|BlogHUC - Makenzie Means's Blog|
Knitting/Sewing, Reading (when I have time!), Bike riding
San Diego (Escondido), CA
Blog #6: March Blog
This month I want to talk about my Shabbat experiences since starting at HUC. Before I began my Masters’ programs I hadn’t been to services since I was a child. As the year has progressed I have begun to think more about what my spiritual life will look like in the years to come. Since the summer I’ve experimented with several different services and have enjoyed many of these new experiences!
Part of the summer program requirements in HUC’s School of Nonprofit Management is attending student-led tefillah on a weekly basis. The tefillah over the summer was typically non-traditional. These experiences were the perfect introduction for me to begin thinking about my spirituality. We did things like meditation, gardening, and had group discussions about God and Israel, among other activities. I definitely enjoyed the experience and I am looking forward to it again this coming summer.
Over the summer I also hosted my first Shabbat dinner with my HUC cohort. This wasn’t a very religious experience per se but it was great community bonding. It was nice to spend an evening with my peers chatting and hanging out outside of the classroom setting. We ate some delicious food, played board games, and I reveled in the evening off. I used to think that this was as spiritual as I was going to get but that has turned out to not be the case.
Since the summer I have also started going to Friday night services on a semi-regular basis. One of the things we talk about in the Nonprofit Management program is that it is important to be comfortable in all Jewish settings. I have mostly experimented with different types of Reform and Conservative services; I’m hoping to go to Orthodox services sometime soon as well.
One Friday night a couple of friends of mine and I went to Friday Night Live services at Sinai Temple here in Los Angeles. This was quite an extraordinary experience with lots of music, dancing, and even some preaching by a Baptist minister. There were a few hundred people in attendance of all ages and backgrounds. It was really an interesting experience for me because I am rarely in a Jewish community of that size. Friday Night Live showed me a way to express Jewish spirituality that I was less familiar with. I also began to realize that I enjoy a smaller, more intimate setting for my personal religious experiences. The experience at Sinai Temple was a bit overwhelming!
On the other end of the spectrum I also attended services at a Conservative congregation in Pasadena, just north of Los Angeles. The week that I went the service was led by the religious school’s second grade class. The service was so sweet; the students led the service as a group and in between the various prayers and rituals each one would stand up and share a story about their family. I, of course, began to think about my family and my heritage and how important my Judaism is to me.
I’m looking forward to the future and what it has in store for me and my spirituality. Judaism has so many different kinds of experiences to offer me and I’m excited to experience more of them in the coming months.
Posted by at 4:57 pm
Blog #5: February Blog
I have had my fair share of amazing teachers and educators throughout my academic career; but there are a few stand-outs here at HUC that I want to highlight. At each level of my education my teachers fostered a thirst for knowledge and the drive to push myself to achieve my goals; the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management professors are no exception. The quality of professors and educators here has been particularly fantastic. They care deeply about the work that they do and their passion is contagious. They inspire their students on a regular basis and want nothing more than for them to succeed. Even though I am only almost halfway through the program there are some professors and educators that have already made a lasting impact on my life and in my potential career aspirations.
One of these professors is Jake Cunningham who teaches Ancient and Modern Jewish History to first-year dual degree students. He is an enigmatic, soft-spoken, and a young professor who has in-depth expertise in his field. No matter what your level of knowledge about Jewish history, you will still learn something in Jake’s classes. He presents the information like a well-seasoned story teller, focusing on lesser known aspects and working to create a complete and thorough picture of Jewish history. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of his class and I never wanted to miss a session.
Another professor that has already had a profound impact on me is Sarah Benor. I have had the pleasure of taking two classes with her: American Jewish Language and Identity in Historical Context and Jewish Social Research: Trends and Analysis. These are two phenomenal courses that give students the opportunity to take an in-depth look at various aspects of American Jewish culture. One of the things that I enjoy about Sarah’s teaching style is that she treats her students as her peers and hopes to learn as much from us as we do from her. Her classes are more like a conversation than a lecture so they are interesting and easy to follow. Sarah is a researcher and works in the field that I would like to pursue as a possible career path someday. She has been a wealth of information and guidance in how to achieve my goals. She has encouraged me to pursue a PhD. and become an expert in quantitative analysis; an area that is greatly lacking in the field of Jewish social research.
Finally, HUC’s SJNM biennial occurred over this past winter break and the trip would not have been the same without the wealth of perspective and knowledge provide by the trip’s educators Dave Mendlesson and Shirel Horovitz. Both were extremely dynamic and interesting. Their vast knowledge and understanding of Israel framed my experience. They were open with the students and fostered relationships with each individually. Shirel, in particular, encouraged me to foster a connection with Israel. She is definitely someone I will stay in touch with for a long time. She also made her contribution to the trip personal and more meaningful by sharing her story with some of the students, allowing us to connect with her on a deeper level. The Israel seminar would not have been the same without the input of these two wonderful individuals.
