Taking a LEAP

This week I’m going back in time to my college days by taking a leap forward to become a student again in Philadelphia.

Less than a month after celebrating the 25th anniversary of my ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, I learned that I’d been accepted into the 2018-19 cohort of the LEAP Fellowship, created by CLAL and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The focus this year will be on the development of Jewish life, culture and thought in modern times across North Africa, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and Central and South Asia. After three two-day gatherings with scholars at the Katz Center, we rabbis participating in this cohort will develop programs and courses to bring what we have learned to our respective communities across the country. Our goal is making the cutting-edge scholarship of academia accessible to people of all backgrounds and relevant to their lives.

The book we will read in preparation for our first seminar–A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East, by Heather J. Sharkey–arrives in October, and I devour it in three days, reading and highlighting, flagging passages that resonate with neon-colored sticky notes. Not since I majored in the History of Religions at Bryn Mawr College, under the supervision of Professor Samuel T. Lachs (z”l), have I studied Jewish History and Thought so intensely. Professor Lachs demanded excellence from his students; he was my undergraduate thesis advisor, my first Talmud teacher, and mentor, who inspired me to apply to JTS.

I am ready for Professor Sharkey’s lecture this morning, “Jews and Islamic States: The History of Inclusion and Marginalization in the Ottoman Empire,” and eager to discuss her work with my rabbinic colleagues. I am particularly excited to connect with Rabbis Without Borders colleagues also participating in this year’s LEAP cohort, as I have learned so much about what it means to be a rabbi, a teacher and a student from these friends.

I’m thrilled to be a student again, which is precisely what I told my high school students when I informed them I’d be missing three days of school this week for the first gathering of the LEAP fellowship. While they were impressed I was a fellow, they seemed a bit stymied about why I was so delighted to have homework.

Most of all, I am honored to have been appointed a Rabbi Samuel T. Lachs fellow. I hope that I will be as diligent and successful a student as I was during his lifetime. May his memory be a blessing.

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