Kallah Launches Academic Year at HUC-JIR/NY - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Kallah Launches Academic Year at HUC-JIR/NY

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

“This year's Kallah was especially important as we look back on the year that has gone by, with all of its challenges and disappointments and think about the ways for us to best support our congregants, communities and colleagues,” says Karen Perolman, N ‘10. “The theme "m'ayin yavo ezri" helped us all remember that in all moments of our lives, the good, the challenging, the celebratory and the difficult, we can look to God, our community and ourselves for support and strength.”

Perolman helped organize a panel on self-care where three HUC-JIR faculty -- a rabbi, a cantor and a professor -- shared how they balance work and family and the ways in which they nurture and care for themselves. She adds, “Rabbi Sirkman shared that preparing for and teaching Torah study each Shabbat morning is one of the ways he cares for himself and recharges his batteries. Hearing their real-life examples and insights was invaluable.”

Over the past few years, the Kallah launching the academic year has been a key community-building and study program for the New York campus.  Made possible through the generous support of Clarissa and Steven Lefkowitz, Vice Chair of the New York Board of Overseers, this year’s Kallah was a wonderful way to integrate new students (14 rabbinical, 10 cantorial, 2 education, and one rabbinical transfer) into the community.  The opportunity to study with the faculty in this informal setting is unique and very powerful for the students.  They get to know their teachers in a completely different context and have many opportunities to speak one-on-one as well.

Alicia Stillman, SSM ’13, notes, “Being away as a community, meeting each other and beginning classes and prayer together away from the grind of our normal obligations makes it a unique opportunity to be present and experience each other. It was a beautiful way to start the year.”

When the Kallah was initiated, the faculty chose a series of themes that would supplement the academic curriculum.  This year, the decision was to enable the community to address the current economic challenges that we face – personally, institutionally, and in our congregations and the communities in which the students are involved.  The students were very grateful for this opportunity and found the experience to be most meaningful.

The Kallah allows the students and faculty who work with them to be more creative in prayer than is possible within the time constraints of the school day.  These worship experiences are most meaningful and encourage the students to experiment a little more during the year as well.

Cantor Benjie Schiller explains, “As a faculty member of the worship working group, I spent time over the summer meeting with a group of students to plan one of the tefillot for the Kallah. We collaborated for many hours leading up to the Kallah to create a welcoming and joyous ambiance for the community's first prayer experiences of the year. As we begin to pray together each new school year, we are reminded that the ongoing prayer life in this sacred community serves as a refuge and a home for all of us as individuals and as one congregation.”

Stillman found the Tefillah at Shacharit on Monday morning to be particularly memorable and meaningful.  She explains, “All of the second-year students returning from Israel were called up to the Torah for an aliyah, and there in front of the open Torah, I remember being overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for where I am now, having been so fortunate to have lived in Israel studying amazing things last year, and returning to this place of fantastic opportunities and experiences.”

Programmatic highlights reflect the unique aspects of the Kallah:

  • Dr. Lawrence Hoffman and Dr. Steven Cohen engaged in a dialogue Sunday evening “Leading Jews & Judaism in Changing Times.”  This was a rare opportunity for students to hear these two leading thinkers of the Reform Movement engage in such discussion.  Dean Shirley Idelson moderated the program, which challenged the students encouraged them to think about Jews and synagogue life in new ways.
  • The Monday afternoon program was devoted to self-care and what that means for clergy, especially in such challenging times.  Three members of the faculty spoke personally:  Cantor Benjie Schiller, Dr. Adriane Leveen, and Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman.  Their stories were powerful models for the students.  The messages they gave to the students, about the elusive struggle between personal and professional lives, about sustaining themselves when giving so much to others, were critical messages for the students to hear while they are in school.


In addition to the first two days of classes, students had the opportunity to study with faculty in other contexts as well.

Rachel Petroff, MARE ’10, served on the program planning committee for the Kallah, and specifically worked on organizing self-care sessions to provide students and faculty with an opportunity to engage in rejuvenating activities and reflect on the place of self-care in their lives says.  The the most memorable moment of Kallah for Petroff was the semester's first meeting of the MARE seminar. “It was wonderful to be back with my classmates and meet the year's new additions to our program. The class provided an exciting look at the year ahead and also served as a reminder of how the faculty has made it such a safe space in which to learn and grow.”

Renni Altman, Associate Dean and Director of the Rabbinical Program, explains, “One cannot underestimate the importance of the social interchange provided by the Kallah in setting a positive tone for the year.  Taking the community off-campus into a retreat setting only strengthens those experiences.  Once students return to campus and begin their demanding professional obligations, it is far more challenging to develop the collegial bonds that strengthen their experiences while at HUC-JIR and that will support them throughout their careers.”

Petroff agrees. “For students new to the New York campus, Kallah provides a unique opportunity to get to know faculty in a more informal environment, and to begin to build relationships with students across years and programs,” she adds.  “The chance to meet new students, to connect with faculty, and spend time with good friends -- I can't imagine starting the year any other way.”


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 leaders to serve 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, museums, 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