Senior rabbinical students from across HUC-JIR’s stateside campuses convened for placement interviews at HUC-JIR/New York, under the auspices of the CCAR/URJ/HUC-JIR Joint Rabbinical Placement Commission on February 20-23. Twenty-five students (4 from Los Angeles, 7 from Cincinnati, and 14 from New York) seeking assistantship positions in congregational pulpits were interviewed by clergy and lay leaders representing 18 synagogues (16 synagogues interviewed onsite and 2 synagogues did so over the phone). The 25 students represent more than half of the graduating class of 44 students to be ordained; some seniors have already been placed, others are deferring placement for a year for family reasons, and those seeking employment in Hillels, organizations, educational institutions, and other venues interview separately for these opportunities.
Placement was organized by the three Directors of Rabbinical Studies: Rabbi Renni Altman of New York, who chaired this year’s program, Rabbi Dvora Weisberg of Los Angeles, and Rabbi Kenneth Kanter of Cincinnati. "Integrated placement, whereby all senior rabbinical students interview with congregations on one campus, began about eight years ago," explained Dr. Aaron Panken, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, HUC-JIR.
For the students, placement represented a significant reunion since they commenced their studies in Jerusalem for the Year-In-Israel four years ago. “At Havdallah services on Saturday night, the separation of miles and years evaporated as they recapped four years of personal and intellectual growth – including weddings, the arrival of babies, and other milestones,” noted Rabbi Kenneth Kanter. He added, “It was inspiring to observe the warmth and supportiveness that the students shared throughout this three-day process.”
The visiting lay leaders expressed praise for the calibre and training of HUC-JIR's rabbinical students. "The students are smart, thoughtful, visionary leaders, and I have been impressed by them all," stated Wendy Horowitz, Chair of the Hiring Advisory Committee and Secretary of the Board of Trustees of Shir Tikvah Congregation, Minneapolis, MN. "It is inspiring to know that there is so much talent and energy in the pipeline of our clerical leadership," added Howard Lanzner, Chair of the Search Committee, Temple Jeremiah, Northfield, IL.
The next stages of the placement process are formally structured. The congregations review the candidates and issue “call backs” on Thursday, February 25. Students under consideration for jobs schedule visits to the synagogues over the next three weeks. At the conclusion of the “call back” period, the congregations and students each submit their choices, ranked by preference, to the committee of three Directors of Rabbinical Studies, who jointly review them and make the “match” between synagogue and student. The “match” process is binding on both the synagogue and the student. The Directors make phone calls to each student on March 24thto announce his/her placement. In the event that a student is not placed, that student goes into the CCAR’s placement system, headed by Rabbi Lennard Thal, Interim Director.
Placement takes place at HUC-JIR only for graduating senior rabbinical students. Once students have been ordained, they work with the CCAR Placement Director for the duration of their professional careers.
"We were happy to host our alumni and Reform lay leaders and facilitate their interaction with our students," stated Rabbi Renni Altman. "Considering the prevailing economic conditions, all those involved found the process to be a positive experience, and we are most gratified by the affirmative feedback from the interviewers, who praised our students and the excellence of our rabbinical program."