Continuing Education

March 1, 2009
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Kenneth Brander

The offerings of a continuing education program must be broad enough for the entire rabbinic community. We approach our rabbinate based on our own leadership styles, disposition, and community dynamics. And at different stages of our rabbinic tenure, our needs for support and professional development change.

As several of the rabbis in the foregoing Roundtable mentioned, mentoring programs for new pulpit rabbis can be an effective tool in the arsenal of continuing education programs. With the help of the Legacy Heritage Fund Rabbinic Enrich ment Initiative, Yeshiva University has been experimenting with different models of preparing the mentors/mentees for rewarding experiences. A few criteria have proven essential: First, expectations for the relationship must be defined in advance, as are measures and metrics to describe success. Second, a trained facilitator should prepare the mentor and mentee for a productive experience by creating an environment for trusting conversations and a pragmatic routine. Monitor ing the ongoing conversations and relationships helps avert derailment if the mentoring process stalls. In addition to the obvious benefits that such synergy gives the young rabbi in his formative years, it also expands his collegial circle of friends. For example, young rabbis at conferences normally spend time with their friends from seminary. The latitudinal silos are broken when dozens of young rabbis meet their mentors at these conferences, and a wonderful byproduct of a successful mentoring program is vertical integration between young and more seasoned colleagues. Meeting with peers of similar age and experience can also, of course, be helpful, and serious spiritual retreats can serve rabbis with opportunities to grow in their intellectual pursuits and their avodat Hashem.

Secured Web sites can be designed to provide rabbis with “classes in a box” that help ease pressures to prepare material during stressful times. It can serve as a venue for rabbis to share materials for classes and research into specific halakhic/philosophical issues — especially helpful to rabbis living in communities where Judaic libraries are unavailable.

Management skills, strategic planning, and board development, should be taught in venues where the professional and lay leader learn together. This promotes consensus between the klei (rabbi) and lay kodesh (president) about what needs to improve.

Continuing education should also include an entire array of programs for the rabbinic spouse. In the Orthodox community (and perhaps in other communities as well), the rebbetzin plays a significant communal role. While this voluntary role is defined by her interests, balancing a professional career, family responsibilities, her own contributions to the community, the plethora of events she must attend, and managing a rabbinic home is stressful. This is further complicated in a community where the rabbi is the neighbor of his congregants, the rabbi’s children attend the same schools as the youth of his congregation, and often the educators are his parishioners. It is essential to give the spouse the spiritual sustenance necessary to calibrate her soul, a safe space to discuss the challenges of a rebbetzin’s position, and the management skills to help balance these responsibilities.

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Rabbi Kenneth Brander is dean of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, Rabbi Emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue, and found ing dean of the Weinbaum Yeshiva High School.

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