Off to Ohalah!
10th of the lunar month


When the ballroom doors opened, the sound of singing poured out into the foyer. The student body of the four Aleph ordination programs -- rabbinic pastor, rabbinic, cantorial, and (the newest addition) spiritual directorship/hashpa'ah -- was gathered inside, singing "bruchim ha-ba'im b'shem Adonai" (and the feminine version, "bruchot ba-ba'ot..."), "welcome are you who come in God's name." They sat in a great circle, around a smaller circle of outward-facing chairs.

One by one, the new students (I think there were fourteen of us) walked through the double doors into the ballroom. We each stood a moment beneath a rainbow tallit, held up by four posts festooned with ribbons, breathing the experience in. And then we took our seats in the inner circle of chairs, facing out toward the outer circle where the students sat and sang.

We introduced ourselves -- who we are, where we're from, what program we're each beginning. Then the current students circled us slowly, singing to us, pausing to clasp our hands and hug us and welcome us quietly in their own words. Friends and strangers murmured blessings in my ear, and if I was a little bit weepy by the end of that part of the ceremony, at least I wasn't alone.

Then we joined the larger circle, and the six students who would receive smicha later in the day moved into the center. One by one, six current students rose to give them each a blessing. The blessings were personal, deep, revelatory, powerful. After each, we sang a little bit, as if to seal the words and their intent. At the close, those six on the cusp of ordination stood beneath the chuppah together, arms around one another, and we showered them with blessings and with song and with applause.

There's a sweet symmetry to having one ceremony for these two purposes: welcoming new students, and celebrating those who are about to relinquish student status. All we who are crossing the threshold, whether coming or going. How tremendously fortunate I am to have such good role models walking ahead of me; how blessed I feel to be on this path.

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