Through the course of my life I have learned that in academics, good educators can make or break a subject area. I have been blessed with many, many extraordinary teachers in my life and I would not be the same person without those experiences. The professors and educators I have encountered through my journey at HUC are no exception. I am looking forward to my classes over the summer and in the upcoming year because I will have the opportunity to work with many more great educators.
Posted by at 6:03 pm
Blog #4: January Blog
Well, December seems to have just flown by! Over this winter break I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Israel (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) as part of the Jewish Nonprofit Management program at HUC. The purpose of the trip was to learn about the nonprofit sector and other aspects of life in Israel. While there, we visited the Diaspora Museum, the Israel Museum, saw Miri Mesika in concert, visited the City of David, and spoke with many Israeli scholars and organizational heads. The trip happens every other winter so as a first-year student the whirlwind continues!
The focus of this year’s Israel Seminar was the growth of the nonprofit arena as a reflection of changes in Israeli society. We met with many interesting organizations and scholars to discuss this and other related topics. One of my favorite sessions from the trip was meeting with the Reut Institute. This is a think-tank type organization that has become the authority on the changing paradigms in Israeli society. I left this session feeling hopeful about the future of Israel and the future of the Israel-Diaspora relationship. Some other highlights from the trip were meeting with Gadi Taub and Michah Goodman. Both are Israeli scholars who talked about their views on the future of Israel-Diaspora relations. These men had very differing opinions and it was nice to hear opposing sides of the debate to get some varied perspective.
This was only my second time in Israel, the first was on Birthright. During this trip I had a lot more freedom and free time which I used to explore some of the smaller neighborhoods near where we were staying. It was a bit scary at times but it allowed me the opportunity to begin establishing a more personal connection to Israel. I’m not sure I’m ready to pick up and make aliyah but I began to see how important Israel is; it’s a place I want to support in any capacity that I can.
Although the seminar is a required part of the program students don’t have to take it for credit. However, I chose to take the seminar for credit and I would definitely recommend this option. The additional work was more independent and it has allowed me to further explore my relationship with Israel. As a part of the additional work, I am reading Start-up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. This is a great book that gives a contemporary look at Israel’s history through an economic lens. I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about this small and dynamic place.
Posted by at 5:31 pm
All first and second-year SJNM students go on the trip so it creates an interesting and intense group dynamic with people from all different backgrounds and areas of focus. I was expecting this to be extremely overwhelming and at times it was but in many cases it added to the experience. I had the chance to spend time with many of the students that I don’t have any classes with and don’t get to see on a regular basis. Many of them had also spent much more time in Israel than I so they were able to share their insights and experiences with me. This trip definitely created and strengthened bonds with my cohort that will last a very long time and I am thankful for that.
The spring semester just began this week and it’s off to a great start; I’m continuing to look forward to whatever the future may hold for me!
Blog #3: December Blog
Wow! What a semester! The fall session is over and in just a couple of days I will be leaving for Israel as part of HUC’s biennial winter seminar. This will be my first time in Israel since my Birthright trip so I’m really looking forward to a second opportunity to experience the country; look for more about it in next month’s entry! The fall semester was packed with classes, homework, and my internship. It would have been really easy to get bogged down in all of that work but I managed to get through it all. One thing I learned this semester is the importance of staying active, having fun, and relaxing; even if there is work to do.
There will always be work to do but in order to maintain some level of sanity it is important to have a hobby or to do something non-school related every once in a while. When I need a break I go for a bike ride. It’s great exercise and it’s also a chance to clear my head. I can get out on the road for a couple of hours and explore a new part of the city or just ride around my neighborhood. I’ve really started to enjoy bike riding a lot; last weekend I did a fifty mile ride from Irvine to Oceanside. It was a blast but also super exhausting; I was sore for days! I’m also planning a big biking trip for next summer as a great way to end my first year of graduate school. I’m planning to ride from the San Francisco bay area back down to Los Angeles. I couldn’t think of a better way to see the California coastline.
(Irvine-Oceanside Ride, December 2010)
It’s much better to find your balance between work or school and your personal life now before you get deep into your career and realize that you missed out on your life! I’ve watched so many people miss some really great opportunities and I want to be sure to take every opportunity that comes my way. Willingness to participate in all kinds of activities is also a great way to expand your horizons. Who knows what you’ll learn about yourself! Bike riding has opened up so many possibilities for me and has shown me how far I can really push myself. When work and school become stressful I can use that as a tool to help me power through all of my work. If I didn’t have bike riding or some other hobby I would probably go insane. It has been a critical outlet for relieving my stress.
Someday I would also like to do the Ride 4 Reform in Israel. I learned about this opportunity at school this semester when some students held a latke eating contest to raise money for this great cause. The Ride 4 Reform is a five day bike ride across the state of Israel. Participants raise money to advance Progressive Judaism in Israel. The funds support a variety of programs including camp scholarships for kids and support of new reform and progressive congregations across Israel. Not only would this be a great cause to support; it would also be a great way to see the country! I would not have even considered a ride this long six months ago but once you get out and try something it’s amazing what you can accomplish!
