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Where Rabbis Get to Study, Too: Rabbi Jen Feldman of Kehillah Synagogue, Chapel Hill, NC
Mechon Hadar enriches Jewish professionals by offering immersive learning opportunities
Rabbis are teachers, but even rabbis need a chance to be students, too.
For congregational leader busy attending to the needs of their communities, however, the options for serious study are limited. “There aren’t many opportunities for intensive, yeshiva-type study for a full-time rabbi,” said Rabbi Jen Feldman, a graduate of Mechon Hadar’s intensive seminar for rabbis.
For Rabbi Feldman, the spiritual leader of the 175-family, Reconstructionist Kehillah Synagogue in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the opportunity to study with other rabbis in a beit midrash environment was an experience she couldn’t pass up. “I wanted the opportunity for serious study with colleagues that I could learn with and from,” she said.
“New York bagels were also a plus,” she joked.
A typical intensive for rabbis at Mechon Hadar includes daily beit midrash study and classes taught by Mechon Hadar faculty.
This emphasis on bringing the learning back home was crucial for Rabbi Feldman. One of the classes she took during the seminar explored how rabbis can navigate the sometimes murky waters between halakhah and their own moral sensibilities. Rabbi Feldman was confronted with a moral quandary almost immediately after returning to North Carolina from the seminar. When she got the emergency phone call, she thought to herself, ”I’m going to ground myself in our tradition, and I have the perspective to deal with this,” all thanks to her experience at Mechon Hadar.
She later shared this story with the team at Mechon Hadar:
“Just one day after returning from the Intensive, I was called into the psychiatric unit of the maternity wing of a local hospital. Drawing on my learning at the Intensive, I was able to comfort and guide a patient through a profoundly difficult moral decision. In short, the Intensive has helped me to be a better rabbi and has provided me with crucial resources in my work,” she wrote.
The seminar experience also left Rabbi Feldman recognizing how intellectually and spiritually gratifying it is to have time for intensive study, and how important it is to spend time with other rabbis. Fortunately that’s a void that Mechon Hadar is doing its best to fill. Hadar’s annual seminar for rabbis is the only program in the U.S. that enables rabbis from all denominations of Judaism can come together for intense study.
Rabbis aren’t the only Jewish education professionals that Mechon Hadar offers learning experiences for. Hillel professionals, day school teachers, and camp educators also participate in week-long seminars. These professionals often don’t have beit midrash-style study experiences in their backgrounds, so Mechon Hadar’s emphasis on educating teachers gives them a deeper well to draw from when planning their own educational activities.
Though it has been a few years since Rabbi Feldman enjoyed those New York bagels, her experience at Mechon Hadar has stayed with her since the seminar. She is still a regular visitor to Mechon Hadar’s website and is currently “enriching [her] havruta study with the online resources” available there.
Finding the time to get away to learn is challenging for rabbis and other Jewish educators, but as Rabbi Feldman knows, it’s crucial for those who want to keep learning and keep finding new ways to connect with others. “When you take time for that, everyone benefits,” Rabbi Feldman said.
“The more you strengthen your own connections to Torah, to the sense of the divine, the more capable you are of teaching Torah and of being present for people in a sacred way.”
Find Out More About...
- Our Rabbinic Yeshiva Intensive, a week of learning for rabbis from accross the denominations (March 2018);
- Our Day School Educators' Institute, an intensive week of inspiring personal and professional learning in a lively beit midrash setting (June 2018);
- Our Jewish Professionals' Institute, geared toward Jewish professionals, including synagogue, Hillel, and foundation professionals (June 2018).