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HUC’s Rabbinic Externship Program: Part II

The following is the next post in the series on HUC’s Rabbinic Externship program. Rabbi Samuel K. Joseph, PhD., is Professor of Jewish Education and Leadership Development at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati. He is the director of the Day School Externship program and spends every waking moment (and probably sleeping moments) fully engaged in the program. He attends the externship with the HUC-JIR students as their mentor.

Exhausted does not begin to describe how we all felt at the end of the week.  An exhilarated exhaustion to say the least!

Six rabbinical students, pairs from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and New York, recently completed an intensive externship week at the Jacobson-Sinai Academy in North Miami Beach, FL. From a 7:00 am breakfast until well after 11:00 pm each night, we observed, taught, reflected, questioned, conversed, answered questions and threw ourselves into the culture of this Reform day school.

Our purpose was to become passionate advocates for Reform day schools.

Through the work of Dr. Jane West Walsh and the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools (PARDeS) we were able to secure the funding and support necessary to have this program. Students compete on each HUC-JIR campus for a slot in the Externship.

As part of the Externship, the rabbinical students also participate in video seminars about Reform Movement and day schools. In the fall, each pair will create and mount a Day School Advocacy program on each HUC-JIR campus.

The Day School Externship program is so powerful because of how immersed the students become in the culture of the school. The day begins in the carpool drop off line. Students get to see not only the “technical” part of the drop-off process, but also the interactions of students, parents, teachers, and administrators at the very start of the school day. Then it is off to home room to see the transition from home to school and the morning routines.  HUC-JIR students then attend secular and Jewish/Hebrew studies classes for every grade level. There are meetings with every cohort of teacher and administrator from music and art to PE to math, history, science and Hebrew.  There are meetings and dialogues about tefilah, about holidays, about b’nai mitzvah. Conversations about the connections of Jewish studies to secular studies are threaded throughout the day.  The carpool pick-up line ends the school day.

But the HUC-JIR rabbinical students’ day is not over. After a brief rest, it is off to evening gatherings. Each evening the students have dinner with various stakeholders of the school. These groups include members of the Governing Board, leaders of the Parent’s Association, and members of the Temple Board of Trustees. In this way, the rabbinical students get a very full picture of all facets of running and maintaining a day school.

Of course this Externship could not succeed without the tremendous support of the director of the school, in this instance David Prashker. No one could have created a better experience than David. Along with him, the rabbi of Temple Sinai (the school’s host synagogue), Rabbi Alan Litwak, gave huge amounts of time to the students talking with them about having the day school as part of his congregation.

The HUC-JIR PARDeS Reform Day School Externship is a fabulous program. We now have 12 alumni of the Externship. I am fully convinced we now have 12 wonderful advocates for Day Schools.

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