Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, Ed.D. ’94, ’95 (she/her)
Director, Master of Educational Leadership ProgramHUC/Los Angeles
Please tell us about your Jewish journey and your journey to HUC.
I come from a family of Reform Jews. My great grandfather on my father’s side was the founding temple president of a Reform synagogue, Temple Israel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I grew up in Los Angeles and my family was very active in the synagogue and in Jewish communal life. The synagogue always felt like a natural and welcoming place for me.
When I was in middle school, I had an English teacher give an assignment to shadow for a day somebody in a profession that we were interested in learning more about. I shadowed my Jewish educator at Temple Judea in Tarzana, Judy Aronson. Since then I wanted to be a Jewish educator and just loved the idea of learning and teaching. That started me on my journey thinking about what it means to be a Jewish educator and how to become one, which put me on the path towards HUC. It was my Hillel rabbi at UC Santa Barbara, Rabbi Stephen E. Cohen, who suggested that I also consider rabbinical school. For me, the process of becoming a rabbi was about the learning, the deep dive into Judaic studies. My passion has always been for Jewish education and I’ve always seen my rabbinate as being focused on education. I call myself a Jewish educator who happens to also be a rabbi.
What is most meaningful about your current role?
There are two things that are really meaningful for me in my current role. First, are the colleagues that I work with in the School of Education, both here at HUC as well as those colleagues – rabbis, educators, camp directors, leaders of education focused organizations – who serve as mentors to our students. I love working with all these colleagues. Second, I love being part of the students’ lives and seeing their growth into Jewish educational leaders. I love seeing their vision for Jewish education develop over the course of their studies and helping them chart their path into the Jewish professional world.
What project are you most proud of?
I am really proud of the work that I have done with Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, Dr. Sivan Zakai, and others, on revisioning the Master of Educational Leadership program to be responsive to the needs, interests, and the learning styles of emerging professionals today. Our former Master of Arts in Jewish Education program (of which I’m an alum) was a really highly regarded and respected program and helped us nurture students into being really phenomenal leaders. We see them all across the field of Jewish education today. We didn’t want to lose that high quality experience, but we also knew we needed to make some changes to it. I’m really proud of how we’ve maintained all the great aspects of the former program and redesigned it into our current program.
What is something you wish more people knew about the Master of Educational Leadership program?
I wish that more of our Jewish community would see that being a Jewish educational leader is a position of leadership worthy of kavod and respect and an aspiration in and of itself. One does not have to be a rabbi or a cantor in order to be a leader in our Jewish community. Jewish educational leaders have talents, creativity, and skills that the community needs. We need those leaders to build thriving Jewish communities, and to help us bring about change in the world.
This year we are celebrating 50 years of women in the rabbinate. What is the significance of this anniversary of women in the rabbinate to you?
I think that having women in leadership roles, whether it’s in the rabbinate, the cantorate, as Jewish educational leaders, or leaders in nonprofits, has contributed to the ongoing transformation of Jewish community. I was just reading a publication, edited by Dr. Gary Zola ‘82, ‘91, published by HUC, on the 20th anniversary of women in the rabbinate. One of the essays, “A Visit to the Future” by Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer presents a vision of what the Jewish community will look like in the future. One of the things that she predicted in 1992 was that women in the rabbinate would lead to opening even more doors and greater inclusivity and greater acceptance of diversity in the Jewish community. Though we have so much work still to do with that, I agree with her prediction that women in the rabbinate have contributed to that.
What do you see as the future of Jewish education?
That’s a simple question! My core belief as a Jewish educator is that Judaism offers guidance to us in how we live our lives. So Jewish education is the way that we can learn about what Judaism has to say; we can ask questions, debate, and hopefully ultimately find the guidance that we need to live our lives. We, as Jewish educational leaders, need to continue to identify the challenges that our communities are facing. What are the questions that they’re asking and what are the struggles that they’re facing and how can Judaism provide guidance to us so that we can actually make this world a better place?
How would you describe HUC in one word?
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I love to cook with my family, practice yoga, ride my Peloton, walk my dog, and read.