“The future is not what it used to be,” said Rabbi Harry Danziger, beginning his Kabbalat Shabbat sermon to the soon-to-be ordinees and graduates of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) Cincinnati campus. Sometimes attributed to Yogi Berra (though his grammar was not as eloquent as Rabbi Danziger’s) this statement is an apt and useful expression to consider as the Reform Movement welcomes the newest class of rabbis, educators, cantors, scholars and professionals.
Rabbi Danziger, a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), rabbi emeritus of Temple Israel in Memphis, TN, and the father of Rabbi Michael Danziger, one of this year’s ordinees, offered several poignant examples to demonstrate how different Jewish life is today than he ever could have imagined it would be when he was ordained 52 years ago. His point was simple and profound: We cannot know the future and so we must equip the next generation of Jewish clergy and leaders with the knowledge, skills, and character necessary to lead, to innovate, and to create the way. We also prepare young (and sometimes not so young) men and women to do what our rabbis, cantors, and educators have done for centuries: comfort the sick, console the grieving, welcome and embrace new members and new babies, teach children and adults, and help us celebrate and mark important lifecycle events.
This year, I confirmed degrees on students who were ordained and graduated at each of HUC-JIR’s three North American campuses. Each ceremony was unique and I gained invaluable insights about each campus, the diversity and talent of our newest graduates and ordinees, and great confidence that our Reform Movement will be blessed with strong leadership – whatever the future holds. I was especially honored to serve as sponsor for the URJ’s Immediate Past Chairman Stephen Sacks as he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the graduation ceremony in New York.
In total, HUC-JIR awarded 124 degrees. The Class of 2016 includes 26 rabbis (12 men and 14 women) and 7 cantors (3 men and 4 women), who were ordained, as well as six cantors (1 man and 5 women) who received cantorial certification. Twenty-six Jewish educators and 8 Jewish nonprofit management professionals received master's degrees, and 51 graduates received doctorates and master's degrees in Judaic, Hebraic, and cognate studies, Hebrew Letters, Hebrew Literature, and Sacred Music.
Each of these graduates is emerging from HUC-JIR with the passion and expertise to sustain Reform Judaism. They will work with people of all faiths to build a more just, compassionate, and humane world. As each of them touches lives within their organizations, institutions, communities, and congregations, they will create vibrant Jewish life for the 21st century. Now, more than ever, our world needs their wisdom, as well as their creativity and innovation -- no matter what the future brings.