HUC-JIR/New York Kallah 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

The HUC-JIR/New York Kallah encourages students to reconnect with old friends and reach out to new ones while providing the opportunity to learn and grow together as Jewish professionals.  The Kallah this year, entitled “Continuing the Conversation: Gender and Feminism in Today's Jewish Discourse,” provided students with the opportunity to learn about and reflect upon challenging issues surrounding gender and sexuality in their own lives, in the Jewish community, and in our society at large.  Diverse programs enabled students to learn from one of the leading feminist Jewish thinkers of our time, Dr. Judith Plaskow, to study with our faculty and learn from those in the field, and to discuss these issues and how we can address them personally and professionally – and as an HUC-JIR community.   Creative worship experiences enabled students and faculty to reconnect as a praying community and find moments of inspiration and experiences of God.

Rabbi Renni Altman, Associate Dean, HUC-JIR/New York, stated, “The New York campus Kallah this year was truly one of the best that we have had.  It was a great all around experience in learning, praying, and community building.”

The Kallah has multiple goals:  through thematic programs, we learn together as a community, exploring significant subjects set by the faculty and included in the core curriculum.  This year’s theme, “Feminism and Gender Studies,” enabled students and faculty to wrestle with issues challenging the Jewish community related to gender, sexuality, issues of LGBTQ inclusion, work/life balance, and more. 

Dr. Wendy Zierler helped organize an introductory event entitled “Why Feminism Now.” The program began with a presentation created by Zierler and a student committee in collaboration with Drs. Gail Reimer and Judith Rosebaum of the Jewish Women's Archive in Boston. The goal of the presentation was to introduce some of the enduring and central themes of feminism: Our Feminist Forbears; From Silence to Voice, The Personal is Political, Confronting Power and Setting the Feminist Agenda.

Following the presentation, Dr. Zierler conducted an interview with Judith Plaskow, the Sally Preisand Visiting Professor in Feminism and Gender Studies. Learn more about Dr. PlaskowWatch the interview.

This program was followed by a series of workshops on various issues in feminism and gender studies, as well as gender-related text study sessions.  The last program provided students with an opportunity to reflect on further questions about feminism, its current relevance, the meaning of femininity and masculinity, ongoing challenges, and concrete suggestions for change.  Dr. Zierler closed the discussion with a call to celebrate all that we have achieved while zealously guarding it for the sake of the future of liberalism writ large.

Another goal of the Kallah is to create meaningful worship led by faculty and students in the Worship Working Group that exemplies the very best of Reform Jewish worship today.  Small groups of students and faculty met throughout the summer to plan these services, always “pushing the envelope," bringing the very best of their skills, talents, and creativity.  This year, the prayer experiences reached new heights and inspired us all. 

Andrea Rae Markowicz, fifth-year cantorial student in the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, stated,  "As a new member of HUC-JIR's Worship Working Group, I had an incredible experience this past Kallah as part of a team of faculty and students helping to plan our Monday morning shacharit service. Some may ask what the big deal is, but t'filah at HUC-JIR's New York campus involves a unique balance between creative experimentation, traditional Judaism, and minhag hamakom.  With bi-weekly meetings over three months, the four of us were really able get to know each other and to set specific goals and intentions.  As I anticipate ordination in the spring, I hope to carry over this extremely intentional model of planning.  For with it, we were free and in the moment, able to truly be k'lei kodesh." 

Finally, Kallah is a unique opportunity for students and faculty to spend two days together in a retreat atmosphere – sharing meals, enjoying the outdoors, and having fun together at our annual campfire.  It is a special way to welcome new students and faculty and sets a great tone for the year. 

Second-year rabbinical student Daniel Reiser explains, "I really enjoyed the chance at Kallah to meet upperclassmen and be welcomed to the HUC-JIR community. It was reassuring to see students who are further along on their journey to becoming rabbis and feel reassured that the journey is worth it.  Beyond this, I was struck by many conversations around work-life balance. The recent article in The Atlantic on ‘Why Women Still Can't Have It All’ raised questions for me on what it means to ‘Have It All.’ At the end of the day, what are these five years of study, prayer, and community building all about? If, as Jewish leaders, our work is to enrich the lives of others, we must start by enriching our own lives. We can't study just for the sake of study and pray just for the sake of prayer. These things must be life-enriching. In this way, the dichotomy between work and life is blurred, and "having it all" is transformed to mean living a full, rich life."

Rabbi Altman concludes, “The feeling of being a community was palpable at Kallah and we brought that great spirit with us back to One West Fourth Street.”

The Kallah is made possible by a generous gift from Kevin and Erica Penn. Mr. Penn is Co-Chair of the Eastern Region Board of Overseers.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first 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 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. www.huc.edu