The next few months will be a time of great transition for me. On June 10, I will be ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, where I have been learning for the past five years. I am humbled to take on the title of rabbi, to step into the stream of rabbinic legacy, authority and tradition.
I commit to continuing to teach and lead my people, to be accountable for our tradition that has hurt and healed so many. I am keenly aware of my great-great-grandfather who was also called rabbi, of the teachers I have learned from in person or via their teachings in writing also called rabbi. I am aware that I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years, and that I will go into the graduation ritual one way, and come out another.
Transitions are scary things. Jewish tradition carries in its toolkit rituals and blessings and reminders to help ease that journey. Havdalah each week is a ritual to ease the transition between Shabbat and the week of work and struggle. We drink wine, smell sweet spices, reflect in the light of the flame, to offer gratitude for the Shabbat that was and to prepare for what’s ahead.
Our tradition gifts us with the mikveh, the ritual bath that marks transitions through immersion in mayyim hayyim (living waters). Transitions from ritual unpreparedness (tameh) to ritual preparedness (tahor.) For families who observe Niddah, mikveh is the transition from a period of separation to a period of reunion. Mikveh is the transition for a new Jew in their conversion, being welcomed into the Jewish people. Mikveh is the transition from un-kosher to kosher cooking and eating utensils. Mikveh is the transition for someone on a healing journey, marking loss or infertility, celebrating gender transition, for an expectant parent, celebrating Rosh Hodesh, each new month.
Our tradition gifts us with a blessing on arriving in a new moment after a transition. The Shehecheyanu blessing, “who has given us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment,” is said when we do something new, or something we have not done in a full year. Upon celebrating a holiday after a year, upon putting on a new piece of clothing, upon welcoming a new baby, we have a chance to sanctify the arrival at a new moment with a blessing. In my family, we say a Shehecheyanu whenever we get a chance — first tomato from the garden? Shehecheyanu! First heartbreak in serving a client? Shehecheyanu! A beloved guest over at Shabbat dinner who hasn’t been in too long? Shehecheyanu!
Leaving can be scary — the Israelites shout and argue about leaving Mitzrayim for much of their journey. They shout at Moses, “We should never have left Egypt! We had food and water there, slavery wasn’t that bad!” Even if the thing we’re transitioning to is exciting, is freedom, is hope, we resist. We fear change. And so we arm ourselves with tools for the journey, ways of transitioning into a new place, a new way of being, a new name, with ritual that celebrates the leaving, the transforming, and the arriving.
This summer, my partner Ever and I will say goodbye to Philadelphia and our beloved community, as we move to another beloved community awaiting in Baltimore. On the other end of all this transition is an incredible congregation of people at Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl, a community coming together to pray, learn, march, and support one another and this holy city.
For the past year and a half, I have been traveling from Philadelphia to Baltimore dreaming, scheming, and building a synagogue with a group of brave and creative people. I am blessed to be their rabbi, and take the title on formally in just a few days. Our congregation is in a period of growth and solidifying, its own kind of transitional period.
In this time of transition, when anxiety or fear could overwhelm, I try to train my focus on what arriving will feel like, using the tools of our tradition to center, celebrate, leave-take, and yes, arrive. I look forward with great joy to saying a Shehecheyanu on June 10, and again upon arriving in my new home of Baltimore.
Ariana Katz leads Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl.