An End-of-Year Reflection from Rabbi Rachel

Rabbi Rachel Gartner with Seniors at Jewish Send Off

Rabbi Rachel Gartner with Seniors at Jewish Senior Send Off

As the academic year comes to a wrap, my thoughts turn to many moving scenes from the closing months of the spring semester. As I conclude my fourth year at Georgetown, I zoom in on some of the things I’ve found most personally meaningful to me in these last months of my senior year, as it were.

Perhaps I’m drawn to using cinematic images because I had such a wonderful time in LA at John Carroll Weekend in April. There I joined Father O’Brien S.J., Vice President for Mission and Ministry and Imam Hendi, Director for Muslim Life in a panel discussion on Inter-religious matters on campus, nationally, and worldwide. The discussion was almost as compelling as sightseeing in Hollywood!

It has been an especially rich and rewarding semester in the area of inter-religious conversation on campus overall. In particular, I’d roll out the red carpet for a Jewish and Muslim program we initiated in April called: Sink or Swim (SOS) We’re In This Together: Jewish and Muslim Dialogue. Both the Torah and the Quran tell the story of the Israelites’ crossing of the Reed Sea, and both the Jewish and Muslim communities celebrate it (through the holidays of Passover and Ashurah, respectively); giving the program it’s title.

We kicked off SOS with what proved to be a remarkable inter-religious conversation among dozens of Jewish and Muslim students, followed by dinner. We then identified three Muslim and three Jewish students to form a leadership team to take SOS to the next level. These leaders are smart, nuanced in their thinking, and profoundly dedicated to Jewish-Muslim conversations at Georgetown; they are already well into planning monthly events for next year.

I’d also spotlight a series of End-of-the-Year firsts. We held our first ever Jewish ceremony in celebration of our graduating seniors. During the ceremony, student leaders of Jewish programs (most Jewish, some otherwise) were honored and given certificates. They were also the first students to receive our first ever GUish kippot! Wine, cheese and schmoozing followed. Twenty students and their families were in attendance.

In May, I received my first Georgetown students’ choice award. It was my privilege to be granted The Commitment to the LGBTQ Community Staff Award at the LGBTQ Resource Center’s 8th annual Lavender Graduation. That this award was bestowed on me as a campus chaplain, it bears witness to the Office of Campus Ministry’s deep commitment to Cura Personalis, and to our students’ appreciation for that commitment.

Jewish Life at Georgetown partnered for the first time with the Center for Social Justice and ran our first Alternative Break Program. Together with a student-leader (herself an immigrant from South America) I led a group of twelve undergraduates on week-long immersion trip called Gerut: The DC Immigrant Experience. We grounded our exploration of current immigration issues in a) the biblical understandings of how we are to treat the ger toshav (the non-citizen among us), and b) the American Jewish immigrant experience. We began our trip at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and concluded it at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue for Shabbat. In the days in between we visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, spoke with community leaders at the Mayer’s Office on Latin Affairs, The National Association for Korean Americans, Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, and volunteered at both the Central American Resource Center and the DC Ethiopian Community Center.

This semester I also teamed up for the first time with the Center for Jewish Civilization and offered a for-credit Senior Seminar called Jewish Life in Action. Next year, I’ll be teaching Judaism 101:The Basics as well. The description of this course opens: Feel like a fool in shul? Want to learn more about Jewish tradition of today and of yore/yours? So, hopefully you can get a picture of what the course will be about!

All of these firsts come towards the end of a year filled with our regular robust programing that included our Global Gourmet Shabbat series, our DC Connects program, our GUish Engagement Initiative, our Bayit Living and Learning Community, our holiday observances, Jewish Student cultural, social and Israel programming. One of our senior students even independently partnered with Hillel International to send 20 students together on a bus on Taglit: Birthright Israel.

As the curtain closes on last year and I begin to imagine and plan for 2015-2016, I find myself very energized to take all we’ve accomplished to even higher heights. I hope in reading this letter you too can begin to visualize great things to come.

B’vrachot (with blessing abundant),

Rabbi Rachel Gartner (new window), Director for Jewish Life