The inaugural cohort of the rabbinical student fellowship, run through Hillel International’s Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience, convened March 20 for a day of learning in New York City. The 12 fellows hail from four different rabbinical schools and are serving as rabbinic interns at various Hillels across the country this year and span denominational lines. Highlights of the pilot program include monthly chavruta study (learning in pairs), monthly webinars taught by Hillel professionals and shadowing current Hillel rabbis and educators. Next year, this program will run as a year-long fellowship. To learn more about the program, contact Mollie Andron, assistant director of the Meyerhoff Center.
Below, participant Laura Rumpf reflects on her experience at the March 20 gathering.
“It starts when you say ‘we’ and know who you mean; and each day you mean one more.” I find the words of poet and activist Marge Piercy ring in my ears as I think back on the engaging, playful and provocative day of learning that I had the privilege of participating in on Sunday, March 20 as a part of Hillel International’s first ever rabbinical student fellowship cohort.
Our diverse group of Hillel rabbinic interns from more than nine different campuses representing the widest spectrum of Jewish denominations kicked off the day with a high-energy round of back-pocket Torah: we got to know each other by sharing, in rapid fire speed-dating style, the texts that move us and inspire this work. Under the guidance of Penn Hillel’s Rabbi Josh Bolton, we engaged in a storytelling workshop that brought the group to a depth almost unthinkable for only having met an hour before. By the time we broke for lunchtime falafel, the tone was one of old friends talking shop, and of course, upcoming Purim celebrations.
After lunch, we got down to the nitty gritty of the work we came to do. We met with Eva Sterne of Big Tent Judaism, an organization devoted to reaching “everyone who’s been unaffiliated, marginalized or disenfranchised by mainstream Jewish practice,” as their mission statement proclaims. She dared us to consider the unique campuses and students we work with. We brainstormed specific barriers to entry preventing students from enjoying Hillel life, and ways we could knock them down together. Barriers included everything from being sensitive not to use “inner circle” language when marketing events, meeting students where they are, and welcoming students of all backgrounds and knowledge levels in discussions and holiday observance.
Through chevruta-style trouble shooting, role plays, and a taste of New York hospitality through a scavenger hunt of Manhattan, each of us was able to identify concrete methods for upping the level of welcome and inclusion in the places we work. Each of us was able to name ways of improving how we message, engage students and widen the nets we are casting in order to create the warmest, most meaningful Jewish community in our Hillels.
I left determined to infuse the campus culture of Loyola Marymount University with an invigorated sense that finding a Jewish home on campus enveloping a ‘come as you are’ attitude inspires learning, relationships and growth. I feel blessed for the new thought partners and friends that this cohort has given me and look forward to future opportunities for fusion, collaboration and innovation to spark new vitality in the Hillel world.
Laura Rumpf is a third year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and the rabbinic student intern at Loyola Marymount University. A San Francisco native, she was first inspired to explore the rich intersection of Judaism and social justice as a student at Hillel at Stanford. When not working, she loves creative writing, dance and gorging on Indian food.