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Senior Torah

Elsie Stern, Ph.D.

Yesterday was my favorite ritual of the RRC year: senior torah. At this event, our graduating seniors each share their parting reflections with the RRC community. It is their moment to express gratitude to the teachers and students who have supported them on their way, reflect on what they have learned, and share some parting advice and wisdom with the students in the classes behind them. As always, the torah they offered was wise, honest, funny and heartfelt. It made us laugh a lot and cry a little; it inspired us deeply and I felt blessed to receive it.

This year’s seniors are a diverse group: They are men and women, gay, straight and transgender; they range in age from their 20s to their 60s. They are married, engaged and single; parents, grandparents and not-parents; Jews by birth and Jews by choice. Among them is a child and grandchild of Reform rabbis, a child of Holocaust survivors, a child of immigrants, and a grandchild of a Presbyterian preacher. Their ethnic origins lie in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Great Britain and Central America. They come from working-class families and professional families. They came to RRC from careers in medicine, teaching, political organizing, sports and technology. Their families of origin and the families they head are multi-ethnic and multi-racial. In other words, they are a microcosm of liberal Jewish communities today.

The fact that each of these students made his or her way to rabbinical school is a testimony to the many Jewish communities that welcome and foster the Jewishness of people from myriad backgrounds and biographies. It is also testament to the rabbis, teachers and communal leaders who help these Jews feel empowered enough to think, “Maybe I, too, can be a rabbi someday.” We are deeply grateful to all of these communities and mentors for paving the path for these students to come to RRC.

The diversity of our students is core to RRC’s mission. For Reconstructionist Judaism, it is crucial that the diversity of Jews is not just in the kahal (the congregation) but is also on the bima. We not only invite all who are “hungry” to come receive, reflect on and engage with words of torah; we also invest mightily in training rabbis who are representative of today’s Jewish communities to be vessels of torah and teachers of torah. It makes me deeply proud to know that the torah that goes forth from Wyncote—and from all the places that our graduates serve— reflects the rich and enriching diversity of experience, perspective and insight that distinguishes the Jewish people today.