President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., Addresses 2020 Ordinands - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., Addresses 2020 Ordinands

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Five or more years ago, each of you set out on a path towards Jerusalem to start your rabbinical and cantorial studies.  Over those five years, you learned Hebrew, about Zionism, Bible, and Jewish History, beginning your journey as serious adult Jewish learners that will continue, and will deepen the communities you serve.  You have cultivated your skills as pastors bringing comfort, guidance and support to those in need.  You have learned by doing, creating wonder among children in religious schools and camps, and elevating the communities and congregations you have served as students through your ideas and your artistry, your characters and your countenance.  And you have developed your own distinct religious and moral voices as religiously progressive Jews, ready to take your among the leadership of our Reform Movement, embodying its values of pluralism and inclusiveness, moving our world that much further towards justice. 

Through this training, academic and professional, spiritual and personal, you have prepared yourselves to take on the authority that the title “Cantor” and “Rabbi” denotes.  And in doing so you have not only built your own experience and knowledge.  You have also been built by it. For you see the path towards becoming klei kodesh, vessels of the sacred, involves not only what you do, but what that doing does to you.  That path towards Jerusalem you began 5 years or more ago, was livnot u’l’hibanot: a path to build and to be built.  

Livnot U’l’hibanot: to build and to be built.  During this time you have drawn from your hearts, your minds and your souls to this forming and being formed.  To be and to become klei kodesh. 

I pray that you may draw on your hearts to share the joy of celebration among those who rejoice and the sorrow of loss for those in need of comfort.

I pray that you may draw on your minds to teach, learn, and lead with the chochma, bina, v’da’at, the wisdom, understanding and knowledge granted to us by the Source of all Being. 

And I pray that you may draw upon your souls to inspire others to encounter and struggle with the Ein Sof, the Infinite, through the music, art, poetry and prayer that flows from that struggle and allows us to confront the Majesty of the Divine.

But today I fear you will need more than just heart, mind and soul. You will need stomach as well. For you take your roles as Cantors and Rabbis in a moment of great darkness, with a pandemic touching all corners of this globe.  May you be inspired by the thousands of other HUC alumni who are bringing comfort and care to their sacred communities.

Alumni like Nancy Dubin, who became a cantor after a career as a registered nurse. As the call went out for medical professionals who had left the field to return to help in hospitals, the now-cantor donned her scrubs and mask and went to the front lines at the Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn to serve as a nurse again drawing upon the pastoral training she had received at HUC. She is finding time now to stop and reflect now on how the world will be changed from this crisis: creating moments of peace for her and her community.  

You thus take your place among alumni who are responding nobly to this crisis, never more necessary than now, holding together our sense of shared humanity, fraying as it can seem to be right now, bit by bit, day by day. 

And so I pray that with your hearts, mind and soul you should also have the stomach for what’s ahead, the courage and resilience to confront a crisis of suffering whose full impact I fear is not fully understood.  It is a crisis that you will have an outsized role in helping with so many of us are looking to our local communities for strong moral leadership.  And I hope you look to examples from our three great leaders, Deborah, Ester and Ruth, whose courage and resilience is the kind of personal, political and existential leadership we will need from you right now. 

And so, I pray and have confidence that you draw on those virtues of the heart, mind, soul, and stomach, uplifting others with a sense of meaning and purpose, grounding them in our People Israel, and drawing on our tradition as part of a life, well lived.  Through your actions you will strengthen all the communities and individuals with whom you engage, so that we may collectively pursue our ultimate ends of the Good and the Holy, the Right and the Just. 

My confidence in the promise ahead for you comes from someone in a unique position to recognize one thing that most Rabbis and Cantors do not—cannot—fully understand as adults: the continued power, influence, and importance of klei Kodesh to those of us who have not been ordained, who have not felt called to the kind of sacred service that has driven you here, and that will touch the lives of individuals and families, strengthen your communities, and shape the future of our People for decades ahead.  

Livnot U’l’hibanot:  to build and to be built.  I hope you will remember your time here and remain connected to our family.  Draw back to us, help us strengthen that association going forward.  Use the resources of our alumni association, along with the professional institutions of the Reform Movement, whose leadership--Rabbi Hara Person, Cantor Clair Franco and Rabbi Rick Jacobs – will provide strength to you in the field.  And every now and then, let us know the great spirits you see in the youth of your communities to help us develop the next class of HUC students who like you will go on to shape our world.

Livnot U’l’hibanot.  To build and to be built.  Your educations were made possible through the extraordinary support of our HUC Board of Governors, led by Board Chair Sue Newman Hochberg and Vice Chair Larry Tarica, along with our Eastern Region Overseers led by Chair Richard Kratz and Vice Chair Marcy Harris.  Their collective time, wisdom and resources along with support from our alumni and thousands of other supporters provided the very foundation for that building for which we are all so deeply grateful. 

And so now, as we end this consecration moment recognizing your being and becoming, building and having been built:

                  On behalf of the entire faculty, administration and the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I formally recognize:

                  that you have fulfilled the academic and professional requirements of ordination;

                  that you have grown fully into your roles as kleikodesh, vessels of the sacred, ready for service to the Jewish People in pursuit of Justice in our world.  

And it is thus my honor and delight as President to declare you for the first time, cantors and rabbis in the eyes of all Israel and the world!

Mazal Tov!


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. www.huc.edu