Community Blog Rabbinical School alumnus works to extend the “magic” of Hebrew College
When Rabbi Jordan Schuster first came to Hebrew College, he experienced “a unique kind of magic.”
At the time, Schuster, then 33, was managing a yoga studio in San Francisco, while taking time off from his doctoral work on Yiddish and Hasidic Literature at Columbia University. He was searching for his path, and while he had contemplated rabbinical school since college, he had doubts about his own ability to support and care for a community as a rabbi, since he had felt alienated from the Jewish community for much of his childhood.
“My relationship to Judaism was mostly solitary up to that point. My prayer-life was entirely individual, be-yahid,” said Schuster, who grew up attending a non-denominational day school and reform and conservative synagogues in Milwaukee. “Growing up, I was an awkward, extremely flamboyant gay kid. I didn’t feel like Jewish communal life had a place for me. Nor did I feel like Jewish communal life did a great job of making me feel like I had a place in it. So I steered away from participating in formal Jewish community.”
During his time in San Francisco, Schuster found a community, as well as a meaningful relationship with his current partner. And by stepping away from his Ph.D. program and focusing on people rather than research, Schuster said, he began to feel much more confident about his capacity to devote himself to the Jewish community, as much as he could to Jewish texts.
Schuster began to consider a lot of different seminaries, all of which compelled him in different ways, but he ultimately decided to only apply to Hebrew College, because, he said, “my visit made it clear to me that this was the community I wanted to be a part of — that Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld and Rabbi Art Green were the teachers I wanted to learn from.”
After enrolling at Hebrew College, Schuster’s intuitions were confirmed. “I found an incredible community of students here, some of the most thoughtful, empathic, creative, and committed people I’ve ever met. They are all deeply invested in the world, deeply curious about tradition, deeply sensitive to the mystery of who we all are,” he said.
He also found amazing mentors, he said, who helped him believe in himself in ways that he couldn’t before. “My teachers at Hebrew College modeled a style of leadership that beautifully combined the qualities of warmth, humility, vulnerability, kindness, and brilliance. They continue to inspire me every day.”
Now Rabbi Schuster, who was ordained by the Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Spring 2018, wants to share that experience of community and mentorship with others. He recently joined the Rabbinical School faculty, and is also serving as associate director of Open Circle Jewish Learning, a Hebrew College Adult Learning program supported by CJP, where he coordinates classes about mindfulness and mysticism within the Greater Boston community.
“What compelled me most to stay here was wanting to work with people who have meant so much to me, feeling deeply invested in their vision, and wanting to help them to continue to build and elaborate and sustain that vision,” he said.
Schuster, who lives with his partner in Jamaica Plain, wants to give current students the same kind of support, advising, and inspiration that his mentors gave him. He wants to “help them fall in love and wrestle with the tradition in a way that will sustain them throughout their careers.”
Schuster also wants to support those throughout the Greater Boston area who are looking to cultivate a more meaningful relationship to Judaism by connecting them with the various programs, opportunities, and mentors at Hebrew College.
“I feel a real commitment to bring what’s happening within the walls of this institution out into the community,” he said. “In the opposite direction, I also feel an equal sense of commitment to bring a consciousness of the needs of Greater Boston into this institution, helping Hebrew College and Boston to transform each other through a deeper sense of synergy, integration, responsiveness, and devotion.”
Please join us on May 30, 2019 when Rabbi Jordan Schuster will be telling the story “Reb Nahman, Yiddish Nihilism, and That Time I Made Pilgrimage to a Jersey Mall” at Hebrew College’s spring 2019 fundraising event Hebrew College Love! Stories in Honor of Our Teachers at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA. He is a 2018 graduate of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, where he serves as the current Director of the Mekerot program. He is also the Associate Director of Open Circle Jewish Learning at Hebrew College, a community learning program of Hebrew College and CJP.