The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary is excitedly anticipating the upcoming rabbinic ordination ceremony of Sara Cohen and Yerachmiel Meiersdorf on December 4th at Congregation Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem. With this 28th ordination ceremony, Sara and Yerachmiel will join a community of 92 other rabbis ordained by Schechter.
Sara Cohen was born in New Jersey where, growing up, her social life centered around her Conservative synagogue and Young Judaea youth movement. There she learned the values of teamwork, egalitarianism and democracy. She made aliyah in 1986 with fellow members of Young Judaea and settled on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Valley where she later met her husband and raised three children. She founded the educational tourism group Keren Kolot and served for several years as Secretary (President) of the kibbutz.
Sara will now serve as a regional rabbi in the Eilat/Arava region and will be one of the first Masorti rabbis to fill this position and receive a salary from the State: “I am very grateful to the The Masorti Movement, The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary and the members of Kibbutz Keturah who made it possible for me to achieve my dream to become a rabbi and who make it possible for me to serve as rabbi in the Arava… I seek to help people who are seeking spiritual meaning in their lives to find it in Judaism, a Judaism that is open and inviting. The Jewish values that have shaped my own life have paved a way for me to bring these same values to the rabbinate and to society.”
Rabbi Cohen shared these words at ordination:
In the Bible there are two key points in the spiritual life of the Israelites—Sinai and Zion (The Promised Land). Kibbutz Ketura is not exactly in Sinai and The Schechter Institutes is not exactly on Mt. Zion but it is reasonable to say that over the last three years I traveled each week from Sinai to Zion and back.
On one end we have Sinai. The desert is characterized in the Torah as a place of wandering, as a journey and not a precise place. In the desert, we meet the simplicity and modesty of the Holy Tabernacle (the traveling sanctuary). Contrast this with Zion- the capital, the center, a fixed place characterized by the splendor and beauty of the Holy Temple.
Even though the Bible would have us think that these two places are on opposite poles, the truth is they complement and complete one another. Our understanding of Zion would be very different if we did not also understand that Sinai exists. So too, our understanding of Sinai would be very different if we did not also understand that there is Zion.
There is a place within Judaism for Sinai and for Zion—for different voices and approaches that stem from different experiences. The same is true of every Jew, in his or her own time.
At times we feel closer to the Torah of Sinai and sometime we will feel closer to Zion’s sanctuary. Sometimes we will feel that only the path is important and sometimes we will feel that the destination is precisely what is most important. Sometimes it will seem that the simplicity of the world and sometimes we will see the splendor. Sometimes we are all on the periphery and sometimes we are all in the center. Sometimes I am the periphery and you are the center, and sometimes it is exactly the opposite.
In the narrative of the Jewish people, the Torah of Sinai is what was essential for the building of Zion. So too, the experience of the periphery was essential for the building of the Modern State, for its spiritual character and for the modern Jewish people. It is impossible to emphasize the prophecy: “Torah shall come forth from Zion” (Isaiah 2:3) without also hearing: “A voice rings out clear from the desert” (Isaiah 40:3).
Yerach Meiersdorf grew up in Har Nof in Jerusalem in an Orthodox home with strong Zionist grounding. His experiences working with Ethiopian immigrants and learning in the Otniel yeshiva brought him into contact with the diversity of Israeli society. After his army service he traveled in the Far East where he encountered cultures and art that opened new windows into spirituality and meaning. After his undergraduate degree at Herzog College, Yerach decided to deepen this knowledge of Judaism and came to Schechter for the Mishlei Jewish Studies MA program.
Yerach will serve as the rabbi for the NOAM Masorti Youth movement in Israel. He said: “I never thought I would become a rabbi in Israel, but when I went as a student rabbi to Congregation Magen Avraham in Omer, through my conversations and relationships with the community, I came to realize that there was a path for me to go on, and it led to becoming a rabbi. Here I am after five years of stud, including a semester at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. I have come to this place through my own choices but I am also part of an inheritance of many generations. I am continuing the generations of rabbis who have brought us to this moment in Jewish history.”
Rabbi Meiersdorf shared these words at ordination:
For years I always thought that the role of a rabbi was that of a conduit or pipeline that connect people to God and people to one another. But later I began to realize that there is a better model than that of a conduit and that is a ladder, like the ladder in Jacob’s dream. On a ladder that are rungs you must climb, there is always movement and the ability to go up and down. Just as going down a ladder is a bit more hazardous that going up it is also harder to come down from above than to go up. My role as a rabbi is to feel the presence of the ladders that are next to each and every person, to give them a hand, to help someone who wants to climb the ladder here in Israel, to not be afraid to keep holding on to the rungs.
Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, Dean of the Rabbinical Seminary, addressed the ordinands:
The Maggid of Mezerich would teach that: “Holiness can be in any place you choose to bring it.” This is how we are able to bring holiness here, to our 28th ordination ceremony. Here today, wearing our Shabbat clothes, we are trying to create in ourselves a moment of holiness, a moment that reminds us of how much we concern ourselves with what is beyond, with the place of God in our lives. With your ordination into the rabbinate one of your jobs is to open windows into holiness for people to listen, to discover and to praise. It is our privilege to ordain you with the hope that the Beit Midrash has helped create some moments of holiness in your lives and, that as our students, you will bring this holiness to everyday lives in Israel.
You can view the entire ceremony here: