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Recruiting Reform Leaders of Tomorrow Part 2

Recruiting Reform Leaders of Tomorrow 
Part 2*

Cantorial, Education, and Communal Service Alumni Recruiters Mentor the Next Generation

"Becoming a chazan encompasses every good human quality needed in the world today," says Cantor Rachelle Nelson (SSM '84). She believes that the cantorate has an enormous impact on turning people on to Judaism and touching the lives of thousands of people, helping them to become more knowledgeable and better Jews. Who could resist this inspiration to serve the Jewish people?

Nelson knows about the power of mentorship. She cites her parents, who raised her in a very spiritual Jewish home, as her first "mentors" who cultivated her love for Judaism. In addition, one of Nelson's first professional mentors was Cantor Jacob Bornstein (SSM '52), z"l, of Temple Israel of Greater Miami.

She, in turn, encouraged Cantor Hollis Schachner (SSM '01), and several others, to come to the School of Sacred Music. Schachner began studying with Nelson at Temple Beth Am in Miami, Florida when she was a student at the University of Miami and wanted to learn more about Judaism. Nelson instructed her in Hebrew, cantillation, and Jewish music, and prepared Schachner to become a bat mitzvah at the age of 22. After college, Schachner went to Israel for a year of study and then sang as a soloist at Temple Israel in Miami before applying to cantorial school with Nelson's guidance.

Schachner, currently the cantor at Temple Shir Tikva of Wayland, MA, noted: "Rachelle opened every door for me, and gave me the cantorate as a tangible goal. She helped me to see that her work combined my love of Judaism with my passion for the arts, and from her example I realized without a doubt that this was my path. My gratitude for her guidance and support has only grown since becoming a cantor myself, and she continues to be my role model and teacher."

When someone shows an interest in the cantorate, Nelson sees someone who has a "Jewish soul" or the intense spirit and desire to help others, she works closely with them by providing mentorship.

Remembering how she wanted to be involved with Judaism from the time she was a little girl, she motivates young children to get involved by having them sing and pray at the synagogue.

She advises her colleagues to get students involved - by sharing the pulpit with talented students and accommodating the interests of "musical students who have a love and a spark for Jewish music."


Cantor Sheldon F. Merel (SSM '52) reconnected with a former bar mitzvah student from Toronto, Cantor Mark Childs (SSM '91), many years later when Childs was a music student at the University of California at San Diego and Merel was the cantor of Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego. Childs filled in for one of the choir members at Merel's synagogue; he remembered Merel and approached him for assistance in preparing to chant the Sheva Brachot at his sister's wedding. As they developed a close friendship, Childs informed Merel that he was interested in entering the cantorate.

Merel mentored Childs and helped him with the application process to the School of Sacred Music. They kept in touch throughout Child's studies at HUC-JIR and Merel invited Childs to sing with him on his pulpit on many occasions.

Merel commented, "My greatest reward was when Mark asked me to participate in his installation ceremony in his new pulpit in Santa Barbara. I was certainly very proud of his accomplishments and growth. Cantor Childs is a credit to our school and profession."

Childs remarked, "Cantor Merel was certainly an inspiration for me to enter HUC-JIR and a role model for a successful and long career. Shelly has remained a dear friend, colleague, and teacher. His encouragement and mentorship were a big part of my decision to pursue the cantorate and he will be a part of every one of my students who will some day follow the same path."

Merel suggests that cantors talk to Jewish music students at local colleges, encourage students to study music, and work with Hillels to recruit musically talented students.


According to Jonathan Cohen (MAJCS/MSW '91), sometimes recruiting is as easy as saying to a promising teenager: "You would be great at this. Have you ever considered becoming a Jewish communal professional?" He strongly believes that educating people of all ages about the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service (SJCS) and the career options it offers are the first steps to successful recruitment.

As the first graduate of the SJCS to work for the UAHC, Cohen is often the first SJCS alumnus that many of his colleagues have met. During his eleven years on the UAHC staff, the last two as Director of the UAHC Henry S. Jacobs Camp, he has sought to educate his colleagues about a program that many would not have known much about otherwise. In fact, it was his childhood camp director and Dr. Gary Zola (formerly National Director of Admissions) who came to his camp to recruit and influenced his decision to become a Jewish communal professional.

As a camp director and former Director of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), Cohen recruits students through camp and NFTY programs and looks for students who show an interest in becoming a Jewish professional, have a high level of intelligence and maturity, and a good sense of self. He emphasizes the importance of presenting an honest portrayal of the demands as well as the emotional rewards of Jewish communal work.

