Standing in front of the ark, Rabbi Dr. Ellenson and Zohar Ufraz-Lipsky were framed by a panoramic view of Jerusalem.

Standing in this scene, Rabbi Ellenson put his hands on Zohar’s shoulders. In words that we could not have been able to decipher, he spoke directly too her. I had never met this woman, but I was so moved watching a woman being ordained in Israel.

There were three more students that went through the same process. Each time it was incredible. When this part of the ceremony was finished, one of the new Rabbis delivered a sermon.

Normally this would not have been so impressive, but when I was reading the program, I was struck by something that should have been completely logical. The students were listed in order of their ordination and following their names were the names of their sponsor, nothing else. But when the program listed the speaker, he was listed as Rabbi.

After four yeas of studying and working, we were looking at Rabbis. There was something special about being there for the moment that these students officially transitioned into being a part of the Rabbinate.

I am so glad that I was able to experience this service, especially now. I’m not going to complain, but school is getting tough. It’s exactly what I expected as far as the workload, but watching the ordination was a refresher for me. One of the rabbis is still on campus working for the college and it is incredible that after Friday he is now a rabbi.

The moment that these students were ordained I was already fighting back emotions, even though I understood only half of what was being said. If I successfully complete this program, I know that I have no chance of staying composed and keeping down my emotions.

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About Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson has spent the last 25 years living in or near Minneapolis. After completing a B.A. in History at the University of Minnesota, he worked for Temple Israel, Mount Zion and Bet Shalom in a variety of capacities. While working in the Reform Movement, Brian developed a passion for Reform Judaism and is currently studying at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in the Rabbinical School.

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3 comments

  1. What a beautiful description. Thanks!

  2. Brian: I just love your stuff here and at your fabulous blog:

    http://thisyearinjerusalem5770-71.blogspot.com/

    You add so much to our Twin Cities Jewish community, even as you study and live in Jerusalem!

    Chris

  3. Thanks to both of you. It was an incredibly moving service and I’m glad I was able to convey how powerful it was for me.

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