On Sunday, 25 October 2020, the Zacharias Frankel College celebrated its second ordination with an enthusiastic audience of representatives of the German government, the University of Potsdam and its School of Jewish Theology, honored guests, leaders of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, community leaders and friends, all taking pride along with the ordinands and their families, while sitting socially distanced in the Jewish Community Center in Berlin. They were joined through Zoom by Frankel College administration, faculty and the Rabbinic Council in Berlin, Jerusalem, London, Los Angeles and Paris, as well as a broad audience of participants from all over the world, proudly watching the beautiful ceremony via livestream. Our two newly ordained rabbis, Rabbi Netanel Olhoeft and Rabbi Joshua Weiner, reflect back and share with us how they experienced this transformative celebration.
„When I enter I pray that no mishap should occur through me, and when I leave I express thanks for my portion.“ (Mishnah Berakhot 4:2)
Years of intense Chavruta study, of tears and laughter and of ups and downs on our individual paths in our learning at the Zacharias Frankel College have found their closure. The weeks before the ordination were exciting, exhausting and not always easy. Many things happened in our personal lives and in our school that did not really let us focus on the ordination ceremony itself in advance. Its meaning as a caesura of one phase of our lives and the beginning of a new one felt somehow unreal, unreachable. The truth of the truth, however, is that in the end we were much more touched by this ordination than we had planned to be. Before the ceremony our instinct had been to float between shyness and cynicism, and say: well, we’re all rabbis in a way; or, the world needs less rabbis, not more; or, there’s no such thing as a rabbi these days. Especially not us. We like Rabbi as a verb, not a noun, and inasmuch as we’ve been trying to rabbi for a while now, we didn’t think a ceremony would make any difference, only what we do or fail to do. But what can we do that in the end the ceremony did indeed touch us?
Nonetheless, we did not forget the great responsibility that this new status burdens on our shoulders. When we received our certificates and stood there in our new tallitot giving our short shiur we remembered the cryptic words of Rebbe Nachman:
רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל” – רָאשֵׁי־תֵּבוֹת רַבִּי”
וּלְהֵפֶךְ “רְשָׁעִים בַּחֹשֶׁךְ יִדָּמוּ” – רָאשֵׁי־תֵּבוֹת רַבִּי
On one level, he’s saying rabbis can be either leaders or the opposite, villains silent in the darkness. We know the dangers well, unfortunately. But even more than that, he says that the title Rabbi can mean anything, just like anything can mean anything. We have to take responsibility for what words mean. Rabbis are translators, holding a three-thousand-year old memory and trying to put it into words, looking for the right questions for the answers they might hold. Still, we start with words. Rabbi Josh, Rabbi Netanel. It sounds weird, it’ll take a while. We still need to play with this word, figure out what kind of rabbi-ness fits. Luckily, we are not alone in this meaning-making. Just as we were accompanied so far by hundreds of friends and relatives, teachers and colleagues, we start our new careers with a deeply gratifying optimism that the blessings these people have bestowed upon us will abide also in the many years of work to come.
Rabbi Netanel Olhoeft
Rabbi Joshua Weiner