As Ohio State University graduate Rob Gleisser was virtually consecrated May 23 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, he considered what his years of hard work and determination had gone toward.
For the first time, as the former Shaker Heights resident sat in his Cincinnati apartment beside his wife, Missy, he heard the word “rabbi” come before his name. “Not ‘student rabbi,’ ‘rabbi-in-training,’ ‘guest rabbi’ – just ‘rabbi,’” Gleisser told the CJN. “It was really powerful.”
Unlike being nicknamed “rabbi” by his AEPi fraternity brothers at OSU, this was real.
Hearing his new title made him forget how the pandemic had postponed his ordination ceremony and replaced it with this virtual consecration ceremony.
“The administration and the class worked really hard to create a sense of holiness, spirituality and ritual that could be felt over Zoom,” Gleisser said. “My whole family was able to watch, tons of friends who wouldn’t be able to come to Cincinnati normally were able to Zoom in, and my wife was sitting next to me the whole time – that was really special. Normally, you’re at the front of an auditorium or synagogue. So in many ways, it was a really nice mix of intimacy and community.”
But there was a time when Gleisser’s loved ones, now watching his consecration ceremony, would have had to pick up their jaws upon hearing his new title.
He was bar mitzvahed and confirmed at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, celebrated the Jewish holidays and went to services, but beyond that, Gleisser hadn’t put much thought into his religion growing up.
That changed when he became a student leader of the Student Group on Race Relations at Shaker Heights High School, where he learned about identity.
“I discovered that my Jewish identity really impacted all aspects of my life,” Gleisser said. “That took me down this path of studying my own religion and faith, which hasn’t stopped.”
He enrolled in Ohio State for its Jewish studies program, where he joined OSU Hillel. It was working closely with OSU Hillel that Gleisser learned of a vast, diverse world of Judaism he wanted to share with others by becoming a rabbi.
“Some rabbis who I care a lot about took me under their wing, gave me some leadership opportunities and really showed me a different way of being a rabbi and of being Jewish,” Gleisser said. “I felt supported, welcomed and cared for in this community on campus; I want to be able to give that to other people.”
When Gleisser told his family and friends he wanted to be a rabbi, to say they were flabbergasted felt like an understatement, he said.
“I think people were surprised that this kid who never kept kosher, who wasn’t involved in temple youth group, wanted to choose this path,” Gleisser said. “I think when most people think about Judaism or the rabbinate, they think of ritual and piety. (But) Judaism and being a rabbi is so much more. ... It’s a way of being, interacting with a community and experiencing life.”
He discovered Judaism to be a rich form of self expression that allowed him to be who he was, no matter his views.
“Judaism allowed me to speak, move and be in the world in a really profound, impactful and joyful way,” Gleisser said. “That’s the aspect of the faith that I really connected to, this way of experiencing life. I’m not traditionally observant, but within the Reform tradition, that can be embraced and be a really exciting way to practice Judaism.”
Upon graduation from OSU, he enrolled at HUC-JIR. He also served as a rabbinic intern with Ohio State Hillel this past academic year.
At rabbinical school, he tackled one of his greatest challenges he had with his religion. He learned that through the Reform interpretation, Gleisser doesn’t need to change his views of Judaism to match what is traditional; Judaism is a combination of everything that’s meaningful to him.
Following the impact Hillel has had on him, Gleisser’s first job with his new title will be at Penn State Hillel at Penn State University in State College, Pa., where he’ll join as a senior Jewish educator July 1.
His father, Brian Gleisser, had originally been stunned the moment his son told him he wanted to pursue an education in Judaism. But now, having watched his son become a rabbi before his very eyes, it all just makes sense, he said.
“It’s a little surprising when an 11th grader says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a rabbi,’” said Brian Gleisser, a resident of Shaker Heights and member of The Temple-Tifereth Israel. “It has been quite the amazing journey. (My wife, Pam, and I) are very proud, of course. His connection with young people will be very good for him and the college students that he interacts with.”