Rabbi Brett Krichiver is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumnus. Brett is the Senior Jewish Educator for Hillel at UCLA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently I was reminded of a famous statement made by Abraham Joshua Heschel: “What we need more than anything else is not textbooks but textpeople. It is the personality of the teacher that the pupils read, the text they will never forget.” I find this statement to be at once illuminating and eternally challenging. Growing up deeply engaged with liberal Judaism, there were few moments I truly felt Torah as a living, relevant guide, and even rarer were those individuals whose very presence spoke their Torah.
The questions for each of us are simple: can we become textpeople – living, breathing role-models for Judaism in all its complexity? What is our personal Torah? In what ways are we, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks challenges us, letters in the scroll? Can we become the connection between Jewish tradition and the big questions our students and congregants face?
To answer requires a serious commitment to our own continued learning. It requires a serious commitment to the halakhic process, even for those of us who give Jewish law a vote but not a veto. And it requires us to pay attention to the real questions our students bring, to meet them where they truly are.
Hillel is immersed in this conversation through a new initiative which strives to place “textpeople” on college campuses. Each day my new job challenges me to reconnect with my personal Torah, to live with integrity as a liberal Jew, and to reach out to others with the questions that have inspired me most.