It is hard to believe that this Shabbat marks the 50th anniversary of my Ordination. With my classmates we set out for our own spiritual journeys knowing that, after so many years of study and preparation, we were ready. In a matter of a few years many of us understood that old Yiddish expression that “mankind plans and God laughs”.
So much has changed in these 50 years. The Judaism that greeted me as a new assistant rabbi has very little resemblance to the Judaism of today. Our rabbinic generation has been witness to and shaper of some of the most profound changes in American Jewish life. One of those changes took place at Ordination. Sally Priesand was in my class (HUC-1972) and as she walked to the bimah for her blessing the entire class rose as if to understand that we were part of history. The revolution that began that day has re-shaped our Jewish life. Now, in liberal seminaries at least half of those enrolled are women. In just the span of my rabbinic tenure this revolution has opened the door to so much significant change. One of the accompanying revolutions that was a direct result of this move was a spiritual revolution.
The worship service today is a reflection of that spiritual change. The way we pray. the prayer books, the music, have undergone substantive change. Technology, in many ways helped by Covid, is also impacting worship and education. The revolution in worship and prayer and ritual has been, in many ways, led by my rabbinic generation. Again, within a relatively short time period significant change.
Likewise, another revolution that emerged in our era has been the change in the acceptance and role of inter-faith families in our congregations and communities. With the launch of the Reform Movement’s Outreach Program by Rabbi Alex Schindler (z’l) in the late 1970s, the groundwork was set in place for this major shift in our community. This opened the door to the on-going revolution in diversity that we see now. The LGBTQ revolution, once also considered radical, is now another accepted reality in our liberal Jewish world; just look at who occupies our pulpits and positions of community leadership. Likewise we have seen the growth of awareness and welcoming to issues of disabilities and Jews of color.
So many of my classmates have been part of these, and other, changes. Some of us moved more slowly than others to embrace these changes, but embrace them we did. Our rabbinic generation has helped pave the way for these revolutions and, in doing so, has opened the door to the continuing surge of creativity that is the mark of so much of our contemporary Jewish life; creativity that, in many instances, is emerging outside of traditional institutional venues. And this is all for the good! These fundamental changes have kept the tradition of adaptation and innovation alive which has been a foundation of Jewish survival. I am proud that our rabbinic era has been so much a part of this evolution and revolution. It has been a wonderful ride, a ride that continues to inspire. In all these years I have never been bored or regretted that decision to enter HUC. It has been a blessing to have been called to the rabbinate and so here’s to a future that continues to unfold. Sh’hech’yanu!
Shalom and Todah
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.