Seminary Roundup: News From The City’s Rabbinical Schools


JTS Students Engaging Millennials

All rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary take courses in Talmud and Bible. But for two students, a crash course in millennial engagement will be a part of this year’s curriculum.

Two JTS students will be part of the Fellowship for Rabbinic Entrepreneurs run out of Hillel’s Office of Innovation, with funding from JTS and a mandate to engage millennials in the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights and Harlem area. The program marks the first time the rabbinical school is engaging the growing Jewish community in its own backyard, where Jewish millennials looking for cheaper rents within Manhattan have flocked to in recent years.

“It used to be that you would go to rabbinical school and automatically there were communities just waiting to hire you, and that still exists. It is also true that sometimes you have to build your own community,” said Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, associate dean of the rabbinical school. “This is a chance to train them to do it while they’re still in school.”

The student fellows will host Shabbat meals and Torah study in their own homes and the homes of community members in the neighborhood as well as two social-justice events per month, representing an important avenue of Jewish engagement for millennials. The fellows will also receive mentorship and training from Hillel, which has an outpost of its Base Hillel program, a home-based center of Jewish experience anchored by a rabbinic couple, serving Harlem’s growing Jewish population.

“I need to develop tools to develop community outside the synagogue setting if I want to really be doing outreach and not just wait for people to come to the synagogue,” said Viktoria Bedo, one of this year’s fellows and a third-year rabbinical student at JTS. “The home is always the first place for Judaism and Yiddishkeit to flourish.”

Shira Hanau

Campus Reform Programming Gets Boost

Reform Jewish programming on college campuses across the country will get a shot in the arm as a result of a new collaboration between Central Synagogue, Hebrew Union College and Hillel International.

Central Synagogue’s Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein Fund for the Renaissance of Reform Judaism has awarded $1.4 million to Hillel International and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion with the goal to strengthen Reform Jewish life on college campuses. The money will support the creation of new Reform senior Jewish educator positions at Hillels beginning with John Hopkins Hillel and Hillels of Georgia (University of Georgia, Emory, Georgia Tech, George State and Kennesaw State), and will provide for the training, placement and support to graduates of HUC-JIR to fill these positions. The graduates will get the chance to build personal relationships with hundreds of students while serving as role models and helping students develop new models of Reform Jewish life.

“We are excited about this opportunity to partner with Hillel International and Central Synagogue to encourage inspiring Jewish educators to work on campus and support the next generation of Jewish life,” said Rabbi David Ellenson, interim president of HUC-JIR. Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, national director of recruitment and admissions at HUC-JIR, noted, “This groundbreaking partnership comes at a crucial moment because it will also enable HUC-JIR to recruit new talent while fostering the future of Reform Jewish leadership on the college campus.”

According to a statement from HUC, Hillel’s research has shown that senior Jewish educators are critical in engaging students and each one connects an average of more than 200 students a year to Jewish life.

Zohar Reyhanian

New Online Social Work  Master’s At YU

The Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University announced that it will be offering a new online master’s of social work program this fall. The course is fully accredited by the Council of Social Work Education and will combine online clinical coursework with fieldwork to prepare students for jobs in-field.

“When I first came to Wurzweiler, I brought with me an absolute passion for online or distance education, and part of that stems from two sources,” said Wurzweiler’s Dean Danielle Wozniak. “One is a social-justice source. Graduate students can’t always pick up and move to New York, and when a program only offers face to face classes, unless you live in New York, you can’t take the courses. We wanted to make our program accessible to students no matter where they lived. This was a matter of equity and justice.”

“The first rule of social work is to meet the client where they are,” explained Wozniak, “so it’s only fitting that social work education should literally meet students where they are.”

“Another source,” she continued, “is because Wurzweiler has really high-quality programs, and our mission is to offer these programs not just nationally, but globally. We wanted to extend our reach to communities that need exceptional practitioners and train clinicians in every corner of the U.S. or even the globe. We knew we could accomplish this through a very high quality online program.”

Coursework for the 60-credit master’s program is delivered entirely online with the exception of fieldwork, which is completed in social service agencies. Students complete 25-27 hours a week in the field at a social service agency supervised by a licensed, clinical social worker.

Zohar Reyhanian

AJR’s New ‘Zoom Rooms’ Enhance Distance Learning

The Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR) is zooming in, so to speak, on distance learning.

Using Zoom, a video communicating platform that allows multiple individuals to join a large video conference, the Riverdale seminary is giving students who are not able to physically be in class the opportunity to join one.

“As long as I’ve been [with AJR] … there were always people who desperately wanted to train to be clergy, and what they would do is fly in and sleep over one or two nights and then fly home. It’s an amazing act of dedication, but you can imagine what that does to a person,” said Ora Horn Prouser, AJR’s executive vice-president and academic dean. She and the staff at AJR understood that not every student could become a “super commuter,” but wanted to make sure that no one had to be.

Last fall, AJR outfitted a classroom with large screens, microphones, and cameras to create a “Zoom Room,” where multiple students could Facetime in, interact and learn with the rest of the class. After its success, AJR has added a second “Zoom Room” for the 2018-19 year and although the classes are synchronous, many are now taught on Zoom. Students can now reach the rabbinic and cantorial school from around the world.

An AJR student, Cantor Idan Irelander, said, “When my cantor colleagues mentioned AJR to me and its online classes, I was skeptical. But I have to say I was very surprised and impressed by the use of the Zoom platform and its quality.”

All of the Zoom courses are hybrid, with both students physically in the classroom and those online taking the course, and are live so teachers can interact with students both in the classroom and through Zoom.

Zohar Reyhanian