Faculty Spotlight: Rabbi Dvora Weisberg, Ph.D.

Rabbi Dvora Weisberg, Ph.D. (she/her)
Rabbi Aaron D. Panken Professor of Rabbinics
Rabbinical School Director
Los Angeles Rabbinical Program Director
HUC/Los Angeles

Dvora Weisberg

Please tell us about your Jewish journey and what brought you to HUC.
I fell in love with Hebrew when I was a high school student. I wanted to become a rabbi but that didn’t seem to work out at the stage I was in when I finished college and the stage that my Jewish community was in, so I decided to get a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Talmud, which I was very excited about. In 2001, I was teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and my husband and I decided we were ready to make a change. I applied for a position at HUC, which was advertising for an assistant professor of rabbinics. I’m from California originally and the idea of returning there was very attractive to me. I got the job, and here I am. I had been teaching at the college for about seven years when Rabbi David Ellenson invited me to become the rabbinical school program director in LA, and as of last July, I am the national rabbinical school program director.

I grew up in the Reform movement, and I spent some time in the Conservative movement in the late 70s and onward, because I was very enamored by Hebrew, prayer in Hebrew, keeping kosher, and Shabbat, and those were not part of the Reform movement that I grew up in. When I came to HUC, I learned that the Reform movement had changed a lot and was open to different levels of observance, and I now consider myself part of the Reform movement.

What are the highlights of your role as Director of the Rabbinical School and the Los Angeles Rabbinical Program? What are you most excited about? What changes have you seen during your time with the Rabbinical School?
The highlight of my work as rabbinical school director, locally and nationally, is interacting with students and being with them as they make this incredible journey from “I want to be a rabbi” to “I am a rabbi.” The thing that most animates me is working directly with students, whether in the classroom, in small groups, or one-on-one. I’m really excited about the opportunity to create more sync between and across our campuses to think about rabbinical education not as in four different settings, but as one single entity that plays out in multiple locations, so we can think about our curricular goals, how can we achieve them, and how can we support our students as they grow spiritually and professionally. One change I’ve seen is much more inter-campus conversation, which I think is really important, and with that comes the opportunity to have a vision. It is not the best use of our resources when faculty focus only on their own campus. I’m really looking forward to being able to build a greater sense of community, cooperation, and shared vision across the campuses.

We are grateful for your leadership of the Presidential Task Force on Safe and Respectful Environments. How has this work impacted you and impacted the College?
This work allowed me to have a fuller picture of what’s happened, and what’s happening, across the system. It’s given me a sense of those area where we need to really double our efforts and work harder to make people feel comfortable and part of the community. The most important thing that I took away is that the environment that we want can’t be created with policy alone. Policies are really important because they serve as guides for people in how they are expected to behave: what is appropriate speech; what is appropriate behavior; what it means to be a community that values all of its members. But many of the things we heard that were upsetting were not about policy violations, they were about individuals being less than kind and less than appropriate with other individuals. Since we can’t police everyone all the time and wouldn’t want to, and because many of our students are going to become Jewish professionals and we expect high standards, what we really need is people coming in and knowing our values, understanding that if they’re not comfortable with those values, if inclusion, diversity, basic human decency aren’t values that they share, this isn’t where they should be.

As we prepare for the High Holy Days, are there any reflections you’d like to share? What is special about the High Holy Days this year? How will this season be different from last year? From previous years?
When we think about our lives over the last year, it’s important for us not to be overly judgmental of ourselves and other people. This is a time when typically Jews do a great deal of introspection. Sometimes introspection means recognizing that you have not been the person you want to be, and sometimes it involves thinking about how other people have treated us and how we have treated them. On one hand that’s still appropriate, and on the other hand I realize that none of us has been our best selves this past year, we were under enormous stress and pressure, and this year we should still be introspective but in a very generous and kind way. When other people approach us and say they haven’t done enough this year, they haven’t reached out or haven’t called, it’s important for us to be extremely forgiving. None of us was untouched by the anxiousness, the uncertainty of the past year.

Last year for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur almost all of us sat at computers. This year, what we’re going to do and how we’re going to feel is much more uncertain. We had expectations for this year’s High Holy Days that now seem like they might not go the way we hoped. Going into a second year of High Holy Days apart, or not as together as we want to be, is very difficult. For the college, last year was a year of academic certainty, because we knew from the beginning of the year that we would be on zoom. This year is a lot less certain; we may be together but masked, there may be a time where we can’t be together for a while, and this is a different type of uncertainty that’s going to require a great deal of patience and support.

What are your hopes for this new school year at HUC?
I taught in person last week for the first time in 18 months, a one-week intensive. I learned that wearing a mask in the classroom is not great, but I’m so excited to be back in the classroom, the mask is almost irrelevant compared to the pleasure of seeing my students and being in a physical space with them. I hope to visit the other campuses this year, which I couldn’t do last year, and that we find our way forward, that we find a way to be there for each other, to pray together, to learn, and to have a good year.