This week marks the 30th anniversary of my ordination as a rabbi. Over those three decades, the world has changed a great deal. On the positive side, our culture has become more inclusive and diverse. There are more women and minorities in positions of authority (including in our religious institutions), loving couples can marry no matter what their gender identity and sexual orientation, and information that filled entire libraries in 1988 is now available virtually instantaneously on our cellphones.
Alas, during this same period, the gap between rich and poor has turned into a chasm, human-caused climate change has become a dangerous and irreversible reality, gun violence decimates our schools and cities, and resurgent racism and anti-immigrant bigotry have become acceptable in our nation’s highest corridors of power, starting at the White House.
Thirty years after my ordination, we still have a great deal of work to do.
Yet through all of these changes, much has remained the same. We’re born, we die — and in between, we turn, sometimes awkwardly, to one another in search of caring community, to celebrate with us in times of joy, to mourn with us in our sorrows, to support us when we struggle and to share our sacred seasons. We love, we work. We strive to fulfill our callings, to each do our own small part to repair a piece of the world’s brokenness.
On a lovely June day in 1988, at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, my father, Rabbi Arnold Fink, of blessed memory, delivered the address at my ordination. His words rang true, lo those three decades ago — and ring even truer now:
A story is told of a Roman who toyed with the life of a Jew. Trying to trick him, the Roman said, "I am holding a bird in my hand. If you tell me correctly whether the bird is alive or dead, I shall spare your life." He had planned that if the Jew said it was a dead bird, he would open his hand to reveal a live sparrow, and if he guessed it was alive, he would squeeze it to death. "Decide!" ordered the Roman. "Dead or alive?" The Jew thought for a moment and replied, "Sir, the answer lies in your hands." In the uncertain days of the 21st century, will humanity survive? Will God still inhabit our world? The answer lies in your hands and in ours.