Last Friday, February 3rd, Reuven Stamov was ordained as the 82nd graduate of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary for Masorti Rabbis in Jerusalem. In his Dvar Torah, Reuven told the assembled guests of faculty staff, family and friends, that completing his rabbinic studies was a personal miracle. Reuven is now a graduate of the Schorsch Fellowship, a program operated by Masorti Olami to support Rabbinic students who commit to working in a developing Masorti community in Europe for several years after their ordination. (Pictured left are, from left to right: Lena Stamov, Rabbi Reuven Stamov, Rabbi Tzvi Graetz (Executive Director, Masorti Olami), Rabbi Dr Rafi Kasimoff (Director, Midreshet Yerushalayim), Rabbi Professor David Golinkin (President, Schechter Institute), Gila Katz (Educational Consultant, Midreshet Yerushalayim).
In a moving address he explained that this week’s parshah, Beshalach, tells of the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea which came at a specific moment as a joint act between man and God. In the same way, Reuven’s path to become a Rabbi was also miraculous, involving special moments where he was inspired by God to connect more deeply with Judaism and become a Jewish educator.
Reuven Stamov was born in Simferopol in the Crimean region of Ukraine in 1974 to a secular Jewish family. He always knew he was Jewish, but during the period of the Soviet regime, practicing his Judaism was forbidden. As the Soviet period came to an end, unlike many other Ukrainian Jewish families, the Stamovs decided to stay in Ukraine, and Reuven became involved in Jewish communal educational activities. Throughout the 1990’s his commitment to Judaism, the Jewish community and Jewish/Zionist education grew. This led him to be invited by Gila Katz of Schechter’s Midreshet Yerushalayim to be a madrich (counselor) at their Ramah-Yachad summer camp for Jewish children in Ukraine. (Pictured right is Rabbi Reuven Stamov wearing a new tallit presented to him by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary)
Reuven says that his passion for Jewish life and his eventual move to Israel in 2003 led him to a natural conclusion that studying to become a Masorti Rabbi was his destiny. He knew that the studies would enable him to deepen his knowledge and familiarity with Jewish texts and affirm his commitment to Masorti Judaism.
Throughout his studies he worked with Midreshet Yerushalayim and in partnership with Masorti Olami, travelling to Ukraine several times each year to run seminars, summer camp, a successful conversion program as well as many other projects which have developed the foundations for a vibrant Masorti movement in Ukraine. Reuven met his wife Lena during one of these trips in 2004, and the couple now have 2 daughters, Miriam and Alisia. (Pictured left is Reuven Stamov and Gila Katz at a Camp Ramah-Yachad summer camp in Ukraine)
Friday’s ceremony marked the end of almost seven years of study at the Schechter Institute which included classes on Jewish history, Halacha, Talmud & Mishnah as well as instruction on how to be a spiritual and community leader. Rabbi Tzvi Graetz (pictured below right), Executive Director of Masorti Olami, talked about Reuven’s next challenge as the first Masorti Rabbi in Ukraine, telling him, “We will be there with you every step, just as Moshe was there with the Jewish people as they followed him across the parted Red Sea.”
Gila Katz addressed Reuven in the ceremony and told him that she will never forget their conversations at the first summer camp they worked on together. During that summer in 2003, when Reuven shared with her his thoughts about becoming a Rabbi, Gila replied, “Your ability and desire to share your passion for Judaism with others will make you a wonderful Rabbi.”
Reuven acknowledged that many people have helped him on his Jewish journey of great time and distance. He said, “It is no coincidence that this week’s parsha comes from the book of Shemot (Names), because the list of those who have helped, supported and inspired me contains so many names”. Referring once again to his personal miracle of completing his Rabbinic studies, Reuven said, “Now I have to create another miracle in Ukraine, bring people there closer to their religion, to keeping mitzvot and closer to God.”
As the article about Reuven in the Ha’aretz newspaper states, “Stamov is a Cinderella story of the Conservative world”, one that took courage, commitment and significant dedication. Later this month, Reuven will travel to Ukraine with his wife and children, making Kiev their new home. Reuven and Lena will then together start their work in the development of a stable and strong Masorti Jewish community in Kiev and other parts of the country. Reuven’s vision is for an active and flourishing Masorti community which welcomes members who are proud to be Jewish and observant of Jewish values and practice.
The pasuk (quotation from the Bible) that Reuven chose for his ordination mentions “כי מציון תצא תורה – and from Zion shall come the Torah.” This reference is made every more pertinent as Reuven and his family move from Jerusalem to Ukraine to bring Torah and the love of Judaism to the community there.