Graduation/Ordination 2019: Historic “Firsts” - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Graduation/Ordination 2019: Historic “Firsts”

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Monday, June 24, 2019

The Graduation and Ordination Ceremonies at HUC-JIR’s stateside campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and New York were occasions for historic “firsts”:

President Andrew RehfeldDr. Andrew Rehfeld, for the first time in his tenure as HUC-JIR’s new President, bestowed degrees on the 89 graduates and ordinees of the Class of 2019; presented honorary doctorates to Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, USC Presidential Chair and Professor of Electrical Engineering Andrew Viterbi, and immediate past HUC-JIR Board of Governors Chair Andrew R. Berger; awarded 58 honorary doctorates to distinguished alumni marking 25 years of service to the Reform Movement and the Jewish People; presented the Roger E. Joseph Prize to public health activist Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Flint, MI; and bestowed the Sherut L’Am Award on Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt

Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost, became the first woman to ordain rabbis and cantors for the Reform Movement in HUC-JIR’s 144-year-long history.

In his Ordination remarks, Dr. Rehfeld highlighted the spiritual and historical significance of this milestone to the rabbinical and cantorial ordinees:

“Your transformation from becoming to being will occur in just a few moments through a ritual drawn from our Torah, by the actions of a single individual who will transfer the accumulated authority of our people as envisioned in our story from Moses, through Joshua down to each of you today. And here we recognize our own ending, beginning, being and becoming as an institution in which women take on the most central roles. For today, this transmission of authority will be conveyed to you by our Provost, Rabbi Andrea Weiss, who becomes the first woman in our 144-year-history to ordain our Movement’s klei kodesh. In doing so, Rabbi Weiss will take her place alongside Rabbi Sally Priesand and Rabbi Hara Person as pioneers in our Movement’s history – Rabbi Priesand became our Movement’s first female rabbi in 1972 and Rabbi Person is becoming our Movement’s first female Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis on July 1. It is a moment deserving of celebration.”

Rabbi Andrea Weiss at HUC-JIR OrdinationAs Rabbi Weiss approached the moment of ordination, she stated that the soon-to-be-ordained rabbis and cantors would be “pledged to preserve the age-old covenant between God and Israel, privileged to spend their days working to ensure the vitality of our Jewish heritage as a wellspring of meaning and connection, a much-needed force for good in today’s world.” After ordaining the 34 rabbis and cantors of the Class of 2019, Rabbi Weiss reflected, “It was profoundly moving for me to perform the ancient rite of semichah, using my hands to confer on an accomplished and eager class of students the blessing and responsibility of becoming rabbis and cantors ordained to serve God and the Jewish people.”

Dr. Rehfeld bestowed doctoral and master’s degrees to graduates of HUC-JIR’s School of Rabbinical Studies, Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, School of Education, Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, and Pines School of Graduate Studies. In his Graduation remarks, he lauded the role of HUC-JIR’s alumni and newest graduates as the architects of the communal ecosystem that is the Jewish Public Sphere.

Dr. Rehfeld explained that “the Jewish Public Sphere creates a shared sense of purpose to help us respond to our internal challenges that slowly threaten our existence -- insufficient education, diminished engagement in religious life, and tenuous, weakened or simply ‘thin’ identity. And in close partnerships with other faith communities, the Jewish Public Sphere provides a foundation rooted in the wisdom and meaning of our faith traditions to jointly confront our shared external challenges we all face – a growth of authoritarian governments, a weakening of democratic norms, the degradation of our environment, the resurgence of anti-Semitism, hatred and racism at levels not seen in perhaps two or three generations.”

Acknowledging that more than any other institution in North America, HUC-JIR is producing leadership upon whose work the Jewish and larger Public Sphere depends, Dr. Rehfeld concluded that “the Jewish and larger Public Sphere is built to realize the threefold purpose of any religious tradition – the pursuit of the Good, the Right, and the Just. For our religious practices should always cause us to lift our eyes up towards the Eternal, the Holy, and the Good; to turn sideways to act ethically towards one another; and to gaze downward to bring justice to the communities on which we stand.”

The memory of Dr. Rehfeld’s predecessor, Rabbi Aaron Panken, z”l, was evoked at the Graduation and Ordination Ceremonies, which took place around the time of Rabbi Panken’s first yahrzeit. Dr. Rehfeld cited Rabbi Panken’s call to action in his 2018 Graduation Address, and stated that “Rabbi Panken’s spirit – his love of Torah and Jewish life – along with the establishment of the four Rabbi Panken Professorships that were brought to fruition this past year through the passionate work of Lisa Messinger, would ensure that Rabbi Panken’s life and legacy will live on, on each campus.” 

Dr. Rehfeld charged the Class of 2019: “Go forth from here, deploying the wisdom you have developed from your HUC-JIR education, to build strong communities, establish vital Jewish and larger Public Spheres, and lead us to create lives of dignity, meaning, and purpose for ourselves, and pursuing Justice for all as part of a life, well lived.”


Wednesday, May 1, 2019 | 26 Nisan 5779 | 1:30 pm
Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York | 10 East 66th Street, New York



Sunday, May 5, 2019 | 30 Nisan 5779 | 9 am
Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York | Fifth Avenue at 65th Street, New York



Sunday, May 12, 2019 | 7 Iyar 5779 | 10 am
Stephen Wise Temple | 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles, CA



Monday, May 13, 2019 | 8 Iyar 5778 | 4:30 pm
Stephen Wise Temple | 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles, CA



Friday, May 31, 2019 | 26 Iyar 5779 | 11 am
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion | S.H. and Helen R. Scheuer Chapel | 3101 Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati



Saturday, June 1, 2019 | 27 Iyar 5779 | 9 am
Plum Street Temple | 720 Plum Street, Cincinnati

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.