Self Reflection

The vision I have of the rabbinate has grown out my diverse upbringing and exposure to Jewish life in the United States and Israel. Judaism and Israel have always played a role in my life and influenced my decision making process. As a child I attended a Hebrew Day school and was involved in other youth group activities. Throughout adulthood these experiences continue to evolve in the course of my association with various organizations and causes. Through it all there was one principal I always carry with me – Klal Yisrael. I never lost site of the value of communal inclusion among the Jewish People.

I attended Haifa University in Israel during the tumultuous year of 1995-1996. It was there that I began to understand the values of diversity, inclusion, and cooperation. I learned a lot about Israel’s religious struggles and the struggle of the diverse people living in the Jewish state. I came to realize that if we as Jews cannot see beyond our own differences, we could never see beyond the differences of others. My love for the Jewish People compelled me to engage with Druze, Bedouin, Muslims and Christians to better understand their social and religious narratives. These experiences brought me closer to the Jewish narrative and the beginning of my spiritual transformation.

My journey to rabbinical school started from an atypical background. While I was raised in a culturally rich Israeli home, we were not particularly observant. Still ever since I was a child I was attracted to Jewish community and observance; I knew this was something I would include in my life. I started with tfillin after becoming a Bar Mitzvah and continued with additional observances on my own. At The Jewish Theological Seminary I further enhanced my level of spiritual worship and advanced my knowledge of Jewish text and practice. While at times I found myself challenged by theological and Halachic preconceptions, my time at JTS has allowed me to reflect deeply about my faith, practice and build a foundation upon which I can maintain a meaningful way of life. The knowledge I have acquired is priceless. Studying Bible, Talmud, Jewish history, law, philosophy, and theology, among other disciplines, has provided me with the tools to access a wealth of information and inspiration.

As a result of my learning and experiences I have been able to enhance my level of engagement with others through various internships. As the rabbinic intern at the Makor/Steinhardt Center of the 92 St. Y, I had the wonderful opportunity of working with the tri-state area’s Jewish community at large. I developed and implemented a variety of religious and social programs including Shabbat, festival and High Holy Day services, dinners, and weekly teaching opportunities. At Makor I began to fine tune my ability to reach out to the non-affiliated and non-observant Jews in our community. Catering to individuals of various backgrounds in the Jewish community was a difficult but spiritually enriching challenge. It was an experience that further strengthened my commitment to serve the Jewish People.

I continue to be inspired by the notion of Klal Yisrael through my work as a rabbinic intern at the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University. During the High Holy Days I created a service that catered to a variety of Jewish preferences reflecting a wide range of practices and beliefs. Incorporating both Hebrew and English prayers and readings, traditional and modern customs, as well as an environment of inclusion, turned out to be a spiritually meaningful experience for everyone. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at NYU provided services for over a thousand worshippers. This first experience at NYU afforded me a foundation upon which I continue to build a successful academic year of programming and cultivation of Jewish life. While I was hired as a Koach rabbinic intern responsible for the Conservative student Jewish community, I am engaged with Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and the un-affiliated students at NYU.

A whole other level of putting Klal Yisrael to practice is through my work as a group leader and educator with birthright-israel. For six years I have been bringing groups of American Jews to Israel, presenting them the multi-faceted character of the Jewish state. In addition to the hikes, site seeing, and discussions of the various complexities in Israel, the most meaningful experience the participants have is the time they spend engaging with their Israeli counterparts throughout the trip. While they may have religious, social, and political differences, the notion that they share a common heritage and identity as Jews shines through the many differences that may otherwise lead to arguments and conflict. This encounter is not a one way experience; the trip ends with both American and Israeli Jews leaving in awe and appreciation of each other. Israel’s centrality to Jewish Peoplehood is vital. Yet it is important that its character is refined to meet the needs of its citizens and remain a source of pride and inspiration for all Jews.

While diversity can become a source of divisiveness, it in fact should be a basis for unity. My diverse experiences and work throughout rabbinical school exemplify this principle and have further helped me form a vision of what I think the rabbinate should reflect. The rabbinate I envision, and hope to be a part of, is one of passion, compassion, accountability, and availability; these are absolutely essential components of Jewish leadership. When we as leaders demonstrate compassion towards others, accountability for our actions, and availability for our community, we reveal the enlightening potential of our tradition. The Gemara tells us that God dwells within the ד’ אמות של הלכה. While these 4 Amot refer to a specific space in which one is to maintain Jewish practice, my ד’ אמות is the world surrounding me. It is imperative that the world I live in values and welcomes those who wish to be a part of it.
Regardless of where I end up in life my strength and inspiration will be rooted in my faith in God, passion for humanity, and love of Zion, Torah, and Klal Yisrael.

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Leor Sinai

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