Student Rabbis

How Times Have Changed: The Student Rabbi Today

In January 2022, Temple Or Hadash in Northern Colorado was led in worship and study by second-year rabbinical student Hannah Bloomberg. Before beginning the lesson, she planned to teach on Sunday morning, Hannah opened up the virtual class by asking if anyone wanted to talk about the hostage situation that had just occurred in Colleyville, Texas. The discussion lasted for twenty minutes, and she handled it with a maturity that belied her youth and status as a second-year student.

I retired in 2017 and within a year accepted a position as a monthly rabbi at Temple Or Hadash. I was really excited to learn that I would be sharing the pulpit with a student rabbi. I travel to Fort Collins and lead services and adult education once a month, and the student does the same two weeks later. In my tenure, I have worked with three different student rabbis, and I am constantly amazed and gratified at their responses to the many events that have happened in the country and the world during their tenure. When I think back to my student-rabbi experience, especially serving my monthly pulpits, it was a totally different experience. The academic workload at HUC-JIR was so demanding that when I returned to Cincinnati after my monthly visit, I did not give the congregation much thought. The world was calm, the congregation stable, and I was never called between visits to deal with emergencies. My pulpit was a one-weekend-a-month experience, and except for the preparation for my monthly visit, I concentrated on my academic work.

The students I have worked with over the past several years have dealt with the shootings at Pittsburgh, Poway, and a kosher supermarket. They have also dealt with the King Soopers Supermarket shooting in Boulder, and the recent devastating wildfires in our area, where over 1,000 homes burned. Finally, all three of them haveand are continuing to deal withthe fallout from the pandemic. Or Hadash decided to have Zoom-only services in March of 2020, and we have not had in-person services since then. Two of the students have never met the congregants in person, yet all three of them offered words of support and made themselves available to the congregation. 

When most of us decided to become rabbis, we did so out of a desire to serve the Jewish people, to teach, and be there for the people in times of sorrow and joy. We did not expect to become security experts, or COVID police, or to master the technology to lead services on Zoom, or to comfort mourners at a Zoom shivah service. It has not been easy for us, and we are experienced rabbis. Our students are expected to fill all these roles sometimes even before they have taken professional development classes. They are in school, and along with increased pulpit demands, they are also adjusting to pivoting from online to in-person classes and sometimes back again. Their resilience and flexibility have been a source of inspiration for me. I wonder often how I would have fared under similar circumstances. 

I believe that in many ways, this trial by fire will only help them become better rabbis.  For me, working with these three students had been a pleasure. I have learned so much from them and look forward to seeing where their rabbinic journey leads them.  

Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith was ordained in 2007 and served Temple Emanu-el in Dothan, AL until her retirement in 2017. She failed Retirement 101 and now serves part-time at Temple Or Hadash in Fort Collins, CO, and works with Adventure Rabbi in Boulder, CO.

News Reform Judaism

Seker: A New Take on Progressive Jewish Outreach

At its outset, the Reform movement placed great emphasis on aesthetic and decorum. Fitting in, becoming a seamless part of the fabric of the larger society, was of the highest importance. Almost 200 years have passed, during which these goals have been met, most of all in the United States. Some worry that we’ve done too good of a job of fitting in, and are losing ourselves amongst the nations, much like the disappearance of techelet from our tzitzit. Seker, my project for Progressive Jewish outreach in the public spaces of New York City, is directly in response to both the early Reformers and the contemporary Jewish leadership fearing the continued loss of Jewish identity amongst the younger generations of the American Jewish population.

Seker began as a series of conversations between myself and my classmates during our first year of rabbinical school in Israel. These conversations circulated around a fairly simple question: If Chabad is so successful with its public Jewish outreach, why are we not doing it too? A new program at HUC-JIR in New York, the Be Wise fellowship, offers students the opportunity, and funding, to try to answer questions such as this. I applied for one of these grants to fund my project, which mainly consisted of a website, a portable table, a copy of Mishkan T’filah, a couple of sets of t’fillin, a banner and some business cards. Once this seemingly endless winter finally broke, some of my classmates and I hit Washington Square Park, Union Square Park and Prospect Park to speak with anyone interested in learning about t’fillin or Judaism in general.

Kahn SekerDuring five afternoons of tabling, an incredible diversity of people came up to us to ask questions about Judaism, to ask what the t’fillin were, to even try them out. We had individuals ranging from a male Orthodox Jew who just hadn’t wrapped yet that day, to a woman who grew up Chabad who had never been allowed to wrap, to a non-Jewish man who was intrigued by the practice. The goal of this project was not to sell people on t’fillin, or anything for that matter, but rather to raise public awareness of Reform Judaism. The t’fillin were merely the lure to catch the eye of the curious, much like the Seker/Seeker play on words.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned in this project so far is the deep grasp the work of the early Reformers still has on the psyche of the movement. Many people I spoke with, and continue to speak with, about this project are flabbergasted by the use of t’fillin. “But why t’fillin?” is a common refrain. It is as if I am proposing to schect animals in public – people seem simultaneously offended and confused.

T’fillin, although not a part of most Reform Jews’ upbringing, are a distinct, eye catching, and unique Jewish ritual object. Unlike the hannukiah or shofar, they are used on a daily basis. Unlike mezuzot, they involve mindful action and physicality. They are the ultimate immediate and impactful experience. Their interesting construction, with the many tiny scrolls of Torah passages hidden inside, are a mystery and invoke curiosity in even the most cynical investigator. All of these qualities make them an ideal outreach tool.

Unconventional and countercultural as this project may be within the Reform movement, it sparked the interest of the public immediately. If the goal is to raise awareness and start conversations, Seker has been a total success. As leaders within the movement continue to brainstorm new and innovative ways to reach out to their communities, this model can serve as an example of an engaging and different mode of expanding the reach and visibility of Reform communities throughout the country.

Andy Kahn is a rising third year rabbinic student at HUC-JIR. He was with the CCAR as an intern during the last academic year and will be back again as a rabbinic intern during the coming academic year.