Ordination Speech

“It may take a village to raise a child, but it took a city the size of Manhattan to make me a rabbi.”

My rabbi, Harold Schulweis, once told me that it took him twenty five years to learn what a rabbi’s job was. He said, “Number one, a rabbi brings forth creativity in others, and, number two, a rabbi has to be willing to reveal him or her self.” I’ll begin by revealing that I began writing this ordination speech my first week of school. I was walking down 86th Street, dazzled by New York’s immensity, when the first sentence came to me: “It may take a village to raise a child, but it will take a city the size of Manhattan to make me a rabbi.”

And this is the most important lesson I learned at the Academy — that it takes many to make one. Rabbi David Greenstein, Academy alumnus and teacher, says that the work of becoming and being a rabbi is serious, important, difficult, and lonely. We need lots of encouragement and support to do it. So many of you here today–family, friends, teachers, and congregants–have helped me to realize a dream that began years before I even knew that it was in me. It never would have happened without each of you.

From the time I was a child I loved Judaism. As a writer I expressed that love, but I was missing something: people. My years at the Academy took me from the solitude of my desk into the panim l’panim — face-to-face — world of the classroom. Mordechai Kaplan wrote, “It is only a true and close community that develops associations, traditions and memories that go to make up its soul. To mingle one’s personality with that soul becomes a natural longing. In such a community one experiences that mystic divine grace which, like radiant sunshine, illumines our lives when joyous and, like a balm, heals them when wounded or stricken.” We find God in community, and you are my community.

The 131st psalm describes what rabbinical school has been for me: Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with its mother, My soul is with me like a weaned child. I had looked in many places to still and quiet my soul, always seeking solitude because I thought it was the only way to know God. Here I learned differently. Here I found more than the sweet sea of Torah. Here I found God dwelling among my dear friends and myself.

The number 40 is a number of transformation and completion. Yesterday we counted the 39th day of the Omer. The flood stopped after 40 days, Moses spent 40 days receiving the Torah, and we reached the promised land after 40 years. Today is our day of transformation and completion. The effort to reach this day has been more than worth it, because I have found that only when we come together are we forever growing, forever fruitful, and forever learning.

I have been surrounded by the graciousness of God through all of you. When Gay repeated at least a hundred times, “Malka, you’re going to finish. Don’t think about it anymore. You’re going to finish,” it was God’s voice. To all of you, some of whom have come long distances to celebrate with me today, if I knew every language, if my mouth were full of every word, I couldn’t tell you thank you enough. You’ve helped to create a rabbi. May I be worthy.

Distinguished Alumni Award presentation to Malka Drucker from Rabbi Drucker’s rabbinal school, The Academy for Jewish Religion (NYC), May 2007.