Blog: Sh'liach K'hilah

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Interviewed by steven

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Friday night's service

I led services Friday night at my synagogue. (In this congregation, for a lay person, this is a big deal.) It went really well!

Many people commented to me afterwards that I exuded spirit and that helped them in their worship. I wasn't making a conscious effort here (you never want something like that to be, or seem, forced), but I was hoping that would happen. I've gotten similar comments in the past, so I'm ready to believe that it's part of my nature. (Except I don't have the impression that it happens Thursday mornings at the other place, so I'll have to analyze that. It might be the nature of the crowd.) Read more…

Upcoming Shabbat

I'll be leading services this Friday night at my synagogue. This is a big deal; lay people don't generally get to do this except as part of committees (sisterhood, etc), and it's not due to rabbinic absence. My rabbi (and I think the associate rabbi) will be there. My rabbi is undoubtedly expending some political capital on my behalf, and I appreciate the opportunity and the trust he shows in me. He'll greet the congregation Friday and explain what's going on and why I get to do this (because of the learning I've done, including in the para-rabbinic program). I'm thrilled to have the chance to (1) lead my congregation and (2) get constructive feedback from my rabbi.

(He's doing the torah service and concluding prayers, and reading torah. I'm giving the d'var torah and leading the rest of the service.)

Sh'liach K'hilah further followup

Originally a locked post.

Over the past couple of weeks there's been a discussion about a follow-on session for the Sh'liach K'hilah (para-rabbinic) program. Good little Pelican/INTJ/problem-solver that I am, I made a proposal to my classmates. I suspected that the program organizers were listening in on the mailing list, and I was right. They invited me to have a longer conversation with them, via conference call. This was very productive.

They acknowledged that I can't speak for everyone in the program (no one elected me spokesman), but they picked me because I'm articulate and respectful and had a vision of what we could do. They asked me to describe what I understood the needs to be, both from personal opinion and from what I've seen from classmates. They were a little baffled about why we wanted another SK program instead of going off and pursuing other forms of adult ed. (A couple of classmates have posted somewhat angsty messages about how they feel abandoned, which didn't help.)

I described three issues: Read more…

Sh'liach K'hilah followup

Originally a locked post.

I was right: at least one of the organizers of the SK program reads our mailing list. Read more…

Sh'liach K'hilah continuation?

Last summer (2005, I mean) I completed the Reform movement's para-rabbinic program, called Sh'liach K'hilah. The main part of the program is two summer sessions (not in the same year). At the end of last year's session, a bunch of us asked for a third year of the program because we felt there was still a lot to learn that would work well in that format. The organizer said something to the effect of "every clss asks for that; we're not going to run it".

I went home and said "I can do that (with help)", and sent off mail to the organizer a week later. She said "please wait until after the [fall] holidays", which I did, and then she left HUC, pretty much putting an end to that at the time. Further, the program was not held in 2006 (and the first year was not offered in 2005), so they could rethink the program. It's coming back in revised form next summer, though not in Cincinnati.

There is a mailing list for all participants in the program (in any year). In the last week or so, the list has gotten several posts saying "what about a third year?" and "hey, I'd go!". So last night I posted to the list:

Last year I sent the following message to [name]. Unfortunately for us, she left HUC before we could really discuss it. Before pursuing it again with the current organizers of the program, let me share what I was thinking here. If we can get a group together who'd be willing to do a lot of the work, we might have an easier time selling them on the idea.

Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005 23:16:28 -0400 (EDT)
From: [me]
To: [then-organizer]
Subject: SK 3

Dear [name],

I hope you had a good time at camp.

I have an idea I want to bounce off of you. You heard last week that a number of people would like to have "SK level 3" with a focus on text study. And we all heard you say you don't want to run it. Would it be feasible for one of us to run it but hold it at HUC?

Here's what I'm thinking (and yes, I'm volunteering if we can work out the logistics). We would hold the program at HUC because (1) it's a neutral location that we know works and (2) it has an amazing library and that would be really helpful for text study. We would use student rabbis as we did for the first two levels, and probably not as many faculty members (or maybe none at all if that's easier to manage, though it would be nice to have some of them too). I'm thinking of a curriculum that is a mix of rabbi-led text study, student-led text study (with people preparing material in advance and bringing it to HUC), and rabbi-led sessions on practical skills (Hebrew, library skills, understanding talmud, reviews of modern sources, how to look at midrash, practical teaching tips, and so on). Students would continue to lead services. We'd make sure there are some "non-heady" classes to break up what would otherwise be pretty rigorous, though I don't have specific ideas right now.

Could this work? Were the costs of the first two years covered by the tuition we paid, or is somebody subsidizing the program? How many students would we need to make it viable? We could, of course, open it up to previous classes too, so it doesn't sound like we'd have too much trouble getting 15-20 students. Would that be enough?

Obviously there would be some things that it would be hard for a non-local person to do, but if a motivated SK student were to get the instructors (you'd have to provide contacts), work out a curriculum, make assignments for services and text study, and handle the registration paperwork, would that be enough that someone (you, [name], someone else) would be willing to do the stuff that must be locally arranged, like making arrangements for security cards, dorm access, and food? (And handling the money, if you're willing, just so it doesn't go through a personal bank account.) What parts of the job have I failed to identify here? (There must be some; I'm not a professional like you are.)

Could something like this work without imposing a burden on you?

