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Farewell from Rabbanit Alissa

03/10/2022 09:47:25 AM

Mar10

Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn

Goodbyes are hard, but important. A chaplaincy mentor of mine once emphasized that when leaving a patient’s room, it is crucial to say ‘goodbye’. She explained that even if we think we can come back tomorrow, life can change in a second– especially in a hospital. As natural as it is to want to avoid it, we cannot squander the gift of closure. Including when it is bittersweet and tearful. Saying goodbye is not only a privilege, it’s a way to give dignity to what has been shared. 

We have shared smachot and tears, brises and burials. We have shared Torah– halachic and pastoral. We have shared our hearts, families, homes, and food. Over the last 7.5 years, we have shared our lives together. I will always love you and cherish that time. You gave me the opportunity to live my dream. You welcomed Akiva, me, and Ella with open arms, and as a community we defined what female Orthodox clergy leadership can be– in LA and beyond. You gave me space to grow, and my rabbinic voice will always be anchored in the BDJ family. Thank you to Rav Yosef for your mentorship and for making all of this possible. Thank you to the BDJ staff (Adynna, Jen, Claire, Benny, Arielle, Miriam, Andrea, Ronni, our awesome Rechov Yeladim counselors, and our devoted custodial staff) who make the shul what it is. And thank you to all of the BDJ lay leadership who supported me over the years and paved the way for me to become the Rabbanit here. Thank you to each of you for giving me the bracha of your friendship and for inviting me into both your most vulnerable and most joyful moments.

I love the final verse of Sefer Shemot: “For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and there was fire within it at night”, לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכָל-מַסְעֵיהֶם, “before the eyes of the entire house of Israel in all their journeys”. There is a loss we mourn in coming to the end of a story– and Hashem knew that. So Sefer Shemot ends intentionally with words of movement: a promise that God will be with us בְּכָל-מַסְעֵיהֶם, whenever we journey forward. And Hashem doesn’t stop there! This is followed by a word to frame what comes next: ויקרא. Being on the Divine journey means being called forward– in service of God and each other. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’’l said: “To be a Jew is to stay light on your feet, ready to begin the next stage of the journey, literally or metaphorically”. 

Many of you have asked what comes next for us. Akiva and I are moving back to NY/NJ. I am going to be working at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University Irving Medical Center as a chaplain in their Pastoral Care Department. I did my original chaplaincy training there and their spiritual care team is amazing. And I also feel that it is a kiddush Hashem to serve in a healthcare setting at this time. My position is starting soon, which is the reason for my early end date. Additionally, I will be publishing a book within the year (a Shabbat Guidebook for families with babies and toddlers!). And I am exploring the possibility of doing some part-time pulpit work too (because I just can’t get enough of it :)). Many of you have asked about ways we can continue to learn together virtually, and I plan to be in touch on that as well.

I feel blessed that we have journeyed together, and I know in my soul that as we say goodbye– this is by no means the end of our relationship. It is the beginning of something new. God willing, the beginning of something holy and so expansive that only Hashem could design it. We are people who move. We are people who are called forward. And that is what we will do. צאתכם לשלום. להתראות. חזק חזק ונתחזק.. I will miss you all.

Thu, May 26 2022 25 Iyyar 5782