Graduate school has been challenging; in addition to the work there are also social pressures and a personal life to maintain. It can be overwhelming at times but having an outlet to relieve that pressure is vital. This is the one major piece of advice I would give to all incoming students: have some sort of activity to reduce the stress and tensions of your life as a graduate student. See what else the world has to offer!
Posted by at 3:39 pm
Blog #2: November Blog
Sometimes it seems like just yesterday that this journey began but in a few short weeks the fall semester will be coming to a close and I will be embarking on my second journey to Israel. I couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds! For now I’m going to focus on the present and delve deeper into my academic life.
Classes are in full swing and life at HUC is quite busy. I’m on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays for Modern Jewish History and Fundraising and Financial Resource Management. In addition to my classes there is almost always a speaker, seminar, or meeting during lunch on campus. The free food is great but the content is much more interesting! One of the events I attended last month was this year’s Spiegel Seminar’s first set of discussions and lectures focusing on the issues of conception, abortion, and adoption. Rabbinic, Education, and Nonprofit Management students get together and discuss how these issues affect the Jewish community. It is great having the opportunity to interact with the students in the other programs whom I don’t see on a regular basis. I enjoy being able to connect more to the community since I am only there a couple days a week.
I’m also taking two classes at USC this semester but the environment there is very different. I’m taking Human Behavior in Public Organizations and Public Administration and Society. The course material is interesting and I love my professors but there is not the same feeling of community at USC. The student organization in the School of Policy Planning and Development, GPAC, hosts a variety of activities and events. I have yet to attend any because of schedule conflicts but it is still nice to have the opportunity to get involved in the USC community. Most of the events are during lunch on days that I have my internship at Jewish Family Service.
My internship is going really well. I’m getting some really good experience in the field; something I definitely needed. I’m beginning to work more heavily on the fundraising aspect of my internship which I like a lot. Funding for an organization is critical to its success and I enjoy being a part of this integral component. I will be helping to plan JFS’s annual gala and I’m also working on some donor research projects. Event planning and research are two topics we have discussed at great length in my fundraising class so I’m getting to see how it works in the real world. Fundraising is a slow process which has been an adjustment for me but a good learning experience overall.
Between classes and my internship one might wonder if I ever have time for a social life. The answer to that question is yes! I can usually spend a couple of weekends at home in San Diego with my family and I try to see friends up in Los Angeles whenever I can. HUC hosted a happy hour last month which was a lot of fun. I got to know a few of the students from some of the other programs better. Events like that really help build that sense of community I am looking for. My friend Leah’s birthday was also in October so a few of us when out and bonded over margaritas. My cohort is an amazing group of women who I’ve immensely enjoyed getting to know inside and outside of the classroom.
My second semester of graduate school is coming to a close and the future is bright with opportunities. HUC has created an inviting community that I love to be a part of. I’m off to Israel in a few weeks and I’ll have much more to share with you then!
Posted by at 4:59 pm
Blog #1: First Blog
Growing up in San Diego, California, my family was not particularly observant and being a Jewish professional was not on my list of possible career paths. Everything changed for me in January 2009 on my Birthright trip. Yes I “drank the kool aid”, and frankly, it was the best decision I ever made! It led to my graduate school program at HUC in Jewish Nonprofit Management and USC in Public Administration. I love where I am and I’m looking forward to a meaningful career helping my community.
Being Jewish made me feel unique growing up. I went to predominately Christian schools and lived in predominantly Christian neighborhoods. I was always the only Jewish child in my classes but I never realized what I was missing. For the first time, on my Birthright trip I was a part of a Jewish community. Feeling connected to my bus mates in a way I had never felt connected before was amazing. We were from all over the country but continue to talk and a couple are even living in Los Angeles so it has been great getting to see them.
Friends from Birthright - September 2010
Being away from home is difficult, even though I’m only a couple of hours away from my family, but I’m loving this new chapter in my life. I moved to South Pasadena at the end of May to get settled before classes started and having time to adjust was important. It was a conscious decision to live outside of the city of Los Angeles; I wanted a quiet town where I could relax but still close enough that it’s not at all inconvenient. Sometimes I even take the train and my bike to school. Living alone has given me some freedom and independence this opportunity has afforded me and it’s nice to come home to my quiet apartment in my quiet neighborhood. The space was a blessing during my extremely busy summer semester at HUC (busier than I ever could have imagined!).
After graduating in May with my bachelor’s degrees I thought I was going to be pretty prepared for graduate school. I was used to a lot of reading and paper writing, but they pile on a full load of classes in the summer plus seminars and other activities! The workload was difficult but manageable; I definitely had to push myself harder than before. The summer was also time to bond with the other students in my cohort since we had most of the same classes together. Many of us have become quite close and I know we’ll be friends for a very long time!
The fall semester is about half over and it has gone pretty smoothly. The crazy summer helped prepare me a lot for my USC classes. I’m gaining lots of great work experience in my internship at Jewish Family Service and I’m already applying some of the concepts I’m learning in class to my work at the organization. This has been an exciting journey so far and I’m looking forward to the year ahead!
Posted by at 11:21 am