Graduation day with my family. My not-so-little brother is wearing my cap–future Rabbinic student perhaps?
Today, I am proud to receive my Master's Degrees in Jewish Communal Service and Public Administration and join the legacy of the numerous alumni that have come before me. I did it!!!!
How can I sum-up in a short blog all the amazing things that I've done this past two years? How about a brief top five HUC-USC dual master's program highlights for me?
5.) Retreats – This is probably one of the best parts of HUC community life for the MAJCS students! At the beginning of each year, the combined classes have a weekend-long bonding retreat. In my first year, it was a fun opportunity to get to know everything about HUC and the new program that I was about to begin; in my second year, it was all about helping my first-year colleagues do the same. Aside from being a great, two-day camping experience – with hikes, frisbee lessons, group Shabbat, competitive kick-ball, ice cream eating contests, dance offs, and bonfires – these retreats helped me learn a lot about my classmates and professors and set the foundation for the community we built during the year.
4.) Israel Seminar – Going on the Israel seminar during winter-break of my first year, led around by the most brilliant Israel expert and joined by colleagues from both HUC and Brandeis, was SO enlightening and fun for me. We traveled the country for nearly three weeks, tasting foods, visiting the sites, meeting/talking with wonderful people, hiking, partying, touring, processing – all the while learning so much! It was essential not only because my career path revolves around Israel, but because this seminar allowed me to explore a side of the country that I really didn't know much about before.
3.) Teachers – There are many instructors who have been instrumental in composing this unique learning experience for me – creating a supportive culture that permeates this program and provides for its students a superior learning environment. It was humbling to learn from experts in the field, and motivating to hear them lecture and teach us with such passion and drive! They have served as the base of my professional development and personal growth, and have paved the way for me and my classmates to be successful in our careers.
2.) Learning – In no particular order, here is just a few of things that I've learned: strategic planning, public financial budgeting, fundraising, community relations, conflict negotiation, writing a SWOT analysis, preparing diplomatic briefings, leading committee meetings, event planning, leadership in management, public speaking, human behavior, American-Jewish history, and Jewish-Muslim dialogue.
1.) Life-long Friendships – Two years ago my classmates and I came here not knowing one another... strangers to each others ideas and beliefs. But through our first days together, then getting stuck in traffic or lost in LA on Wacky Wednesdays all summer, going to barbeques, loft parties, clubs, coffee-shop study sessions, lecture series, workshops, networking sessions, spending New Years together in Israel, chatting in the HUC parking lot after hours, planning the retreat, weekly lunches together at University village, all-nighters before a big exam, public speaking seminars, and intense summers of all-day classes, we got to know each other really well, inside and out! Not only can I tell you what city each of my classmates is from, their second master's and what internships they were in. But, I can predict exactly what issue each will speak up about, and the unique way in which he/she will begin the comment! I am proud to call each of them my colleague... and I know that we will always be there for each other whether it's for networking, brainstorming, job advice, or just to listen.
Looking ahead I'm filled with the anticipation of all that awaits me in the work-world. I look forward to the excitement that will come with my new title in the professional field, and those electrifying moments of insight that occur when I remember: "Hey, I learned about this in grad school!"
And finally, one last piece of insight: "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing" (Theodore Roosevelt).
Now that the foundation has been set, I'm ready to get to work!!
Posted by Debbie at 3:04 PM
I want to share with you a little bit about two of the classes I'm taking this semester over at USC...
Budgeting (a requirement for the public administration side of my program) has actually turned out to be high on the list of my favorite classes in grad school. The course is designed to provide future public administrators with the basics about budgets and budgeting for state and local governments. For me, the most useful components have been learning where to go and how to collect information about the financial health of a given city, general information on taxation, state and local revenues, bonds, employee retirement funds... etc. You get the picture, and you may be asking why all this stuff is so interesting to me – someone who is planning a career in the non-profit world. Well, it's actually very relevant. First of all, on a personal level I'm learning all the stuff about income taxes, pension funds, and loan amortization schedules that I need to know for when I get out there to the real world in a few weeks. All this information will help me select the best compensation packages and learn what my base-line is for salary negotiations. And, in a more general context, the skills we're learning for state and local government budgeting does translate and prove helpful for non-profit managers, especially those that receive funding from the state. And, in the broadest sense what we've been learning is especially relevant in this year of presidential elections. For example, I fully understand the implications of a budget deficit and the various constraints involved in government social service delivery, or the issues with social security. It's all very interesting and enormously relevant.
