On Thursday afternoon of this week, twenty-six rabbis were ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
These young men and women were not the only graduates at JTS on that day. There were undergraduate degree recipients from List College, Masters and Doctoral degrees awarded from the Graduate School and the Davidson School of Education, and new Cantors, graduating from the H. L. Miller Cantorial School, who were invested with the authority to assume their important work.
There is a member of my congregation who, at least once a year, complains to me that Jewish tradition seems incapable of letting us have an unqualified good time no matter how happy the circumstances. We break a glass under the marital chuppah, we pour wine out of our cups at the Passover Seder, we recite penitential prayers every day to remind ourselves of just how imperfect we are… why can’t we just kick back and enjoy life like others seem to be able to do?
As was the case for so many others here in New York, Osama bin-Laden’s death at the hands of American troops this week triggered a flood of memories from September 11 and the days immediately thereafter.
Earlier this week, for reasons having nothing at all to do with the upcoming observance of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) this coming Sunday night and Monday, I found myself on the E train here in New York City.
It is often said that if it were possible to remember pain, no family would have more than one child. And yet, year in and year out, we Jews engage in this annual ritual of completely subverting the normal order of our kitchens, and often our furniture, and willingly subject ourselves to the very arduous task of preparing for Passover.
By the way, it is also often said that if the ancient rabbis ever set foot in their kitchens, such that they were, the laws of Passover would look quite different. But we won't go there…
Each and every year, at precisely this time of year, I find myself struggling with the question of who owns Jewish history.
It sounds like an odd question, I know. In a sense, it is. But what I mean is that there are some chapters of our history that are so imprinted on the broader consciousness of western civilization that it often feels as if we have handed over our historical experience to the rest of the world, to use as it pleases.
On Sunday through Thursday of this week, hundreds of my colleagues in the Rabbinical Assembly and I gathered at our international convention, held this year in Las Vegas. The Rabbinical Assembly is the professional organization of Conservative rabbis around the world. In addition to my work as the rabbi of The Forest Hills Jewish Center, I currently serve as the RA's Vice-President, and am slated to assume the Presidency in another year.
Jewish holiday celebrations have fixed dates. That is to say, while they are associated- particularly the pilgrimage festivals- with specific seasons of the year, they nonetheless have fixed dates on which they begin and end. So when we observe them is not a matter of choice, but rather prescribed by our tradition.