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Alumni “I Learned to Embrace Who I Am”: Sustaining Gratitude from a Recent Grad

By Adam Zemel

A conversation with Yael Werber ‘21 about her role as assistant rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, and her sustained giving to Hebrew College.

When did you decide to pursue ordination at Hebrew College?

Yael WerberI chose to pursue the rabbinate shortly before I started at Hebrew College. I decided early in 2017, and then began in the fall of ‘17. If you looked at my life from above, in the grand scheme of things, it would seem to make a lot of sense–like I was on a natural path. Finding joy and helping other people find joy have always been big motivators for me.

But at the time it felt like a quick, sharp turn. Immediately before rabbinical school I was living in Vermont and working as a waitress. Before that I’d been farming. So, in the moment it felt like a real shift, but as soon as I got to HC it felt like the right thing, I knew I’d made the right decision and never wavered.

Where are you working now?

I’m the assistant rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), an LGBTQ synagogue in Manhattan. I’m so blessed to have this job. I love the work; I love the community. I interned here in my fifth year at HC. As I was looking for work, I realized that there were only a handful of congregations where I could really feel like my full self, and CBST was one of those communities. So, it was real serendipity that they were looking for someone while I was looking for a job.

What is one favorite part of your job?

My portfolio is very diverse, which is great.

I get to work with people who are deciding to become Jewish. I help facilitate that journey. At CBST this is a rich and rigorous process. I love being there for the start and culmination of that journey. It’s a rich and rigorous process. I love being there for the smart and culmination in that process

I work with families with children, doing lifecycle and education work. I get to help them find the moments that make Judaism exciting and meaningful.

And I love being on the bimah. CBST services are joyful and spiritual. We have an incredible cantor and musical director who have a really full vision of music and liturgy. There is a diverse range of melodies, with a lot of joyful singing. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who is stepping down in a few months, and has led this community for 32 years, really has a commitment to creating services that feel like art. She believes and models that services should deliver a similar internal, emotional, aesthetic, and intentional experience.

And I love teaching Torah, which I get to do a lot of too.

What’s an experience from HC (a class, a memory, an internship) you find yourself returning to often in your current role?

I think the main thing I took from Hebrew College is not a class, or an internship, or anything like that–although I take a lot of my teaching from HC and infuse it into my own teaching and presence. It’s more of a concept: the idea that the most important way to be a Jew in the world is to have your own spiritual relationship with the divine. And that can look any way. It’s not necessarily about practice, for some it might be a really internal process. But to feel a deep internal connection to the divine, that’s something I took away from Hebrew College. I think that has to do with HC focusing less on the way Judaism looks or how it should manifest in the world. By virtue of being post-denominational, HC has the blessing of not having to conform to any one of those boxes. So for an ordination student, this sort of scales things down to the individual’s spirituality and connection to the divine, as opposed to a connection to an ideology or methodology.

Tell me about your monthly giving commitment to Hebrew College. When did it start, and why do you find it meaningful?

Sometime in the last year I became a Hebrew College sustainer, or monthly donor. Hebrew College has been so impactful for me, I feel indebted to this place where I learned to embrace who I am, and more than that, I got to embrace how who I am is interconnected with what I want to do in the world. Hebrew College prepared me to do the work I want to do in the world. I don’t think I would have fallen in love with the rabbinate in quite the way I did at any other place.

I benefitted from financial aid for my last four years at Hebrew College in a really significant way. I would not have been able to continue had that support not been able to manifest. So my hope is that my monthly giving helps other students access aid.


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