Aaron Weininger’s path to The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary literally traced a route across the continental United States and Canada.
Following his graduation from Washington University in St. Louis, Aaron embarked on a cross-country road trip, camping and hiking along the way, where he visited different Jewish communities. It was on this trip that he encountered people and communities to which he would return as a rabbinical student.
It was an earlier trip, however, that cemented the decision for Aaron, now a second-year student, to pursue the rabbinate: a United Synagogue Youth (USY) trip during his sophomore year of high school . “The trip integrated a sense of being Jewish surrounded by community. The integration of every piece of Judaism, from social action to daily prayer, really spoke to me,” he said.
Additionally, Rabbi Mychal Springer, who was serving as the hospital's pediatric chaplain when Aaron's sister became ill, also motivated him toward the rabbinate. "Rabbi Springer has guided me to fully integrate the critical role of pastoral care into my rabbinate and draw from my own experience in making that work deeply authentic and rooted," Aaron said.
While in college at Washington University in St. Louis, where he majored in Anthropology and Jewish Near Eastern Studies, Aaron founded and served as president of Students for a Peaceful Palestinian-Israeli Future, which emphasized peaceful solutions and reconciliation. Aaron said, “Being with people from different perspectives as well as learning from and listening to people from different lived experiences has prepared me for my responsibilities as a rabbi.”
The decision to take the next step and attend The Rabbinical School was an easy one. As Aaron explained, “JTS was the natural place for me to go. There is serious engagement in academic pursuits, great faculty, diversity, and the dynamism of the New York Jewish community.”
The Rabbinical School, it turns out, impacted Aaron’s life before he even arrived. The group leader on his USY trip, now the Hillel rabbi at Colgate University, was an alumnus of The Rabbinical School; today, Aaron is the student rabbi during the High Holidays at Colgate. Aaron has also returned as a visiting rabbinical intern to Temple Beth-El in Portland, Maine, where he stopped during his road trip.
As the first openly gay man admitted to The Rabbinical School, Aaron balances his days of learning while heeding the call to social justice as the chair the JTS Committee on Inclusion, which coordinated a day of celebration to mark the one-year anniversary of JTS’s decision to admit openly gay and lesbian students. In collaboration with other rabbinical students and administration, Aaron also helped create a spiritual direction group devoted to compassionate listening and reflection.
Aaron has also reached out to the local Jewish community and was invited to give the Devar Torah for the gay pride Shabbat at B’nai Jeshurun, a congregation on the Upper West Side. “The value of my education is that it is able to put me into different communities. It is exciting to see the connection between what I do here and my life outside,” he said.
With Aaron’s sense of exploration and desire to affect positive change, he credits JTS with teaching him how to actively engage communities through his education. Said Aaron, “JTS is a place where I can be surrounded by excellent learning and passionate engagement.”