People do strange things when they turn a decade. I moved to Belgium when I was thirty, met my life-partner when I was forty, became Belgian when I was fifty, and when I turned sixty last year I applied to Abraham Geiger College in Berlin to train to become a rabbi!
Some said: ‘You must be out of your mind! Shouldn’t you be coasting toward retirement?’ – and maybe they were right – but others said: ‘This is logical for you! It’s the next step. You’ll be a great rabbi.’
So I went ahead with the application, wrote about my vision of progressive Judaism and what I thought being a progressive rabbi was all about in today’s Europe, filled in forms, gathered references (six no less) and finally spent three days in Berlin interviewing with the various people responsible for the programme. And I was accepted to start in September 2017.
The programme is traditional and modern, with a lot of textual study and halakhah, but also courses on contemporary liturgy, communication/social media, homiletics, pastoral care, and even on the logistics of organising a synagogue community. It’s a challenge at many levels, but it all feels good and right.
IJC’s former rabbi Nathan Alfred was a big inspiration to me. He first put the bug in my ear about training as a rabbi – but the IJC community is my Jewish family and it’s where I get my energy. On the occasions I’ve had the privilege of leading services and other events the response has always been warm and encouraging.
When IJC is at its best, there’s nothing to beat it. But I’ve already figured that being a rabbi is more than just leading services and I still have a lot to learn. Abraham Geiger College is the best place for me to fill in the gaps and I hope all the traveling will be worth it. If you’re curious to know more, feel free to ask next time you see me.
Student Rabbi Fund
IJC President Steve Brummel adds: ‘The Board and I are delighted that Brian has embarked on this new journey in his life inspired by the IJC community, his Jewish family. Brian will continue to work at the university in Leuven (where he has been granted partial ‘sabbatical’ conditions for next couple of years) and continue to serve the IJC community in various different ways. The Board has decided to make its support concrete by establishing a ‘student rabbi fund’ to help with Brian’s travelling and accommodation expenses.’
Donations marked ‘student rabbi fund’ can be made through the American Friends or directly to IJC’s Belgian account. Donate here