To answer the question that’s been on everyone’s mind, I did not get hammered at Sunday’s Chag Hasemikha (although I probably could have were I keeping score). For the most part, everything went off as expected between the camaraderie, mixed emotions, and a really long ceremony.
For more of a play-by-play of the Chag Hasemikha, see Avraham’s comprehensive write-up of the details. Sadly, I wasn’t taking notes during the day so my recollections will be a bit fuzzier and stream-of-consciousnessy, but you’re free to check out the upcoming re-webcast.
The preliminary meet and greet turned into several mini-reunions from different chevras of shiur, Revel, Gruss, or the denizens of the 5th floor. Not surprisingly, the snark was fast and furious. The best line of the day goes to Rabbi Ben Skydel’s heter allowing the black-hatters to remove their haberdashery for the group photo on the grounds of sha’at ha-shemad. Nicely done.
But while there are many more humorously snide comments I could add – I even got in a whole slew of – IY’H By You’s – I believe I’ve already fulfilled my quota for sarcasm. Also to be truthful, the Chag Hasemikha is indeed a significant event, and perhaps the closest YU comes to having its own “State of the Yeshiva.” I don’t have the time now to get into the details, so I just share some personal reflections.
As expected, the speeches and presentations covered all the themes you’d expect from a YU Chag Hasemihka: the contributions of YU, the legacy of R. Soloveitchik, and of course the importance and challenges of being a Rabbi. R. Charlop’s honor was well deserved, and I’m still bewildered at the Marcos Katz receiving the “Etz Chaim” award. Yes he deserves recognition for his generosity and support, but the name of the award is ironic to say the least.
R. Lamm probably got too much flack for rambling (which in fairness, he did), but his message was probably the most important for future Rabbis. Short version: when things go badly, suck it up and move on because you’re really working for God. Granted he was more eloquent, but the point is well taken. Too many rabbis get caught up in the personal egotistical aspects of their job that they forget their mission and as such are more likely to get disheartened by setbacks.
On the other hand, there are several Rabbis out in the field doing excellent work – and YU showed a video to this effect, featuring Rabbis in the pulpit, education, chaplaincy, and outreach. I knew two of the featured Rabbis personally – one from Gush and one from R. Ben-Haim’s shiur – and both of whom are excellent people and well suited to their current positions.
On a personal level, the speeches, presentations, and socializations, all reminded me of how almost-but-not-quite fit in the YU model. By now it should be obvious to recurring readers that my hashkafa isn’t typical YU. Nor should it be surprising that my style is drastically different than most other Rabbis. But what I’ve been more aware of recently are the professional differences between myself and my colleagues. Many pursued careers in the Rabbinate, education, or academics with varying degrees of success. And as noted repeatedly during the ceremony, most of the musmakhim got married at some point and quite a few have already started having families.
Like most people at reunions, I started thinking about how things in my life have turned out in the three years since I finished semikha. And like my time spent in YU, I was once again made perfectly aware of how I’m hardly a typical model of, well, anything.
Not that this necessarily a bad thing, but the constant reinforcement of “outsider” status can be grating eventually. Case in point: Richard Joel said that it is impossible to get through semikha without the support of our spouses, which made me question if in fact I did somehow manage or if my mystery spouse was working behind the scenes in some way doctoring my Contemporary Halakha exams.
The thing is that even during my RIETS tenure I didn’t exactly follow the crowd either. R. Katz’s (AH’S) shiur wasn’t a popular choice, and despite the random acts of shehita, neither was R. Ben-Haim’s. I was one of three or four Talmud majors in Revel, though now it’s apparently “cool” again. Outside of YU, I participated in Meorot and Clal and held a computer job on the side. Maybe I shared individual experiences with a few people, but as you could expect, there was very little overlap between the different experiences.
As someone told my father during one of the receptions, my reputation is that I follow my own beat, but I’m serious. An accurate description, but I also must say that the Chag also reminded me that there are a few other intruments who do join in periodically. All those people from the different chevras went their own ways as well, and it just so happened that our paths converged every so often. I’ve often noted that althought YU will never admit it, it is the most religiously diverse and I daresay pluralistic Jewish institution such that it was possible for such various chevras to even exist.
In bringing back everyone under one roof, the Chag reminded me of the opportunities which are out there, as well as what is actually possible to accomplish. I’d say that’s four hours well spent.