A poem about the end of Shabbat on the road
Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Where Fools Rush In: Spiritual Leadership for a Changing Jewish Community

The Sunday leading up to OHALAH

Us-in-prayer-last-yearI always forget how glorious it is to daven with this community. A room full of people, all of us already connected with the liturgy, connected with God, connected with each other. The way weekday nusach interweaves with new melodies and we all just roll with it. Beloved friends' voices all around me, reverberating through me. It is like that first long glass of water after the hot Tisha b'Av fast. I knew I was thirsty, but I didn't remember how good it would feel to have that thirst quenched.

A friend tells me that at the beginning of the Shabbaton which preceded the conference, Reb Zalman spoke about the atomic clock in Boulder with which other clocks are calibrated. Coming together here in this way each year, he said, is our recalibration time.

The metaphor gives me shivers. (He is a master of metaphor, our beloved rebbe.) Yes. This is how we recalibrate. How we re-align ourselves with the Source of all things. How we tune ourselves to each others' energies, so that we're all moving according to the same rhythms again. Over the course of the long year when we are apart, we all fall out of step, out of synch, out of attunement with God and with each other. When we return here, our clocks snap back into the groove of shared time.

ShvitiIn the parking lot of the conference hotel I see this license plate. Sh'viti -- the first word of Psalm 16 verse 8, "I keep God before me always." I love that whoever drives this car chose to put this reminder of divine presence in a place they would see every day. I love that for those who speak Hebrew and are driving behind this car, it serves as that reminder of divinity, too. God is in all things -- even a license plate.

At the conference's opening session, Rabbi Dan Goldblatt tells us a story about his zaide (grandfather)'s sukkah, which was constructed -- literally -- out of doors which no one needed anymore. He reminded us of the teaching about Abraham's tent, open on all sides to all comers. And he compares this conference to that tent, to that sukkah, a place where the doors are open to all.

Our work in the world, he tells us, is to bring Judaism to life. We come here to recharge our batteries so that we can do that work.

Kippah-repairLate morning on Sunday: I go down to the room where the musmachot (the soon-to-be-ordained rabbis, cantors, and rabbinic pastor) are sitting behind a long banquet table. In front of each of them is a te'udah, a certificate of ordination; teachers move along the table, signing each certificate and offering blessings.

When I arrive there, I find a dear friend who received smicha with me. We are both there to offer a blessing to the same person, and we decide to offer one together, jointly. We laugh about how once upon a time, each of us would have scripted the moment down to the last detail, and now we're both planning to offer a blessing extemporaneously, channeling whatever needs to be said in the moment. "That's how we know we're rabbis now," she quips.

At the end of our blessing, my friend bestows a new kippah on the musmechet. But the comb has come loose, so we dash upstairs, find someone to let us into the shuk where her sewing kit is stashed, and then curl up on big cushy sofas in the lounge to talk while she carefully hand-stitches the comb back in. We talk about rabbinic school and about being rabbis and about the communities we serve and about how sweet it is to see dear friends reach this culmination point.

The smicha ceremony is, as always, extraordinary. I kvell to see dear friends walking beneath the chuppah. I thrill to their divrei Torah and their teachings. And when we reach the recitation of the lineage, I fumble for my tissues, because I know it's going to make me cry, and it does. Every year when Reb Daniel recites the parallel smicha of Miriam, he has to stop to compose himself, and that's when my tears of joy emerge.

11918717953_b59e7efa30_nIt's kind of amazing, watching the smicha now. I used to watch the ordination with a fervent sense of yearning: that might be me, someday. Now it's more like a strengthening of a flame that already burns in my heart. I see my colleagues go beneath the chuppah, I see them leaning back on the hands of their teachers, and I remember again how it felt to have their hands on me, to feel that transmission of blessing, to emerge changed.

Not long ago I was at a christening, and the pastor mentioned that witnessing the baptism of a baby is an opportunity to renew each (Christian) person's own baptismal vows. Being at an ALEPH smicha feels that way for me now -- like an opportunity to renew my connections, to re-open that channel of blessing, to recommit myself to serving God and serving this community.

After the reception, I join a caravan of friends going out for Ethiopian food to celebrate the smicha. I miss the conference's first evening of programming, which I'm sorry about. But spending the evening eating and talking and listening to toasts and niggunim and feeling embedded in beloved community -- that's a gift beyond price. By the end of the day I'm exhausted but grateful, so grateful, to be here and to have this chance to recalibrate -- recharge -- rekindle.


(Photo of  Sunday morning davenen: by Janice Rubin, from OHALAH 2013. Other photos: from my flickr stream.)