January 19, 2019

A transdenominational leader for a borderless world

For years, people told Robert Bonem he should become a rabbi—even people he had just met, and even when he wasn’t talking about religious subjects.

“Have you ever thought of being a rabbi?” they’d say, and the Jewish educator and life coach would think, “Who me?”

It wasn’t until an Orthodox kabbalist brought it up that Bonem decided to take the plunge. Although he had just completed a master’s in education from the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University or AJU), Bonem decided to enroll at the Academy of Jewish Religion (AJR-CA), a transdenominational rabbinic, cantorial and chaplaincy school started in 2001.

“I didn’t really know what transdenominationalism was until I started looking for a school,” said Bonem, who himself is transdenominational—a term, like post-denominational and nondenominational, that signifies that one is not limited in affiliation with any one of Judaism’s movements: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal.

Bonem was raised Conservative, but in high school he found himself attracted to the Reform movement and its emphasis on social action. Today he prays with the Orthodox and feels a love for the spirituality of the Renewal movement.

“I wanted a chance to learn with rabbis from different movements, and that’s one of the great things about AJR—I had a chance to learn about all the movements and their different views on Torah,” he said.

Bonem, one of seven rabbinical students graduating AJR-CA on May 26, quotes the verse that there are 70 faces to Torah: “I think it’s important to learn about as many faces as you can.”