Meet Your Future Rabbi
by Nechama Namal
When my husband and I made aliyah, we set a goal of finding ways to be a bridge between the American Reform movement and the community in Israel. This has led to some of our most meaningful experiences in Israel.
Last June, we went to Shabbat dinner at the home of a friend who is a tour guide. He, his wife, and their daughters opened their home to a tour group from Temple B’nai Or of New Jersey, and they invited us to meet and greet these visitors. As soon as we walked onto the patio, a young lady approached us with her hand out and said, “Hi, I’m Alli.” Little did we know at that time that three little words would make a huge impact in our lives.
We enjoyed our Shabbat dinner, talking to the visitors about their trip thus far. Alli explained that she was a first-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), which requires a year of study in Israel, and that the group was from her home congregation. It was the synagogue at which she was named, celebrated her bat mitzvah, and was confirmed. She was excited to see them all, and we could see that the feeling was mutual.
As the evening ended, we offered Alli our phone number and said that if she ever felt like coming to Modiin, we’d be happy to host her. It took a couple of months for her to take us up on the offer, but finally, she came to visit for Sukkot. We built our sukkah together and hosted 10 people for dinner. It was a joyous time, as Sukkot always is in Israel, and it was fun to share it with a new friend.
Soon, Alli was visiting almost every other weekend. We filmed a Hanukkah movie, baked lots of challot (some good, some not) for Shabbat dinners, and hosted many guests. Alli became acquainted with many of our friends who are rabbis, all of whom were impressed with her charisma, charm, and intelligence.
Many weekends that Alli came to visit, we had plans for a hike, a museum, or some special event. On the weekends when we all needed a break, we listened while Alli sang beautiful tunes for us (she could easily be a cantor, as well!) or discussed topics such as Jewish holidays, traditions, Zionism, the existence of God, what it means to be a Reform Jew in Israel, and our mutual love for our religion and for Israeli culture. The life of a rabbinic student is not an easy one; it tests one’s faith, conviction, love of God, love of humanity, and love of Israel – and most of all, it demonstrates one’s dedication to the future of the Jewish people. Alli’s studies challenged her to form strong opinions on these subjects and numerous others, and they really pushed her to evaluate the boundaries of her own Judaism. At the same time, they inspired us to define our Judaism, too.
Along with being captivated by her maturity and knowledge as she studied, we sat proudly in the congregation last fall as Alli led Shabbat services at HUC-JIR, graciously allowing us to have an Aliyah to the Torah. We then beamed with pride as she led the Rosh Chodesh service for Women of the Wall on May 10. She did an amazing job, leading the worshippers at the Kotel in prayer even as protestors around her behaved poorly and irrationally. Alli didn’t even bat an eye, so focused on her role as a worship leader. Her growth through the year was obvious, no doubt the result of the extraordinary guidance and encouragement of the faculty, staff, and leadership at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.
Alli is a natural leader. She fills any room with sunshine, warmth, kindness and intelligence. We are lucky to have her in our lives and we know that with Alli and her fellow HUC-JIR students, the future of Reform Judaism will be strong and is in good hands. The next time you pay your synagogue dues, be grateful that a part of that is going to support HUC-JIR and know that your support plays an integral role in creating community leaders and scholars – rabbis, cantors, and education experts. And, if you live near students who study at the campuses in New York City, Los Angeles, or Cincinnati, we encourage you to open your home and heart to them. Your life will be touched in unquantifiable ways, and so will theirs.
Nechama Namal (formerly Nanci) lives in Modi’in, Israel, and is a congregant at Kehillat YOZMA, the Reform congregation there.