Students Lead Communities Across the US for the High Holy Days
October 3, 2023
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion rabbinical and cantorial students fanned out from New Brunswick, NJ to Bryan, TX to Laramie, WY to spend the High Holy Days supporting congregations in need of clergical support during the chagim. And while many rabbinical and cantorial students led High Holy Day services and initiatives as part of their year-long student pulpit, over 20 students spent the holidays with a different congregation. For many it was their first experience with that specific community, while some returned after forming a strong relationship in prior years.
Fourth-year rabbinical student Rachael Houser spent her second year at Temple Israel in Paducah, KY. She says, “I was so happy to return to this community for another year to continue to hone my skills. The Temple Israel congregation continues to support me in my growth as a student rabbi, and I have been grateful for them throughout the Days of Awe. This is my third year leading High Holy Day services by myself, and this is the first year I felt completely confident in doing so. Mistakes are inevitable, but when I have a great community like this one to embrace me, I only focus on the moments of growth and victories of the holiday.”
Beth Reinstein, a fourth-year cantorial student, returned to Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield, MA. She shares, “It was really special that the choir requested to sing my composition of “Oseh Shalom” during the Yom Kippur morning service. I came into the pulpit last year wanting to follow the minhag and sing the community’s favorite compositions, and now they have added my composition to that list of favorites!”
Every year, HUC-JIR offers a matching program for congregations in need of support during the High Holy Days and students seeking to get extra experience. Second-year rabbinical student Matthew Berman was drawn to a position at Adath Yeshurun in Aiken, SC due to it being a “solo” pulpit where he could challenge himself. The historic community was also a draw. He explains, “Adath Yeshurun prides itself on being one of the oldest congregations in the US that has never had a full-time rabbi so HUC students have been going to Aiken, SC to serve the community for decades. I was even shown a record book featuring pictures and news clippings dating back to the 1960s of all the student rabbis who have served in the same position. While immersing myself in the community, I had the privilege to learn about the Jews of Aiken and Augusta, GA by visiting the newly developed Augusta Jewish Museum. I spent time with many of the descendants of the founding members of the Augusta and Aiken Jewish communities and heard first-hand accounts of growing up as a Jew in the South.”
After spending a year in Israel, second-year rabbinical student Audrey Honig taught a Talmudic story that she learned during her Year-In-Israel at B’Shert in Brooklyn, NY. She says, “It was a pleasure to share, and I loved exploring numerous possibilities within the story with the congregants. It was meaningful to see how this text could resonate with me differently in teaching it than it did as a student.”
Students commented that their courses greatly helped with preparing them to lead services. Fifth-year rabbinical student Gabi Cohn shares, “I utilized skills from my homiletics class to write my sermon for the second day of Rosh Hashanah at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FL. This sermon went so well that people were still bringing it up to me at nilah on Yom Kippur, asking for copies of it and telling me how well it was written and delivered. I felt like I really had the opportunity to impact people’s lives during such an important time in the Jewish calendar.”
Jules Ilian, a second-year rabbinical student, had a unique experience at Bates College in Maine. She reflects on what it was like to lead services in the midst of a hurricane: “As I was getting ready to leave for my High Holiday Day pulpit, I got an urgent phone call from my father. He warned me of a hurricane that was supposed to take place in Maine on Rosh Hashanah. Unsure of the exact protocol for this situation, I threw a raincoat in my suitcase, googled weather reports, and hurried to the airport to catch my flight.” She recalls beautiful Friday night services with a lot of student involvement, as she collaborated with the presidents of the Jewish Student Union to ensure the services felt inclusive.
The next day, they needed to determine whether to reschedule Tashlich or keep it as planned. Jules recalls, “It seemed that it would be safe enough to hold services. It felt almost biblical to be praying while cautiously waiting for a severe weather event. When asking forgiveness for the deeds of the year past and hoping that the new year would be a better one, there felt to be an added layer of dramatic tension. Tashlich was a short but meaningful service. We started and ended by singing Neshama Carlbach’s “Return Again”, wind rustling the trees. Just as Tashlich ended it began to lightly rain.”