Cohen believes it is his role as a camp director to build and strengthen Reform Judaism and the ranks of Reform Jewish professionals to serve the Movement. According to Cohen, more jobs within the Reform Movement, both in the congregational and organizational spheres, need to be filled with Jewish communal service professionals. He encourages HUC-JIR's communal service alumni to get the word out about the work they do and the possibilities for pursuing a rewarding career in the field.


A member of the first graduating class from the SJCS, Howard Charish (SJCS Certificate, '70) notes that his education at the SJCS "was transformational." Charish, Executive Vice President of the UJA-Federation of Bergen and North Hudson Counties, says that the SJCS provides an "outstanding curriculum taught by role models both in Jewish Communal Service and Jewish Studies."

As a recruiter, Charish recalls the influence of Professor Gerald B. Bubis on his decision to pursue formal Jewish communal studies. He and his mentor remain closely in touch today. Charish notes that alumni recruiters should keep up-to-date with the SJCS program's curriculum and growing professional opportunities for graduates. Another key selling point, according to Charish, is the number of "stellar graduates" the school has produced. When recruiting, he looks for people who want to make a long-term commitment to Jewish communal service and are interested in professional development.

He maintains contact with the students he recruits.

Charish thinks that prime recruits are people who have leadership qualities but need formal training. He suggests that fellow alumni recruiters need to emphasize the importance of becoming life-long learners. He highlights the ability of the SJCS to base "all professional work in a Jewish context, which the school provides with excellence."


Only 20% of Jewish educators in formal Jewish educational settings have graduate degree or credentials in education and Judaic studies. Roberta Louis Goodman (MAJE '81), the Director of Distance Learning at Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland, is working to change this. Goodman recruits Jewish educators to the Rhea Hirsch School of Education (RHSOE) through her formal role as a HUC-JIR representative to the joint UAHC/CCAR/ HUC-JIR Task Force on the Shortage of Jewish Professionals, her work with other Jewish organizations (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) and the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE)) that focus on recruitment and retention of Jewish educators, and through her informal role as a recruiter of promising Jewish educators. 
Goodman emphasizes the importance of retaining educators in the field. She noted that CAJE is analyzing professional standards such as salaries, benefits, and contracts to help retain these education professionals. In addition, the Jewish Federation in St. Louis has allocated $1 million to address the issues of recruitment and retention of Jewish communal professionals.

In a study she conducted for the Schusterman Foundation, Goodman found that recruiters should identify potential candidates by looking for skills, ability, interest, values, and knowledge of the field. "We already have so many people who are exposed the field through teaching religious school, serving as camp counselors or youth group advisors, being b'nai mitzvah tutors, and more, who we need to show the career potential and paths," remarked Goodman.

In her evaluation of the CAJE Schusterman College Program and JESNA's Lainer Interns in Jewish Education - two programs that recruited college students into the field of Jewish education - Goodman found that 70% of the respondents "felt that someone was particularly helpful or interested in their pursuing a career in education," while "over 50% indicated that a Jewish professional had maintained contact with them over the years." Nonetheless, more information and support was found to be needed from the Jewish professionals.

For her colleagues, Goodman recommends taking a personal interest in promising candidates - by studying with them, helping them find scholarships, and introducing them to others who are interested in becoming Jewish educators. In addition, she values conferences that expose college students to the field.


The RHSOE Recruitment Working Group is chaired by Roslyn Roucher (MAJE '89), Adult Learning Coordinator, Congregation Sinai, Milwaukee, WI. The working group trains alumni to recruit and provides them with a training packet with current information on the RHSOE and its programs. Each of ten alumni team leaders oversees and trains two or three alumni, who in turn initially aim to recruit two students - one who is ready to apply and one who will start to consider a career in Jewish education for the future.

100% of the alumni Roucher asked to be team leaders of the RHSOE Recruitment Working Group accepted. Perhaps Roucher said it best when she stated: "Alumni are the best ambassadors to be recruiting for HUC-JIR."

For information on how you can assist with recruiting for HUC-JIR, please contact Rabbi Roxanne Schneider, National Director for Admissions and Recruitment, at (513) 221-1875, ext. 224, or rschneider@huc.edu.

*A sequel to the rabbinical recruitment feature in Chronicle (Issue 59, 2001)