Over the last few years, students from the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary have sought out internships at our congregation. Partly, they do so because I am fortunate to enjoy a reputation as a good mentor. Increasingly, they do so because of the exceptionally wonderful experiences that our previous interns have had at Agudas Achim. The collective and individual support that the members of the congregation have offered to past interns has enhanced the academic program our future rabbis are pursuing.
This year, there were multiple applicants for one position. In the category of "we should all have such problems," all of the applicants were terrific. Fortunately, all but two faced practical impediments to spending the full ten weeks necessary to complete this requirement. And rather than choosing one over another, I contacted my friend Rabbi Lia Bass at Etz Hayyim in Arlington, who was delighted to provide a mentorship for one student and who is willing to work with me in providing a more comprehensive experience for both interns.
Joining us this summer will be Rafael (Rafi) Kaiserblueth, currently completing his third year of Seminary in Israel. Rafi's father is a colleague of mine, but his decision to go into the family business was gradual, so he is anxious to learn the rabbinate as a student, not as a favorite son. (Rabbi Bass will work primarily with Ita Paskind, who herself has a similar story to Rafi.)
Rafi will teach, preach and pastor over the summer. He will also, as individuals permit, sit in on conversations between me and those who seek my counsel on personal matters or life cycle events. (No one will be pressured otherwise if they decline to include him.) A number of congregants have generously agreed to have babies during his stay to give him some direct experience in that realm as well. You will meet him later this month.
As if that isn't good enough news, we have created an opportunity that we expect will also enhance the training of cantors. Our own Matt Klein will return from his year in Israel and do a parallel internship during Hazzan Dienstfrey's maternity leave. We have known for a very long time that Matt has the voice and the spiritual depth to serve the Jewish people. Now, we will have the privilege to help him develop the skills with which to maximize those exceptional gifts. He, too, will teach, preach and pastor, and he will lead us in prayer regularly. Matt will trail-blaze this internship for cantorial students and will join Rafi and Ita in the plans that Rabbi Bass and I have.
I hope that you will reach out to our interns on a personal level this summer. They need to hear what you want in a rabbi and a cantor – including the skills you find in too-short supply in our current clergy. They need to experience the joy and intensity of our community in its many manifestations. They need to eat (in good company).
And when the summer is over, they will carry to New York the confirmation that Agudas Achim is the destination congregation for another generation of tomorrow's Jewish leaders.