WHAT DOES ORDINARY mean to those who have chosen that path, often not as a first career, but sought it later in life? One of the remarkable aspects of the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles (AJRCA) is that it provides a perfect opportunity for those who, like me, realized this was something they really wanted only later in life. So rather than discuss my which I have in many previous articles decided to reach out to my fellow ordinees, and share what some of them had to say.
Among the six who responded are teachers, administrators, Jewish professionals and social workers. All felt driven to use their life skills in service of the Jewish clergy or chaplaincy.
Ally Lawton taught elementary school for 23 years and knew she needed a change. “I wanted to burnish my heart and my mind, I wanted to serve the Jewish people, I wanted to keep educating children but I also needed to return to teaching adults. It was after a lot of soul searching I felt compelled to seek a rabbinic career.” As a rabbi Ally wants to serve the Jewish people and further the tradition of l’dor v’dor. But perhaps as important is the deepening connection she feels. “In a surprise turn of events, the Jewish experiences of my children have also been profoundly changed for the better. My family’s Jewish life will forever be better because of my call to the rabbinate.”
Retiring after 36 years in the Los Angles United School district as a history teacher and then assistant principal, Mel Young “wanted to reignite my passion for the Jewish tradition and look at being able to share with others my love of learning about Judaism and how it can help one to walk across the many narrow bridges. I learned not only from the unending knowledge of our instructors but also learned so much from the diverse make-up of our student population. I feel so blessed to have been part of an invigorating, stimulating learning environment at this stage of my life.
“Avi Alpert, who traveled in every week from Arizona, had a career as a “professional Jew” -first as a religious school and music teacher, then as a hazzan and pastor, and now as a lead spiritual leader and developing rabbi. Everything Avi has done “has been directed toward helping to remedy Jewish disengagement and the effects of assimilation in the U.S. This is exactly what interests me in my future rabbinate and I am determined to find more ways to engage the disengaged Jewry and to reverse the trends that are threatening to erode community. The best part of my experience is the privilege of partnering with others who share my vision and motivation.”
After working as a cantorial soloist for 10 years, Daniel Friedman sought out AJRCA “to add depth to my knowledge and fulfill my heart’s desire for authenticity in my approach to chazzanut; I wanted to be a musical inspiration and of service to the Jewish people. The incredible knowledge of the professors and their love for teaching was, and is, infectious. I will carry this with me forever.”
Shira Freidlin began her rabbinic studies “hoping to develop a broader, deeper and more nuanced relationship with the wisdom of my ancestors. I believe deeply that (and still believe) deeply that sharing Jewish wisdom has the potential to bring healing to the world one person at a time. The best thing about my experience has been the spirit of love my teachers and fellow students epitomize: love of ideas, love of humanity and love of G-d.”
In addition to holding down a full time job, caring for a family and serving as spiritual leader for a small congregation in Corona, Bruce Shapiro had a number of motivations to become a cantor. “First, I had been doing this kind of work since I was a child. It seemed I was happiest when at the synagogue participating in services. So, nine years ago, my family, Rabbi, cantor and congregation encouraged me to pursue this avenue. Secondly, as I head into my retirement years, what a great second career for me – I can be active in a community, assist where needed and help even if not pursuing full time work. Ultimately, the greatest experience was learning what my beliefs were and actually speaking about them…”out loud!” I have grown spiritually in ways that I did not know were even possible.”
I echo Bruce’s sentiment – as I believe all of us do who stand on the bima of Steven S. Wise Temple and receive “smicha.” For each of us it is has been both a personal and spiritual journey.
Rabbi Florence L. Dann has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004..