1. When were you at Hadar?
2. Where are you now (physically)?
On Amtrak, somewhere between Albany and NYC. Near Poughkeepsie? Maybe?
3. What are you up to now?
I work for Governor Andrew Cuomo as his Jewish liaison.
4. Is there a beautiful piece of Torah from your Hadar days that you keep close to your heart?
I think a lot about a specific discussion Rav Shai led on belief and emunah. Rav Shai distinguished between belief that God and belief in God and taught us that emunah encompasses more than a declarative statement, i.e. I believe that God exists. Belief in God, or Emunah, means being in a relationship with HaShem, a relationship which is hard, nurturing, and beautiful and which enjoins us with certain responsibilities. You could say it’s relational as opposed to conceptual.
Many of us are drawn to the intellectual elements our traditions. We enjoy and often excel at coming up with interesting interpretations and textual analyses. For me, the belief that/in framework has been a helpful and important way to remember that emunah and avodah are more than intellectual exercises and postulates, but really require us to think about our place, impact, and obligations.
5. If you could describe your experience at Hadar in one word what would it be (feel free to elaborate beyond a single word)?
Transformative. I feel like after studying in Yeshiva in Israel I was quite firmly rooted in certain beliefs and studying at Hadar really shook some of those up, particularly related to gender and halacha. The long hours, smart people, and patient teachers in the beit midrash led me to question a number of the ideas or positions I had somewhat taken for granted and come away with a more complex, but also more holistic outlook.
6. How have Torah and mitzvot changed your life (post Hadar)?
When I picked up and moved to a completely foreign environment, where I didn’t know a single person, twice – Berlin, Germany for two years, and then rural Iowa for four months – Torah and mitzvot took on increased importance and meaning in my life.
For one thing, they provided a familiar personal structure and anchor in unfamiliar environments. They also served as a shared language and experience to connect with others, as an entry visa, so to speak, to new Jewish communities.
7. Is there a time this past year when Hadar specifically came to mind?
As Governor Cuomo’s Jewish liaison, I’m responsible for engaging with the breadth of New York’s Jewish community. I also serve as the point person within the executive branch for all legislative, budgetary, and policy items related to the Jewish community. The Hadar Beit Midrash served a model for what a community of respect, communication, and diversity, can look like, in an increasingly partisan and polarized world.