This morning I already had half a dozen messages saying variants on "you go, girl", and even a couple offers of unspecified help. It seems quite likely that there's sufficient interest. (I wouldn't want to go over about 20 people, but a key question is whether that's enough for financial viability. It was for the SK classes, but was that subsidized?)

I strongly suspect that the organizers lurk on the mailing list. If so, I think having them see this discussion before we go to them formally will help; it'll show that we aren't just whining and asking them to do something for us, but that we're ready to do the parts that we can ourselves.

I don't know if this will actually go anywhere; I think having access to the HUC campus in Cincinnati is key. But who knows -- I might be running a follow-on program next summer.

Sh'liach K'hilah program (survey)

The folks in charge of the Sh'liach K'hilah (para-rabbinic) program sent around a questionnaire to graduates. They're considering unspecified changes to the program, which is currently in abeyance (sigh). I'm going to share my answers to the non-demographic questions, which have to do with what we found rewarding and under-represented and how we're using what we learned.

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Meta: conducting torah study

I recently attended a study session about which I want to record some "meta" (structural) notes before I forget. In a lot of ways it reminded me of what our group attempted, but didn't do nearly as well, in the Sh'liach K'hilah program last summer.

(I am being deliberately vague about the specifics of this recent session, for reasons I can't explain right now. I would not normally discuss a class in detail without crediting the instructor.) Read more…

Meeting with my rabbi

I met with my rabbi today and we talked about the Sh'liach K'hilah program. We talked a lot about writing eulogies because I mentioned it early (new content from last year) and because I said I didn't think I did a very good job with mine. He gave me a lot of good advice there, some of it much more general than eulogies.

We talked a little about delivery, especially when working with a set text (not notes). It's fine -- even not uncommon -- to go ahead and write in stage directions to address your weaknesses -- "slow down", "breathe", "look up", etc. Color highlighting can mark phrases that ought to be emmphasized or places where you specifically want to pause. No one else will see your copy; do whatever works.

I mentioned the challenge of the text-study assignment (I characterized it as "working with people you don't know at all, with different backgrounds, to produce something quickly"), but we didn't really get into it. Another time, maybe. Or maybe I've learned all I can from that experience already.

We talked about next steps within the congregation. He's still a little unsure of how to handle Friday-night services; he said he'd be happy to have me read torah, so maybe I'll start with that. We talked about kabbalat shabbat with no resolution; I said that there's only one Shabbat in the next several months I'll be away and he has but to name a date. We got interrupted while we were talking about this and didn't get to finish, so I'll follow up.

I did not get a chance to ask about further study (much); I haven't asked his opinion about Melton, Drisha, Hebrew College, and others. I'd like to hear his thoughts on those. Next meeting, then.

I did ask (on the way out the door) about Hebrew. He mentioned a publisher called EKS as a good source. I mentioned courses at Pitt; he thinks they start with modern and then go to biblical and you can't just jump into biblical there. But, he said, you really have to learn the two together anyway; you can't do just biblical and be effective. So he thinks a two-pronged approach would work: learn modern at JEI and biblical with him, replacing our talmud study with Hebrew study. The next round of courses at JEI should start in September, so I'll see what they have to offer. The course I took there several years ago didn't work for me, but it's been several years and maybe that style of teaching will work better now.

Edit: Ok, I thought EKS sounded vaguely familiar. I actually have one of their books. A friend and I started to work through it a while back. Time to pull it out again.

Post-HUC thoughts

Sunday morning we had a low-key service and then a wrap-up session where we talked about taking what we'd done there back to our congregations. It was a mellow day. Then we turned in our evaluation forms and keys, said our goodbyes, and left.

The drive home took me five hours, with three quick stops. (I've discovered that my steering wheel vibrates just a little; I found I needed to rest my hands. I wonder what that means.) Sunday drivers seem to be more annoying than Friday drivers, but whatever. I was glad to have music and AC in the car. :-)

At the final session one of the other students asked the group how many would be interested in a program next year focused on text study. About a dozen hands went up, which I find gratifying. I feared that there were only four or five of us, which wouldn't be critical mass. (It would be if we were all in the same city or at least region, but not spread out over the country like we are.) And there'd be no reason not to open it up to previous classes too, up to whatever size limit makes sense, so we could do this. A couple people volunteered to host it, but I still want to see if we can do it at HUC. For one thing, it's a compromise for everyone. But more importantly, how can you do serious text study without the resources of a good library? Their library is very good.

So I plan to ask Rachel (the main organizer) if "we're not doing it" means "we aren't doing the work" or "not here". If they'd let us use the site, I think others of us can arrange for there to be a program of study for the people who come. Heck, I could organize something like this, assuming they're willing to put us in touch with student rabbis and maybe even some faculty. Obviously we'd have to talk a lot about money, but since the actual organization would be by volunteers (mostly) and the faculty shouldn't be more expensive than this year (we'd probably use more students and fewer faculty), it ought to be possible to do it for no more than what we paid this yaer -- unless HUC subsidized the program. Ok, that's another thing to ask about.

I'm also going to look into Melton and Drisha and Hebrew College and other ideas, and I'll see what my rabbi thinks would make sense (since he knows me well). Everything's wide open at this point.

I need to work on Hebrew if I'm going to go much farther, I think. I haven't been able to coax much useful information out of University of Pittsburgh's web site. They offer Hebrew courses (that much I can tell); I can't tell whether Biblical Hebrew is an entry point or if they have you take modern first. And they don't have a fall schedule up, nor fees. I'll have to check back later.