Another one of the classes that I'm taking at USC addresses Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and its role in national development. The course is an elective for me, and part of the communications management course listing in Annenberg (so outside of my program, and I had to petition to get credit for it but it's well worth it). When I first started the class, I was completely in the dark about ICTs. Well, not completely... I know how to use a computer and the basic programs, I have a cell phone, email, IM and I am great at navigating the internet. What I mean is that I was in the dark about the detailed impact of ICT deployment (or implementation) particularly in the developing world, i.e. how do countries bridge the "digital divide" and get closer to fully participating in the global network or market. In the beginning weeks of the class we were introduced to the basics: the continuing disparity between developed countries and developing countries, and learned the impact technology has had on that. Then, we began to explore detailed facets of ICT deployment. The part that I found most relevant and interesting was the significant impact government can have on ICT deployment. As a student of public administration, I was able to bring a whole new perspective to the class and have since become a voice for the influence of government on economic development in this sense. It's so cool – almost like "the student becomes the master." Indeed I've come full circle, having nearly completed the program I am able to see just how much I have learned and actually share my knowledge in a significant way! And, I'll soon be a "Master of Public Administration!"
Posted by Debbie at 9:49 AM
For me, part of the appeal of moving to Los Angeles was the benefit of living in a cool city with a HUGE Jewish community. Much like the larger LA community, the Jewish community here is vibrant and diverse. There are so many different Jewish cultural centers/neighborhoods, tons of kosher restaurants, Jewish bakeries, many Jewish businesses and museums. There are synagogues a plenty, and a wealth of Jewish agencies that cover just about any area of interest (social justice, young leadership, environmental concerns, human rights, Israel, entertainment, immigrant rights... to name a few). There's just so much to choose from because there's always something going on – guest lectures, special events, celebrations, ceremonies, parties, trips, social action programs, and volunteer engagement opportunities.
So, one of the first things I did upon settling in LA was to start looking for an organization that appealed to my interests – somewhere I could really make a difference. Several months later, I found a wonderful international Jewish non-profit agency which does a great deal of work to help both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees and immigrants! After attending a few meetings, I decided that this was a great way for me to give back so I began volunteering with their young leadership division.
In January of this year (2008), I applied to the national office and was selected to attend a D.C. lobbying mission. I was thrilled! My experience with advocacy is broad, but I had never been to D.C. for that purpose. So, I was looking forward to participating in the real-time political decision making process and bringing the grassroots work that I had been doing into the national arena.
The mission started out with a fantastic Shabbat in New York City, and then we set-out for Washington D.C. early Sunday morning. In DC, we were greeted by the agency's national staff and guest speakers who led an exceptional and very informative meeting covering the basics of lobbying. We spent the afternoon in interactive issue briefing sessions and took turns-role playing. At the end of the day, we gathered in our groups (based on which city we came from and the legislators we would be lobbying) and planned our talking points for the next day.
The next morning, we attended a panel discussion at the Religious Action Center with guest speakers representing various different faith-based groups. The session gave us a great idea of the depth of issues and interfaith initiatives surrounding immigration reform, and charged us for the rest of the day. Next, we headed to the Senate building for a great tour, and made our way over to the House Gallery too (sight of the State of the Union address later that evening)! And, after a stimulating panel discussion about congressional perspectives on immigration and refugee policy over lunch, we set out to lobby.
The meetings were beyond my expectations! We set-out in groups of 5-7 people for our "Hill Visits" or meetings with representatives of legislators from each of our districts. It was thrilling to speak to high-level decision makers on issues that are important to the community; things that I am so passionate and active about. I was excited to share all the amazing work that had been accomplished through the national agency and by all of our local LA young leadership efforts. It was cool to see that what I had been doing over the past few years was indeed contributing to change and making a difference!
Take-away: The whole mission experience cemented my desire to work in Communal Service, and helped me clearly see the impact such work can have.
On the way to our first meeting!
Posted by Debbie at 1:20 PM
This month's blog has a little less to do with the program than my previous blogs. But, it was something that I was excited about at the time and wanted to share.
