We opened the academic year with an optional hiking trip in the Adirondack Mountains. A minyan of rabbinical and cantorial students drove north with me, and we climbed two peaks. In between we made a Shabbat with informal meals, prayers, and words of Torah. This was a fun way to get to know each other better, expand our horizons, and enjoy one of the most beautiful parts of our country together.—Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and dean of the Division of Religious Leadership
JTS rabbinical students don't restrict their prayer and study to the buildings of The Jewish Theological Seminary. The journeys of spirituality undertaken every year by the students (and alumni and faculty) of The Rabbinical School range near and far from campus. A year in Eretz Yisra'el has long been a key part of rabbinical education at JTS, helping to deepen not only the devotion that JTS students have to the State of Israel but their knowledge of the country and its people in all their complexity. Closer to home, at the start of the 2011–2012 academic year—during the weekend that marked the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks—a minyan of rabbinical and cantorial students accompanied Rabbi Daniel Nevins to the Adirondacks, where they enhanced their tiyul (hiking trip) with Torah, tefillah, friendship, and a Shabbat in the wilderness.
A cohort of students from The Rabbinical School travel across a wider swath of America as part of the Legacy Heritage Rabbinic Fellows Program (LHRFP), a five-year endeavor, supported by the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited, which provides religious leadership to Conservative congregations that are underserved. This includes emerging synagogues not yet large enough to hire a full-time rabbi, older congregations that have lost membership due to changing demographics, and communities impacted by natural disasters.
When Rabbi Andy Shugerman (RS '09, now rabbinic fellow at JTS's Florida Development Office and a regular contributor to JTS's weekly commentary on rabbinic literature, Between the Lines), was a Legacy Heritage Fellow, he worked to revitalize the only remaining Conservative congregation in post-hurricane New Orleans. "My success at Shir Chadash [in Metairie, Louisiana] came largely from effective partnerships that I built with lay leaders, synagogue staff, other clergy, allies in Greater New Orleans, and Rabbi Steven Rein, the other Legacy Heritage Fund Rabbinic Fellow serving the congregation," said Rabbi Shugerman. "That theme of partnership has defined my path in becoming a rabbinic educator."
Several JTS students each year also attend a retreat of Clal's Rabbis Without Borders. Third-year student Jess Minnen wrote of her recent experience, "The Clal / Rabbis Without Borders retreat was a transformative weekend for me, both personally and professionally. Our learning was passionately delivered and equally as passionately debated. I returned home enriched by the friendships I formed, and by the professional connections I made. I can't recommend the retreat highly enough and hope every student will attend at some point during rabbinical school."
Returning, again, to the JTS campus and its environs, spring semester classes began last week; during the previous week, The Rabbinical School held its annual minimester, this year titled Tapestries of Faith. About 45 participants spent four very full days on campus and around New York City, from Central Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church to the Bowery on the Lower East Side to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, meeting remarkable scholars and religious leaders, including New York Times writer Peter Steinfels, who wrote the "Beliefs" column for 20 years. During the spring semester, in addition to classes, fellowships, community service, travels to underserved congregations far and wide, and study in Israel, senior students in The Rabbinical School will give sermons during Minhah on selected weekdays in the Women's League Seminary Synagogue at JTS.