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Honoring These 25 Years

Two weeks ago I received my honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR for serving 25 years in the rabbinate. The day began on the bimah of Temple Emanuel here in NYC, with my classmates and I sitting in a circle with President Andrew Rehfeld and Provost Andrea Weiss. We were each asked to introduce ourselves and share what has surprised us most about the rabbinate.

When I initially decided to become a rabbi, I never imagined being in a pulpit. Being front and center wasn’t the most natural space for me. I had no rabbinic role models who were women, and no window into what the life of a congregational rabbi would feel like aside from both my parents having served on the board of my home synagogue (my mother as the president); not necessarily a ringing endorsement.

When it was my turn to introduce myself, sitting on the bimah among my classmates, I shared that what most surprised me was that I was a congregational rabbi at all. I told them: I fell in love with the BJ community over 28 years ago when I was hired as the part-time Family and Youth Director while in rabbinical school. I have continued to fall in love with the community over and over again. I have had the privilege of serving this community as a rabbi for the last 25 years (I was the only person receiving the honorary doctorate who had served in the same community for the entire 25 years) and the depth of my calling has only increased over time.

Last Shabbat at kiddush someone asked if I had to write a dissertation for the degree. Definitely not! It’s an honorary degree but when I think about what a Doctor of Divinity means, I feel most grateful for the 25 years of witnessing God’s presence in this community; in the spirit of individuals who go above and beyond to be generous with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their resources. I have seen God’s presence show up in the most tragic of circumstances. I have marveled at how the community holds up a family in mourning and in the greatest joys of life. I have listened to hundreds of B-Mitzvah children hold the Torah in their arms and sing the Shema—each one of them with their own unique voices reminding me, time and time again, that God’s image manifests itself in each of us as one of a kind. I have been satiated by the hunger for Torah that exists in this community; the way people show up to learning week after week, year after year. I have been inspired by demands for justice and equity and the small and large efforts to change the world. I have been in awe of the courage so many have shown facing illness, and I have been moved by the countless conversations I’ve had with members about the search for faith in the most heartbreaking of times. I have not only taught and led and been a prayer leader and a pastor. I have grown and learned and been touched and transformed in countless ways. And when it’s been hard, I too have had to bolster my own faith.

When I arrived as a new member of the staff in August of 1996, I was taken under the wings of Roly and Marcelo. I was lifted up and trusted and challenged. And Roly has been my teacher, rabbi, spiritual partner, and friend for all these years. It’s been a tremendous gift. There are truly no words.

This Shabbat, I will not be at BJ because I am flying to Greensboro, North Carolina, to install Grace Gleason, a BJ fellow from 2021–2023, as the rabbi of Beth David Synagogue. What an extraordinary blessing to have been mentored and now to mentor young rabbis on their journey. I hope in 25 years Grace will feel as humbled and surprised in her rabbinate as I do.

Thank you to Roly, Ari, and Becca for this incredible spiritual partnership. Thank you to the lay leadership past and present (our vice president was even one of my Bat Mitzvah kids!) for your abiding support and partnership; and to the BJ staff, past and present, for all the collaboration in this labor of love. I didn’t need a degree to honor what has been true and enduring—that each and every day for all these 25 years, I have been blessed to be a rabbi to this beloved community and all the Divinity that it contains and beckons in. Oh, how we need a reminder of the holiness that exists in this deeply broken world. For that daily reminder, thank you.

כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה

My cup runs over.


Shabbat Shalom,