It’s hard to believe, but later on today I will begin my final Winter Semester as part of my three-year Shalom Hartman Institute Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (RLI) experience. With the coming week’s close, our class will have one final semester of online classes, and a final 2-week stint back here in Jerusalem as we graduate from this intense, inspiring and wonderfully gratifying experience.
Together with my 26 RLI classmates, who come from across North America, as well as the wide spectrum of Jewish practice represented by many of the streams in today’s Jewish world, I have been treated to the opportunity to study with some of the most engaging and inspiring teachers with whom I have ever learned; the opportunity to engage Israel, its promise and its challenges; to grow my knowledge base of our rich tradition in new and expansive ways; and to feed my Jewish and rabbinic soul in ways I could not have even imagined. I can never fully express the sense of gratitude I feel to Rabbi Donniel Hartman, the President of the Shalom Hartman Institute; his father, Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Institute; and Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, North America, along with the incredible staff and faculty of the Institute for all they have given me, or should I say fed me, body, mind, and soul!
I left the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York nearly thirty years ago as a freshly minted “rabbi in Israel.” To be sure, my teachers at HUC inspired me, and gave me the tools to begin a journey which day-by-day, continues to challenge and inspire me. HUC set me on the path, and over the past decade the Hartman Institute, have both instilled a critical value in me, not only as a rabbi, but as a Jew: Jewish living must include on-going learning. I exited Rabbinic school in May of 1983 with a commitment that I would continue learning in hevruta — in partnership with other from whom I could learn as together we wrestled with texts, both ancient and modern. And I began to study with two colleagues almost as soon as we graduated. One, Rabbi Arnie Gluck, is still one of my most important hevruta partners, as we study tother here at Hartman. My hevruta partners have been young and old, rabbinic colleagues and members of my congregations. The opportunity to learn with, and from others, has always sustained me.
These almost three years at Hartman have intensified and validated that early sense that in order to be an authentic and relevant Jew (let alone rabbi) I must continue to learn. As I take my place at the table in our study room at Hartman in a few hours I am keenly aware that this experience, in this context, will end in a few months. These three years have most certainly changed me as a rabbi, and as Jew. In my teaching and throughout my rabbinic work at Temple Shalom and in the Boston community I have tried to integrate what I have learned so that the blessings I have enjoyed may extend beyond just me. I have also made many new friends, and added to my circle of rabbinic colleagues in way I know will continue to enrich me for years to come.
I am grateful to the leadership and members of my community, Temple Shalom of Newton for this opportunity, as I am to the leadership of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Great Boston for their support in enabling me to have this opportunity. I am also grateful to my family for their patience, understanding and support in granting me the space and time to partake in this 3-year program.
As I round the corner, I will cherish every moment, even as I continue to reflect upon and integrate what I have learned into my rabbinic work, and my life as a member of the Jewish community in the years ahead.
Rabbi Eric Gurvis