Inaugural Retreat for Schusterman Rabbinical Fellows Explores Unity of Purpose Across Denominational Lines

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In August, eight rabbinical students selected from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) as the first Schusterman Rabbinical Fellows began to chart new territory. They gained a real - as opposed to a stereotypical - understanding of the boundaries which distinguish them and the concerns that unite them. 

In the first interdenominational collaborative study program of its kind, these rabbinical students will be challenged to become transformational leaders who will take their insights and experience about leadership and community to profoundly impact the communities they serve. In particular, they will focus on the need for outreach to interfaith couples and families as well to Jews of all kinds who increasingly disengage from many aspects of Jewish life.


(Schusterman Rabbinical Fellows and Faculty
Photo by Michael Pollio, Westwood, NJ)

This summer, the students attended the first of four week-long retreats that form the heart of the program. The students, all entering their third year, will also participate in regularly-scheduled conference calls and web-based learning programs during their third, fourth and fifth years of school, as well as a Shabbaton at the end of their fourth year of studies.

The inaugural retreat, held August 18-22 at the Rye Town Hilton in suburban New York, had a significant effect on everyone who attended. One of the highlights of the program was a conversation between Rabbi David Ellenson, President of HUC-JIR, and Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of JTS, about the challenges facing American Jewry. 

"It was telling, I think, that Rabbi David Ellenson and I did not give speeches to the entering group of fellows but engaged in a frank (and, to me, inspiring) discussion of the changing role of the rabbi, the changing nature of congregations, and the changing character of denominations," said Dr. Eisen. "It is a great group and I am looking forward to being part of its development."

"The camaraderie and recognition among the students that the common challenges that confront American Judaism allow for unity of purpose across denominational lines impressed me greatly," said Rabbi Ellenson. "The mutual warmth and respect they displayed towards one another and their teachers gave me real hope for the future leadership of our people."


(Schusterman Rabbinical Fellows (left to right) Deborah Zuker (JTS), Samantha Orshan (HUC-LA), Jason Fruithandler (JTS) and Sara Newman (HUC-NY) at the August retreat
Photo by Michael Pollio, Westwood, NJ)

"I really felt a sense of history being made at the Fellowship," said Rabbi Hayim Herring, Executive Director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), which is coordinating the Fellowship program. "I don't believe that I am exaggerating. To watch these students, who were strangers to one another, begin developing a common understanding of the stake they have in the broader Jewish community was inspirational."

Faculty at the retreat included: Rabbi Aaron Panken, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at HUC-JIR, Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Dean of the Rabbinical School of JTS, Dr. Lisa Grant, Associate Professor of Jewish Education at HUC-JIR/NY, experts tracking the demography and sociology of the American Jewish community, and Reform and Conservative rabbis serving congregations and organizations. 

The Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship Program is funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.


(Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of JTS; Rabbi David Ellenson, President, HUC; Rabbi Hayim Herring, Executive Director, STAR; Rabbi Ellen Flax, Project Consultant, STAR; Sanford Cardin, President, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
Photo by Michael Pollio, Westwood, NJ)


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu