The 149th Class of HUC-JIR Demonstrates Compassion and Creativity with Their Capstone Projects

Their work leverages text and tradition to improve the world they will inherit today as Jewish clergy

June 5, 2024

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) teaches students how to imagine and envision innovative approaches to Jewish practice and worship, and unique applications of Jewish wisdom and learning in ways that connect our enduring traditions to how Reform Jews show up in the world today.

As part of their study at HUC-JIR, rabbinical and cantorial students design a Capstone Project, enabling them to more deeply explore a topic of interest. The Project culminates in the creation of an in-depth piece of work that can be the basis of ongoing study, teaching, and research in their professional work. Through this Project, students hone their research and writing skills, and enjoy an opportunity to work closely with a faculty sponsor.

The Capstone Projects for HUC-JIR’s 149th class evinced their depth of learning and a compelling creativity. Tapping into both the multimedia and multi-platform tools available as well as the renewed vibrancy in the ways Judaism is observed and practiced, the Capstone projects were both surprising and relevant.

Projects included:

  • Gabriel Snyder embraced unusual source material, looking at how Prince of Egypt could be used as artistic midrash in Jewish education. Ezra Leventhal also looked to film for inspiration, comparing bodily metaphors of pain and fear in Torah to the works of director and screenwriter David Cronenberg.
  • Shirah Kraus created a podcast entitled The Prophets Podcast: Uplifting Prophetic Voices for our Times.
  • Gabrielle Cohen, recognizing a need to push the Reform Movement forward on a particular area of inclusion, offered a new responsa on allowing guide dogs in synagogues. Franklyn Salzman’s TRANSitioning Lifecyle Rituals; Covenant and Bet Mitzvot imagined a new guide to adapting rituals for people who are queer.
  • Kevin McKenzie explored how to embrace “zmiros,” or Shabbes table songs, as a way of strengthening engagement through communal singing.
  • Madeline Torop Budman, in With All Your Being: A Spiritual Curriculum for Rabbi-in-Formation, devised an easily-implementable curriculum to fortify spiritual authenticity.
  • Iris Karlin, serving as both composer and librettist, composed a full-length opera entitled Yehudit based on the book of Judith, (and midrashic teachings), reclaiming an important feminist spiritual connection to the Chanukah narrative. Read more here.

These projects are not just academic exercises; they are bellwethers of the future of Judaism. Each project represents a unique blend of traditional Jewish values with contemporary relevance, ensuring continued evolution of Jewish thought in purposeful ways. The creativity and innovative thinking exhibited by these students underscores the dynamic nature of Reform Judaism and its inherent adaptability to address modern challenges while staying rooted in its rich heritage.

The Capstone Projects also demonstrate the actionable skills that HUC-JIR’s education provides its students, preparing them to become leaders who are not only knowledgeable and skilled, but who are willing to push limits and exceed boundaries when called for. These future clergy are equipped to inspire their communities, foster inclusivity, and engage with the world in original, transformative ways.

As these graduates assume their roles within the Jewish community, they bring with them the rigorous scholarship and profound insights demonstrated by their Capstone Projects, poised to contribute to the evolving landscape of Reform Judaism.