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The HUC Ordination Ceremony: A celebration of the Jewish human spirit

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  Rabbi Naamah Kelman had a really busy day yesterday. As Dean of the Hebrew Union College- Hebrew Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, she hosted last night’s smicha or ordination ceremony of the latest cohort of Reform rabbis in Israel. This was a particularly momentous event for the movement in that it marks 100 rabbis ordained in Israel and brought together top Reform leaders from Israel and around the world. But Rabbi Kelman had a few extra special connections to this event. An eleventh-generation rabbi herself as well as the first woman in her family line to reach that stature, and the first woman to be ordained in Israel, she also got to watch as her daughter, Rabbi Leora Ezrachi-Vered was ordained – with honors – bringing the rabbinate to one more generation in the Kelman family. “It was a real dor-dor [generation to generation] moment”, Naama’s sister, Abby Kelman, kvelled. Their brother, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, was also in attendance, as he served Leora’s escort for the ceremony. Their 94-year-old mother was also there, bringing four generations of rabbinate together. “My mother has been daughter-of-, wife-of, mother-of, and now grandmother-of rabbis,” Naamah told the crowd, welcoming her mother along with all the other dignitaries in attendance. This stirring interplay between family, community, and Jewish tradition that Naamah embodied – as Leora received a special dedication from her father, Dr. Elan Ezrachi, Naamah held her sleeping grandson on her shoulder – is one of the most beautiful aspects of HUC. This is a place that values the whole person – our work, our family, our ideas, our individual journeys and even struggles. The very personal approach to the ceremony, in which family members were invited to present blessings to the graduates and even sing to them, was unlike anything I had ever seen. And it is an attitude that characterizes my experiences there as a student, in which the staff actually want to know how you are doing, not only academically but also personally and emotionally. This joyful, spiritual, sincere, authentic and emotional approach dominated the entire ordination ceremony. It was personal, communal, Israeli, historical, and very Jewish. (And it included  one very special Dag Nachash recitation by Rabbi Michael Marmur). This was a celebration of Jewish tradition, and especially the accomplishments of the Reform movement. “Some people didn’t believe that we would get to this point of having 100 Reform rabbis in Israel,” said HUC President Rabbi Dr. Aaron Panken, speaking in immaculate Hebrew. “But I’m already ready for the next 100.” There is a special significance to “100 rabbis”, he noted, in that a petition by 100 rabbis has the power to change halakhic rulings. “It’s a hard fight for progressive Judaism in Israel,” Abby told me. “It’s like walking uphill on glass barefoot.” This is indeed a great accomplishment in a country that doesn’t officially recognize Reform or Conservative Judaism as legitimate forms of Judaism – not in politics, not in education, not in budgets and jobs, and not...

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Responses to the responses on becoming a Reform rabbi

  In the day (!!)since I announced that I am studying to become a Reform rabbi, responses have been overwhelming. I’ve been chatting with people around the world, each with their own story about connection, community, spirituality, and Judaism. The vast majority of those responses have been resoundingly supportive. And this is not only from Reform friends. Many of my Orthodox friends have been incredibly understanding and even sharing in the excitement. Despite all the predictable naysaying Orthodox gatekeepers who have been doing their thing (some you can see in the comments on my previous post, or on my FB page; I left them in because it is important to know what kind of discourse is out there, what we’re all up against), despite all that, I have been receiving an incredible amount of support, even from places where I thought the reaction would be harsher. I am so relieved about that. My biggest worry was that Orthodox feminist activists would see me as the one who jumped ship, and leave it at that. But for the most part, I’ve been getting a lot of love, and that makes me really happy. I see us all as fighting the same fights but from different corners. On the other hand, some Conservative, (Masorti) and Reconstructionist friends are a bit upset that I passed over their denominations. Especially stinging was the fact that I wrote that I felt Reform is the “only place” where women can be truly free. If there is one word that I regret in my original post, it is that word “only”. I would like to change that to say the “best”, or “one of the best”, instead of the “only”. I will not change the post now because that would be intellectually dishonest. But I do think that I was wrong to write it that way. I have some wonderful mentors and friends around the Jewish world. Professor Alice Shalvi, for example, who became Conservative after decades of work as an Orthodox feminist, is someone I consider an incredible role model. I think I came off too dismissive of the work of feminists in other denominations, and I’m very sorry about that. I would like to emphasize how much I consider feminist activists across denominations to be allies.  This is where the work is. I’m not here to trounce on hard-working women trying to change the world. I want to work together. That is the vision. I’m sorry that I didn’t do a better job of emphasizing that in my original post.

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