Shedding New Light on Jewish Traditions

Jessica Rosenberg Story

Jessica Rosenberg Remembers

"I remember the moment when the basket of instruments emerged from the corner and transformed Friday night into shaking, shouting, dancing, joy. Turning to face the door as the sun set and really seeing the Sabbath bride enter. I remember Rabbi Vivian knew the Shema in ASL, and taught it to us in English, Hebrew, and ASL all at once. It worked, and to this day when I say the Shema, if I am feeling disconnected, I can go back there, with our Rabbi, my Rabbi, teaching us, Hear! Listen! and making us say it so… slowly. I remember the synagogue being home, as much as our house was. And the family I saw there just as familiar to me as aunts, uncles, cousins.

Growing up Jewish, in a congregation that was a community, there was always a feeling of home. An understanding that my family was a part of something, Or Hadash, that was part of a bigger something, Reconstructionism, that was part of a very important something: the Jewish people. These days, when true stories are hard to come by and community can at times be unwieldy, it is important for me to remember my earliest sense of what it meant to be Jewish. It meant having a home, being in deep relationship with people we cared about, and who cared for us. It meant telling very old stories, over and over again; caring so much for these old stories that we would even learn a different language, a weird old language, just to be able to tell them right and understand them a little better. It meant celebrating together and mourning together, marking the weeks and months and years together, in the similar ways of my grandparents and their grandparents before them. It meant making ritual that looked or sounded or had some under-the-ground connection to the rituals of Jews all over the world, with whom we are connected. Being Jewish, being part of Or Hadsash, meant living well, doing good deeds in big and small ways."

This is what I wrote in my application to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where I became a student in 2012. This year, studying Biblical history and text, I've gained a new appreciation for how growing up Reconstructionist at Or Hadash has impacted me. Our task is to uncover the world within which our most sacred text came to be told and written down. For me, using all of the tools at our disposal, literary criticism, archaeology, sociology, close text readings, all that we might do to gain access and understanding, is part of our sacred relationship to Torah. I can see how Or Hadash helped me to understand critical engagement with our text, history, and traditions as integral to our sacred relationship with them. I'm honored to be at RRC now, in the same building where that love and learning was first shown to me.