New rabbis step into new roles
Seven students ordained Saturday, ready to join Reform congregations nationwide
By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer
Jennifer Joy Goldstein Lewis remembers the moment she decided to trade in her position as an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to become a rabbi - it was after adult Torah studies with a group of fellow Jews in San Francisco.
Lewis, 41, and six other students from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion were ordained as rabbis Saturday during a ceremony at the Plum Street Temple. The school offers more than 500 courses and 20 advanced degree programs to Jewish and non-Jewish students. More than 900 Reform synagogues are served by alumni or current students.
"When I started my biblical Hebrew studies, everything just opened up for me," Lewis said. "As I began reading the Bible in its original language, I got so much more out of it because there are many words that can't be translated to English.
"Spiritually, it reconnected me."
In total, the college ordained 27 new rabbis - 17 men and 10 women - from its three U.S. campuses in Los Angeles, New York and Cincinnati.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told the newly ordained rabbis in Cincinnati that they should remain humble.
"My mother told me that she used to think rabbis knew everything," Yoffie said. "And when I was ordained, she said: 'Now I worry, because you're a rabbi and I know you don't know anything.' "
The new rabbis will serve Reform Jewish congregations all over the country. Placing them is a complicated process, said Rabbi David Komerofsky, director of the Rabbinical School and Dean of Students at the Cincinnati campus.
The students make a list of congregations they would like to guide. Congregations in need of a rabbi have two rounds of interviews with the students, then submit their own list of which future rabbis they prefer. A computer program is then used to make assignments.
All seven new rabbis from Cincinnati have positions, Komerofsky said.
Ilan Emanuel said he didn't need a computer to know where he'd be assigned. He got the sign on his second interview in Lincoln, Neb. - and that sign didn't come from God.
"I was standing in front of the congregation and told them that I'm a science fiction geek," Emanuel, 31, said. "One person applauded and one person gave me the Vulcan sign.
"I hope to be able to show people that the wisdom of our ancestors is as alive today as it ever was or it ever will be," Emanuel said. "And I hope to make it fun for people."