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For the week ending 7 November 2015 / 25 Heshvan 5776

Akiva Kennedy

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Age: 35

Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada

University of Toronto, Honors BA Philosophy

University of Alberta, MA Philosophy

When he was a baby, Akiva’s family moved from Ottawa, Canada’s capital and his mother’s home town, to Windsor, Nova Scotia (population 2,000), where his father, a Scottish immigrant, had obtained work as a high school English teacher in an elite private high school. A bright student, Akiva studied at the University of Toronto where he received an Honors degree in Philosophy, and then continued for his MA in Philosophy at the University of Alberta. Most people who convert to Judaism do so because of either an historical familial connection to Jews, or because they met Jews and were influenced by their warmth and culture. Until he was in university the thought of becoming Jewish never entered his mind, and the warm and vibrant Jewish community of Toronto was unknown to him. Akiva’s search was like that of his “adopted father” — Avraham Avinu — purely philosophical.

In his second year of studying the philosophy of religion he took a course on the philosophical work “The Star of Redemption” by Franz Rosenzweig, a famous German philosopher and ba’al teshuva, which was published in 1921. That course and book so inspired Akiva that he desired to learn more about Rosensweig’s religion. There were a number of Jewish professors in the department and Akiva sought them out to study philosophy and theology with them. Through them he was introduced to the Toronto Jewish Community, which was extremely welcoming. By his final last year at the university he wanted to convert. Akiva had also decided to pursue an academic career in the Philosophy of Religion, but to receive his PhD he needed to learn German since his academic interest was in Rosensweig’s teacher, Professor Hermann Cohen, a neo-Kantian, few of whose works had been translated into English. Akiva spent four and a half years in Berlin learning and then perfecting his written and spoken German. He then applied to the University of Toronto’s PhD program in Religion and was accepted by the department to study with the professor whom he wanted as his supervisor, Professor David Novak, an Orthodox Jew. Akiva’s conversion in 2014 was done by the Toronto Beit Din. His Rabbis encouraged him to come to Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. He enrolled in the Center Program in Elul of 5775 and is very happy with his choice.

“I’ve made some good friends here at the Yeshiva. The Rabbis are encouraging. And the teaching approach provides the skill-set that one needs to integrate into the mainstream Orthodox community.”

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