Ambassador Ron Dermer – Monday, October 22, 2018
From the Rabbi David Lyon
On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, and twenty-five years after ordination from HUC-JIR, my classmates and I gathered on the Cincinnati campus on Founders’ Day. Traditionally a day to honor the founders of HUC, it also provided the time and place to recognize the contributions of our ordination class. As each of us was called to the bimah by Rabbi Aaron Panken, PhD, President of the College-Institute, and a brief outline of our accomplishments in the rabbinate was read aloud, a faculty sponsor presented a Doctor of Divinity hood.
Since the founding of HUC by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in 1875, the mission of the College has remained principally the same, to train and prepare able rabbis (today, cantors, educators, non-profit professionals) to disseminate Judaism through worship, study and community in all the places where they serve. The charge to each ordination class also remains basically the same. As it was in 1875, so it was in 1990, my classmates and I were dispatched to all ends of the earth to teach with equal amounts of Torah, Talmud, passion and urgency. We were told that the future of the Jewish people and the Reform movement rested in our hands.
In 25 years, I’ve had many long days, but never a day of regret. The role of rabbi has suited me well and passion and urgency, though tempered by experience and perspective, remain my highest priorities. Judaism is precious. Left alone, it withers. Embraced, studied and implemented, it provides a framework within which the world we wish to build can be more than just imagined. The land of Israel is the obvious example. Though its regular and specific challenges also define it, the land of Israel could not exist were it not for the zeal of Torah that sustains it as a land and us as a people.
The D.D. acknowledges twenty-five years of dedication to Torah for our sake as wisdom-seeking Jewish adults and children. Had there been no D.D. at the end of 25 years, I wouldn’t have ceased my work. Yet, the recognition accomplishes something important: 1) It acknowledges that 25 years of dedication to any task, but especially a sacred task, is noteworthy; 2) We, who dedicate ourselves to this primary task of teacher of Judaism, make an impression on those who follow us. Our tireless Jewish work inspires others in theirs; and, 3) Though we do the work for the sake of the mitzvah and not the reward, to be recognized is nice, too.
When I approached the bimah in the Scheuer Chapel at HUC, I thought of my father, of blessed memory, who would have been crying tears of joy in the back of the room. I thought of my mother in Chicago, who kvells more than she should; and, I thought of my wife, Lisa, without whom I couldn’t have accomplished what I have done. She has not only encouraged me, she also allowed me the freedom to pursue my passion and urgency as a rabbi. The blessings of these past 25 years have been abundant, but they do come at a cost. My wife and children have had less of me because of my dedication to my role. They haven’t suffered; their own accomplishments, thus far, make me very proud of the paths they’ve chosen for themselves. But, there’s no doubt that my weekends are full and my vacations aren’t without concerns for synagogue families. I’ve had occasion to apologize but also to explain that such duties fit into the fabric of my life; they don’t distract me from it. Thankfully, my wife and I have deepened our friendship, and my children and I share extraordinary bonds that are difficult to describe in words.
The honorary degree is different from an academic degree, but, religiously and spiritually, it is, I believe, after all these years, a doctor of divinity degree that has brought honor to me, as much as my classmates and I have brought honor to the degree and to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
May the privilege to be a rabbi continue to be my joy and the well-spring of vibrant Jewish living we share, together, for many more years to come. Blessed are You, God, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this time. Amen.