Yael Ridberg: “I found a name for the type of Judaism I was already practicing.”
4858 Ronson Court, San Diego
Membership: 125 families
Pastor: Rabbi Yael Ridberg
Born: Bridgeport, Conn.
Formation: Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Philadelphia, Penn.
Years Ordained: 15
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Rabbi Yael Ridberg: My sermons are not really sermons week in and week out but teachings. On the high holy days, though, when I do give a significant sermon, that takes much more preparation. I craft every word and spend time thinking about not only the content but the best way to transmit the message that I really want people to hear. Preparation for that takes as long as it takes — I work hard to make it meaningful.
SDR: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?
RY: Anything that I encounter, whether it’s a traditional text from the Torah or rabbinic literature or even the text of someone’s life — a spiritual search is very inspiring to me. It’s also motivating to me when I think about the state of the world and how I feel called to help transform the world into what we would like it to be, a more just, peaceful, and beautiful world.
SDR: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
RY: As guiding principles of how I live as a human being, I look to a teaching from the 2nd–3rd century of Rabbi Hillel, who taught three principles: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” So part one of the teaching means I have to have a connection to my people, to Jewish living and learning; but part two means that I have to share that same kind of concern and awareness with the rest of the world. Then the third part means we can’t wait around for “a better time” to transform our own community and the world suffering outside our door.
SDR: Why Reconstructionist Judaism?
RY: Reconstructionist Judaism is the only form of Judaism which was founded in the United States in the 20th Century. Although I was raised in the conservative movement, worked for the reform movement, and lived and worked on a religious kibbutz in Israel, and maybe because I had this incredible opportunity to be connected to and involved with as many streams of Judaism as there are, when I found Reconstructionism, I found the name for the type of Judaism I was already practicing. Reconstructionists view the Torah and all Jewish texts as our responses to the quest for meaning and for God.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
RY: If anyone really knew the answer to that and it wasn’t just conjecture, I think we’d all make some changes in our life, one way or another. I’m pretty much a rationalist, so we know the body decomposes and returns to the earth, and if you’re buried according to Jewish law, everything returns to the earth, dust to dust. But I believe a person’s soul goes into the lives with whom he or she came into contact. Judaism teaches that every life is sacred and we seek to choose the path toward life and blessings rather than death and curses. What we have control over in our lifetime is what happens between the day we enter the world and the day we leave it. We don’t really have control over the two bookends.