We have known one another for more than a year now and I have never told you who I am or why I decided to be a Rabbi.
I grew up in the Bet El Community of Buenos Aires, Argentina. My family was not religious, but traditionalist. We went to Temple sometimes and gathered for the holidays; we paid our annual fee to attend Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur tefilot (services).
The Conservative Movement came to my country with an American Rabbi, Marshall T. Meyer Z”L who, with his wife, Naomi, moved from New York to Buenos Aires. They brought a new way to teach, interpret and understand Judaism. Marshall and Naomi had a son my age and it was with him and other boys that I participated in activities of the youth group. These consisted of tefilot for children and teens and other classes the couple shared with us.
I have always liked to sing and it seems that I did not do it too poorly, according to the opinions of those who listened to me during the different activities at school—especially my mother, who would not miss any of them. It was a comprehensive Jewish private school in which we divided the daily learning into 50% of the subjects in Spanish, 25% in English and 25% in Hebrew.
So, I grew up with the formal study of Hebrew and the informal study of Judaism in an environment that embraced discussion and dissent, while learning to sing the tefilot.
I took singing lessons after my Bar Mitzvah because I really enjoyed leading the tefilot and parashah that were assigned to me. I enrolled in a department of complementary Judaic studies for young people in the recently created Latin American Rabbinical Seminary that Rabbi Meyer had founded in Buenos Aires. In those years, many Rabbis that had been ordained there were hired in Argentina and all over Latin America.
I remember once, having finished one of the classes for young people at the Seminary, staying and speaking with Rabbi. He, in the course of that conversation, for some reason told me something that would profoundly mark my path: “Gustavo, you have a lot to give to your people.”
Sometimes as adults we say and do things without realizing the impact we have on people, let alone on a young person or on a child. I do not know if Rabbi Meyer was actually aware of it, but I remember his voice and his face when he told me that sentence. I would repeat it in my head countless times during my life—and also every time I doubted myself or had to overcome some obstacle with the understanding that maybe there was something in me that could add to the growth of the People of Israel.
Around the age of 20, I started the Pre-Rabbinical School in the same seminary and, since there was a shortage of Rabbis in Latin America, several students assumed tasks in different congregations under the guidance of experienced Rabbis.
I continued as a Cantor and the quasi-rabbinical assignments for almost 30 years, until I decided it was time to upgrade my studies and my career. In 2016, I registered at the Seminary once again with the manifest objective of becoming a Rabbi of Israel.
It was clear to me that it was not going to be easy. It required many hours of study and I had family obligations and, sometimes, personal choices do not go hand in hand with them. I had the support of my wife Vero (Veronica) and my three sons, Ezequiel, Dan and Alan. They always understood it was my desire and my vocation to assume this role and this duty.
With my studies almost finished, I started working here in Utica and decided to finish them at the Rabbi Agin Rabbinical School: Mesifta Adath Wolkowisk in Flushing, NY.
Finally, at the end of October of this year, I received my certificate of Rabbi of Israel. God willing, I will receive my Hasmachah in June of 2023. You are all invited to my ordination!
It is explicit to me that there is an enormous work to be carried out to strengthen our People of Israel. If I, from my humble place and with my meager might can add a grain of sand to it, then the words of Rabbi T. Meyer will have done their job of inspiring me to do so.
May God allow me to inspire in the same way those who I will have the opportunity to awaken and encourage with my words in my commitment to magnify and invigorate our People, our tradition, our Halachah, our Torah, seeking to improve this world in the Kingdom of God.
Thank you for accompanying me on this part of this beautiful pathway.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier