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News Highlights Professional Hevrutot

By Wendy Linden
monica gomery and ari lev fornari

Learning in “hevrutot” [pairs] is a hallmark of Hebrew College. And three pairs of Hebrew College alumni, who work together as spiritual leaders of their respective synagogues, have extended that model to their professional lives.

We talked with these three sets of clergy teams—Rabbi Sam Blumberg`21 and Cantor David Wolff` 20 at Temple Beth Am in Framingham, MA; Rabbi Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg`17 and Rabbi Joey Glick `22 at Temple Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis; and Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari `14 and Rabbi Mónica Gomery `17 (pictured above) at Kol Tzedek in Philadelphia—and asked them about how their experiences at Hebrew College have helped mold their working relationships and spiritual leadership. Interviews were conducted separately and have been edited for length and clarity.

How did you first meet?

Rabbi Arielle: We met for the first time on Zoom when I was interviewing folks for an internship at Shir Tikvah. Joey impressed me with his honesty and care, with his clear interest in Shir Tikvah as a community and with his love for his craft. It was obvious to me that Joey was a mensch and would bring integrity and creativity to the community that he served.

Rabbi Joey: When we spoke for the first time, I asked Rabbi Arielle what she was looking for in a clergy partner. She gave the most-Hebrew College answer I can think of: “I’m looking for a hevrutah, someone to learn and problem solve alongside.” As I consider my transition away from the Hebrew College Beit Midrash and towards serving a community, I can’t imagine a more powerful and gentle welcome than the opportunity to learn alongside a fellow traveler.

Rabbi Sam: We both started at Hebrew College in the 2017-18 school year. We both came to Hebrew College with teaching backgrounds (Cantor David specifically in music, and me in Jewish Studies.) At orientation we connected over our decision to pursue ordination degrees after teaching.

Rabbi Joey, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel (Pastoral Care Assistant) and Rabbi Arielle

Cantor David:
We didn’t really have the opportunity to get to know each other well until we learned that we would be working together. Then we met for coffee at George Howell in Newton, Mass. (We both recall that their coffee was incredibly delicious!) We sometimes think fondly on that meeting…and the great coffee.

Rabbi Mónica: In 2009, Ari Lev was in his second year at Hebrew College, and I was in town as a prospective rabbinical student. Ari Lev led a workshop in his home that week for Keshet, a national Jewish LGBTQ organization based in Boston, on Teshuvah and Heshbon HaNefesh through a queer lens. We had already been told to meet up by mutual friends, and it was so sweet to connect for the first time over this radically honest and vulnerable Torah. Ari Lev hosted me for Shabbat, which began a decade-long conversation about building a Jewish community together.

Did your synagogue intentionally look for Hebrew College clergy?

Rabbi Arielle: I connected with Hebrew College Rabbinical School Dean Rabbi Dan Judson about the hiring process, and it was clear to me that I wanted to work with Hebrew College. I trust that people ordained by Hebrew College will have grounding in text, desire to work in pluralistic/transdenominational community, and be committed to avodat haShem (God’s work). As I imagined inviting a partner into the work, those are the attributes that were most important to me.

Rabbi Sam and Cantor David

Rabbi Sam:
Before either of us served Temple Beth Am (TBA), two Hebrew College clergy, Cantor Dara Rosenblatt and Rabbi Marcie Kamerow, served TBA as cantorial intern and Director of Education, respectively. The Temple was so fond of them that they were open to hiring Hebrew College clergy when they were looking for a new clergy team.

Cantor David: We are indebted to our Hebrew College clergy colleagues for paving the way for a Hebrew College clergy team to serve Temple Beth Am.

Do you think it makes a difference that you are both Hebrew College graduates?

Rabbi Arielle: Absolutely. Having Hebrew College in common gives me and Joey really powerful shared ground. It means that we have been nurtured by the same teachers and raised up in the same community. I hope, when Joey gets here in July, we’ll take the time to uncover the Torah that we both carry, like so many precious seeds, planted by our classmates and teachers from Hebrew College.

