Jordan M. Ottenstein, I '05 Becomes Chi Psi's First Ordained Rabbi
Monday, July 6, 2015
Posted by: Teri Sloan
During pledge education, now almost 15 years ago, one of the things that stuck out for me was the number of “Firsts” our fraternity had accomplished. This pride in being the first, as a fraternity, to accomplish so many great things, was in my mind the day I spoke, last spring, with #23, Sam Bessey. Sam informed me that I had, as far as he knew, made a new first for Chi Psi. I became the first Chi Psi ordained as a rabbi. And I have to tell all you, my brothers, that without many of the lessons I learned during my undergraduate years at 150 Iota Ct. in Madison, WI, this lifelong dream I have accomplished, may not have become a reality.
Growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis, I always knew two things. First, I wanted to be a Wisconsin Badger, and second, I wanted to be a rabbi. I have always been very active in my local synagogue, Jewish youth groups, and had traveled to Israel while in High School. Then, while a student at the University of Wisconsin, I double-majored in Hebrew and Semitic Studies and Jewish Studies.
Upon entering Madison, I planned on becoming active in Hillel and spending time making friends and doing my work. I never had any intention of joining a fraternity. However, during my first week on campus, I was invited to play flag football with some guys from a place called “The Lodge.” I went, with three other guys from my dorm floor, and I was hooked. As far as I can recall, I didn’t miss another rush event that semester, and, along with two of the three that went and played football, I joined Alpha Iota’s class of 2005.
During my time at the Lodge, I took on many roles and responsibilities, from steward to pledge educator. I also served as the #3 the year that we won the Thayer Trophy and chaired the Sesquicentennial celebration of our Alpha. Through all of these experience and the relationships that I made at Alpha Iota, I learned how to be a leader, how to listen to the problems and concerns of those with whom I came into contact, and how to, in a very healthy way, balance responsibility with fun. During my senior year, I applied to rabbinical school, and was devastated to find out that I did not get in. They urged me to get “more life experience.” While, I can say now, that this was ultimately the right decision, I was devastated, and it was only from the help of my Chi Psi brothers that I was able to feel better and start making plans for the next part of my life’s journey.
After graduation, I moved to St. Louis, where I began working at a synagogue and where I earned a Masters in Teaching from Webster University and the certification of Reform Jewish Educator. I also married my girlfriend from college, Marni. In 2008, I applied again to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and was accepted, so that in the Summer of 2009, I began my rabbinical studies, first for a year in Jerusalem, and then for four more years in Cincinnati.
On May 3, 2015, I had the honor of being ordained as a rabbi. While this title had been my nickname all through my time at the Lodge, it has now become an official title, and I know that the help, assistance, and friendship that my Chi Psi brothers have given me along the way has made this possible.
In the program for our ordination service, my classmates and I were each asked to write a one-page biography and thank you to those who helped us. Many of us in my class began our pages with a biblical or religious quote. As tempted as I was to begin mine with the words of John 15:13, I did not think that a quote from the New Testament would have been appropriate for the moment. Instead, I chose the words of Yehoshua ben Perachya, an ancient rabbi whose writings are found in one of the first rabbinic works, the Mishnah. Yehoshua said, "Make a teacher for yourself, find yourself a friend."
The connotation of this quote is that, when you have found a teacher that person will become your friend. But, in thinking about this quote, and how it relates to my life, I think that, especially as it relates to my brothers in Chi Psi, that the opposite is the case. Every man at 150 Iota Ct. became my friend and my brother, and in doing so, became some of my greatest teachers. Sure, while we were together at the Lodge, I learned about budgets, risk management, how to plan a 150th anniversary party, and more from each individual, but most importantly, I learned how to be a true gentleman. My brothers were my support in college through success, failure, gain and loss. And, even after college, we have continued to celebrate in each other's shared joy, of marriage and children, and supported each other through rougher times. As I look back upon my path to the rabbinate, and, indeed, my first year as a rabbi, I know that it was the relationships I developed and the lessons that I learned from joining our sacred brotherhood that have allowed me to reach this point.
Thank you to every brother.
Forever Yours in the Bonds of Brotherhood,
Rabbi Jordan M. Ottenstein, RJE; I’05