Dear HUC-JIR Community,
As we begin another week doing our part to flatten the curve of the pandemic, I want to express my tremendous gratitude to each and every one of you. You have risen to these challenging times with strength, flexibility, and a shared commitment to one another. I recognize how hard this past week in particular was with the postponement of our public Ordination and Graduation Ceremonies, for perhaps the first time in our 145-year history.
How apt that our Torah portion this week, Vayikra, details the ritual sacrifices that were required by the religious leadership of our people. The portion reminds us that ritual and sacrifice go together, and both are necessary for spiritual transformation. With its focus on animal sacrifices, sacrifices that we no longer perform, Vayikra reminds us that even the most central rituals to our people are able to be re-formed, as these were, into practices of prayer and home ceremony (particularly around the Shabbat table). Rituals are human creations that bring meaning, awareness, and awe to our world. And as human creations, they can be modified to reflect changing circumstances. I am confident that we will find a way to appropriately recognize our graduates and spiritually transform our ordinees.
When the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish People demonstrated the ability to innovate even in the face of calamity. Now, in the face of an unexpected pandemic, our HUC community is finding new ways to bind ourselves together as a caring community. We are finding ways to support each other and our work, even as we prioritize our own self-care and the care of our family, loved ones, and friends.
This weekly newsletter will help you find what you need quickly from a single source is a good example of how we can innovate in the face of crisis. I thank the Communications team – Liz Squadron, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and External Relations; Jeanie Rosensaft, Assistant Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs; Allison Glazer, Director of Marketing and Communications; Samantha Tananbaum, Social Media and Communications Associate; and Cory Burns, Website Manager – for working tirelessly these past three weeks getting messages out and creating a centralized webpage to keep you up to date. I thank each of you for showing up to our periodic Town Hall meetings, including a students-only meeting last week, and the forthcoming separate meetings this week for staff and faculty. We will continue to explore ways to come together in the uncertain weeks ahead.
Finally, this week, I want to formally express my deep appreciation for the hard work of our IT Team and faculty who in very short order shifted their classes and meetings to an on-line platform. Of particular note is John Bruggeman, who as Chief Technology Officer along with his team – TJ Williams, Larry Albin, and Edgar Rivera in New York; Mark Jennings and Shane Sampson in Cincinnati; Kathy Feller, Andrew Durbin, and Moses Ball in Los Angeles; and Vitali Rotman in Jerusalem – has coordinated an extraordinary ramp-up of on-line services over the last three weeks. Additionally, I am grateful to the Virtual Teaching Tips produced by Dr. Lesley Litman, Director of the Executive M.A. Program (EMA), and Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, National Director of the School of Education, that offers updated tips, based on student feedback, to enhance the online educational experience for all. Lesley’s decade-long expertise in building distance learning for our EMA program has been especially helpful to our entire College-Institute, for which I am grateful.
We are now in a marathon, not a sprint. And that means that your self care must be prioritized for us to get through the crisis. And we can expect to face continued sacrifice and burden in order to help others. As Dean of our New York Campus, Rabbi David Adelson, wrote yesterday to our New York community in announcing that a member of the New York campus community had tested positive for COVID-19, “As we know, the value of pikuach nefesh, saving life, supersedes all other…We are relinquishing our peace, and rest for our souls, so that we can save life. Giving up all our plans for the upcoming weeks or months, including our Ordination Ceremonies, likely means that more people will survive.”
This will be a hard road ahead. But thanks to your spirit, your commitment to one another, and your care of yourselves, you are showing how we will innovate and overcome, just as our people have done for centuries before.
May you have a good and productive week ahead.
Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.