Answering the Call
Marion Lev-Cohen is an alumna of the Wexner Heritage Program. Marion received her rabbinic ordination from HUC/JIR this May. She will become the Director of Adult Education and Engagement at Central Synagogue in August. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Michael Paley stood behind the student and crouched until their eyes were at the same level. Michael explained to our transfixed class, that God would not let Moses look at His face because ”man may not see Me and live.” Instead, God let Moses see His back. In standing behind the student, Michael was demonstrating what it meant to see God’s back.
In that moment, I understood the text in a way that I never had before. God was showing Moses how the world looked through God’s eyes. The skin on my arm prickled. Imagine, I thought, how I would conduct myself, if I always thought that I was seeing the world through God’s eyes.
At that moment, Michael had brought the text alive for me in a way that I had never experienced in my twelve years of Day School education. He had made the Torah personally relevant, and, as things turned out, pivotal to my Jewish journey.
The experience challenged me to take hold of Torah, both materially and spiritually. I put on tefillin, donned a tallit, and danced with the Sefer Torah — all for the first time. I resolved to undergo a bat mitzvah, something missing from my Orthodox childhood. Indeed, two years later, overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem, in front of, family and friends, both Israeli and American, as well as Wexner classmates gathered for our siyyum — I chanted Torah for the first time.
And on May 2, 2010, Lag B’Omer, I received smicha from Rabbi David Ellenson and became a Reform rabbi. Rabbi Paley was present here as well, and honored me by speaking at my ordination celebration.
At certain special moments in life, we can be transformed by words or by events. For me Rabbi Michael Paley’s class was one of those distinguishing moments, one that helped chart my course from Jewish communal lay leader to rabbi in Israel.