Every other week at my internship we have a staff meeting, and at each gathering one person is asked (generally volunteers the week before) to prepare a short dvar torah to start the meeting off with a bit of learning. Last week, it was my supervisors turn to do the dvar. The torah portion was parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16), the story of Egypt and the Exodus. It has always been a significant story for me, reminiscent of my family's hardship in escaping oppression and religious persecution in Iran. And, it was my favorite in religious school; a story of achievement that always stuck with me and inspired me. I basically know the story inside and out, and many of the lessons that are tied to it. So last week, I was pleasantly surprised by the new insights (tie-in) that I learned.
The short version: Moses said "Let my people go." But that wasn't all he said, in fact there was more to the sentence than just those four words. Moses actually said, "Let my people go so that they may worship god." Now why is the addition of "so that they may worship god" so important? Well, my boss suggested that it provides a purpose for their release, and he asked: Without purpose what would freedom really mean?
This got me thinking... I am pretty fortunate to be living in a time when many barriers are gone (especially for women). I have little standing in my way, and I'm free to pursue my interests. So, what's my purpose?
Well, my particular ultimate purpose is to see an end to the conflicts in the Middle East, and succeed at bridging the cultural and religious gap that causes conflict and tension around the world. I want to create an environment that takes advantage of all the progress in our new global culture, and builds on all the unique benefits that come with the freedom we experience here in the 21st century. And, how have I set about doing that? Actually, it's this program that has really cemented this for me. I am gathering many of the tools and connections that I need to do the work that's important to me. I am working to be the best professional possible so that I can successfully achieve all the things that I want.
The dvar helped me remember why I was doing what I was doing. Moreover, it helped me realize that I was achieving all the things that my parents hoped for me when they came to the US from Iran – to ensure a better life of freedom and opportunity. Pretty exciting, no?!
Posted by Debbie at 10:44 AM
My capstone project. Every MAJCS student is required to complete a significant capstone thesis or project in order to graduate. Having written a thesis for my undergraduate degree, I decided to go the project route and try something new. I knew the experience would be unique (meaning that I might never have the chance or the means do this sort of thing again) so I challenged myself to think of a really good topic.
I agonized (really I did) over what topic I would select. There were so many ideas. I called my parents, talked to my friends, consulted my sister and brother and turned to my instructors for some guidance. The beauty of the process was that the decision was open; I could pretty much select any topic that I wanted to, within reason of course. I could research anything that seemed pertinent. My goal was to make it meaningful, interesting and relevant. I wanted to create something truly usable. Most importantly, I wanted it to be something that I could easily spend hours working on each week for the next 10 months and not get tired of learning about and shaping. So, as you can imagine, it took me a while to cook up a project that met all the expectations that I had set for myself. But I finally did it!
In mid-June of last year, I put together the proposal for my project, and selected a faculty member that would hopefully agree to serve as an advisor. I submitted the proposal and anxiously waited until mid-July to see whether or not my project would be accepted. Thankfully it was! So, what came next?
I spent the rest of the summer and fall semesters (the last 6 months) researching. I realized, over the course of the research process, that trying to complete this project anywhere else would have been extremely difficult. I found that the mixture of HUC, USC and Los Angeles based resources was exactly what my project required. Better yet, I had (have) so many colleagues that know of some program, person, book, article or website that is perfect for what I'm working on. Needless to say, I found more resources than I could ever imagine. So, now I have to wade through them and fashion a draft.
Difficult, tedious, scary you ask? Perhaps at first or even to one that has not experienced it yet. But in fact, it has been fun, really interesting, actually one of the most enlightening components of the grad school. It is the part of my education that I alone have been able to craft (of course with a bit of help from my advisor). I chose the topic. I did the research. And now, I can plan, frame, and develop the finished product. Basically, I take my learning into my own hands. Most importantly, I come out of it with something I am proud to have created! That's not to say the process is easy by any means. But, the benefit (the ultimate perk, if you will) is that I get to work on something that is of specific interest to me and my future career. And, that's exactly why I'm here!
Posted by Debbie at 11:21 AM
A poem: The real-world is looming with a career I hope will be blooming while finals and grad school are abundantly consuming. Okay that wasn't my best work, and clearly I am not a poet nor are poems my forte. But, that's a little jingle that I thought-up last night that roughly explains what has been on my mind lately, i.e. the reality that I'm getting close to finishing grad school. Goodbye papers, exams, projects and homework! Hello exciting new job, amazing career and student loan payments! Wait, what... student loan payments?
