My rabbi, Akiva Annes z’l
I opened my email this morning to some sad news. My rabbi, Akiva Annes, passed away.
In my life I have been blessed to have several people whom I can call “my rabbi.” Rabbi Annes came into my life at time when most young adults walk away from their congregation – after high school. A combination of his wisdom, attention to the young people in the congregation, and my already strong commitment to Jewish learning helped bring us together.
Learning about his passing, I was immediately drawn to two memories of Rabbi Annes.
As a senior in college, I was seriously considering the rabbinate as a career. In fact, I was just beginning the application process. During one of my initial conversations with the admissions staff at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I was challenged to consider whether or not the rabbinate was the right direction for me. At the time, I did not want to be a “pulpit rabbi.” At that time, it was more difficult for potential a rabbinic student to shape an alternative rabbinate before ordination. It was just assumed that all of us would become congregational/pulpit rabbis. I went to Rabbi Annes for guidance. I shared my fears, my frustrations, my dreams and passions with him. He of course supported me. He helped me recognize the gifts I have and that there was ample room for them in the Jewish community, no matter what path I chose.
A brief two years later, much had changed in my life. I was a rabbinic student at HUC-JIR. I was engaged to be married to Rick. We had completed our first year of studies in Jerusalem and were returning back to Los Angeles to get married. Rabbi Annes was going to be our lead officiant at the wedding (along with my cantor and two other rabbis). Rick and I made a date to meet with Rabbi Annes to discuss the ceremony. With all of our entering-2nd-year-of-rabbinical-school-wisdom we had some very clear opinions about how we wanted the ceremony to be shaped.
“Rabbi Annes,” I said, “it is very important to us that the ceremony be very egalitarian. We want to use gender neutral God-language. I will not be circling Rick 7 times. We want to say the same vows to each other.”
Rabbi Annes smiled knowingly. On the one hand, I think he humorously enjoyed our passion, our misplaced sense of rabbinic wisdom. On the other hand, I wonder if he was thinking “Who in the hell do these kids think they are? Do they think I’ve never done a wedding ceremony before?!” But he didn’t let on.
Come the night of the wedding. We are standing under the chuppah (beautifully made by Akiva’s wife Shoshana). Rings and vows and Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) have been said. Its time for Rick to step on the glass. Before placing it on the floor, Rabbi Annes pauses. “Laura,” he says, “Wrapped in this napkin is not just one lightbulb, but two. One for each of you.” There was a sparkle in his eyes. He knew he had got me. I was completely taken off guard. I knew Rabbi Annes was creating a beautifully egalitarian ending to our ceremony. But, I also knew that the three of us were all chuckling a little together at our private joke.
Over the years I have enjoyed seeing Rabbi Annes and Shoshana at rabbinic gatherings, he usually in his tennis gear, she usually selling her exquisite chuppot, talitot and kippot. He will always hold a dear place in my heart as my teacher, my role model, my rabbi.