Three months ago, I attended the West Coast Dinner held by my alma mater, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), in honor of its alumnus of the year, Rabbi [name redacted by request] (YCT ’06). Although I was super happy to attend, merely by din of YCT having an event on the west coast, let alone within easy driving distance, I was also glad to attend to honor Rabbi [name redacted by request], who is an incredible תלמיד חכם that has emerged from YCT, perhaps one of the top few תלמידי חכמים to emerge from YCT. The evening on November 19, 2013 began with hors d’oeuvres consisting primarily of really excellent sushi, while one could also order beer and wine.
Then the evening’s order of events began, with Rabbi Aaron Lerner (YCT ’13) serving as the very capable MC. In framing the evening with some context, Rabbi Lerner said:*
Tonight, we’re honoring Rabbi [name redacted by request], Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s Alumnus of the Year. This is also a moment of intense joy for the Yeshiva. More than a decade since its founding, we can only truly celebrate the achievements of many, many alumni who are moving into senior, decision-maker positions in shuls, Hillels, schools, camps and hospitals literally around the world.
Doctor Shlomo Melmed spoke, discussing Rabbi [name redacted by request]’s fine work at Cedars-Sinai as well as sharing a couple of דברי תורה.**
After Dr. Melmed, the new president of YCT, Rabbi Asher Lopatin spoke about the work of YCT.
After he spoke, Dr. Mayim Bialik then spoke of her encounter with Rabbi [name redacted by request], who is the head chaplain at Cedars-Sinai. She detailed how happy she was about having a rabbi in her time of need. Since I did not record her comments at the event, here is an excerpt from her Kveller blog about his being of service to her:
The rabbi was young, looked straight out of a Maccabeats video, and was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. We knew people in common, and I was relieved he was Orthodox and therefore knew about the things that would matter to me even in a dire medical situation: not shaking hands with men, not wanting to be seen in any state of undress by men, maintaining modesty even with my husband, not wanting unkosher food served to me.
But what was most comforting and what guided me faithfully was the common language we spoke and the universality of his presence and his words. I recounted the accident for the rabbi and I wasn’t embarrassed to say “Thank God” as many times as I did. I knew he understood me. As I spoke to him, I cried. It was the first time I cried that entire day. I needed to cry.
I asked the rabbi for a book of T’hillim (psalms) which he happily brought me and he left a card at my bedside printed by the hospital wishing me a refuah shleyma, a complete healing, in Hebrew and English. He blessed me and I cried as I heard my Hebrew name pronounced. Out of the mess I was in, this Rabbi led me through dark and showed me light as he declared, God, please heal Mayim Chaya bas Brayna Basha, please.
It was very nice to hear not only from someone who had been directly positively affected by Rabbi [name redacted by request]’s work, but also someone who is famous.
Next up was Rabbi Avi Weiss, who spoke about what YCT has accomplished and where it is going, which was really exciting to hear.***
Rabbi Lerner then introduced Rabbi [name redacted by request] before his being awarded with the YCT Alumnus of the Year Award:*
He is both a person of the highest integrity and halachic observance, while also serving, well, just about every denomination, faith, ethnicity, and many more categories of diversity as the leader of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai. His commitment to humanity and all Jews strikes a perfect balance.
Then came up Rabbi Lopatin, who, along with Rabbi Weiss, presented Rabbi [name redacted by request] with the award. The text of the award read:
Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School
proudly honors our alumnus
Rabbi [name redacted by request]
with the Keter Shem Tov Award
or his broad-based community leadership and dedication
to the entire Jewish people, done with sensitivity,
wisdom and a deep commitment to all human needs.
Rabbi [name redacted by request] then spoke about his time at YCT, etc. I really enjoyed his remarks, especially one particular point about it not all being necessarily about the curriculum, but also what went on at the yeshivah.****
Then dancing ensued for a while and Rabbi Lerner concluded the formal ceremonies in a very timely fashion. Following the ceremonies, dessert was made available for more schmoozing and, fortunately, there was still a lot of tremendously tasty sushi left out, which was great! I was able to catch up with some of my fellow alumni as well as rabbis from YCT who were there: Rabbi Dov Linzer and Rabbi Weiss.
In a private sit-down with Rabbi Weiss, it was great to have that attention and to be in dialogue with such a compassionate presence! The highlight, though, of speaking with him was that he pointed out that, of the YCT graduates, I am the longest currently-serving doing campus work. That surprised me not only because it was true and had not previously considered that, but also that he knew that! I was very impressed!
I came away from the evening glad to have seen my fellow YCT alumni out here in the west coast, it was nice to connect with the rabbis who had come out here, it was great to have that encounter with Rabbi Weiss (and to find out about my being the longest currently-serving campus rabbi amongst YCT alumni), and it was great to see YCT representing in LA. Although I cannot say for sure how the various attendees came away with a sense of YCT and its alumni from the event, I certainly enjoyed the energy and presence of YCT that having an event in LA accomplished. I hope that YCT returns to do another such dinner in LA, whether on an annual basis or, at least, bi-annual basis.
* My thanks go out to Rabbi Aaron Lerner who provided me with a copy of his remarks.
** Looking back on the evening, I recorded none of it, which I regretted as soon as it had concluded (Rabbi Avi Weiss asked me at the end if I had gotten any of it on video, to which I sadly replied, “No.”), although I wonder why no one had thought of doing so previously, since it was such a nice evening and lovely speeches….
*** Again, I wished I had recorded his remarks….
**** I wished I was able to secure a written copy of his remarks – they were really wonderful.