At the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education (of HUC-JIR, LA) pre-Graduation Dinner, I had the honor of sharing, before their families and classmates, the many gifts our interns shared with us. Dan Medwin, Lydia Bloom Medwin and Sara Mason touched so many lives. My words are below:
Dan, Lydia and Sara, being rabbinic-education students, you know that this dual role brings not less work but double the nachas. At Congregation Or Ami, we are schlepping much nachas at the many gifts you have shared with us this past year. Or Ami is populated with so many people whose learning deepened through your creative talents. I wanted to bring them here, so that they could tell you themselves how you have touched their lives. Alas, they could not be here. So I carry their words and feelings to you instead.
These are the gifts you have given us.
Dan, hear the words of the boy who, after watching your fabulous “Back to the Holidays” video set induction, said that coming to Mishpacha (our Family Alternative Learning program) was as cool as playing his X-box video game. Dan, like Moses, you have utilized the latest technology to create a Mt. Sinai-esque sound and light show which effectively furthered your curricular goals, and successfully worked to bind your students to the Holy One and the people Israel. Thank you.
Lydia, hear the words of the man in recovery from alcoholism, who, after sharing his story with you, said that he had never felt so profoundly heard as when he sat with you. Lydia, like the prophet Ezekiel, you let the still small voice inside him be heard, and thereby taught him, and the rest of our congregation who read of your experiences in the beautiful articles you wrote, where they might find their Higher Power. Thank you.
Sara, listen to the words of the mother who confessed to me at the final Mishpacha session that, at the year’s start she had no desire to talk about God (which happened to be the theme of the whole year), but now she relishes every conversation about God with her child and spouse. Sara, like the prophet Balaam, you transformed her, through your magical Mishpacha lessons, so that her allergy to talking about God is becoming a quest for continuous experience of blessing and holiness. Thank you.
Dan, listen to the praise of the Mishpacha parent who, after you confidently answered a question that plagued him for many years, quietly told me, “now that’s a teacher I can learn from!” Dan, like generations of teachers before you, you quieted yourself sufficiently and heard the essence of his heartfelt question and, responding from the heart, helped him continue his spiritual search. Thank you.
Lydia, see the beautiful smiles of all those beautiful, energetic teenagers, who appear session after session at Temple Teen Night, to socialize, eat pizza and do Jewish learning along the way. Lydia, like King Solomon before you, who inherited from David a chaotic kingdom and then transformed it into a vibrant peaceful community, you inherited the Temple Teen Night community and transformed it – through your wisdom, caring and enthusiasm – into a wonderful, if somewhat noisy community for teachers as well as for students. Thank you.
Sara, embrace the words of the young Mishpacha child who, upon hearing that you will become our rabbinic intern next year, was reported to shriek with joy, saying, that “you made learning so much fun!” Sara, like Miriam who brought music and rhythm to our people’s plodding steps through the wilderness, you have brought the joy of learning in the synagogue, to moms and dads and kids and grandparents, many of whom had grown up expecting something very different from their temples. Thank you.
Each of you – with chochmah (wisdom), chesed (kindness) and ahavat yisrael (love of our people Israel) – have made the light of Or Ami – my people, God’s people, our people – to shine ever more brightly, at Congregation Or Ami and in our Jewish community.
What other gifts you have given me? We talked a lot about these in the individual meetings we shared this past week. You have taught me about tzimtzum (holding back) and gadlut (exploring the great questions about belief). You invited me to learn savlanut (patience) and led me to greater hitlahavut (enthusiasm), as each of you have questioned, challenged, pushed back and pushed forward, laughed and led, thought and taught, throughout this whole year. You have made me a more thoughtful educator and, by definition, therefore, a better rabbi.
So schepp nachas, each of you, and your many parents and relatives too, for you have gifted our community Or Ami with such a bright light, that we shall continue to perceive the beauty of being Jewish, long after you depart from our congregation. We shall miss you. I shall miss you! Mazel Tov on your graduation. And thank you!