Kvell and Tell – November 18 2019 – L’dor Vador
In a speech at Hebrew Union-College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Or Ami congregant Seth Front kvells about the positive impact that Congregation Or Ami interns and rabbis have had on his daughter Amanda:
by Seth Front
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the expression l’dor vador, from generation to generation, because this past August marked the 30th yarzheit of my father, Rabbi Henri Front (HUC ’55), in whose name we have a scholarship. And let me say, it is always an honor and privilege to be here again at the Hebrew Union College, an institution that was so beloved by my father.
I’ve been asked today to address the donors, to somehow explain the importance of these scholarships. And the only way I can do that is through the story of my daughter Amanda, who is 19 years old, born long after my father passed away.
Amanda was a theater geek growing up, spending every free moment in productions of one sort or another. Getting her to study for her Bat Mitzvah was difficult, more of an obligation to her parents than anything else, yet I still cried uncontrollably during the service, much to the surprise of my wife Amy, who had never seen me so emotional.
I was crying because “l’dor vador” had fully hit me: with neither of my parents alive to witness this rite of passage, I truly felt like the elder statesman in the family.
We belong to Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, and after her Bat Mitzvah, with Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ and Rabbi Julie Weisz’s encouragement, Amanda went to Camp Newman for the first time, a place she’d return to every summer after, going from camper to CIT and now counselor. It’s where she’d meet HUC student and Or Ami rabbinic intern, Julie Bressler.
Amanda would immerse herself in Judaism during the summer because during the school year, with rehearsals every day and twice on weekends, she rarely had time for religious school or youth group. So I was surprised when, at the start of her senior year, she asked to join the confirmation class.
I tried to persuade her against it because I didn’t want her to make a commitment she couldn’t keep, but she shot me down immediately.
“Are you denying your only child a Jewish education?”
I told you she had a flair for the dramatic.
So she went to confirmation, where she and the other students met with Rabbi Paul or Rabbi Julia every few weeks at a local restaurant to discuss Jewish values and ethics, but more importantly, to struggle with defining Judaism for themselves while getting to know their clergy in a way most of us never would have imagined a generation earlier.
The year ended with a Confirmation Shabbat Service, and I promised my wife I wouldn’t cry this time. At the service, each of the confirmands spoke about one experience that informed their Judaism. When Amanda got to the bimah and began speaking, with a poise and warmth that enveloped everyone in the sanctuary, well, I broke down crying.
“Again?” my wife said.
“Amanda’s up there channeling my father.”
Now we were both crying.
That night, I saw Amanda take ownership of her Judaism. How did that happen? How did her Judaism blossom so beautifully?
It happened because of the virtuous circle the Reform movement has created, between the synagogues, the URJ camps, and most importantly, the Hebrew Union College, which feeds them both. It happens because of the influence of rabbinic students like Julie Bressler, now a rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, Massachusetts, who helped develop my daughter’s leadership skills at Camp Newman; and Rabbi Julia Weisz, who nurtured my daughter in ways too numerous to mention at Congregation Or Ami. Both graduates of HUC Los Angeles. Both recipients of scholarships while here.
The next summer, when Amy and I visited Amanda at Camp Newman for Shabbat, she told us she was giving up theater to pursue a career in Jewish Youth Engagement. So a pending Gap Year spent working in regional theater became a year working at Or Ami, creating innovative programming for the Youth Group under Rabbi Julia’s tutelage, and forming a strong bond with yet another HUC student, Rabbinic Intern Elana Nemitoff, now a rabbi at Temple Israel of Westport, Connecticut.
Another year has gone by, and my daughter is now a freshman at Oregon State University, where she just completed Sorority Rush. She told us that when the young women of the sororities asked her what she planned to do after college, she replied “I’m going to rabbinical school.”
It was Amanda’s not so subtle way of informing her parents as well.
We didn’t push this on her. Sure, maybe she’s got some of my father’s genes – after all, they say it skips a generation – but just as significantly it’s because of the influence of three who have passed through these doors – Rabbi Julia Weisz, Rabbi Julie Bressler, and Rabbi Elana Nemitoff-Bresler – first mentors, then friends, and maybe one day colleagues, who, along with Rabbi Paul Kipnes, encouraged my daughter on her Jewish journey.
The Hebrew Union College made a video two years ago whose theme was “We Are There.” The Hebrew Union College was there, all along my daughter’s journey.
To the donors here today, all I can say is what I know firsthand: your generous gifts don’t influence just one student; rather, they ripple – l’dor vador – from generation to generation. Kol hakavod.