With our 2022 Ordination-Graduation ceremony approaching, we are highlighting members of the graduating class. Click here to see all of the posts in this series.
Today we’re talking with Rabbinic Graduate Cynthia Minster, who is sharing about her experience in a long form blog post:
It is a bit surreal that my ordination is approaching. There is a part of myself that is incredulous that this is the direction my life has taken. I have always been drawn to Judaism. Yet, I spent a decade wandering the desert, proclaiming myself a “cultural, not religious Jew.”
Perhaps nothing has shaped my rabbinate more than the isolation I felt when I was a teenager working as a B’nai Mitzvah tutor at my childhood congregation and the finance committee denied my parents’ request for reduced-fee membership. Additionally, growing up in the 1990s, Conservative Judaism was quite homophobic and declared being queer a sin. Our family’s economic circumstances forced me to confront the classism inherent in the institution that nurtured me throughout my childhood. I came out as bisexual in high school and quickly became disenchanted by everything that brought meaning to my life. Peace activism replaced spirituality for me.
Fast forward a decade and my uncle Paul Brooks invited me to his synagogue, Ohr HaTorah. Rabbi Mordecai Finley is a co-founder of AJRCA, and his Torah helped me reassess my relationship with Judaism. I finally had words to articulate the serenity that holds me in Jewish prayer. Seeing the world of values as a real thing grounded me. Clarifying the virtues I aspire to uphold transformed me. Eventually, I felt drawn to attend AJRCA to deepen my knowledge and help other people engage with soul-expanding, life-affirming Judaism.
I could not have asked for better professors or colleagues. Every year, I was challenged to soak in as much information as possible while also becoming a better spiritual leader. It is impossible to name just one thing I’ve learned from AJRCA because my entire worldview has been adjusted by the experience. I thought I knew a lot about history – I took three AP history classes in high school, had a political science concentration in my Peace & Justice Studies major in college. Yet, I knew next to nothing about Jewish history. Similarly, I had no idea how Jewish ideas changed over time. For a final research paper my first year, I learned that the concept of the soul entered our culture because of the Hellenistic conquest of the known world. It is so startling that the “soul,” which some people are using to eliminate the right to bodily autonomy, originates from pagans.
This is a mid-career transition for me. I relish the fact that my voracious need to continue learning is an asset rather than a detriment. It took me six years to discern that my soul was calling me into this future. I understand the crisis faced in funding religious institutions and the ever-increasing lack of affiliation, not just within the Jewish community. Yet, I also realize that this is a time of rebirth and renewal. Our tradition is a wellspring of inspiration. Every time Jews encountered a new cultural hegemon, we assimilated the ideas that were compatible with our worldview and rejected the concepts we could not accept. Now, when modern humans are overwhelmed by isolation and uncertainty, our depths can nurture the future yet to be born. I can’t wait to begin.