Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Accidental Educator


It's no accident that I'm an educator. I've always wanted to be one.
When I was a teenager, I thought I wanted to be a professional Jewish educator - so I met with an HUC student at the time to talk through those possibilities. She told me I'd make a great rabbi - so I thought about that, instead.
When I was in college, I majored (for a brief period of time) in Secondary Education. I wanted to be a high school teacher in the humanities and social sciences. But then I heard rabbinical school calling, and my passion for Judaism and I switched to Jewish Studies and kept Political Science. I taught Sunday School, and led youth groups. There was no denying it - I loved to teach!
My first job out of rabbinical school was as an educator, running my own religious school. Surprisingly, or not, this job is much less about teaching and a lot more about administering to details and people. I loved what I did, but I also wanted to be teaching more.
As a rabbi, I get to teach all the time, which I love. But being an educator is about teaching through a pedagogical lens, no matter what the subject.

I consider myself very lucky. I work at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills as a Rabbi Educator. I don't run the religious school, but I certainly work very closely with our Educational Leader and our Education committees to help guide the program. I get to lead, teach, and contribute to the vision of not just what, but HOW, we teach our children and our community. I love that I get to combine all aspects of my rabbinate into a way that fits with the community I live and work in.

Over the last two weeks, I was living and teaching Judaism firsthand while serving on Faculty at URJ Camp Eisner in the Berkshires. I would teach kids from all over New England, the US, and elsewhere about the values of living and loving Judaism - ideas of holiness, of God, of ethics. Oftentimes we would sit out in the sun, or under the shade of a tree to engage in these lessons and discussions. But we also lived together Jewishly - praying each night together, celebrating Shabbat as one community, learning Hebrew and taking pride in what it means to be Jews.

My summer was capped off last week with a two day Summer Institute conference at the Jewish Education Project UJA/Federation here in New York. Our congregation is involved with an amazing initiative called LOMED, and this summer institute was such a great opportunity for us to reflect, learn, and reorganize our thinking about what is yet to come with this wonderful project and this great initiative. We are part of the Coalition of Innovating Congregations and it was amazing hearing about what so many amazing congregations are doing, educationally, for their students and their families. We heard from dynamic speakers like Ron Wolfson, David Bryfman, and Dr. Rob Weinberg.

I love being in Education. Being a rabbi, or "teacher", allows me to explore Judaism through an educational lens. It is no accident that I am an educator and no coincidence that I became a Rabbi. After all, I get to combine those things which I am most passionate about. What are you passionate about?? What are you passionate about learning????

1 comment:

The Notorious R.A.V. said...

When I left the life of a congregational rabbi to dedicate my full time work to Jewish education (in those days, it was an either-or choice), I spoke to a rabbi friend of mine. I said to her: I'm leaving the rabbinate. She responded to me: You're not leaving the rabbinate. You're entering the most important area of the rabbinate.

It does my heart good to read of increasing numbers of rabbis who are making Jewish education part of parcel of their rabbinic careers, and are able to do so in congregations, as well as in day schools, Hillels, summer camps and other Jewish institutions.

Thanks for putting into words how I feel about my career as well.