Welcome, It is an honor to represent my fellow graduates today. I am a proud graduate of both the Rhea Hirsch School of Education and the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. I want to open by thanking our faculty, administration, families, and friends for making this occasion possible. Surely, we would not be celebrating today without your care, guidance, love, and support.
I’ve spent much of my life wading between different Jewish spaces. I am a Jewish, Cuban, woman. I am a music enthusiast who loves to rock climb. In every community I have joined or visited, I have attempted to stay grounded in my diverse identities while fostering the value of Klal Yisrael, a united Jewish community. Trying to find the meaning of Klal Yisrael, and how it plays out in our Jewish reality has shaped my personal Jewish experience. This search for a unified community with shared values is what led me, and I believe many of us, to HUC, and I believe will continue to fuel us in our careers as Jewish leaders.
This moment in time is calling us to leadership. This isn’t how any of us imagined we would be graduating this year, however we’re meeting in this new way. Perhaps, this is an opportunity to embrace our shared Jewish values rather than differences? Right now, my classmates and colleagues are calling in from all over the world. We all have different backgrounds, stories, and identities, that led each of us to HUC and led us to this moment today. The person in each of these little boxes on your screen will go on to impact synagogues, summer camps, Jewish agencies Family Services, and many other diverse organizations, big and small, throughout the world. I am of the belief that if Jews and Jewish organizations focus on our similarities, rather than our differences, all of us will be able to propel our missions to new heights and live more fulfilling Jewish lives. This starts with us as the future leadership.
Sometimes leadership comes from unexpected places. What we need now are people who can lead with chesed and compassion. When I think of the exemplars I’ve studied at HUC, I think of the biblical character Ruth, whom I encountered deeply in Dr. Tamara Eskenazi’s Ketuvim class. Throughout the book, Ruth acts with true Chesed toward everyone she has a relationship with. Dr.Eskenazi defines chesed as generosity beyond the call of duty. Ruth’s chesed, or radical care, makes effective change possible; she is an example of how an individual human in relationship with others, in her daily acts and choices, can bring kindness and goodness to the world.
At HUC, we often discuss the importance of being mission aligned. That is, in order for a nonprofit to function at its highest capacity they must align their work with their mission. Jewish nonprofits and educational institutions are not simply doing business; we are delivering a sacred mission that requires a level of chesed, a generosity of spirit beyond the call of duty.
We now turn to Boaz, a second protagonist in the book of Ruth. Boaz is a powerful man in Bethlehem. We learn that he is related to Ruth and if he desires, he according to Jewish law can marry Ruth and redeem the property of her deceased husband. However, Boaz does not simply follow or manipulate the law in his favor. He seeks permission from the elders of the community before marrying Ruth. Boaz could just make the elders say yes, but he walks them through a process, so they feel good about saying yes. As leaders of the Jewish future, we will constantly be put in positions in which we can present something objectively to our students, constituents, congregants, or others. However, without buy in and creating valid alternatives in which everyone feels invested moving forward, we are less connected and successful. Ruth inspires chesed in Boaz; and Boaz demonstrates how we can inspire others to goodness, and create shared values with our power.
Finally, the end of the book of Ruth helps guide us in building community. Ruth and Boaz bring the people together for their marriage and celebrate by building a community in which they want to raise a child. In other words, they build the community as an investment in the future. We will have the power throughout our careers, to embody the ancient story of Ruth in our own day, to build a stronger, more values-driven future.
The musician, Nahko Bear, asks in his song Pueo, “If we’re all one, then why are we all divided? When will we be united?” I think this perfectly describes the cross-roads that we the graduates of HUC face now. If we are part of Klal Yisrael, then why is there all of this polarization in the Jewish community? When will we feel an authentic sense of connectedness with our fellow Jews? Imagine a world where Klal Yisrael is being lived out. Where we are all logged in and connected. We can stand proudly in our individual boxes while we inhabit a single screen.
We are completing our studies at an institution where we have been welcomed to freely express our differences of opinions, religious practice, identities, and backgrounds. We have spent countless hours together with our cohorts dreaming and planning how we are going to influence the future of the Jewish people. In all of our diversity, we bring our whole selves to our leadership, our HUC community, and to Klal Yisrael. I believe that the dawn of a more united Klal Yisrael is possible. We have the power, through our leadership and teaching, to enact the chesed that is our ancient inheritance. As we innovate and create, that chesed will keep our sense of mission front and center.
Congratulations to all of the leaders graduating today. May we remain connected and compassionate as we build what the world needs from us. Mazal tov.