Finding Your Match

by Barbara Hirsh

For several years now, without fanfare, RRC has been partnering with local and international Hillel to build a campus chaplaincy training program that is a win-win. It offers our students excellent paid internships and also serves as a pipeline to bring rabbinical students to local campuses – where undergraduates benefit from their energy, creativity, openness and Jewish depth. I write about the relationship here in hopes that this example – while not a direct model for the full range of Jewish institutions – will stimulate thinking, exploring, experimenting and collaborating at other organizations that have not yet found partners with complementary interests. For each, I am confident that there is a good match out there somewhere.

In our case, I can say that the results have truly made a difference. Often the student rabbi is the only Hillel staff person on campus; this has been the case at Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges and at West Chester University. Of course, quality field experience with good supervision is a key element in the rabbinical formation of our students. But not only do our campus interns develop their skills; in many cases they also end up forming a strong commitment to campus chaplaincy as their rabbinical path. As a result of our collaboration with Hillel’s Schusterman International Center, we’ve fine-tuned our program and benefited from educational programming and recruitment visits. Together we have created a summer internship in Washington, D.C., and I have been invited as a facilitator of professional development programming at Hillel’s annual institute. Through this relationship and through carefully crafted training, RRC has become a source of new Hillel directors, senior Jewish educators and other professionals, graduating new rabbis directly into campus work.

While this working relationship obviously benefits RRC and Hillel, it is also significant to the larger Jewish world. Over the past 10 years, we have quietly created and nurtured a mutually beneficial program that serves the Jewish future dynamically, in way that wouldn’t be possible without this unique partnership. The number of undergraduates who have been inspired, comforted, celebrated, challenged and educated by the nearly 40 RRC campus interns is undoubtedly in the thousands. The impact of the more than 30 RRC graduates who have worked as campus rabbis – particularly when we consider the number of years many of them have or will serve campuses – is incalculable.

RRC was founded 45 years ago with a mission to train rabbis not solely for congregational service, but for professional leadership throughout the Jewish community. Our campus chaplaincy program is one example of how we remain true to this vision. Our work with Hillel has enriched us and our student interns, and directed many of our graduates to rewarding careers. I like to think that this partnership has contributed to Hillel’s ability to realize its goals on campus. I think that’s accurately called a “win-win.”

Barbara Hirsh directs the Campus Chaplaincy Training Program and serves as acting academic dean at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.