Initially, I entered grad school with the mindset that it was sort of a means to an end (for lack of a better phrase): I wanted to get in, make incredible connections and do well in class, with the ultimate goal of graduating and getting a job. While that still hasn't changed, and the program certainly serves this purpose exceedingly well, I realized that graduate school isn't just a means to an end. It is an incredible experience, and I'm not as excited about finishing as I thought I would be. I had been waiting for graduation since the day I was accepted (as anyone is with school), but now with the end so clearly in-sight, I wonder how it went by so quickly. Am I ready to be finished? Twenty-four months seems like a long time, but it's almost over. Yikes!
Reality is setting in, so it's time to start asking myself some serious questions: Have I done everything that I wanted to do? Did I take advantage of all the opportunities that I could through my internship and school? Better yet, did I take the time to enjoy the experience – because I'm almost positive that when I get a job, there's only a slim chance that I will be lucky enough to have weekly three-day weekends to go traveling (I have no class on Fridays) or winter break off to go travel Israel (like I did last year through the program)?!
Classmate Lori Noto and I take a picture on top of a beautiful building in the old city of Jerusalem, last year during our Israel Seminar! It was an incredible trip.
The truth is I have done a lot. The program has opened so many doors to new things, and I've been walking through them left and right. Best of all, the experience is not over yet! I have been so busy thinking about life after school lately, that I let myself forget all the fun and excitement that I'm having right now. I let myself temporarily loose sight of this unique grad school experience. I live in Los Angeles with year-round sun, and the beach. I have an incredible field placement, in a domain that I have been so passionate about for so long. And, I truly like learning at school (despite the papers and exams that we have to write). Most of all though, I love being at the cusp of everything that the real world has waiting for me.
So this years' New Year Resolution: Savor every last bit of this grad school experience because I won't get it back!
Posted by Debbie at 3:54 PM
In mid-April, my Jewish Communal Service class began interviews for our second-year field placements (internships). As Jewish Communal Service students, we are required to complete both first and second year internships – which amount to roughly 1,050 hours. The process was one that I was really looking forward to, and began with a meeting with my HUC instructor for a preliminary interview (where I shared thoughts and ideas about my future career path and where I would like to be placed for the upcoming year). Next, I went on multiple interviews with select Jewish agencies that met these interests – excellent practice for the job hunt after graduation too. And following a post-interview debrief with my instructor, I was placed in the office of the Director of International Relations in a remarkable, long-standing Jewish institution, several weeks later. And, it has been wonderful!
I must admit: one of the most exciting components of this program for me is my field placement because this is the place where I get to observe and apply all of the theories, lessons and skills that I learn in class. Better yet, it's when I get to actively take-part in the real time process of shaping Jewish communal development. As a hands-on pupil, the internship environment is where I do some of my best learning. It is designed to serve as a classroom in the "real world."
Under the guidance of my field instructor and preceptor (my supervisors), I am constantly encouraged to push myself, think critically, ask questions, learn problem solving, effective conflict management, critical resource development and program development, even event planning. Most importantly, I am asked to complete significant tasks that enable me to learn through doing. Now you may be wondering, how is this internship different from an undergraduate internship? Well, as graduate interns we are given responsibilities to meet our growing skill base. It's not about doing the grunt work – in fact, we're not allowed to do the grunt work. Instead, we often get access to upper management level projects, and assist in multiple levels of organizational activity. We're developing our skills as future leaders. These are real tools/experiences/lessons that I can draw upon in my future jobs, and things that I can be proud to put on my resume and share in future interviews.
I would say that my internship is equally rewarding because, in addition to all the new skills that I pick-up regularly from interacting and working with staff, managers, communal lay leaders and top executives, I am constantly expanding my professional network. Moreover, many of these relationships are fundamental to a better understanding of the workings of the Jewish community at-large.
My current internship is wonderful! I have shared with you my interests in International Relations. Well, this year I have been given the opportunity to explore this path in-depth within the Jewish community. Just recently for example, I completed coordinating the L.A. component for a long-running program that brings emerging young European leaders to the United States for ten-days to learn about diversity and tolerance. In addition to the enlightening three-day program (that's the L.A. leg of the trip), it was exceptionally exciting to meet extraordinary future international leaders and connect with them about a range of issues. It was also a brilliant opportunity to meet and learn from the amazing lay leaders in this community!
Posted by Debbie at 12:24 PM
On Aug. 14 we culminated! Our class completed the coursework required to receive a certificate in Jewish Communal Service! It was a fun day that my family and friends got to share with me and also served as a great benchmark in the program; it signified all the work that I had completed already and got me really pumped for the "homestretch" – the final two semesters!
