HUC-JIR/New York's 2014-15 Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurialism Awards Nine Grants

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In celebration of the legacy of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR), the New York campus announces the recipients of the third annual Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurialism.  The Fellowship provides an opportunity for students to explore our history and to further Wise's legacy by conceptualizing and then carrying out bold and creative initiatives that they believe respond to the needs of contemporary Jewry.

Wise and JIR offered a new and compelling vision for twentieth century liberal Judaism. Today, we affirm aspects of that vision that continue to inspire many of us; at the same time, we recognize that the times in which we live call for new vision.  As a campus community, we cannot rest on the laurels of our past, and we have no interest in replicating what was. 

We look with hope to our students, who represent the future religious leadership of Reform and liberal Judaism.  We urge them every day to be Wise – thinking imaginatively in relation to the needs of our contemporary Jewish community, and daring to make real their own vision for liberal Judaism of the twenty-first century.

In the Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurialism, students are challenged to design a project that creatively addresses a problem they see on campus or in Jewish life more broadly. Over the course of the year they receive mentorship from Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein, Rabbi Emeritus of Central Synagogue and now Director of Jewish Community at 92Y.

Thanks to a generous gift from Elizabeth and Steven Gruber of the Eastern Region Board of Overseers, this year nine projects were awarded receive seed grants to implement their ideas.  The panel included Steven Gruber, member, Eastern Region Board of Overseers; Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein, Be Wise Director; Rabbi Darcie Crystal, Coordinator of Leadership Initiatives, HUC-JIR/New York; Amanda Kleinman, fifth-year DFSSM student; and Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Ph.D., Dean. 


Meet this year’s Be Wise Fellows, and read project descriptions in their own words:


Nicole Armenta Auerbach: "Two Minutes of Torah"

The voice of liberal religion in general, and liberal Judaism in particular, is under-represented in the public sphere. One reason for this is that we have been slow to build our capacity to create and disseminate digestible messages that might lend themselves to broad distribution through social media. Our Torah does not “go viral” because we are unaccustomed to creating brief, engaging, and easily accessible vehicles for our message.The “Two Minutes of Torah” initiative would partner with experts in the field to train HUC-JIR students and faculty to create engaging two-minute “sermons” for distribution through social media, and would create a “teleprompter filming station” on campus, where anyone could record a two-minute sermon and upload it to a dedicated HUC-JIR YouTube channel, accessible by the public.  

Nicole Armenta Auerbach is a fourth-year rabbinical student.  Prior to rabbinical school, Nicole worked as an attorney for 10 years, first as a federal public defender, and then as a media lawyer specializing in First Amendment issues. Nicole holds a BA in Women’s Studies from Harvard College, and a JD from Harvard Law School. Nicole is a trained community organizer, and is interested in exploring how the tools of community organizing can be used to reshape synagogue life.  Last year, she worked with the URJ’s community organizing arm, Just Congregations, to pilot a “community of practice” composed of five large congregations that are interested in exploring how to use lay-led small groups to change congregational culture and congregant participation.  This year, as an intern at Central Synagogue, she is working with clergy, staff and lay-leaders to expand Central's own "small groups" initiative.  Nicole is also interested in interdenominational and interfaith social justice work.  She has travelled with the American Jewish World Service to El Salvador, as part of its Rabbinical Student Delegation, and continues to serve on AJWS’s New York Action Committee for its "We Believe" campaign, which advocates for the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQ individuals in the developing world.  She was a Rabbis Without Borders Rabbinical Student Fellow and is also a Daniel and Bonnie Tisch Rabbinical Fellow.   Nicole lives in Manhattan with her husband, Josh, and her two daughters Catherine (age 10) and Vivian (age 7).


Sarah DePaolo, Joshua Fixler, and Rachel Heaps: “Creating Dynamic Visions for Technology in Worship”

We will offer the HUC-JIR campus community the opportunity to learn about the transformative power of technology to enhance worship by offering two lunch and learn sessions with experts in the field. The first session will offer the opportunity to explore the potential uses of the newly installed technology in our campus chapel. The second will challenge us to think further about the cutting edge of synagogue worship and visionary possibilities for the future. With this initiative we hope to raise the level discourse at HUC-JIR about the role that technology can play in supporting meaningful, dynamic worship experiences. We will contribute to the “t’filah laboratory” at the New York campus by creating spaces for new and progressive ideas to be shared and workshopped. As increasing numbers of students develop an understanding and begin to imagine how technology can help to create powerful worship, the impact of this initiative will be felt both on campus and at the many congregations that our students and graduates serve.

