In 1979, then President Alfred Gottschalk, z”l, recruited a young rabbinical graduate, Rabbi Samuel Joseph ’76, to serve as the National Director of Admissions and Assistant to the President. A few years later, when Professor Sylvan Schwartzman, Professor of Jewish Religious Education retired in 1981, Rabbi Joseph had the opportunity to take on this education position on the Cincinnati campus, and the rest is history.
As Eleanor Sinsheimer Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish Education and Leadership Development, Rabbi Joseph has had an abiding impact on generations of students at HUC- JIR, the Reform Movement, and the wider Jewish world. His teaching and research have focused on Jewish education, institutional dynamics, and organizational systems, with a special interest in how Jewish institutions and organizations, from schools to synagogues to national groups, can strive toward excellence by fulfilling their mission and vision.
It has been his mission to make case theory inform practice in Jewish education and the practical, clinical aspects of that work, so that research theories inform practice and implement success. For example, he looked at religious schools forty years ago and by using teens to be student aides found them a springboard into Jewish learning and Jewish professional careers. This led to “The Madrichim Handbook,” which describes how to transform kids into partners in the curriculum and teaching process.
As an engaging and inspiring teacher, he has worked with countless Jewish communities around the globe, from Australia and New Zealand to Berlin, Holland, Argentina, and Brazil. Thirty years ago, he founded the liberal congregation in Hong Kong. Most recently, he taught at the first rabbinical seminary in Germany since the Holocaust, the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin, as the Jacobs Fellow. His impact has been felt throughout the Reform Movement, because he has played a prominent role in the URJ Scheidt Seminar for Presidents and Presidents-Elect since its inception in 1998.
It was Rabbi Joseph’s visionary leadership and teaching that aided the creation and success of HUC-JIR’s Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education. He says that this program, now in it its 9th cohort year, “is a gift to the Jewish people by attracting educators working in congregations and other venues like Hillel, PJ Library, Jewish museums, et al to a quality graduate program that has pioneered excellence in distance learning.”
Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, Director of the School of Education, stated, “Sam has been a lynchpin of the EMA. As our students learn how to lead their own organizations, they have benefited deeply from Sam’s decades of experience in communities around the world, navigating the challenges of change.”
Furthermore, as a creator and leader of the HUC-CCAR Joint Rabbinical Mentoring Program in 2005, he has provided vital, ongoing support to a new generation of rabbis. Through this program, 4th- and 5th-year rabbinical students on all stateside campuses are matched with alumni who provide mentorship, guidance, and support as they approach ordination and their professional placements. Eight years ago, he initiated the Reform day school externships for rabbinical, cantorial, and education students that provides them with a powerful immersive dive into successful day school education programs.
“We’ve increased reflective practice for our rabbis, cantors, and educators, across our campuses, so that they reflect on what they have done and feed it into their future practice. In addition, we are working hard for our graduates to have intentional, thoughtful partnerships with colleagues and lay leaders in their work. We look at the full panorama of the lay-professional relationship to figure out how to make it work best. I derive so much naches (pride) from our alumni, as I watch them as leaders in their jobs – it makes me smile,” Rabbi Joseph notes.
Twenty years ago, Rabbi Joseph created the Reform Jewish Educator (RJE) title that a Jewish educator can apply for after years in the field. The RJE title recognizes the educator’s credentials, experience, supervision, and expertise, and it is presented to the worthy recipients at the Association of Reform Jewish Educators convention each year.
It is entirely appropriate that in 2015, he was awarded the first-ever Jewish Educational Leadership Award by the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE), formerly the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE), in honor of his lifelong work advancing the organization and the field of Jewish education.
In addition to teaching at HUC-JIR for 40 years and one semester, he has authored four books and over fifty articles on education and leadership.
Even after retirement, Rabbi Joseph will continue to team teach the cross campus biblical models of leadership course. He will also continue to consult with rabbis, educators, administrators, communal leaders, and lay leaders, supporting them as they lead their institutions and organizations. He is working on several writing projects, including an anthology of short Jewish texts with questions for lay and professional leaders for text study and divrei Torah (Torah commentaries) and a study of the nature of the lay-rabbinical relationship. With four grandchildren in Denver and Portland, Rabbi Joseph is also looking forward to family time.
It is gratifying to know that Rabbi Joseph will continue to share his Torah with us, within and outside of the classroom, for years to come.