Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Fifth-year rabbinical student Miriam Hoffman (MAJNM ‘22) is the Rabbinic Intern at USC Hillel. She shares, “Hillel was my first plan for what I wanted my rabbinate to be. I loved my Hillel experience at the University of Arizona. I love that age group. What’s special about college students and Hillel is this is the first time so many people are coming to Judaism on their own terms. It can be a little jarring but is a beautiful opportunity, and I want to be a part of that.”
She continues, “A personal challenge is how do I, as one person, support all of my students in all of their pluralistic and Israel needs when I have my own feelings and Jewish experiences. I’m on my own Jewish journey and have my own friends and mentors. I know that my work is for the students and all that matters is how I can be their mentor, support system, or whatever else they need. This is their Hillel experience, not mine. I just want to be there for them.”
Miriam has worked with USC Hillel as part of both her Nonprofit Management and Rabbinical studies. She shares why she chose to study at the Zschool in conjunction with her rabbinical studies: “Every Jewish organization I work for will be a nonprofit so it didn’t make sense for me not to be involved in that program. It was a no-brainer for me. I am still doing some of the nonprofit management work now, and Dave Cohn ‘17, Executive Director of USC Hillel, has been really amazing – if there’s something I want to learn about or be involved with, we can usually find ways for me to do that..”
Miriam also created the USC-dur. She explains, “We only had the old version of Siddur Sim Shalom, which has no transliteration or explanations. Many students couldn’t read Hebrew and the services were sort of lackluster. I was getting requests from students to print out transliteration or give them something they could use to participate in services. I identified this need to create an accessible siddur, so I created one with Hebrew, transliteration, translation, and explanation that we use every Friday. I asked Dave for funding to do this and explored possibilities – he was very supportive.” Students now use these bound books every Shabbat.
Throughout her time at HUC, Miriam has been on her own Jewish journey. She shares, “I entered pretty frum and traditional so the first two and a half years were really challenging for me. It has only been in these last two years that I’m starting to reidentify as Reform and find my place in this movement. I grew up Reform, but in college started living a pretty observant life. Although I knew I wanted to be a rabbi, I took a gap year between college and rabbinical school to do the Avodah Jewish Service Corps. When I went to HUC for the open house, it was such a warm environment and it felt right to me. I didn’t want to just learn Gemara or translate text all day – I wanted to learn ‘how to rabbi.’ I knew HUC would give me that education. Sharing this with my Hillel students has been helpful, as they appreciate that I have had all of these experiences.”
Miriam’s Zschool capstone was about how we talk about God in Reform spaces and she looked at creating a resource guide for clergy and educators to talk about God, not just around God. Her rabbinical thesis topic is “Belief in a Personal God in the 21st Century,” focusing on the works of Rabbis Eugene Borowitz, Arthur Green, and Rachel Adler. She says, “Rabbi Dvora Weisberg, Rabbinical School Director and Rabbi Aaron D. Panken Professor of Rabbinics, and Rabbi Jan Katzew (my thesis advisor) have helped me rework what it means for me to be in conversation with these theologians and for them to be in conversation with each other. I can weave my own theology in and out, engaging with these pillars of Jewish theology. My theology has changed as I have been reading a lot of these books, which I find really beautiful.”
Miriam recently took over our Instagram story for the day. Check it out in our highlights (first student takeover on the top) to learn more about her day-to-day work and experiences!