Sarah DePaolo is a third-year rabbinical at HUC-JIR and the Reform Rabbinical Intern at Columbia/Barnard Hillel.  Before rabbinical school, Sarah was the executive assistant to the CEO of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, where she learned invaluable lessons about the Jewish community, organizational work, strategic reorganizations, and the power of pluralism.  Prior to that, Sarah worked in national and local politics, beginning with the 2008 Presidential campaign, and then she moved back to her hometown, Ossining, NY, where she was a legislative assistant to Assemblywoman Sandra Galef and worked as a religious school teacher and youth group advisor at her home congregation of Temple Israel of Northern Westchester.  Last year Sarah was the Rabbinic Intern at ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and spent the summer in a rabbinical residency at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple.  She is a Wiener Educational Fellow, through the UJA-Federation of NY, and had the opportunity to participate in the Jewish Organizing Institute & Network’s Interseminary Leadership Course in community organizing.  Sarah is a graduate of Vassar College, where she studied Political Science.

Joshua Fixler is a third-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. He also serves as the Rabbinical Intern for B’nai Israel Synagogue, in High Point, NC. Before beginning his rabbinical studies, Joshua was the Assistant Educator and Youth Director for Temple B’nai Shalom, a Reform Synagogue in Fairfax Station, VA (2009-2012) and volunteered at 826DC, a non-profit that provides free after-school tutoring to inner-city youth. Prior to that, Joshua served as the program coordinator for the young adult department of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an interfaith social justice organization (2007-2009). This past summer, Joshua served as the Senior Educator at Shwayder Camp of Congregation Emanuel, a Reform summer camp in Colorado. Previously, Josh served as Rabbinic Intern for Congregation Emanuel in Denver, Colorado. He has been privileged to have participated in a number of leadership training programs which have contributed to his professional and spiritual growth, including the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, the Tisch Rabbinical Fellowship, the Rabbis without Borders Rabbinical Student Fellowship and the Jewish Organizing Institute & Network’s Seminary Leadership Course. Joshua graduated from the University of Maryland in 2007 with a degree of his own design in Organizational Development and Community Leadership.

Rachel Heaps grew up in New Rochelle, NY. While growing up she attended URJ Eisner camp, was the religious and cultural VP for her youth group and went participated in NFTY semester in Israel program, EIE, in the fall of 2004. Rachel majored in psychology at The George Washington University and minored in Judaic studies. While in college she began working for Temple Micah in Washington, DC as a religious school teacher. After graduating in 2009, Rachel began working for Temple Micah full time as the de-facto administrator, teacher and tutor. In 2011, Rachel transitioned her administrative duties to member and 20/30s outreach.  Rachel started her studies in HUC-JIR's rabbinical program in the summer of 2012. She is currently a third-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR and is a sixth grade teacher at Shaaray Tefila in New York City as well as a student rabbi in Williamsport, PA.


Matthew Green: "Milkl's Minyan"

Milkl's Minyan is a community organizing initiative in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It aims to bring together young LGBT Jews in the neighborhood, using an innovative approach to social media. The name, Milkl, comes from the Yiddish word for "coffee grinder," a play on the popular social media app, Grindr, the world's largest LGBT social media network. Milkl's Minyan seeks to redefine Jewish expression in an iconic Jewish neighborhood, famous for being home to 770 Eastern Parkway, the world headquarters of the Chabad Movement. The initiative experiments with queer social media in a manner yet unattempted in the greater Jewish world. To this end, it serves as a move toward greater LGBT inclusion in the Jewish community.

Matthew Green is a native of Michigan, brought up in the state's two great college towns, East Lansing and Ann Arbor. He attended the University of Michigan, where he studied History and Political Science. For his undergraduate honors thesis, he wrote the biography of a Jewish woman in colonial New York City, focusing on Jewish marriage practices and mother-son relationships. Before entering rabbinical school, Matt held the Berman Fellowship at Michigan Hillel in Ann Arbor, in which role he worked as a programming and engagement associate. This past summer, he was the assistant director of Camp Menorah in Redondo Beach, CA, and this year in New York, Matt teaches fourth grade Hebrew at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan.


Andrue (Andy) Kahn: "Seker (סֶקֶר): Progressive Jewish Outreach in New York City"

Seker (סֶקֶר) will work to do outreach for the progressive Jewish community in New York by offering individuals Jewish experiences on their own terms and by their own request. We will create public displays for t’fillin wrapping in parks such as Washington Square and Union Square with a table and visible signage. Literature to take away with information regarding the practice of wrapping t’fillin and other progressive Jewish events and communities in the city will also be made available as well as an e-mail distribution list and a web page. This project seeks to provide individuals with the opportunity for direct experience of the Reform tenet of informed choice, and to offer them ease of passage into continued meaningful progressive Jewish experience via our website.

