Rabbinical Students Join Communities from Kalamazoo to Charlotte and Participate in Summer Residency Programs

Third year Rabbinical Student Ally Karpel and Rabbi Asher Knight

Third-year Rabbinical Student Ally Karpel and Rabbi Asher Knight

August 9, 2023

This summer, four rabbinical students took part in a residency program that paired them with rabbinic mentors and synagogues in small and medium-sized communities in the Midwest and South.

The program, open to students on all campuses, was organized by Rabbi Lisa Grant, Ph.D., Director of the New York Rabbinical Program, and Rabbi Madeline Cooper ’22, Manager of Community Cultivation at the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, and is part of HUC-JIR’s ongoing commitment to ensuring students are prepared to serve communities across the country.

Rabbi Grant says, “Students get an immersive experience that they can’t have during the school year. It’s a great learning experience, particularly in these communities with strong mentoring. Students have more of an opportunity to develop sustained relationships with congregants, shadow the rabbi in multiple roles, and get a rich picture and exposure to congregational life.”

Rabbi Ahuva Zaches ’14 of Congregation Or Ami in Richmond, VA, who mentored a student, says that living in a smaller Jewish community often gives people a deeper appreciation for meeting and connecting with other Jews and of the synagogue as an essential source for community.

Rabbi Zaches shares a meaningful experience from this summer with her resident, second-year rabbinical student Jules Ilian, at a Bar Mitzvah rehearsal for a student with special needs: “We had planned to have his service dog on the bimah with him for his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Unfortunately, the day before the last Bar Mitzvah rehearsal, his service dog passed away from an unknown illness. With the sudden loss of his service dog, we did not know if the family would be up for having the rehearsal or ceremony as scheduled. Fortunately, the family had been coming to Shabbat services each week that Jules and I had been leading services together, and they felt immediately connected with Jules as a new rabbinic figure in their life. The family said they would still be coming in to do the rehearsal. The next day, the Bar Mitzvah student, his two moms, Jules, and I stood in a close circle around the lectern in our sanctuary and sang through the whole Shabbat morning service together. Smiles of joy about their upcoming simcha replaced their tears of grief. As the family walked out of the synagogue, they remarked on how healing it was to experience that ritual together. This was a truly beautiful moment that I will always carry in my heart.”

Rabbi Simone Schicker ’18 of Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo, MI, says, “I chose to have the congregation participate in the residency program because I know there are many rabbinical students who do not have the opportunity to work side by side with a rabbi in a small community. Helping rabbinical students understand the needs, benefits, and differences between different congregations, different areas of the country, and different paths within the rabbinate is important.”

Fifth year rabbinical student Aria Caligiuri and Rabbi Simone Schicker

Fifth-year rabbinical student Aria Caligiuri was the resident in Kalamazoo. She shares, “My learning at HUC and from internships was very helpful in helping me establish my footing in a rabbinic role. Leading services and lifecycle events, and teaching classes are all things I have had training on in school. In addition, my internships in both chaplaincy and addiction rehabilitation settings have helped me learn to improve my pastoral care and make a deep and meaningful connection with the people I serve.”

Throughout the residency program, students shadow the rabbi in multiple roles and come away with a richer exposure to the depth and breadth of congregational life and communities across the country

Rabbi Asher Knight ’07 of Temple Beth El in Charlotte, NC applied to be a mentor because of the transformative experience he had during his rabbinical school summer internship with Rabbi Susan Talve ’81 in St. Louis. “The mentorship and support I received from inspiring colleagues played a crucial role in my growth as a congregational rabbi. The positive impact of having a student-rabbinic intern in our congregation in 2018 (Rabbi Hannah Elkin ’21) further solidified my belief in the value of such programs. Witnessing the growth of the student rabbi and the congregation’s enthusiasm for supporting future reform rabbis, cantors, and educators motivated me to fully embrace the opportunity.”

Third-year rabbinical student Ally Karpel has found long-term mentorship, goal setting, and visioning to be a wonderful component. She shares a special experience from the summer: “One of the most meaningful experiences of my residency has been sitting on the beit din for nine different conversions. I knew going into rabbinical school that I would find deep joy and fulfillment from accompanying wedding couples under the chuppah and from welcoming babies into the covenant at baby namings and brises. However, I did not anticipate finding such deep joy in being able to reflect on conversion students’ journeys to Judaism! Sitting on the beit din and getting to wish a hearty ‘mazal tov’ to the newest Jews when they emerge from the mikveh has been an absolute highlight of my summer.”