This week I sat in on a conversation, organized by various leaders in the St. Paul Jewish community, with Rabbi Rick Jacobs the President of the Union for Reform Judaism. In this meeting Rabbi Jacobs discussed the influence his rabbi, Rabbi David Hartman z”l, had on his personal decision to become a rabbi. Today is my one year anniversary of being ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary. I have been reflecting on the great rabbis in my life, one in particular who paved my path towards the rabbinate.
I remember my first meeting with Rabbi William Lebeau, at the time Dean of the JTS Rabbinical School. We met in the backroom of the staff lounge at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Rabbi Lebeau, figured I was a sports fan (I had yet to embark on my blog TheGreatRabbino.com…shameless plug). He was correct. He asked me if I was aware of Cal Ripken Jr. and his streak of consecutive games played. I told him I was and I knew the greatness of Ripken’s accomplishment. Rabbi Lebeau then said, “what if I told you my streak of wrapping tefillin was even longer than Ripken’s games played.” I chuckled and understood his point, although flawed since rarely are there reported tefillin injuries. Rabbi Lebeau’s attempt to speak my language made a lasting impact on my career path. It was a few years later that Rabbi Lebeau would become the guide through my rabbinic journey.
In 2006 I was learning in Israel. I had deferred from JTS and in had been applying to other rabbinical schools as well. Several schools came to Israel to interview students. I continued my dialogue with JTS and Rabbi Lebeau. After an honest conversation with him I knew it was clear that JTS would serve as my future. I remember calling him and accepting JTS’ program minutes before another school admitted me. It was beshereit in my mind and I knew I had found a rabbi in Rabbi Lebeau.
Flash-forward another year into the future, and this time I am sitting in Rabbi Lebeau’s office. I was offered the opportunity to potentially graduate a year early. I was distraught because every bone in my body said to graduate early but my heart said stay and learn more. Rabbi Lebeau looked at me and said “will it really matter if you are a rabbi at age 29 or 30?” With that wisdom I stayed and throughout my time at JTS found myself happy with the extra year of Torah study. There became no corner of Rabbinical School where Rabbi Lebeau did not serve as a guide through important decisions about my path through rabbinical school and the rabbinate.
When Rabbi Jacobs spoke I heard his passion for Rabbi Hartman and I hope that when I speak I can channel my rabbis as well. On this one year anniversary and with a year (or two) of pulpit experience under my belt, I think the biggest thing I have realized is that I am the rabbi I am because of the rabbis who taught me. I am forever indebted to their wisdom, time, and compassion. We should all take moment at the end of this “school year” no matter what age we are to re-connect and thank our greatest teachers, who led the way for us to do what we do. Teachers remain the most valuable mechanism for learning and we as students are required to thank them every chance we get.