Year One: The Beginning of My Rabbinical School Journey
By Haim Casas
Each year, WRJ grants scholarship funds to provide living expenses for up to ten rabbinical students from outside of North America studying at HUC-JIR, Leo Baeck College in London, or Geiger College in Potsdam, Germany. Once ordained, these students return to their home communities and serve congregations affiliated with the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Two very special WRJ scholars studying a Leo Baeck College in London reflect on their journey below.
With this message I thank Women of Reform Judaism for its support for my studies at Leo Baeck College, where I am getting a unique education and the necessary training to serve the Jewish people and promote the values of Progressive Judaism in Spain and Europe.
I was born in the south of Spain where our established community is small and Orthodox and there were not any progressive communities until recent times. I was lucky enough to work in a Jewish museum and have the ability to travel to other countries, where I learned everything I knew before taking up my studies at Leo Baeck College. My Jewish education is improving every day.
This is been one of the most intense years in my life. I started my studies in London at the same time I was trying to stay in touch with my family, friends and other Jewish communities in Spain and Morocco. The programme at Leo Baeck has been intensive but highly effective, especially in matters concerning language skills and Rabbinic literature.
I am now able to use primary sources when I write a sermon or commentary on the Torah parashah. Before my first year at the College, I always had to use translations in Spanish or English; now I can go straight to the original. In terms of languages I must add that studying in England has improved my skills in the language of Shakespeare.
It has been especially important to have the opportunity to study Rabbinic Literature, which is the major subject of the first academic year. I had never studied this way before! I have started my own study of Mishnah Sanhedrin, and am translating it into Spanish. My essay on the Rabbinic attitude regarding the Samaritans has been particularly well accepted by the examiners.
A very practical class has been Cantilation. I am now able to lead Torah services and to teach b’nai mitzvah students. I learned in College the Ashkenazi style. This summer I studied Sephardic nusach with the great Rabbi of Fez, Abraham Sabbagh. I can now chant a Torah portion in both styles, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, and give my students the option to learn their portion in either style.
It has been very important to me to visit and work with many diverse congregations, throughout England. I also organised Pesach dinners in Seville and Cordoba and worked with Casa de Sefarad and the Interpretation Centre of the Jewish Quarter of Seville in Spain. I taught and participated in several conferences in the Interfaith Club of Alkhawayn University and Mimouna Club-Fez in Morocco.
It has been a busy and intense year but well worth it. I do not have words to express how grateful I am for the support of Women of Reform Judaism. I hope in 4 years I can give back to the Jewish people some of what I am getting now.
Haim Casas is now a second year student at Leo Baeck College in London and recipient of a WRJ scholarship. He is the first student from Spain who is studying for the rabbinate through the Progressive Movement.
The WRJ Ten Minutes of Torah series is sponsored by the Blumstein Family Fund and by Sandi and Mike Firsel and Temple Chai Sisterhood.