I have been incredibly blessed to spend much of the past decade of my life in batei midrash. I love Jewish learning and teaching deeply, and any room lined with Jewish books has come to feel like home. Given this, I could not help but feel that my first day of work as a rabbi was off to a good start as I stepped into the book-lined Hartman Beit Midrash for the Rabbinic Torah Seminar this summer.
I chose to launch my rabbinic career at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America precisely because of those books – and the great ideas and conversations they represent. But what I was not yet able to fully appreciate as I stepped over that threshold was the equally valuable gift I was about to receive: the opportunity to participate in the community of learners and teachers who fill the room at Hartman.
In Masechet Sukkah (51b), the Talmud describes the glory of the synagogue in Alexandria. One of its many wonders is that seating is organized by trade. The Gemara goes on to explain that the virtue of such a seating plan is that it creates an opportunity for a poor tradesperson new to town to recognize, and be recognized by, those who share his work. This Gemara understands the deep human need to connect with others who share our passions and work at our crafts.
Meeting this need is an ongoing challenge for many of us as rabbis. Our work can often be lonely. To put it metaphorically, if the blacksmiths sit with the blacksmiths, and the goldsmiths with the goldsmiths, then with whom does the rabbi sit? As the Talmud teaches, we need colleagues – not only to help us learn and sharpen our skills, and to connect us to new opportunities, but also for comradery and to be fully seen both in the context of, and beyond, our professional roles.
At RTS this past summer, I saw this wisdom of the Talmud in action. Rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, from all corners of the county and the world, at many different stages of life and career, made the inspiring choice to step away temporarily from their many commitments to connect with each other over Torah and crucial Jewish conversations.
I saw, and joined, in chavrutot, lunch-table debates, and conversations as we rabbis relished the opportunity to truly see each other as fellow practitioners, to workshop ideas and swap strategies to improve our work, and connect as friends and human beings. As a newly ordained rabbi, much like the new silversmith in town, I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to connect with and learn from a community of artisans who share my passion for the crafts of Jewish education and institution building.
Much of my work at the Hartman Institute will focus on supporting each of you in continuing to sit together – both physically at retreats in North America and Israel, and virtually through shared online learning and conversation. As a Jewish educator and community organizer, I am thrilled to turn my energies to partnering with you as you continue to build relationships with each other, with the Hartman Institute, and more importantly with the Torah we have learned and will learn together.
I especially hope you will reach out to me as a resource as you implement our wonderful new iEngage curriculum focusing on the meaning of the milestone events in Israel’s modern history which we mark this year. In the coming months, I will be implementing frameworks to enable sharing of resources, best practices, and ongoing conversations on these important topics. It is my hope that through continuing the fruitful conversations and relationships that we began this summer in the Beit Midrash, not only will our teaching and learning will be elevated, but none of us will need to feel that we sit alone.