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Rabbis’ ordination in L.A. seen as symbol of West’s emergence

LOS ANGELES, May 17 (JTA) — Los Angeles has challenged New York’s monopoly as a center of U.S. rabbinical ordination. So claimed some observers here after the first group of Conservative rabbis to graduate from a West Coast school were ordained this week, an event hailed as a symbol of this city’s claim as a vital center of Jewish life and learning. Four men and four women, from Atlanta, Boston, New York, Phoenix, Washington and California, made up the first graduating class of the 4-year-old Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism. Until now, the 113-year-old Jewish Theological Seminary in New York held a monopoly over the ordination of Conservative rabbis. Also, the Reform movement has authorized the ordination of its rabbis at the local Hebrew Union College. This represents another first for the West Coast and puts the HUC campus in Los Angeles on par with its sister campuses in Cincinnati, New York and Jerusalem. In keeping with the West’s nontraditional outlook, the Ziegler school’s graduates are seen as the forerunners of a new breed of open and innovative rabbis, specially attuned to the spiritual needs of a younger generation of American Jews. That generation is looking for religious experiences that “touch the inner core of their sense of their humanity,” Rabbi Daniel Gordis, dean of the Ziegler school, told The Los Angeles Times. “Who am I? What am I all about? I don’t feel that most people feel that walking into the typical American synagogue, which is very stodgy, is not particularly experimental.” Gordis will leave his post shortly to make aliyah to Israel. When the University of Judaism announced its intention four years ago to train and ordain rabbis, the decision triggered a confrontation with the Jewish Theological Seminary, the parent campus of the West Coast university. JTS Chancellor Ismar Schorsch asserted at the time that the establishment of a second Conservative rabbinical school would “strain the unity of the movement” and “weaken the vital center of American Judaism.” According to spokesmen in New York and Los Angeles, tempers have since cooled.