Before I talk about Hebrew College itself, I’ll say a bit about why I might want to be a rabbi:
I want two things. First, I want more access and skill with text than I have. A lot more. I want to be able to wonder about something and go look it up and see what different corners of halachah have to say, in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. Part of the reason for that is personal and part of it is because I really enjoy the thrill of helping someone figure something out. I want to be able to help other people figure these things out and I want to teach in the community (broadly, vaguely defined) as well. Second, I want to work in the pluralist, non-denominational world. If becoming a rabbi at HC is what will give me those two things, then that’s what I want to do.
I first became aware of Hebrew College at my first Limmud NY, in 2008, when I first began to seriously question not just the nature of my Reform identity–I’d already been at that for a while–but also whether I had a real Reform identity any more. I made a friend at Limmud NY that year, Getzel Davis, product of the Reform movement–as they call us–who was about to begin the rabbinical program at HC. Despite our distinct differences–Getz calls himself a neo-Chasid and I’ve been known to call myself a neo-Litvak–he started trying to convince me to come visit him at HC. At the time, I was still pretty convinced that I wanted to go to Hebrew Union College.
Two and a half years later, I got over fears that HC would be too woo-woo kumbaya, and went for a visit. I should say that my fears that there would be some sitting in circles and sharing positive messages were completely justified, but I’ll get to that.
These fears sprang from two things–Getzel and Arthur Green. Getzel, as I said, called himself a neo-Chasid the first time I met him, which scared the shit out of me. Green, the founding leader of HC’s rabbinical program, is noted for being all into mysticism and for having re-introduced spiritual stuff to Jewish life in America. That, by the way, is a gross understatement of who Green is. If you feel like slapping me on the wrist of for that description of him, that’s fair. Green also helped found Chavurat Shalom–the premier first-wave chavurah–so that gives him some thumbs up from, but, from what I hear, they were pretty woo-woo themselves.
I arrived around 2:00pm yesterday and, unable to locate the rabbi in charge of admissions, just ended up going to class with Getz. It was a class in pastoral care stuff. Despite the irony of it being 4/20, the were talking about drugs and addiction. There was considerable g-chatting about the humor of this. The class was fine, very interesting, but not particularly exciting. Then I went home with Getz. I got up at the ass-crack of dawn so that I could take the 15-minute walk to the T so that I could get from Brookline back to Newton and walk another 10-15 minutes back up this crazy hill to HC so that I could go to shacharit.
On Wednesdays, I was told, there are two minyanim that meet. Apparently, different things happen on different days of the week. There seemed to be a slight element of chaos to this, which was an encouraging sign. (As discussed before on this blog, Jewish prayer without some level of chaos makes me nervous.) One minyan was the “contemplative minyan.” I didn’t quite know what this was and didn’t want to find out, so I headed to the traditional egalitarian minyan. This minyan’s egalitarian-ness turned out to be neither here nor there because only five people turned out for it, all of them men.
As I came in, one professor was going on about how he’d read that at Yeshiva University, they read halel and slichot on Monday. I said that I’d read that too, at Jewschool. He said that where he read it. I said I write there and that I’m David A.M. Wilensky. And he said, “Oh! I’ve been reading your stuff.” Moments like that make me happy.
Now we get to the part–every regular reader of this blog knows it’s coming–where I begin judging people based on what siddur they use. In this group of five, there were three different editions of the Koren Sacks siddur, one very experienced davener who seemed to be futzing about with an Eidot Hamizrach siddur–I assume this because it definitely wasn’t any of the popular siddurim out there and he made some comments after about something Edot Hamizrach does that Ashkenaz doesn’t–and one guy with a siddur on his iPhone. So, my judgement is so positive, I’ll forgive the fact that two of them had t’chelet in their tzitzit.
My morning continued with the first year students’ halachah class, taught by the awesome Jonah Steinberg, whom I’ve previously met at Limmud NY. They were studying some stuff in the Tur about larger spaces annexing smaller spaces, which I was pretty engrossed by and understood more of than I expected myself to. Also ran into David Fein-Silber who I met this summer when he had his wedding at Kutz, where I was working at the time and how is now a first-year rabbinical student at HC.
After that was Beit Midrash. I hung with Joel, a first year student who I assume was in his sixties and his chevruta partner, Ari, who couldn’t been older then 25. They were translating and studying the story of Joseph’s time in Egypt and we all read and translated together and I had a great time with them.
Then it was lunch with Rabbi Sara Zacharia, the director of admissions. We were joined by Sarah, another Reform movement refugee. What she had to say had particular weight because she had spent a year at HUC before transferring to HC.She told me that HC was ten times more useful helping her transfer than HUC had been in helping her become the rabbi she wanted to be while she was a student there, which is pretty strong stuff.
After lunch was Community Time. This apparently happens every Wednesday afternoon and actually begins with the entire staff and student body of the rabbinical program sitting in a circle sharing news about their lives. Which wasn’t as painful as it might’ve been. It actually did a lot to give me an idea of what the community is like, getting to see and hear what everyone acts like when the whole group is together.
Other things I learned:
HC is located in its own very modern, but rather characterless building on the campus of Andover Newton Theological Seminary–ANTS as I heard a few people refer to it–which made me feel really comfortable because of the relationship I’ve developed with the Theo School at Drew over the past couple years.
Some students live in dorms at ANTS. Rabbi Zacharia told me that they’re trying to encourage more of that in coming class years to build a slightly more residential community. Now, most live in Newton (where HC and ANTS are located) or in Brookline (where Getzel lives) or elsewhere in Boston like Jamaica Plains or whatever. Maybe because I live on a campus now and I’m comfortable with that, the option to live at ANTS is pretty attractive.
If I go to a rabbinical school, it’ll be HC. It’s pluralist, it’s rigorous and it’ll give me the text toolkit that I want.
Boltbus is still awesome.
I thoroughly inspected the liturgy section of the beit midrash bookshelf and determined that it was good.
The T is weird and why on Earth are those things called Charlie Cards? The opportunity for pronouncing Chahlie Cahd is pretty great though.
If I go to HC, I have to seriously increase my Hebrew skills, which may figure into my immediate post college plans.
People were my kind of people, without the kind of obnoxious negativity and cynicism I often hear from HUC students that I know.
Overall, good trip. Lots of food for thought.