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Jewish learning Hebrew College Receives Covenant Grant to Foster Spiritual Formation

By Sydney Gross

Rabbinical School is a time for deep text study, intellectual engagement, leadership training, and the development of professional skills. But it must also be a period for dedicated personal, spiritual learning and growth. At Hebrew College, ordination students’ spiritual formation is a cornerstone of their educational experience. And, thanks to a 2021 Ignition Grant from The Covenant Foundation, this focus on the cultivation of the spiritual lives of future rabbis will be even stronger.

The $19,750 one-year grant, entitled, “Spiritual Formation in Rabbinic Education,” will fund a new series of professional development workshops, enhance student and faculty retreats, and enable the creation of an introductory course to support students’ inner growth “to help them make Jewish life not just an intellectual endeavor, but a practice of the heart.”

“Hebrew College places a distinctive emphasis on spiritual formation as part of our approach to rabbinic education, said Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld. “Our faculty share a conviction that rabbis must develop the capacity to draw on a deep well of compassion, wisdom, and courage in order to sustain others in times of need. These inner resources can only be cultivated through sustained practice, honest reflection, and learning with skilled mentors and peers.”

“The development and formation of a rabbinical student’s inner life is a critical element in rabbinic education, but it is often overlooked and undervalued,” added Hebrew College Dean of Students Rabbi Daniel Klein, the project director for the Covenant Grant. “Only if rabbis cultivate their own inner lives will they have the spiritual resources required to do the essential rabbinic work of caring for congregants, helping them find their path in Jewish living, and building communities. This means delving into their own relationship to God and to questions of faith; it means making the teachings and practices of Jewish tradition a core and enlivening part of their souls.”

Hebrew College seeks to educate future rabbis who have significant knowledge of Jewish tradition, practical professional skills, and a rich and deep inner life through a commitment to serious Jewish learning paired with an openness to what Jewish life can be; a pedagogy that prioritizes acquisition of knowledge and meaning making; co-curricular opportunities for spiritual practice and reflection; and faculty mentorship and modeling of honest engagement with Jewish living. This grant will provide for a more sustained and systematic approach to spiritual formation.

As part of the grant, Hebrew College will offer four workshops with faculty and guest speakers between February and December 2022, during which educators will reflect on their own inner lives and how they are supported by Jewish tradition. At the same time, Rabbi Klein will work with faculty members who have deep knowledge in this field, as well as pedagogical experts, to gain a clearer sense of how to educate for spiritual formation and how to develop a curriculum with scope and sequence for the rabbinical school.

In addition, the grant will provide funding for an educator to develop and to implement a course for first-year students to introduce spiritual formation as an essential part of rabbinic formation, including opportunities to learn strategies for inner growth that students can use in their other classes and in religious life in general. This course will be offered in Fall 2022. Lastly, the grant will provide funding to enhance the College’s two annual community retreats to make them more dedicated to and in service of spiritual reflection, renewal, and growth.

“Further developing a rabbinical student’s ability to reflect on and to develop their own spiritual selves, and to be more aware of their own spiritual needs, offers them new opportunities to grow the internal resources required to meet those needs, enabling them to serve others more empathically, skillfully, and compassionately as rabbis, educators, and Jewish leaders across the country and throughout the world,” said Hebrew College Vice President Dr. Susie Tanchel. “While spiritual development has been part of our rabbinical program since its inception, this ignition grant allows us to develop this important facet of our program more explicitly and deeply. We are so grateful to the Covenant Foundation.”

Hebrew College’s grant is part of $1.7 million given out by the Covenant Foundation this year to support the newest and most exciting ideas in Jewish education. Ignition grants provide up to $20,000 for one year to support new and untested approaches. The Foundation also provides Signature grants, which generally provide funding of up to $150,000 over three years. Since 1991, the Foundation has provided more than $39 million to support Jewish education in North America.

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