Rabbi Tom Samuels
I remember Shabbat afternoons learning the weekly Torah portion with my Zaida. We both loved these sessions: pure joy, connection, safety. My Zaida held my hand as I delved into the text, and I held his hand as he delved into his memories. And so, I learn and teach Torah, lead Shabbat and Holiday services, hold people's hands during those times of fear and despair. These moments make me feel a certain way, transforming my heart and my mind. It is spiritual. It is religious. They are one and the same.
Being a rabbi is a calling. I have a passion to inspire and to engage with others on co-creating environments and experiences where meaning and memory-making can happen. I am excited and blessed to be able to help individuals, families and communities to navigate times of transition. To find our spiritual voices. To integrate meaning and purpose in to our everyday lives. To hold peoples’ hands during times of fear and despair. To share those precious times of joy and simcha. These moments are transformative, heart and mind, connecting to my very soul, my neshama.
Regardless of the multiple roles that Judaism has and continues to play in forming who I am, at its core, my Jewish self remains aspirational. Never about arrival. The Awe of Uncertainty rather than the Joy of Certainty. To be a part of something higher than our own selves. And to be radically honest in recognizing that all transitions are indeed, difficult, challenging. That there is always this in-between time, when the familiar and comfortable is gone but the new isn't fully operational. I believe, and have experienced, that, specifically from this neutral period, can come, can arise, those critical realignments and re-patternings towards new beginnings.
The American Jewish community is in a time of uncertainty and wandering. All that we know for certain is that our future will look different than the present. Jewish identity is volitional: fluid, ever-changing, and based on individual choice. You no longer have to marry Jewish, attend Yom Kippur services, or even love pastrami on rye with a pickle to be Jewish. You can be Jewish simply by deciding that is who you are. There remains a need to clearly re-define American Jewry's purposes, roles and future toward an authentic identity both as Americans and as Jews. This means finding the courage to try-out different ideas, remix the past with the present, and continually innovate and create. Jewish community-building is, after all, a conversation about integrating our heritage, values, and experiences in to our everyday perspectives, hopes and dreams.
This is a precarious process, hard not to fall sway to hype and rhetoric of what looks like real, authentic thinking-outside-of-the-box ideas and programs. It is critical is to be able to tell the difference between what is authentic innovation and what is hype…what is truly transformative and what is really just the status quo couched in au current rhetoric. Jewish wisdom can serve as an anchor along the path of his process. It teaches that life is a continuum of contradictions, frictions and paradoxes.
I am blessed and honored to be a part of the MCJC community. MCJC is a model of how a group of different people, with a wide array of backgrounds, traditions, beliefs, personalities, interests, capabilities and the like, come together as a community. MCJC is a place which encourages embracing our obligations and responsibilities towards each other. Where God’s declaration that communion with Him/Her must be done through a living community, “I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel” (Leviticus 22:32), is sought and yearned for.
I have a diverse academic and professional background, including: fluency in Hebrew and Jewish texts; intensive study at yeshivot, Talmudic academies, in Israel Toronto and in New York City; immersions in ashrams as well as devout secularism; and years of organizing communities around social justice issues. I have an undergraduate degree from Yeshiva University in accounting and Jewish studies; a masters degree in Jewish studies from Spertus; a second masters degree in landscape architecture and urban design from the University of Guelph; and fellowships in Israel education and Jewish leadership. I am also a past Interfaith Ambassador with the Interfaith Youth Core.
I look forward to working with MCJC’s diverse voices so that together we can build upon this wonderful community’s tradition of Torah (Study), Avodah (Service) and Gimilut Hassadim (Acts of Loving-kindness).