Professor Raphael Walden presented the Ordination and Academic Convocation address at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Jerusalem Ordination and Academic Convocation Ceremony on Thursday, November 11, 2021.
I stand before you moved and stirred by the honor you have seen fit to bestow on me for my activities in the medical and humanitarian fields.
When I joined the Israel Reform Movement many years ago, as a young man, it comprised just a single community. I have watched with satisfaction and joy as the movement has flourished and grown over recent years, not only around the world, but in Israel, too. We feel a sense of close partnership with our communities around the world, which our excellent graduates in Jerusalem now join.
Over the past two years, health and medicine have come to the forefront of human attention to an unprecedented degree. These subjects certainly deserve our attention here in this dignified forum. The epidemic has shown us the vital need for cooperation between humans and for social solidarity.
Judaism’s message regarding the sanctity of life is clear: “Take careful heed to yourselves” (Deuteronomy 4:15); “Nothing takes precedence over saving a life” (Tosefta Shabbat 16:14); “Anyone who saves a life is as if they saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 4:5).
I would like to tell you briefly why I have received the honor of standing before you today. I serve as president of Physicians for Human Rights. We work to realize the basic human right to health of residents of Israel and those under its rule. We work to help elderly and impoverished people who do not have the means to purchase medicine. We run a clinic for refugees and stateless persons constituting their sole access to medical services. We campaign to improve health services for the geographical and social periphery in Israel. We strive to ensure that prisoners receive decent health services. We make a particular effort on behalf of residents of the Palestinian Authority, who suffer from a serious and fundamental shortage of medical infrastructures. Every weekend a delegation of our physicians travels to a village or refugee camp in the West Bank, and each time we treat hundreds of patients and provide free medicines. In addition to the medical aspect, we also create a wonderful microcosm of understanding and good will. Every month we send a delegation to the Gaza Strip: 22 physicians participated recently, performing dozens of advanced operations and training local physicians. We held specialist clinics and scientific conferences – the only such events to which physicians in Gaza have access. We run training and in-service programs for physicians and medical staff at hospitals in Israel.
I feel that these activities manifest an ethical commitment incumbent on physicians that is consistent with the fundamental and universal moral principles of Judaism as reflected in the approach of liberal Judaism.
Through such activities we put into practice Maimonides’ oath: “Inspire me with love for my art and for Your creatures. Do not allow thirst for profit, ambition for renown and admiration, to interfere with my profession… Preserve the strength of my body and of my soul that they ever be ready to cheerfully help and support rich and poor, good and bad, enemy as well as friend. In the sufferer let me see only the human being.”
We should also recall the verse from Genesis: “So God created the human in God’s own image; in the image of God, the one created them” (Genesis 1:27). The verse refers to the human per se – any human.
Dear future Rabbis: I read your résumés. You come from many diverse places and backgrounds. I am filled with admiration and astonishment at the intellectual charge you combine with Jewish thought in so many fields – literature, poetry, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, education, linguistics, music, mathematics, physics, computer science, and experience in a wide range of social action. Thanks to your fine personal qualities, the background you bring with you, and the Torah you have absorbed in this wonderful institution – you are now ready to serve as spiritual guides in our communities.
May you be a blessing to God and to humanity and may your paths be successful!