A critical aspect of the rabbinical training at HUC-JIR is the practical experience that students gain through their rabbinical pulpit experiences. These in-field opportunities are coordinated with academic courses to form an integrative learning experience. As part of the student pulpit program, students receive guidance from rabbinical mentors, either from their supervising rabbi at the congregation where they are interns or from a rabbi in the field who provides on-going mentorship and visits the congregation to observe the student on a weekend. In addition, the students participate in supervision with professionals within HUC-JIR. The support of rabbinical mentors and supervisors helps to guide the students through these important and sometimes challenging professional growth experiences.
Rabbinical students must complete a minimum of two years of in-field experience, serving at least one year in a Reform congregation. Students serve either as rabbinical interns in congregations that are local to the HUC-JIR campuses or as the sole clergy for small congregations to which the students travel on weekends.
As rabbinical interns, students have the opportunity to be part of a clergy team and to be exposed to the diversity of services, programs, and activities of large metropolitan and suburban congregations. The internships typically include a range of responsibilities, such as teaching in the religious school, preparing b’nai mitzvah students, teaching adults, and advising the youth group, as well as taking part in leading worship services, preaching, and participating in life cycle events. Through regular meetings with their supervising rabbi, the student gains a realistic perspective on the life of the congregational rabbi.
At “student pulpits”, rabbinical students serve as the sole clergy to small communities to which they travel on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. During their weekend visits, students fulfill a full range of responsibilities, from leading worship, preaching, providing pastoral care, administering and teaching in the religious school, training b’nai mitzvah students and officiating at their service, and occasionally officiating at life cycle events. The students work closely with the lay leaders in visioning and planning for the congregation.
In addition to congregational experience, rabbinical students at HUC-JIR are required to complete a supervised Pastoral Care Internship. Most often, this requirement is fulfilled by completing a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at a hospital. Students often describe this training, sometimes experienced with students from other seminaries, as a highlight of their years at HUC-JIR; it is essential for all rabbis, regardless of the professional path they ultimately chose to take.
Additional field work opportunities include Hillel or Jewish student centers on college campuses (working specifically with a Reform group on campus or providing a Reform rabbinical presence); serving in homes for the aged; working in organizations such as WRJ, URJ, Dorot; and military chaplaincy.
All clinical education experiences are coordinated either through the Rabbinical Program Director or the Director of Field Work.