In addition to academic classes and field work, HUC-JIR provides rabbinical students with a number of co-curricular learning experiences that enrich students’ personal and spiritual growth and development.
All stateside campuses offer daily student-led tefillah (worship). Rabbinical students assume the responsibility of serving as shliach/shlichat tzibbur (service leader), gabbai , and ba’al koreh (Torah reader). On the New York campus, rabbinical students lead worship in partnership with cantorial students; on the Cincinnati and Los Angeles campuses, rabbinical students lead worship with a cantor from the community. Students receive feedback from faculty advisors to help strengthen their worship leading skills.
One of the highlights of a rabbinical student’s tenure at HUC-JIR is delivering a sermon before the HUC-JIR community. Students work with a faculty advisor and write a sermon on a topic of their choosing. Following the sermon, there is community discussion in which faculty and students offer feedback to the preacher and discuss issues raised in the sermon.
In addition to addressing the important topics of conversion and interfaith families in various classes in the Rabbinical Program, students participate in two retreats on these crucial topics. In their third year of studies, they attend HUC-JIR’s Gerecht Family Institute for Outreach and Conversion, developed in conjunction with the Outreach Department of the URJ. Through text study, prayer, and discussion with professionals in congregations, outside experts in the field, URJ staff, and Jews-by-choice, students receive an in-depth introduction into this most important topic.
During their fourth year of studies, students participate in an Outreach Institute held at a Reform congregation with a strong vision for outreach, especially towards interfaith families. This program, planned in partnership with the Outreach Department of the URJ, provides students with the opportunity to better understand the significant and growing diversity of personal backgrounds within the families of our congregations and the challenges and opportunities these new realities present. Engaging with synagogue professionals and lay leadership, the Outreach Institute deals with a wide variety of concerns, including: the difficulties faced within both families and synagogues by interfaith couples before and after marriage; successful means of integrating diverse families into congregational life; the place of the non-Jew in the synagogue; techniques for outreach to families with special needs, singles, gays, and lesbians; the ongoing question of intermarriage officiation; and approaches that have successfully created institutional change.
As part of the Rabbinical Program’s focus on leadership, all rabbinical students are required to take a course in Social Responsibility as part of the core curriculum. In addition, they are required to complete one in-field experience in an agency or organization in the area of social action where they are mentored by a professional in that agency. Through this personal experience students gain a deeper understanding of such organizations and an appreciation for the role of the rabbi in social justice work.
Beyond academic and professional development, a rabbinical student must also nurture his/her spiritual growth. Spiritual development takes place in many different venues and varies from individual to individual. Participating in worship regularly is an important avenue for spiritual growth. Other opportunities include spiritual direction, spirituality retreats, electives devoted to spiritual growth, and intersession or summer intensives. These programs vary among the three stateside campuses reflecting the different faculties and programs unique to each campus. Students are always encouraged to discuss their religious interests and challenges with their faculty adviser and/or rabbinical mentor.
In addition to rabbinical mentors assigned to students as part of their field work experiences, students receive rabbinical mentors in the fifth year of the Rabbinical Program as part of the CCAR requirement for admissions and guidelines established by the CCAR/HUC-JIR Joint Commission on Mentoring. These rabbis serve as mentors through the students’ culminating year at HUC-JIR and during their first two years in the rabbinate. CCAR mentors have been carefully selected and have received training for such mentoring through the Joint Commission.
The Hillside Rabbinic Practicum in Lifecycle Officiation and Pastoral Care prepares students to guide individuals and families through stage of life transitions from birth to death. The curriculum recognizes that life cycle rituals – welcoming children into the Covenant, recognizing the assumption of Jewish responsibilities by Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, marriage ceremonies, and funerals – all take place against the backdrop of powerful emotions and family dynamics. As part of the practicum, rabbinical students will attend weekly sessions during their second and third years. Each session will focus on a chosen topic, and will reflect an integrated model that brings together appreciation and understanding of Jewish ritual and an analysis of the psycho-social issues that arise surrounding this stage/event in the life of an individual or family. Additionally, an experienced rabbi, who is also trained as a therapist, will lead the practicum. This program is made possible by a gift from Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary.