Community Blog Learning and Leadership Through Chavruta

By Sydney Gross
Schusterman Fellows

During their first year of Rabbinical School, Avi Killip Rab’14 and Becky Silverstein Rab’14 were chavruta partners, meeting one-on-one each day in the Hebrew College beit midrash to study, analyze, discuss, and debate Talmud and Tanakh. 

They were also part of a larger cohort of rabbinical classmates, learners whom, they say, inspired them to be their best and continue to inspire them, even five years after ordination. 

Now both rabbis, leaders in their communities in Boston and New York, are learning together in a new cohort. They are Schusterman Fellows, participants in a highly-selective 18-month professional development program that helps Jewish professionals and lay leaders strengthen their capacity to lead, foster collaboration, and make an impact in the Jewish community and Israel. 

Becky was my Shana Alef chavruta, which makes this really really special for us,” said Rabbi Killip, who now lives in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. “We had a strong cohort a cohort you could call at any time to ask a question or discuss a text. And having a chavruta that I felt like I could confide in was incredibly helpful in allowing me to feel comfortable and find my place at Hebrew College.”

“When you’re studying with someone everyday, you build a deep sense of trust,” added Rabbi Silverstein, who lives in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. “I had the great joy of seeing the ways in which Avi’s critical thinking and unique life experiences brought something different to the texts we were learning.”

Rabbi Silverstein, who grew up in New York and studied engineering at Smith College, came to Hebrew College because of his passion for the Torah and community. After Rabbinical School, he spent three years in California, where he served as an education director at a conservative synagogue. 

He now lives with his spouse in Jamaica Plain, where he is the rabbi and founder of Beyn Kodesh l’Chol, a Jewish communal project; serves as rabbi-in-residence for Keshet LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbatonim; and is a SVARA Teaching Fellow. Rabbi Silverstein is also chair of the board of The Jewish Studio Project and SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, and sits on the board of Keshet. 

“All of those fit in my head in some yet-to-be-articulated vision of what I want my rabbinate to be,” he said. “What I’m hoping to get out of the fellowship is some time and space to articulate that vision  what I want my rabbinate to look like, how all of those pieces fit together, what I uniquely have to offer in the Jamaica Plain community.” 

“The other really important piece for me is the opportunity to have a network of colleagues,” he added. “What the fellowship offers is the opportunity to be in community  a truly extraordinary group of people who are doing really amazing things in the world.” 

Rabbi Killip, who grew up in Atlanta and earned both her bachelors and masters in Jewish Studies and Women & Gender Studies from Brandeis, came to Hebrew College because of the “deep joy and passion for Judaism” that she felt within the community. During rabbinical school, she also spent a summer of studying at Yeshivat Hadar, where she has worked since ordination. 

She now serves as Vice President of Strategy and Programs at Hadar, which works to empower Jews to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah, avodah, and hesed. She is also Director of Hadar’s Project Zug, which connects Jews across the world with each other — and with Jewish tradition — through chavruta learning. In addition, she serves on the advisory board of ShmaNOW and the Jewish Studio Project. “I am who I am as a rabbi because of the people who were in my class at Hebrew College. And they continue to motivate me to be the best rabbi I can be,” she said. “I always say to people that Hebrew College and Hadar beautifully compliment each other as spiritual homes for me.” 

Schusterman Fellows 2019

As members of the fifth cohort of Schusterman fellows, Rabbis Killip and Silverstein join a diversity of Jewish leaders from around the country who are transforming organizations, leading movements, and driving change in the Jewish world and beyond. 

Rabbi Silverstein said being part of the Schusterman cohort with Rabbi Killip feels reminiscent of his Rabbinical School experience. 

“Learning Torah in chavruta creates a more vibrant experience of the Torah, and doing leadership development in pairs or in community provides something very similar,” he said. “Being with folks who think differently and will challenge me is important to help me shape a clearer sense of how I can make an impact.” 

Rabbi Killip said it feels especially meaningful to be starting this fellowship with Rabbi Silverstein five years after ordination. 

“The first five years of my rabbinate were just getting my footing about what it means to be a rabbi. I’m excited for this fellowship to help cultivate and figure out goals for the next five,” she said. “I feel incredibly proud to be representing Hebrew College as a Schusterman Fellow.”

Learn more about the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. 

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