Remarks on Behalf of the Graduate and Professional Schools of JTS

Remarks on Behalf of the Graduate and Professional Schools of JTS by Jessica Hadaway Jobanek, DS ’18, KGS ’18

Good morning. Chancellor Eisen, Board Chair Levine, Provost Cooper, members of the faculty and board, distinguished honorees, fellow graduates, families and friends, it is an honor to represent today’s graduates and to be among them.

On April 23, I posted on Facebook, “This is my last full week of graduate school!” The likes and comments soon rolled in. Several people commented with something like: “Already? It seems like you just started!”

A lot has happened over the three years that I’ve been a student at Davidson and Kekst. I’ve encountered new ideas, traditions, texts, and Hebrew verbs. The world itself is very different now, in 2018, than it was in September of 2015.

Yet as much as has happened in three years, I can easily remember arriving in New York, and the first time I walked up Broadway to the front doors of JTS. Amazing what has happened in just a few short years: the things that we have learned, the ways we have each grown, and the communities that we have built.

I would like to offer some thoughts about community, as we approach Shavuot in only a couple days.

On Shavuot, we read the biblical book of Ruth. The book of Ruth is special to me, because like Ruth, I was not born Jewish. My Jewish journey began, not in the plains of Moav, but in Oregon—which sometimes feels just as foreign—and wound through Jerusalem before I ended up in New York.

In Jerusalem, I converted to Judaism under the auspices of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. At my first intake meeting, the rav asked me a few questions about my background and my goals. Then, seemingly out of the blue, he said, “What did Ruth say to Naomi?”

I thought that I was familiar with the story of the book of Ruth, so I responded, “Where ever you go, I will go, and your God will be my God.”

The rabbi paused and said, “No. Before she said ‘Your God will be my God,’ she said, ‘Your people will be my people.’”

While at JTS, I have encountered the Divine. But perhaps more than “Your God will be God,” my experiences at JTS represent, for me, “Your people will be my people.”

Like many of us, I moved to New York without knowing anybody. But here, I have found community: through our early morning Mifgash in Davidson and struggling through my first year teaching Hebrew School for Pedagogic Skills; through the experience of wrestling with my hevrutas over a text in the Beit Midrash; to preparing for a Talmud class, sometimes debating and arguing over a text until the late hours of the night; countless Shabbat meals in Brush; Sukkot gatherings in the beautiful JTS sukkahs; hosting students around my table as the Jewish life director of List College. I found community through my classmates and future colleagues, who helped me become a better educator and a sharper, more empathetic, and sensitive thinker, and through mentors and teachers who nurtured my growth.

I am certain that each one of us could tell stories about the communities we have built at JTS. All we have to do is look around us.

As we now graduate and step into the next stage of our careers as educators, scholars, rabbis, and cantors, I bless us that we each, like Ruth as she followed Naomi to Bethlehem, will continue to find a community of our people wherever we go, and through them, a spark of the Divine.

On behalf of the graduates, I thank you for this opportunity and experience.