Andrue (Andy) Kahn was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but grew up in Tacoma, Washington. During his senior year of high school, he attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel, and then went on to major in Religious Studies focused on the Tanach during his BA at Kenyon College in Ohio. As part of his BA, he attended both Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His interest in the academic study of religion led him to achieve an MA in Religion in Modernity at at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in 2007, and an MA in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Languages at The Jewish Theological Seminary in 2011. Upon graduating from The Jewish Theological Seminary, Andy began working at Central Synagogue in Manhattan as a Religious School Educator, creating new and innovative curricula in Jewish Studies and Hebrew for grades 3-9. He has also had the opportunity to lead adult education classes at Central in Tanach, and various other Jewish subjects. In 2011, Andy began volunteering to teach classes at Footsteps, an organization in New York City devoted to helping those seeking to enter or explore the world beyond the insular ultra-religious communities in which they were raised. After returning from the Year in Israel program with HUC-JIR, Andy began working at the CCAR Press along with continuing to teach at Central Synagogue and East End Temple while continuing his education at HUC-JIR in New York.


Vladimir Lapin: "The Mafte’ach Project"

The Mafte’ach Project will connect the worlds of HUC-JIR and New York area music conservatories in order to inspire young composers through commissions to create new musical works based on sacred Jewish texts and liturgy. This project will bring together student composers, who will write new liturgical pieces, and HUC-JIR students, who will bring these new musical settings to life. An additional benefit of this project is visibility of the school to a new audience of potential students of the conservatories, ultimately helping the recruitment department of HUC-JIR. 

Vladimir Lapin is currently a fourth-year cantorial student at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music.  He received his bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia and a professional master’s diploma in Vocal Performance from Mannes, the New School for Music in New York City. For the past three years, he has served as the cantorial intern at B’nai Jeshurun – Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ. He also serves as the cantorial student at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York. This past summer, Vladimir completed his first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Tri-Health/Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, OH. He has served on the religious school faculty at Temple Shaaray Tefila and Rodeph Sholom in New York City. Additionally, he has spent two summers as the Director of the Nature Program (Teva) at URJ Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, MA, where he helped develop a new nature curriculum for the camp.


Adam Lutz: "Te'urat Torah, The Light of Torah"

So much of the way we engage with our Jewish tradition is through text.  We engage with our tradition to inform and make meaning in our lives today.  However, most of our texts are written in Hebrew or Aramaic and they are scattered around in the Talmud, different works of Midrash, and various books form the middle ages.  How are we supposed to know where to find information on say Shabbat, if we don't even know where to start looking?  Te'urat Torah, The Light of Torah, is a web application that allows you to search for topics or verses from any tradition Jewish text to explore how Jewish ideas are connected and have developed through the ages.  Some works are only in Hebrew, but many have translations into English.  The website is an online concordance of all classical Jewish texts connecting ideas and references across Jewish texts.  We are currently beginning our Alpha test phase and would love for you to participate and offer your feedback.  Please visit our site at and click take a tour to see how it works.

Adam Lutz, a fourth-year rabbinical student, was born and raised in Los Angeles. Adam graduated from the University of California in San Diego in 2008 with a BS in Aerospace Engineering. After graduation, he worked for the United States Navy for three years as an Aerospace Engineer while earning a Master’s in Engineering from the University of California in Los Angeles. Adam changed the direction of his life path after he realized that his job was not fulfilling his emotional or spiritual needs. Adam has recognized a need to combine his expertise in technology and Judaism.  Similar to his work as an engineer where he developed technology to be used as an aid, he sees an opportunity to use technology to enhance the Jewish experience and solve some of contemporary Judaism’s most pressing issues.  Currently, Adam is serving in his second year as one of the Rabbinical Interns at Shaaray Tefila in New York City.  He is the IT coordinator of a new Jewish startup called Project Zug (a previous recipient of a Be Wise grant) which aims to connect Jews around the world through chevrutah style learning.


Joshua Mikutis: "Vilda Chaya"

Vilda Chaya will explore the combination of literary journal and news source that sites like Tablet, Grantland, and others have been modeling successfully. Our focus will be the global experience of young Jews, and the site will be a place for them to find their voices and to connect to each other. We will begin our site with a concentration of 12 major centers of Jewish life: NYC, Jerusalem, London, Paris, Budapest, Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Krakow, and Johannesburg-- with an eye toward expanding in the future. We will partner with a variety of organizations, religious and secular, to help young Jews write and think about what is meaningful to them. 

