By Rabbi Sara Luria '13
Sometimes I find myself back in the HUC-JIR/New York elevator with my classmates who live in other cities now, and they often share how bizarre it is to be back on campus. I, however, don’t feel unsettled or nostalgic at HUC-JIR/New York because it seems, to my great surprise, that I never really left. I was ordained in 2013 but, over the last 5 years, I was often at One West Fourth Street as part of my role working with Rabbi Larry Hoffman on the Tisch/Star fellowship. This spring, I decided that I was going to leave my role on campus, and, a few weeks before Aaron died, I found myself on the 4th floor saying goodbye to my wonderful colleagues there. Aaron’s assistant’s door was open and I briefly entertained the idea that I could just ask her if Aaron was in so I could say goodbye. But then I thought, ‘He’s the president, Sara! You can’t just walk into his office for a chat! He doesn’t have time!’, and I left the building.
It’s possible that in that particular moment he was on a conference call or out to lunch with a donor or studying a text with a student. Maybe his assistant would have told me to come back another time or maybe I would have poked in while he was on the phone and he would have looked up from his desk to smile, wave, and go back to work. But my polite inner voice that told me that Aaron didn’t have time for me, that voice was wrong about Aaron. He would have loved to see me – not because I personally was any more or less special to him – but because I was one of his students, now colleagues, and when he was with me, he lit up. When he was with me, he asked about my work, seeming to follow up on our last conversation months ago, in a way that made me feel seen and heard. When he was with me, he came in for a hug and then he would stand, hands in his pockets, in a casual, humble way that always surprised me, especially when he became president. When he was with me, he asked about my kiddos, the ones I nursed in his office as Aaron and I studied mishnah together.
Aaron was somehow able to embody immanence and transcendence - a friend and a Talmud scholar, a teacher and a president. I wish I had poked into his office that April day to express my gratitude to him and let him know I was going to miss seeing him. So I will say it here, in these pages - thank you for everything Aaron, I will miss you.