It was only in the last ten years that Joel Shaiman began thinking about becoming a rabbi. A second-career student at The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Joel's experience in investment management and consulting lasted for close to twenty-five years before he arrived at 3080 Broadway. "I had built my career on advising mortgage investors on how to quantify their risks, and then how to manage their operations to reduce these risks," Joel says. Coming to JTS was a risk he was willing to take.
As Joel says, he began to "mellow with age" and decided to redirect his energies away from the business world and towards the communal world. Once he began exploring what The Rabbinical School offered, he realized that it was what he had been looking for. "I found a unique approach at JTS . . . one that appeals to me personally, but also I believe is compelling to all those who want to both stay connected to the tradition and fully engage with the modern world," he reports.
With an undergraduate degree in systems engineering and an MBA already under his belt, Joel says, "The Rabbinical School is the liberal arts education I never had. I am fulfilling a dream to master traditional Jewish texts in a contemporary way, transforming myself into a Jewish leader and teacher for the twenty-first century."
Now a third-year student concentrating in Midrash, Joel traveled a unique path to JTS: "It wasn't until I moved to New York and started sending my kids to the Abraham Joshua Heschel School that I realized that there was an alternative, compelling view of Judaism, different from that of my youth."
Joel describes the classes at JTS as engaging and informative. Taking Modern Jewish History with Dr. Jack Wertheimer and The Philosophy of Conservative Judaism with Chancellor Arnold Eisen provided a context for his own experience as a Jew. Says Joel, "It is fascinating to see how Jews from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries grappled with the same issues that we are dealing with today."
The classes on Midrash with Dr. Burt Vizotsky and Talmud with Dr. Judith Hauptman were especially rewarding. "Synthesizing the traditional approach to learning Jewish texts with an academic approach makes them much more meaningful to me. I believe all Jews can benefit from this style of learning—regardless of their prior level of knowledge," Joel says.
Upon graduation in 2012 or 2013, Joel will look to blend his managerial skills with his educational training. "I hope that my first forty-six years of life, and my experiences as a parent, husband, and friend, will help me succeed in the pastoral responsibilities as a Jewish communal leader," Joel says.
Given Joel's unique set of practical and spiritual skills and longtime preparation, he is sure to find success.