Rabbi Joey: Hebrew College taught me to move slowly and with curiosity. I think of a lecture that my Hebrew College teacher Rabbi Nehemia Polen gives in his class on the book of Leviticus. He argues that the core of Temple worship was not the burning of sacrifice, but the intense preparation and cleanup of the sacrificial offering. In other words, God prefers process and preparation over product. This value was at the core of my Hebrew College education and has also been central to the way that Rabbi Arielle has framed our work together. Our goal will not be so much to build a ‘perfect’ Jewish community, but rather to help our congregants appreciate the joys and beauty of getting to build together.

Rabbi Sam: We both deeply believe in the power of liturgy, and we craft our services to be engaging, impactful, and accessible for our congregants. Our Hebrew College experience taught us the importance of collaboration and deep listening.

Rabbi Ari Lev and Rabbi Mónica

Rabbi Ari Lev:
We were trained in the same ritual laboratory, the Hebrew College Beit Midrash, and as a result, we share many instincts and points of reference for what makes ritual and study meaningful. When we plan together, there’s an alignment and familiarity with one another’s approach that comes directly from our time immersed in Torah and tefillah at Hebrew College. We often finish one another’s sentences and reference our teachers in our day-to-day work together. We both feel a great debt of gratitude for our training as darshanim with Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld.

Rabbi Mónica: One of the amazing things about working together is our shared orientation towards prayer as a spiritual practice. The consistent emphasis on tefillah in the Hebrew College curriculum has been a tremendous resource to us as pulpit rabbis. The time we spent in tefillah groups [Hebrew College has themed prayer groups created by students], davening with rabbinical students, experimenting with different modalities of prayer, and studying hasidic teachings about prayer have prepared us well for this role. We continually teach classes about both prayer and prayer leadership, drawing on the teachings of our teachers at Hebrew College.

Rabbi Ari Lev: We also feel blessed and grateful to serve a Reconstructionist community together, where they hold a shared understanding that every congregation is ultimately pluralist. People come from all walks of life and Jewish backgrounds to Kol Tzedek. Reconstructionism provides a powerful and empowering framework for us to build community, and our pluralistic training at Hebrew College has prepared us to do so in a way that honors and empowers different expressions of Judaism.

It’s been a very challenging two year for clergy navigating COVID. Did anything you learned at Hebrew College help you during this time?

Cantor David: Hebrew College teaches clergy how to cultivate holiness, to build relationships, and most of all, to do chesed in our world. During school community time, in prayer, and in learning, Rabbi Sam and I experienced what it means to be part of a supportive, real, honest community, and we were grateful to be able to draw on these experiences to support our community during the pandemic.

Rabbi Arielle: I have watched Shir Tikvah grow stronger and more creative as the community’s practice has deepened and diversified. I hope, with Joey onboard, to build more spaces for hevruta and beit midrash, and I know we will use Hebrew College as a model for engaging, life-giving learning.

Rabbi Mónica: “Our tradition has evolved in order to face ‘the apocalypse’ over and over again. As the ground shifted beneath us throughout the pandemic, we sought out tools and practices honed for resilience and transformation. We rooted ourselves in the spiritual technologies of teshuvah, galut, hesed, midrash, the things that have allowed our ancestors to face uncertainty and change. The voices of our teachers at Hebrew College guided us through, and we felt clarity around our role transmitting these tools to our community.

Rabbi Ari Lev: When in crisis, it is helpful to return to the basics. We centered Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Hasadim as the core of our practice, as people, and as rabbis, which has been an unending resource. In the early months of the pandemic, our community really needed the anchor of regular spiritual practice, both individually and communally. Our ability to lead and teach grows out of our own personal practices. So the pandemic has required that we prioritize and double-down on meditation, prayer and Torah study so that the well didn’t run dry given endless demands for our attention and care. We have also found that acts of chesed help to metabolize trauma. So when things are hard, we try to encourage folks to care for one another as an ancient coping mechanism. And finally, Hebrew College also instilled a deep love of communal singing in us both, which has carried us as a kahal through the unbelievable challenges of the past two years!”

Learn more about the rabbinical and cantorial programs at Hebrew College.

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