A View from the Front Row

Posted on Nov 22, 2022

Good Afternoon, Guten Tag, Bonne Apres-Midi, Tzaharayim Tovim, and Buenas Tardes.

That was how I began my address at the Zacharias Frankel College ordination ceremony October 23. It was a greeting that welcomed the many nationalities present. As president of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, I am honored to serve on the Board of Advisors of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and was invited to bring greetings from the Board. 

The Ziegler School oversees the religious education of the Frankel Rabbinic students. Rabbi Bradley Artson, dean of Ziegler, also serves as dean of the Frankel College and Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, associate dean at Ziegler is also the associate dean at Frankel. 

Torah Fund financially supports all the Masorti seminaries worldwide. They include the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and Frankel College, as well as Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where, as president of WLCJ, I also sit on the Board. The dedicated philanthropy of Women’s League, Torah Fund has raised over $105 million in the last 80 years. The financial support to Frankel College by Torah Fund was mentioned at the ordination. 

Thousands of women across North America proudly wear a Torah Fund pin to show their donation to the cause. I wore my pin throughout Shabbat and Ordination, and took time, when questioned, to explain this year’s theme, Chazak v’Ematz. I always carry pins with me wherever I go and was happy to give some to new donors. 

Ordination was the culmination of the weekend. My husband and I arrived late Thursday night. We toured the beautiful city of Berlin on Friday, visiting the Holocaust memorial and museum, Checkpoint Charlie and its museum, the World War II Roma and Sinti (gypsy) memorial, and the Parliament building, and we walked through the major park in the city. We spent Shabbat with many rabbis, European and Israeli guests, and locals at the New Synagogue in Berlin, the only Masorti synagogue.  It is a mid-19th century synagogue built as the main place of worship for the Jews of Berlin. Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, a graduate of Schechter Institute, has led this congregation since 2007. The building was renovated after it was damaged in World War II, and it also houses offices and a large museum. Services were lively and welcoming to all the many nationalities. Prayer books were in English, German, Spanish, and Russian.  

This congregation of 400 took in 30 Ukrainian refugees, all women and children, because the men were still in Ukraine fighting in the war. The children were playing noisily and running back and forth during the service. My husband leaned over to me and commented that Hitler never imagined that Jewish children would be playing in a Berlin synagogue full of congregants celebrating Shabbat in 2022. Profound! We enjoyed a lovely dinner after services and met many of the congregants, as well as the new rabbis and their families.  

Shabbat morning, we returned to New Synagogue and again joined in a wonderful service, where I was honored with an aliyah to the Torah, followed by lunch. 

Sunday morning we joined Rabbi Cheryl Peretz; Rabbi Nitzan Stein Kokin, the first Frankel College rabbinical graduate; Rabbi Joel Rembaum, an educator at Frankel College, and his wife Freddie; and Rabbi Harold Kravitz, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, to travel to Potsdam where the Frankel College is located. At lunch, Rabbi Rembaum and Rabbi Harvey Meirovich, also an educator, received honorary doctorates from the American Jewish University in recognition of their years of teaching at Frankel College. The three new ordinands were present, and I had the opportunity to visit with them again. 

The ceremony began and I was seated with other leaders from the Movement in the front row. From that view I could sense the excitement and nervousness of the new rabbis. The ordination started with a speaker from the German government and then another from the head of the Jewish Council. In Germany congregants pay dues to the Jewish Council and not to the synagogues. After the address by Rabbi Mauricio Balter, executive director of Mercaz Olami and Masorti Olami, I rose to the podium. I shared greetings from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, a partner of Frankel College. I also shared greetings and congratulations from all the women of Women’s League and donors to Torah Fund who helped to make this day happen. Giving a charge to the new rabbis was a moment I will never forget. 

Later, as each of them spoke and gave their addresses in the language of the countries where they will serve, their words told of a love of Judaism. Their families and guests all beamed with pride at their accomplishments. The assembled guests collectively felt hope for the future of Masorti Judaism in Europe. The Masorti communities of the world welcome these new rabbis into our Movement; we need them today more than ever. Their success is vital to the continuation of Masorti Judaism throughout Europe and the world. I hope to watch their successes, and the students that follow, for many years to come.