Classmates Lori Noto, Dana Plyler and I pose for a quick picture before the Culmination ceremony begins!
Fast-forward a couple months and here I am in October, nearly halfway through the fall and well on my way to graduation – YAY! But, I'm not there quite yet.
This semester has proved to be the most rigorous by far, particularly from the USC standpoint. Generally, the bulk of HUC coursework is done over the summers, leaving the regular school year for field placements (internship) and USC classes; accordingly this fall my schedule has been devoted to just that. In the first year of our USC classes most of the courses were geared toward a more general focus, creating a basis of knowledge regarding the field. However, in the second year (having created a good foundation) we can take classes focusing more on the particulars that correspond with our unique interests – International Relations, in my case. The neat thing is that the USC School of Policy Planning and Development (for those getting an MPA like me) gives the option of taking electives in any other USC school, which means I'm free to explore!
Okay, so now you have an idea about the academic aspect. But in addition to the classes, the school offers a bunch of other cool things. They have an extensive alumni network, a lot of professional development seminars and a really active career service center, much like HUC. And, the best part for me is that it complements the work and opportunities that are offered through the HUC Communal Service Program really well! This past few months alone, I have been invited to attended seminars about the Grameen Bank and Microfinance, Foreign Service, Urban Planning and Development, various labs on Non-Profits, Emergency Management and Risk Analysis and had the occasion to hear US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff make a presentation. And to boot, aside from the strong academic opportunities and great degree program, USC has a fun and very social campus atmosphere. The ever-prominent football and basketball games, frequent school-wide rallies, numerous events and the beautiful campus combine to make this whole "grad school experience" that much more engaging!
Posted by Debbie at 2:28 PM
This is me and HUC Rabbinical Student Dean Shapiro at the 2006 General Assembly Closing Plenary.
Many people ask me: "What is Jewish Communal Service, what can you do with a degree in that?" Well, actually that's a good question. The fact is that this field covers a lot! It encompasses anything from running a Federation, synagogue or Foundation to starting a non-profit social service agency or, well, really many things. And, that's exactly why this degree is so unique, and why I chose to come to HUC. I matriculated into the program with the intention of working in Jewish international relations. And, believe it or not the Jewish Communal Service degree prepares you for that too! Coupled with a Public Administration degree program at USC (one of five partnership programs that HUC has with USC), and it's really a good deal. Two master's in two years! And, that's why I decided to make the move to Los Angeles a little over a year ago.
Now, I'm not going to pretend that things were easy at first – at all. I mean being a graduate student is hard. Being a graduate student in two Masters programs while simultaneously working, interning, volunteering and (of course) soaking up the sun in Los Angeles took some getting used to – obviously. But, the rewards have definitely been worth it!
Here are just a couple highlights from the past year:
The HUC/USC partnership is a really unique program. Each degree (whether the MAJCS or Master tracks at USC) is crafted to maximize my potential as a leader while allowing me to explore my interests. Next month I'll share more about USC!
Posted by Debbie at 9:39 AM
- Attending the General Assembly
Last November, HUC offered me the incredible chance to attend the General Assembly. As a representative at the HUC table, I met with countless alumni and numerous people all connected to the Jewish community in some fashion. It was rewarding to make connections and meet contacts, and learn about real-time events happening in the field. In addition, it was a fantastic communal experience, focused primarily on Israel (and my areas of interest). Listening to speakers such as Ehud Olmert, Bibi Netanyahu and Irshad Manji was moving and cemented my commitment to Jewish Communal Service.
- My first-year internship at the LA Federation
As a first-year communal service student, I was placed in the Planning and Allocations department of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Through this great internship, I explored the Los Angeles community in-depth, and experience the behind the scenes decision making processes and structure of one of the most notable Jewish institutions in North America. In the process, I found a new community, made some truly incredible contacts and built a solid personal and professional network that spans the country.
- Israel Seminar
As part of the program, every other year the combined first and second year classes attend a 3-week seminar in Israel. This was truly one of the most memorable experiences thus far for me, not only because my career path revolves around Israel but because this seminar allowed me to explore a side of the country (and Judaism, in fact) that I knew little about before. And, it was fun! We visited all sorts of Jewish agencies, heard many respected executives and experts speak, and still explored the beauty and nightlife of the country too!