The end of an era
December 23, 2010
In some ways, my journey toward ordination began in 1994 when my dear friend David gave me a copy of Rodger Kamenetz's The Jew in the Lotus, a recounting of the true story of a dozen rabbis going to Dharamsala to meet with the Dalai Lama to offer him Jewish insights into surviving as a spiritual community in Diaspora. When I read the book, I was amazed by what I learned about Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: his deep Jewish roots, his broad Jewish wings, his ability to make connections between Judaism and other traditions, his passion for deep interfaith dialogue, his passion for God. I hadn't known one could be Jewish like that. I wanted to find teachers like him. Reading that book led me, eventually, to Elat Chayyim and my first encounter with Jewish Renewal. When I came home from that first retreat, I told Ethan, "I've found my teachers. I want to be a rabbi like they are rabbis, someday."
But in a more formal sense, my journey toward ordination began with my first rabbinic school class. In the spring of 2005 I spent Pesach at Elat Chayyim and met with Reb Marcia Prager, the dean of the ALEPH rabbinic ordination program, and had my interview. She suggested that I attend smicha students' week that summer as a prospective student, so I could get to know the program a bit better and the faculty and students could get to know me. So I returned to Elat Chayyim that summer and enrolled in one of the smicha classes. I chose one which featured readings primarily in English, one which seemed like a good starting-place for a prospective student, and one which would allow me to discern whether Reb Zalman's interest in interfaith work was shared within the Renewal community. The class was called Deep Ecumenism.
It was an amazing week-long retreat. The class was fantastic. So was the lunch session for prospective students. So was the experience of rooming with three other women in the program (one of whom is now a rabbi; one of whom will be ordained as a rabbinic pastor when I am ordained as a rabbi; and one of whom has, alas, fallen off the map.) That class continued into the following semester; about half of us who'd been in the class met via conference call weekly through the fall and into the winter, continuing to read and discuss and learn together. That was my first rabbinic school class.
This afternoon will be the final session of my last rabbinic school class: the final session of Torah as a Mirror for Spiritual Development, a class on working with the parashat ha-shavua (weekly Torah portion) as a lens through which to do hashpa'ah (spiritual direction). It's hard to wrap my mind around the reality that rabbinic school is almost over. The last 5 and a half years have been so full of learning, studying, new ideas and insights -- Hasidic texts, mishnaic Hebrew, dips into Talmud and Codes and halakha -- retreats with their intense connections (emotional, intellectual, spiritual) and, to balance them, time spent poring over books in my own home office, in hevruta with a buddy over Skype, plugged into my headset for conference calls -- classes and tutorials with teachers local to me, on subjects ranging from Islam to a history of Jewish messianism -- a summer in Jerusalem, studying Hebrew and living with one of my beloved classmates and her family (she will be ordained alongside me in a few short weeks)... it's been a truly incredible journey.
The learning, of course, isn't over. It will never be over. There will always be more learning to do, more insights to glean, more Torah to master. And even after I'm ordained, I'll have a few more courses ahead of me in order to complete the three-year training program in hashpa'ah (spiritual direction) in which I am taking part. But today I will attend my last conference call as an ALEPH rabbinic student, and then I will say a shehecheyanu, and then I will begin preparing myself spiritually as best I can for what's coming on January 9, just two weeks from Sunday! Holy wow. Rabbinic school is really and truly almost over. What a world. I'm not sure I could have imagined, when I began this journey, where I would be now: waking early in the winter dark to make Drew a bottle, then settling in to the rocker in his room with my tallit over my shoulders davening pearls of shacharit from memory as my son plays at my feet. Almost a rabbi at last.