More than 280 graduates and hundreds of their family members and friends joined together at the Rabbinical College of America in New Jersey to celebrate the hard work and dedication of a group of rising young Jewish leaders. Some 14 countries and 25 states were represented in the student body of newly-minted rabbis, who over the last few years have been preparing to lead campus Chabad Houses, synagogues large and small and Jewish communities throughout the world.
“This is the culmination of their studies,” said Rabbi Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America. “It’s our farewell and blessings to them on their sacred missions.”
The graduates’ work will impact communities near and far, he explained, as they apply their years of training to outreach and care for Jews and non-Jews alike.
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Having already gone through several rounds of testing, the new rabbis began their day with one final test by former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who then affixed his signature to their ordination certificates. Later at the graduation ceremony, the keynote speaker - who flew in from Tel Aviv just for the day - talked about leading by example, Jewish continuity and achieving unity in their missions.
“This event in Morristown is part of the unbroken chain of Jewish spiritual leadership,” he declared. “And this is what bought me here today to be here with you.”
“We’re very honored and appreciative of his presence,” said Herson, “and we’re extremely thrilled for our graduates, who have dedicated so many hours of study and outreach to reach this milestone.”
The 50-year-old school, whose ordination program began 15 years ago, last ordained a class five years ago.
“And based on the past success of our graduates throughout the world in reaching out to so many hundreds of thousands of Jewish souls, we have no doubt that they will continue in the same vein and be even more successful,” stated Rabbi Chaim Schapiro, director of the ordination program.
Levi Perelmuter, a student from Long Beach, Calif., said he and his classmates studied practical applications of Jewish law and the intricate details of Judaism’s dietary restrictions.
Now, “we’re ready to move on to the next step,” he said.
Rosa Solomon came from Overland Park, Kan., to watch her two sons, Eitan and Yosef Goldberg, receive their certificates. A child of Holocaust survivors, she was also moved by the chance to hear Lau, a fellow survivor, speak.
Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau handed graduates their ordination certificates.
“He’s a personification of survival and continuity,” she said, adding that she sees similar tropes in her family as her boys carry their involvement with Jewish tradition forward. “For us, it’s very emotional.
“When you go out into the world, the principles and the guidance the Rebbe put into these yeshivas goes with you,” she continued, referring to the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
Sruly Edeman of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn entered the program four years ago. Now 25, he said he’s learned how to answer tough questions and more about being a leader. Currently, he’s using talents in teaching others.
“It helped me a lot,” he said, adding that his father also studied in Morristown. “I’m not ready for my own community, but I intend on it one day soon.”
For Chaim Rosenstein, 22, Sunday was extra special. He got engaged to Daniela Lerner, of Woodmere, New York, in the morning, and in the afternoon graduated from the program. Rosenstein, who studied in New Jersey for two years and spent a year at Chabad of Berlin, said the event was momentous in part because of the community he was joining.
“Being a part of so many others, not only the hundreds of others that graduated today, but among the thousands of emissaries around the world that represent Lubavitch” is powerful, he said. “To do acts of goodness and kindness, to bring redemption and help people [develop] a closer feel for their roots” is the ultimate goal.
As for Lerner, who watched supportively, the day was also doubly meaningful.
“I got engaged this morning, and my [groom] is graduating with [ordination] today,” she said. “I think the whole thing is very beautiful. Because he can go help other people, teach other people and help spread Judaism around the world. I think it’s very important to keep Torah going throughout the generations.”