Joshua Mikutis is a second-year rabbinical student originally from Dayton, Ohio. He graduated from Haverford College with honors in History and Religion and minor in Russian from Bryn Mawr College. After working at a charter school in Boston and a private school in Dayton, Joshua served as an AVODAH Fellow at the New York Legal Assistance Group in their Immigrant Protection Unit as a paralegal. He stayed there for an additional year to continue his paralegal work and to serve as a grant handler for an employment based grant of $300,000 from the Robin Hood Foundation. Joshua is passionate about the global Jewish community, and he spent the last summer continuing his Russian language studies at Columbia University and working at a Netzer summer camp in Belarus through the World Union for Progressive Jewish Community. He serves on the JDC Entwine’s New York City Planning Committee, works with the Former Soviet Union desk of the WUPJ to develop an alumni network for those who participated in the FSU Pesach Project, and is a proud member of the small but growing Greene Hill Coop. 


Danny Moss and Caryn Roman: "The Neighborhood Project"

As young Jewish New Yorkers move to neighborhoods in western Queens, northern Brooklyn, and western Long Island, few liberal Jewish institutions are there to welcome them, leaving these communities of young professionals vastly underserved by liberal Jewish life. Through an intensive listening campaign based on one-to-one conversations, The Neighborhood Project will explore compelling models of engagement and community-building to create new opportunities for Jewish life in cooperation with other Jewish professionals and nascent leaders from within this emerging community. 

Danny Moss is a third-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. A native Chicagoan, he graduated from Oberlin College with degrees in Jewish and Comparative Religious studies. After graduation, Danny served for several years at Temple Micah in Washington, DC. Danny is a  15-summer veteran of Union for Reform Judaism Camp OSRUI (Oconomowoc, WI), where powerful, formative, frequently musical Jewish experiences meaningfully shaped his life’s trajectory. Since beginning rabbinical school, he served as a tour guide for teens in Europe and Israel; a musical educator at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York; and most recently, a hospital chaplain. In his free time, Danny enjoys reading, tennis, and music of all kinds.

Caryn Roman is in her first year of studying Jewish education at HUC-JIR. Through the NYSOE, she is an intern with Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale and works with the wonderful teens of the Miller High School Honors Program at HUC-JIR. An alumna of Boston University's College of Communication and New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Caryn has more than a decade of professional experience in Jewish education. She served in multiple part- and full-time roles with the Union for Reform Judaism's camp and youth programs and currently coordinates URJ's Bonim Kehilah Fellowship, a 10-month leadership training program for young adults. Caryn lives in Brooklyn and enjoys reading, seeing live theater, and exploring the city while listening to NPR podcasts. 


Jordan Shaner and Shanna Zell: "Changing the Landscape of Jewish Music Publishing at the College Institute"

In light of the changes occurring in Jewish music publishing, we feel a need for a digital platform for Jewish music that students, cantors and Jewish music aficionados can access by subscription. In our first year we aim to digitize all music published by the Sacred Music Press and create a user-friendly, interactive music catalog. After this, we aim to create a subscription based website in which once a user has subscribed, unlimited access to downloading Jewish sheet music will become immediately available. Our first year will also include researching the issues surrounding copyrighted sheet music in order to hopefully expand the catalog beyond the Sacred Music Press. We hope this project will also serve the musical needs of congregations and schools worldwide.

Jordan Shaner is a native of Denver, Colorado. A third year cantorial student at HUC-JIR in New York, Jordan holds a Master's of Music from the University of Memphis in opera performance. While pursuing that degree, Jordan discovered a calling for service, community and synagogue life. Jordan has worked for the past two summers at BIMA, an arts program for Jewish high school students at Brandeis University. He has served as the cantorial intern at Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom in Reading, PA since 2013 and has been a guest cantor at New York City congregations. 


Shanna Zell is a third-year cantorial student at HUC-JIR's Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music.  She has been serving as the student cantor at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn since Fall 2013.  Before embarking on her cantorial career Shanna performed as a solo singer/songwriter in New York City as well as with full bands including her own: Shanna & the Zellots.  Shanna loves keeping up to date with the latest technology and is eager to make cantorial music easily accessible through the internet for all Jewish music aficionados. 



Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein, Coordinator, Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurialism

Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein is the Director of Jewish Community and the Director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92Y, a world-class nonprofit community and cultural center serving the Jewish community and beyond in New York City and around the world. He is also serving as an advisor to and member of the Board of Directors of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Rabbi Rubinstein is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Central Synagogue in New York City, where he served as the congregation's Senior Rabbi from 1991 to 2014. Prior to his position in New York, Rabbi Rubinstein was the Rabbi of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, CA, and Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY.

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.