[From left Rabbi Brian Blesser, Rabbi Fred Morgan, Rabbi Johanna Hershenson (partially obscured) and Rabbi Jeremy Roth encircle JoEllen Duckor and lay their hands on to her to bless her and pass on the authority that began with Moses.]
A rabbinic ordination is a solemn occasion usually performed by a representative of an institution of higher Jewish learning.
However last week’s rabbinic ordination was not the usual ordination. It was the private ordination of Temple Sinai’s mashpiah, JoEllen Duckor. Four visiting rabbis performed the ceremony which included the laying on of hands to pass on the sacred truths of the Judaism.
Temple Sinai’s small building in inner city Wellington was overflowing. Wellington’s Rabbi Yitzchak Misrahi, visitors from Auckland’s Beth Shalom, Dunedin’s Jewish Community, friends, JoEllen Duckor’s three children, her mother and brother visiting from the States and almost the entire Temple Sinai congregation were present..
Usually a congregation seeking a rabbi conducts a search for a suitable candidate. But Temple Sinai had not been seeking a rabbi. JoEllen Duckor has been involved with Temple Sinai for 30 years, and for the last 10 has served as mashpiah. Mashpiah is translated variously but most often is used to describe a companion, guide or spiritual director and a teacher of matters of Jewish faith and practice.
Rabbi Jeremy Roth, the co-founder of Elat Chayyim, the Jewish Spiritual Retreat Center in Connecticut opened the ceremony. The ceremony, he said, involved the living chain of wisdom, the passing on of the sacred truths of the Jewish lineage through the rabbis laying on of hands. ‘The process began with Moses receiving the Torah at Sinai and passing it down through the prophets to the people.”
He talked of how JoEllen Duckor embodied the attributes contained in the Torah described by Talmudic sage and mystic Ben Zoma. The first of these was wisdom.
Rabbi Fred Morgan who is a professorial fellow at the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry described how JoEllen had a dream. She wanted to be a leader in Jewish wisdom, and a teacher.
Many people have dreams, but few have the strength to pursue them, he said. “There have been obstacles along the way, but she has made it happen.”
Rabbi Brian Besser is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Bloomington Indiana. “To be a rabbi is a vocation. You do it because you are a servant of God, in the deepest part of your soul.”
Rabbi Johanna Hershenson is rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah in Bend, Central Oregon and was previously at Temple Sinai. “The prophet Michah taught that what God wants of us is that we should do justly, love mercy and walk humbly,” she said.
She described how JoEllen did all these things, how she studies and practices, she teaches and facilitates, how nice she is, is sensitive to the preferences and comfort zones of others and importantly is humble. “Only a person who possesses genuine humility can be trusted to keep learning, keep practising.”
The four rabbis then encircled JoEllen Duckor and lay their hands on her while reciting a blessing. Thus the new Rabbi JoEllen became part of the living chain which began with Moses to pass on the sacred truths of the Jewish lineage.