Rabbi Andrew Goodman
Director of Student Support in the Office of the Provost
Dean of Students, HUC-JIR/New York
Please tell us about your Jewish journey.
I grew up as the youngest of three in Western Connecticut, one of the only Jewish families in our town. We ended up there because it was between both of my grandparents geographically and it was a place my father could find work. Jewish identity at the home was really important. My mother was not Jewish when I was born, she converted later in life, which meant my father was really bringing our Jewish identity, rituals, and customs to us. My parents knew that without a deliberate and intentional Jewish upbringing, we wouldn’t have a Jewish identity. We didn’t have NYC bagels, we didn’t have days off for holidays, but we were very active in our Reform synagogue, driving thirty minutes each way to get there. We went every Friday night and had religious school three days a week.
We had a very vibrant home life, doing Shabbat dinners and every holiday. When I was older I was able to take advantage of my NFTY youth group and I took a semester abroad in Israel during my junior year of high school. All those different pieces were important to my Jewish identity building, and made me realize that being Jewish was special. It wasn’t commonplace, it wasn’t the majority, and I was very proud of that identity. I was also aware of identity and of a multi-faith understanding of the world since I was very young. My upbringing gave me a real sense of the joy of meaningful rituals. For example, my parents worked really hard so that the morning of Shavuot we would wake up and have waffles with ice cream for breakfast.
In college I wasn’t part of Hillel because I was already so used to having a Jewish identity that wasn’t connected to my peers. I did start working at the local Reform synagogue, and from there started my journey as a Jewish profesional.
What’s your current role at HUC-JIR and what’re the most challenging and rewarding aspects?
I currently have two roles at HUC-JIR: I am Dean of Students of the New York campus, and the Director of Student Support in the Office of the Provost. What I love about my roles is they have given me a lot of different perspectives. My work on the recruitment team involves supporting people who are bringing in ideas that are aligned with what we already do, bringing in people who have ideas that are maybe more radical, and asking how do we bring in people who want to be Jewish leaders?
As the Dean of Students, I think about New York specifically, but also about all of our programs, all of our students, about how to help them be successful. As the Director of Student Support, I’m thinking about how to bring transparency and the best practices from the field to all of our students, to ensure that all of our students are having an excellent experience. Especially in a program like ours, it can be emotionally and spiritually intense, and it’s not just academics disembodied. It’s rewarding to work with the next generation of Jewish leaders who are going to become my colleagues. I’m learning from them and it feels really rewarding to help students who might struggle in a more typical academic setting, who aren’t looking to do mainstream things, and being able to validate, affirm, and support their passions. One of the challenges is having multiple bosses, different reporting lines, working on a team across campuses and the world. It’s hard, but it helps me see and analyze problems differently.
Being a member of the President’s Cabinet has helped me get many different perspectives on issues that are impacting students. Talking and analyzing these issues gives me insight and helps me understand how other departments are approaching these challenges and questions.
How have you brought innovation and change to HUC-JIR?
I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I have amazing faculty members, mentors, and previous and current administrators. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything alone and I don’t feel like I’ve ever had to push against the tide. I’ve tried really hard to bring best practices from the field of higher education. Part of not having an Office of Student Support in the past has meant that student support has happened on the local level, so it has been happening effectively but not formally in line with the National Disability Services, and disability professional organizations, or best practices from the field of student support and development. While HUC-JIR is a very unique institution, we’re also part of the industry of higher education and there’s so much we can learn.
For a long time there was an unspoken norm that most of our students are going to serve pulpits, so the programs are set up to serve pulpits and to serve more mainstream students. Using an equity lens, and making sure we are treating every student equitably, is important for us to focus on so we can make sure every student succeeds, and so we are treating every student in our system with the same level of compassion, equitability, and responsibility. Not that we haven’t done this in the past, but we are now making a deliberate shift to systematize these efforts.
What have you learned from your various roles at HUC-JIR?
I’ve learned to trust my instincts and be comfortable in my own skin. For a long time, when I was coming up through the ranks after ordination, I was very much aware of being an outsider, as the only rabbi and Jew on a chaplaincy staff, and the only rabbi in a 100 mile radius. In my roles at HUC-JIR I’ve learned that I’m successful being me, and I don’t have to be something I’m not, which in some ways is counter-cultural and in some ways is authentic. It models really powerfully for the students that professionalism needs to come with a sense of authenticity. Hopefully our students can go out and be passionate and have their own sense of authenticity, and it will be beneficial for both them and for their communities.
How did being a student at HUC-JIR prepare you for your career?
I never wanted to be a pulpit rabbi. I love that I had the opportunity to do it for two years, but I’m glad I was able to shape my career and explore other paths. I had support from Rabbi Nancy Wiener who was my mentor as a student, and she helped me find pastoral care internships, and supported me when I was a student as a Navy chaplain candidate, and when I was in school while on four different military installations. For two years I was a pastoral care intern at DOROT, a Jewish social services agency on the Upper West Side of New York. That prepared me in a variety of ways, most importantly giving me a lot of conceptual training around pastoral sensitivity and made me think a lot about how to help people in challenging situations, and what being with somebody as they’re struggling feels like. It gave me a lot of experience in pretty uncomfortable situations, so I could validate and be present to people’s emotions. It was also affirming to see the beauty, power, and need for meaningful religious leadership outside of congregational life. Although the military and higher ed are very different, they both involve young people trying to figure out who they are, what matters to them, where their passions and gifts lie, and how they want to enact their religiosity.
What’s your favorite memory at HUC-JIR?
My sister started school at HUC-JIR about two months after I was ordained. She went off to Israel right when I was about to start my pulpit. What was really special was that on her ordination, when she was in front of the arc and being ordained, I was able to also go up and offer a blessing. There was a real sense of all the things she and I shared from growing up, and of our shared commitment to the work that we do and had been talking about for thirty years. That, among many amazing memories, is one that stands out.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have twin six-and-a-half year old boys, and I love playing and reading with them. As an educator who works in higher education, it’s really fun to see what’s happening in first grade, and seeing them develop their own passions. I also really love cooking and baking, and I even have a certificate in baking and pastry arts, so that’s something that’s really meaningful to me.