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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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