Rabbi Karen Thomashow addresses the audience at HUC-JIR’s 2023 Founder’s Day Celebration

By Julia Olson

Assistant Editor 

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise and other Cincinnati Jews saw the Queen City as a kind of “Promised Land,” said Dean Jonathan Hecht in his introductory remarks at the beginning of the celebration. Dean Hect, Rabbi Julie Schwartz, Dr. Richard Sarason, and Cantor Yvon Shore took turns stepping up to the microphone and reading excerpts of Dr. Isaac Mayer Wises’ writings about the notion of Minhag America.

Rabbi Karen R. Thomashow delivered the keynote address. Thomashow is a member of HUC’s 2007 rabbinical. From 2007 to 2013 she served as an assistant and then associate rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada. In 2013, she returned to Cincinnati and joined the rabbinical staff at Isaac M. Wise temple. She has also served as an adjunct lecturer at HUC for the Cincinnati’s campuses’ senior seminar. Thomashow is moving on from Isaac M. Wise this spring and will be joining Temple Isaiah in Lexington, MA this summer, where she will serve as Senior Rabbi.

In her address. Rabbi Thomashow illuminated the ways in which “Isaac Mayer Wise laid undeniable foundations for Jewish life in America.” Those foundations were expanded when women were ordained, said Thomashow, and it is no coincidence that Cincinnati, Wise’s Promised Land, was also the site from which female rabbinical leadership grew, beginning with the ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand in 1972.

Following Thomashow’s address, Cantor Yvone Shore sang “Take Care of This House,” a song from Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner’s musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The musical is a retelling of the first one hundred years of White House history through the voices of the presidents, first ladies, and staff that lived there. The song is originally sung by the character of Abigail Adams, and it is presented as instructions given to a caretaker of the home, named Lud. The song serves as a metaphor, as the care of the White House is compared to that of the American Republic. It was an especially fitting song for the day in light of the recent decision to sunset the rabbinical program on the Cincinnati campus. As attendees considered Rabbi Wises’s many contributions to American Jewry and rabbinical education in Cincinnati and the broader country, the lyrics to the song could not help but to ring especially clear;

Take care of this house

Keep it from harm

If bandits break in sound the alarm

Care for this house

Shine it by hand

And keep it so clean

The glow can be seen all over the land.

During the ceremony, the College-Institute also honored distinguished alumni for twenty-five years of service as teachers of Judaism. Those who received honorary Doctorates were Rabbi John Bush, Rabbi Yael Splansky, Rabbi Jonathan Tabachnikoff, and Rabbi Mira Wasserman. Three librarians, who collectively served the Klau library for over one hundred years, were also honored at the event. Margalit Tal, Lisa Ben-Hur, and Laurel Wolfson were each presented with a limited edition Rookwood tile that featured an image of the Herman Learning Center, the building which houses Schauer Chapel where the ceremony took place. The women received a standing ovation for their service to the school.