Students Lead High Holy Days throughout North America

Monday, September 15, 2014

From Amarillo, Texas and Yakima, Washington, to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the Hillel at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, and points in-between, 124 HUC-JIR rabbinical and cantorial students will be leading High Holy Day services as part of their student pulpits and internships. While some will be serving large congregations in urban centers throughout North America, many will be providing spiritual enrichment for small communities who would otherwise not have professional leadership.

Rabbinical student Joshua Mikutis will spend the entire period of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur in Laramie, Wyoming, where he will lead services at the Laramie Jewish Community Center and meet with Hillel students at the University of Wyoming for a discussion of this summer’s events in Israel. “I hope to bring rich, compelling Jewish content to the 200 members of the Laramie community to help them see the ways in which Jewish texts can inform our lives today,” he explains.  By connecting to a community in which he doesn’t have roots, Mikutis is looking forward to strengthening the vital leadership skills he will need to fulfill his future dreams of building connections between communities in the Former Soviet Union and North America, a goal sparked by his previous work at the Interregional Netzer Camp in Belarus.

Rabbinical student Alli Cohen will be at Mt. Zion Congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as part of her yearlong bi-weekly pulpit. In addition to leading High Holy Day services, teaching adult education, and preparing b’nai mitvah students, she will be holding a Tashlich service at Rotary-Norlin Park along the Big Sioux River. “I seek to share my love for Jewish music, my passion for Israel, and my devotion to social justice. With only two Reform congregations in South Dakota, I hope to keep this small community of approximately 50 families going strong.”

Cantorial student Shanna Zell will be co-leading services with rabbinical student Danny Moss at Brooklyn Jews of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, New York. Now entering the second year of her yearlong pulpit focused on programming for people in their 20s and 30s, she expects about 250 young congregants for Rosh Hashanah and 500 for Yom Kippur, in the context of a 1000-family congregation.  “The Brooklyn Jews High Holy Day service is what inspired me to seek out the cantorate in 2011,” she recalls. “I hope to inspire others to make a personal commitment to their Judaism in the way that I was inspired.” Brooklyn Jews meets young people where they are through innovative programming within and outside the synagogue walls to forge connections and create community.

Rabbinical student Samantha Shabman will be at Bates College Hillel in Lewiston, Maine, where she will be the “Campus Rabbi” for the High Holy Days and the ten Days of Awe in between. She will be leading services, Tashlich, and holiday meals, presenting sermons relating to Israel, hosting an “Ask the Rabbi Session, leading Havdalah, and participating in a dinner with the multi-faith initiative at Bates College, a small college with a small Jewish population.  “Because this community does not have a rabbi throughout the rest of the year, I hope to help the community organized and develop a Jewish home on campus that will last throughout the year,” she says.

Rabbinical student Leah Citrin will be returning for her second year to Temple Beth-El in Jefferson City, Missouri, for the High Holy Days.  In addition to leading multiple services and delivering several sermons, she will lead a Shabbat children’s service, and teach a lunch and learn session for adults. “This is a great time to deepen relationships with the wonderful people I began to get to know last year through many meals and home visits,” she notes. “With about 25 member families, I hope to engage congregants through different entry points and facilitate a meaningful, fulfilling High Holy Day experience that both challenges and comforts, teaches and inspires. The opportunity to serve and learn from congregations I might otherwise not encounter is a powerful reminder of the strength of the Reform Movement.”

Rabbinical student and education alumna Dusty Klass will be helping the skilled laypeople among the 40 congregants at Congregation Olympic Bnai Shalom in Port Angeles, Washington, to lead services, during which she will deliver two of the four sermons. Unlike previous years, where Klass has been the sole worship leader for prayer, music, and Torah chanting, this year will be her opportunity to “learn a new skill set of coordinating services in which congregants will own the parts of the service they are passionate about.”


Second-career rabbinical student Lisa Vinikoor will be at Beth Yehuda Synagogue in rural Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, for the entire year, where a major aspect of her work will be Jewish education: a Hebrew class for adults, a Jewish text study class, and teaching in the small religious school. In this community of about 20 member units, “I hope to bring to life Jewish texts, an appreciation of Jewish culture, and a love of Hebrew and of Israel.” In addition to leading services, giving sermons, and reading Torah, she will help congregants with pastoral issues and perform life-cycle rituals. “In all of my rabbinical functions, I hope to help my congregants deepen their Judaism and Jewish identity while strengthening the Reform Movement and the Jewish people.”

Rabbinical student Michael Harvey looks forward to leading services for the approximately twenty congregants of B’nai Israel in Natchez, Mississippi. His sermons will focus on an analysis of the word B’reishit, a Talmudic understanding of tzedakah, and the importance of taking action in the face of forgiveness.  “As student rabbis, we are able to renew the spirit of a group of Jews who may feel isolated or alone, as their community dwindles and they are not able to afford a full-time clergyperson.  Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people lives, wherever they may be, in the small towns throughout the world and, of course, within the small towns of the United States.”   

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.