For the first time ever, faculty from every major Jewish seminary – across every denomination – came together to share insights and explore the current state of pastoral education, as well as visions for the future.
Sponsored by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health and the UJA-Federation of New York, the 2012 Jewish Seminary Pastoral Educator Conference took place January 10-11. It was held in New York City at the UJA-Federation conference center. Attendees included representatives from HUC-JIR, Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University’s RIETS Rabbinical Seminary, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and elsewhere.
Faculty discussed the state of Jewish pastoral education and how the unique role of the rabbi has evolved. Sessions examined the field’s history, how well practitioners serve communities, and where things may go from here. Findings will be disseminated through the Kalsman network, but already the conference is leading to tangible results, according to Michele Prince, director of the Kalsman Institute.
“The attendees are already making shifts small and large to their pastoral ed. curricula – making syllabi adjustments, incorporating tools into course and fieldwork, and developing plans for alumni assessment.”
Tomorrow’s Jewish leaders must be more than simply skilled at visiting the sick and being sensitive to issues that arise around lifecycle events. Today’s seminaries must enhance how and how much students are exposed to important issues related to the special health needs of subgroups of the Jewish population, including older adults, adolescents, families and individuals encountering challenges in building their families (infertility, adoption, fetal loss, etc.), special needs families, and immigrant & ethnic-minority populations.
Prince has high hopes based on what she experienced at the conference, especially with HUC-JIR faculty leading the way. “Putting people in the same room together can create ripples we cannot even anticipate,” she said. “These educators have literally revolutionized pastoral education — and rabbinical school curricula — in the last 15 to 20 years.”