“Hineni.” This phrase, found a few times throughout the Book of Genesis is mostly associated with Abraham. Literally, it comes from the root “Hinei”, meaning “behold” or “here.” In Torah, the use of the word usually tells us that something big is going to happen, or as my friend and classmate Marc puts it, we’re about to get to a “whoa!” moment. For example, we first hear this word at the beginning of the Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac. God calls out to Abraham, who answers “Hineni-Here I am.” Now, this is NOT the first conversation God has had with Abraham—in fact, it is one of many. So why the special reply? Abraham must have known something important was about to happen, that he was at the beginning of a special moment in his life, a moment worthy of a “whoa!” In modern Hebrew, the word is rarely used, if ever at all. Yet, this past year has been full of “Hineni” moments for me, abounding with those wonderful “whoa!” moments that told me time and time again that something special was happening.
Exactly one year ago tonight, I was towards the beginning of one of the most incredible journeys of my life. I arrived in
And yet, even on the mornings when I’d wake up to find my underwear and socks strangely hanging from the tree outside my apartment building instead of on the rack where I’d put them to dry, there were moments so incredible, so special that they indeed reminded me of “Hineni—Here I am.” The first of these moments came as I stepped off the airplane into
These moments popped up all over the place for all 53 of us, individually and collectively. Singing the Shecheyanu together as a group at our first morning t’fillah, harmonizing beautifully and singing with full kavana, full intention—was a powerful “hinenU—Here WE are. We all began to realize that these moments would soon fill our lives on a daily basis as we traveled around
My year was full of first experiences, each one proving to be more challenging than the next. I will never forget the fear and anxiety I felt as I stood next to Cantor and Professor Extraordinaire Eliyahu Schleifer, co-leading my first Saturday morning service, and how the second I opened my mouth my fears were calmed and my voice was strong. I will never forget how my arms ached and my heart pounded as I practiced lifting the Torah as Hagbah, surrounded by friends and our summer interns who were all praying along with me that I wouldn’t drop it. And believe it or not, I lifted the Torah high and managed to get it back onto the lectern without disaster. I will never forget the proud moment I reached the top of the rock structure at
I was blessed to be in this program with several other people who found the “Hineni” moments in their own lives as often as I did. Perhaps the most shining example is my friend and rabbinical student colleague, Dave. After 10 years as a personal trainer, Dave finally realized his dream of becoming a rabbi. He brought his wife, Gal, and daughter, Dahlia to
In early February, the week we resumed classes after our winter vacation, Dave and Gal stood before us with tears in their eyes. Dave told us the news about the baby Gal was pregnant with; she had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a severe, life-threatening condition. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he announced that he and his beautiful family would be leaving us to return to their home in
When I learned about Dave and Gal’s devastating news, I experienced an all-too-familiar feeling of being angry with God. How could God do this to my friends and to their baby girl? How could God possibly give David a chance to live his dreams, and then so suddenly rip it away? I thought back to my times in high school, some of the toughest personal moments of my life, when I was angry with God and the world for the constant struggles I was dealing with. Ironically, through my anger I turned to God and to prayer and to music here at
Their baby girl, Tikva Ahava Spinrad—HOPE LOVE Spinrad, was born on June 10. Though she had some ups and downs, she continually surprised and impressed her doctors, showing to them and to the world what the powers of prayer and positivity can do. She proved wholeheartedly that she held the same “Hineni” philosophy as her dad, living her life full of might and spirit. She and her entire family became an inspiration to me, showing me that the littlest beings can call out the most resounding “Hineni!” Unfortunetely, her health took a turn for the worse in recent weeks, and it pains me to tell you Tikva Ahava passed away yesterday, August 7, three days shy of her 2-month birthday. While I am still grappling with the reasons why, and what I can best do to comfort her family right now, I know one thing for certain; “Hinenah—Here SHE is”, with me and all of us who love her, continuing to fill our lives with Hope and Love. Please keep my friends Dave, Gal, Dahlia, and Tikva in your hearts and prayers during this difficult time.
As Dave and Gal stood before us that cold February morning, they reminded us to take full advantage of the opportunities awaiting us at HUC. Inspired by their request to spread Hope and Love throughout the world, I became interested in a program called the FSU Pesach Project, initiated by HUC and the World Union for Progressive Judaism. This program sends young Jewish leaders to the Former Soviet Union to lead Passover seders for the small liberal Jewish communities throughout
None of us had any idea what to expect once we got off our plane in
These people continued to impress us with their warmth, proving that spirituality and Judaism could inhabit any space. Their synagogues, hidden in run down office buildings, opened with light and warmth as soon as their congregants began singing and praying. Sadly, anti-Semitism and Jewish hatred still fill the streets of
Upon returning home from
And tonight, I stand before you, saying “Hineni” for the last time in this speech. Here I am, in the place that has always opened its arms to me. Here I am, in the synagogue that will always be my home and my favorite place in the world. Here I am, hoping that you know that
I would like to end with a prayer: God, may we all have the ability find whatever brings us to the point of “Hineni!” May we all live lives full of experiences that change us, force us to grow, remind us to Hope and Love, and trust in You for whatever we may need.
Ken Y’hi Ratzon—may this be God’s will. Shabbat Shalom.