A Moment of Inspiration with Rabbi Jan Katzew, Ph.D.

Rabbi Jan Katzew, Ph.D. ‘83 (he, him; הוא, אותו, שלו)
Director of Service Learning, Associate Professor of Education and Jewish Thought, Senior Educator for the EMA Program, HUC/Cincinnati

Jan Katzew

Near the end of my first year of rabbinical school at HUC, I entered the office of the Dean, Prof. Ezra Spicehandler, ז״ל, and in halting Hebrew I asked him if he would agree to continue our relationship exclusively in Hebrew. He agreed, and I credit him with nurturing my love for and relative fluency in Hebrew. I was inspired recently when I learned the Hebrew expression for resilience – חוסן נפשי. I recognized the root of the idiom immediately because the Israeli press has been fixated with various forms of the same root – חיסון, מחוסן, מחוסנת – ‘vaccine’ and ‘vaccinated.’ The Israeli newspapers provide updates daily, and often several times a day, of the number of people vaccinated, the number of people hospitalized, the number of people in serious condition, the number of people who have died, the number of breakthrough cases, the percentage of positive cases, and the number of people recovered from COVID-19. There is no escape from confronting a painful, tragic reality. I had no idea that the Hebrew word for vaccination related to resilience. חוסן נפשי describes a special type of vaccination, a soulful vaccination. There are physical antibodies that enable us to fight diseases of the body and there are soulful antibodies that enable us to fight diseases of the soul. Soulful vaccination: that is the essence of resilience.

I co-officiated with my spouse, Cantor Lanie Katzew, ’81, at the wedding of our daughter, Cara, and her husband, Ben, in Israel on June 24th. Without a doubt, the experience was one of the highlights of my life. The theme of my wedding address to our children was the importance of resilience in human relationships, especially in a marriage. In their ketubah, their lovers’ covenant, which bears a profound resemblance to the ketubah that adorns a wall in our home, three values stand out – חברות, רעות and אהבה – friendship, companionship, and love. They represent three of the soulful antibodies that facilitate resilience. Friends and companions act like emotional shock absorbers. They enable us not only to survive but also to thrive in the face of adversity. Friends cannot make mental and emotional anguish go away, but they can feel and share the pain, and thereby reduce it. Especially in times of crisis and adversity, friends are blessings. Have you leaned on friends during the plague? Have your friends leaned on you? Count your friends and count on your friends to be blessings, to be sources and resources of resilience.