“When you rise to meet your smicha, you are rising to meet the challenge; you are rising in commitment to stay radically present to new possibilities; you are rising to walk courageously – to use the gifts, the capacities, the talents, the abilities, and the inner light inside of you, in the service of Godliness.” These are words the Reb Marcia Prager, AOP’s Dean and Director said during her invocation as part of the Smicha/Ordination ceremony on January 12, 2020.
On January 12, 2020, the ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP) welcomed nine new rabbis and two new cantors into the lineage of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l. The ordination ceremony blended the ancient tradition of awarding smicha/ordination through the “laying on of hands” with the ritual creativity of the students. On Saturday, the evening before, AOP’s Hashpa’ah: Training Program for Jewish Spiritual Directors graduated 15 new spiritual directors, marking the completion of their three-year training as the program’s fifth cohort. These celebrations took place near Boulder, Colorado, where Jewish Renewal spiritual leaders from around the world gathered for the annual conference of the clergy association, OHALAH: Association of Rabbis and Cantors for Jewish Renewal.
AOP’s innovative and rigorous curriculum has attracted students from varied geographical locations and professional backgrounds. This year’s graduates are based in cities across the US, as well as in Canada and Brazil. Rabbi Elca Rubinstein, a retired World Bank economist from São Paulo, sees becoming a rabbi as part of her “third act – embracing her eldering process.” Hazzan Evlyn Gould, Professor Emerita of French at the University of Oregon in Eugene, says “the choice to be a cantor was clear – I love the exquisite discipline that releases the voice and heart into beauty and prayer.” The Class of 2020, with ages ranging from 30s to 70s, also includes an engineer, a physical therapist for children, a former Assistant Attorney General active in interfaith peacemaking, a lawyer at the House of Commons of Canada and advocate for LGBTQ rights, as well as several beloved spiritual leaders of their communities.
Also represented is the diversity in background and denominational affiliation that characterizes AOP’s student body. One co-founded the first Reconstructionist synagogue in Milwaukee, another serves as
Music Director for a Reform temple in Florida. The Renewal movement and Renewal-inspired practices – grounded in both Judaism’s rich spiritual traditions and the new opportunities of contemporary life – are
inspiring Jews and congregations across the spectrum of Jewish engagement. AOP graduates reflect that “trans-denominational” appeal, with many having found a rekindling of their Jewish spirituality and
commitment through Renewal. Rabbi Pauline Tamari, newly ordained, puts it this way: “I found a Judaism that reflected both the delicious spirit I first tasted at the knees of my grandparents, as well as a language and
theology that resonated with me and the world we’re living in now.”