Last week 20 Hillel professionals spent a week immersing themselves in the study of Jewish texts and big Jewish ideas at Mechon Hadar in New York. Hadar is a pluralistic Beit Midrash that offers opportunities for anyone, no matter what their background in Jewish learning, to have the opportunity to dive into the beauty, the wisdom and the complex nuance of our Jewish textual tradition. At the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience at Hillel International, we believe that all Hillel professionals should have the opportunity to be invigorated by the richness of Jewish wisdom. I’m delighted that our colleagues Hannah Rosenberg, MJ Lowinger and Arinne Braverman have chosen to share a few words about how this experience effected them personally and as professionals. If you are interested in future opportunities for Jewish learning, keep an eye on the Meyerhoff monthly newsletter, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hannah Nicole Rosenberg
In the Mishnah Sukkah, it is written, “During the whole seven days of Sukkot, one makes his sukkah permanent, and his house becomes temporary (2:9).” Last week at Mechon Hadar, 18 Hillel professionals and I made the loud, welcoming space on Amsterdam Avenue in New York City feel like our home.
The greatest obstacle to learning is thinking you know everything already. And at Mechon Hadar, I was reminded of how much more we have to learn. Through our chevruta and our Hillel at Hadar cohort, we searched to find a balance between bringing Torah back to our campuses, and feeling authentic in our own understanding and conversations.
Other generations and generations of voices have struggled with the same conversation and the same text as us. Where are we in this long Jewish narrative? Mechon Hadar didn’t just educate us about the Torah, but turned us all into better resources for our students. As I start my new position as Engagement/Jewish Life Coordinator at Franklin and Marshall Hillel in the fall, I am thrilled to bring authentic Torah to my students, and with me a sukkah to help them turn college and Hillel into their temporary home.
“If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need you have for a tomorrow?” -Rebbe Nachman.
After a memorable undergraduate experience of serving as Hillel president for two years and a CLIP New York intern, Hannah N. Rosenberg graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in May and is eager to start her Hillel career at F&M as the Engagement/Jewish Life Coordinator and Ezra Fellow this fall.
When I first took a position with Hillel at University of Vermont a year ago, I thought I had to be the expert on everything Jewish, Hebrew, Israel, and UVM. Even though many people, including my coworkers, were telling me that it was okay to learn as I go, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was behind and needed to catch up. Just over a week ago I attended a Mechon Hadar conference that changed my perspective.
When I applied for the conference, I had no idea what to expect. “Jewish professionals learning together.” What could be more vague? The week was incredible! From the first lecture from Rav Shai Held about how we know nothing when we decide we know everything, to working with my chavruta partner on ancient text that we were able to relate to our present day lives, to problem solving with other Hillel professionals; I finally realize and accept that we are all students and continue to learn in our careers and lives.
Now, I am able to bring back to campus a new attitude towards learning, and an idea of how and when to implement text. Beyond that, I have built strong relationships with others in all areas of Jewish professionalism, who wish to gain great personal understanding and apply that to educating others.
I highly recommend Mechon Hadar, whether you are entering a Jewish profession or have over twenty years of experience. We all have a lot to gain and a lot to give and I know that now in a different way.
Thank you to Hillel International for providing me with yet another opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.
MJ Lowinger is entering his second year as Engagement Associate at UVM Hillel. He is excited to meet the class of 2019 at Vermont, continue to build relationships with students and other Hillel professionals, and supervise peer network and social media cohorts!
Last week, I celebrated my birthday with a gift for both myself and my Hillel: learning Torah with colleagues at Mechon Hadar. I chose this gift not only because I knew that learning with colleagues in a pluralistic environment would be personally fulfilling, but also because learning Torah is the gift that keeps on giving. While at Mechon Hadar, I enjoyed many "aha moments" of insight in small and large group discussions, had profoundly impactful conversations with my chavruta Sue Kurtz, Executive Director of Hillel at Virginia Tech, and reveled in moments of quiet contemplation and reflection--all for their own sake. And upon my return to campus, I began discussions with NU Hillel staff about introducing a new Torah study option this Fall, to share some of the joy (and the texts) that I had experienced this summer--for our community's sake.
As Abi Dauber Sterne noted in her recent EJewish Philanthropy article, "The text or idea being learned has no specific or limited impact. Rather the text reemerges in all sorts of ways for the learner, with an impact that can be personal, professional, or both." Practical "Translating Torah to Campus" sessions, facilitated by Hillel International's Dr. Laura Tomes and Columbia Hillel's Rabbi Megan Goldman deepened both the personal and professional impact of our Jewish learning. In one exercise, we were asked to select a short text that had held personal meaning from earlier in the day that we anticipated having broad application, memorized it, and then brainstormed 3 contexts in which we envisioned ourselves referencing this text back at our Hillels with a colleague. In addition to the learning of texts lishma, and for our own personal enrichment, we each acquired "pocket Torah"--accessible wisdom that could be shared to benefit our communities in a variety of circumstances.
I hope you, too, will give yourself and your Hillel the gift of Jewish learning in the coming year, with all the personal and professional renewal that ensues. All of us have lengthy "to-do" lists of competing priorities for our "breaks." Ultimately, in the words of our namesake, I asked myself: "And if not now, when?" I answered by attending Mechon Hadar with my colleagues this summer...and it was "tov me’od (very good)."
Arinne Braverman is an alumna of the Jewish Organizing Initiative and worked with Hillel Council of New England for 7 years before serving in her current role as the Executive Director of Northeastern Hillel.
The Mechon Hadar Hillel Professionals Summer 2015 Cohort