Tonight, our LMKehillah will welcome me home, celebrating my smicha (ordination through the laying on of hands – the ancient ritual of rabbinic transmission) by my rabbis earlier this month. Smicha, in the ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP), occurs early each January in Broomfield, Colorado, near the Rocky Mountains and the Boulder home of our beloved Reb Zalman, z”l. Each year, we gather for a glorious student-led Shabbaton which precedes ordination Sunday (our own annual super bowl), Smicha and its ancillary rituals, and then an extraordinary clergy conference hosted by OHALAH, a trans-denominational association of rabbis and cantors which attracts an array of clergy from across the globe.
Most AOP students, like me, have lived a few seasons of life … we’ve had a career (or two), created families, experienced our share of delights and grief, and come to our new status as clergy with vast experience actively serving congregations. In this way, we are significantly different than students in other Jewish seminaries. We also come into the AOP with vastly different backgrounds, Jewishly and educationally. We are from Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox, Renewal and non-Jewish families of origin. Some of us are already ordained through other movements, some have a masters degree in Jewish studies, and some, like me, never took a Jewish studies class in college and have done a great deal of self-study before we begin to be shaped as Jewish Renewal clergy for the 21st century.
As I return to our LMKehillah, I am aware that I am the same rabbi I was in December AND that I returned to Columbus transformed. We all have experiences in our lives that mold and shape us … some are long and arduous (like the seven plus years I spent in rabbinical school) and some are short but expansive moments (like the week I just spent in Colorado). And, with each, it takes us a bit of time on the “other side” of that portal to determine exactly how the transformative experience will alter the course of our lives and how we will utilize its impact to channel the holy energy we feel coursing within us.
In so many ways, I feel that our Little Minyan Kehillah and I both stand in transformed places. The LMKehillah has been germinating, growing, reaping, and re-sowing seeds within the central Ohio landscape for more than a dozen years. We are firmly within our bat mitzvah year as an organically-grown alternative (to more formally organized “institutional Judaism”), warmly welcoming the spiritual and the skeptical. When we started this venture, in 2005-06, we were more clear about what we weren’t than what we were. Now, and as we gather on Sunday, January 28th for a Full Community Meeting to begin charting our course forward, we are no longer nascent, no longer “little,” no longer a timid and unsure “Little Minyan that Could.”
As an adolescent kehillah/community, we are full of vim and vigor, full of ideas and dreams, full of ruach/spirit and oneg/delight. We have fantastic members and many, many groovy friends. We are involved in many meaningful activities and host fantastic events. And, just as any gardener knows, it is a long journey from sowing seeds and reaping a few delicious veggies to a sustainable harvest. We are aware that we will run out of energy and other important resources if we are not able to grow our garden by attracting more spiritual and/or skeptical neshamot/souls to participate in the 21st century approach to Jewish community we are intent on building together.
This weekend we welcome Shabbat Shirah ~ the Shabbat in which the parsha (Torah portion) we read includes the Song of the Sea. In our formative Jewish story of departing from narrowness in the journey toward freedom, we cross the Sea of Reeds because of a miracle. The parting of the water is reflected in the the way Shirat haYam is scribed in Torah and there are countless midrashic stories about what happened in this mythic moment that allowed us to cross the Sea and reach the far side, escaping the pursuing troops. I recently heard the great scholar, Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg talking about today’s Judaism on Judaism Unbound’s 100th podcast. He noted that the God of Torah appeared to the People through miracles; and although that God may appear far more present than the God that we may or may not recognize today, the opposite is true. That God, suggested Greenberg, was transcendent. Today, God is much closer, imminent but concealed, hidden in ways that parallel the obviousness of the miracle-performing God of Torah. As God’s partners in creation, it is our responsibility to manifest godliness in the world. This is much more complicated and requires collective participation in new ways, rather than the utilization of an intermediary like the kohanim/ priests of Torah, or the sagacious skills of the great rabbis of the Talmudic period, or even the very wise and knowledgable rabbis of the past 1400 years or so. What will it look like to create conscious Jewish community to make progress in “God-ing” (making the Sacred manifest in our world)? These are the questions that I am excited to ponder as a rabbi and as a member of the Little Minyan Kehillah.
So as I listen to the Song of the Sea this week in Torah, and raise my voice in song with our Mak’hela tonight during Kabbalat Shabbat, and enjoy conversation with our kehillah on Sunday about our future, and taste my way through a Tu b’Shvat seder, celebrating the New Year of the Trees with our Teva Travelers, and turn toward the full moon of Tu b’Shvat this Tuesday evening with our adult learners, I will do all of this with my eye toward the miracles we manifest and know that God is in the details of community building.