Episode 3.4 Transcript

Getting Educated About Rabbi Educators with Rabbi Stacy Rigler

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Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Welcome to Women Rabbis Talk! The podcast where women rabbis talk with other women rabbis about being women rabbis. I am one of your hosts, Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, and I’m here with your other host.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: I’m the other host, Rabbi Marci Bellows!

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb It is so great to be back together as we reboot Season Three post-HHD-5783

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Oh, I love that

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: How were your High Holidays. Marce? What are you – Maybe instead of what are you thinking about, we could do a little bit of what have we been talking about?

Rabbi Marci Bellows: I love that. Okay, so for HHD 5783. You know, I have a lot on my mind, as I’m sure everybody does. And like you. And like many rabbis, I have this ever growing list all year of possible sermon topics. And even up until the morning of some of the days, I’m still kind of germinating on ideas and have multiple sermons written and ready to go, which sounds so insane. But it really depends on what the Muse tells me what the universe what God tells me I need to say at a particular time or particular day. So this year, I found myself preaching to to my soul in many ways of like, what did I need to hear? And what did I feel like my congregation really needed to hear? So my first sermon was about the importance of imperfection. And how many of us strive for a perfection that is just not possible. And we come from a tradition that by building a fence around the Torah, is striving for perfection – is saying, not only are the commandments themselves, already difficult enough, but we’re going to make them even more difficult to perform. And yet, we need to work on forgiving ourselves and letting ourselves be imperfect and, and being okay with that. So that was one of my first sermons this year. Then I also spoke about a quest for immortality, and spoke primarily about Serah bat Asher one of my favorite characters, and how she appears twice in the Torah. Once when Jacob and his sons move to Egypt, Jacob thought that Joseph had died when his brothers threw him in the pit. And instead, he finds out Joseph has survived and thrived in Egypt. So Jacob and the rest of the family moved to Egypt, and Serah bat Asher is mentioned there. And then 400 years later, is mentioned amongst those who leave Egypt and start to travel towards Israel. And so begins this incredible tale of a woman who is immortal, and shows up in medieval Spain and shows up perhaps even according to an autobiography that’s written later, even in modern Manhattan. So she’s just a great character, and I adore her.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Wouldn’t it be cool to have her as a guest on the podcast?

Rabbi Marci Bellows: We should we should have somebody pretend to be Serah bat Asher and we should interview her because maybe she became a woman rabbi. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Then the two other ones, one was kind of a pep talk for the congregation about you know, like, this is our first time back together, let’s remember who we are and how important it is to be a community for each other because we hadn’t been together in, you know, just about three years. And we needed to remember what it is to be a community. And then the fourth one was, I love to preach about the Akeidah, about the binding of Isaac, and to talk about the interesting gaps in the story and how we might fill them. And the point that people seemed to enjoy most of all was the reminder of because of math, that Isaac could have been 37 years old at the time of the Akeidah, and that always seems to shock people. And you get to that for those who are not familiar with that, by the fact that because Sara was 90 years old, when she has Isaac, and she dies immediately following the binding of isaac at 127 years old. The Rabbi’s saw perhaps a connection between the two that maybe she died as a result of hearing that her son was almost sacrificed or maybe she believed he was sacrificed. And so therefore, Isaac would be 37 years old. 127 minus 90. So interesting stuff. So what about you? Those were my four topics. And I know you had a different number of sermons to prepare, what were your topics?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, I did actually do also four this year, and they were thematically connected in two different ways. So one way was for our community this year was our first year back in person for the High Holidays. And I know last year, some communities in North America were back in person, and some were still online for us. In South Africa. We were totally still online last year. And so this was our first time in three years of being back together for the High Holidays, which was incredible. And we really are, as I’m sure lots of Jewish communities are around the world in this sort of period of figuring out what are we taking forward with us of the pre COVID way that we did things and also the during COVID way that we did things? What are we carrying forward? What are we leaving behind? doing a lot of sort of looking backward and looking ahead, and our congregation Temple Israel in Cape Town is about to do a new visioning process to think about what our community is gonna continue to look like, into the future. So we wanted to have a theme throughout our high holidays of the topic of legacy, what is legacy? And what does it mean to write our own legacies to be aware of legacy to look backwards at legacy to look forward at Legacy so so that was a running theme throughout the High Holidays for our community. And so there was a a piece of that in all of my sermons for the holidays. And then I also had a theme of strong female personalities that helped to at least set the tone for all of my Divrei Torah so my, my first sermon on the High Holidays was the was the kickoff legacy sermon. And it was about the legacy of our our shul looking back and looking ahead at Temple Israel’s legacy, but I began it by speaking about a woman in our community who died this past year, named Phina Hoberman, who was an incredible force in the sisterhood for many, many, many generations and generations, but many decades so I guess shul generations not people, not like Serah bat Asher but but within the shul, many generations of leadership. And she also created and embroidered and dedicated and donated many, many, if not almost all, but not all, but almost all of our Torah covers in the shul and all the Torah, the curtains, the parochet on our arks, and in our three centers for regular time of year for high holidays, all of the table covers, and just beautifully embroidered and lovingly dedicated in honor of her family. So I talked about her legacy, and then the legacy of the shul. And then I talked about Whoopi Goldberg, and apologies and what makes a good apology. And folks can probably Google their way to what I was connecting that to from this past year. I talked about, of course, the late beloved by some and less by others who you know, Elizabeth the Second, and the connection between legacy and tradition and her legacy of tradition and why tradition is important. And how do we decide when to let go of traditions, when to update traditions, things like that. And finally, I talked about Rabbi Regina Jonas and her legacy. And also the idea of potential and what happens when somebody’s potential in the world is cut short. And what does that mean for us? And how do we ensure that we are living up to our potential and whatever time we have in this world? Those were the things that I wrote about and the women that I wrote about, I think they landed well.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Absolutely. And I know this is true for for so many of us that we can plan and plan and plan and then things pop up at the last minute like the passing of Queen Elizabeth, you know, that you don’t even know is going to be something you’re going to want to talk about until a few weeks before. There’s always last minute things that you want to incorporate. And there’s always eternal topics like t’shuvah that you want to make sure to talk about as well. So we have an important job that is also part of our legacy. And that is so beautiful. I know your Regina Jonas sermon has gotten a lot of really powerful response and feedback online. It’s gone a little viral, and I’m so proud of you and happy for you.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Thank you. It was it was very gratifying, but also, it still surprises me how many people haven’t heard of her. And I think that’s work we need to continue to uplift her history and the history of women, proto proto rabbis, the women who were proto rabbis, if not rabbis in official title and getting their stories and their histories out there, and maybe that’s something we can figure out a way to bring into this podcast as well.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Yeah, you’ve inspired me I’m gonna have to preach about her next year to make sure to rectify that error in my community as well. So yay, well, we hope everybody had a wonderful holiday season and is entering 5783 well, and healthy and coming up soon we have our guests for this episode, so stay tuned.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: We are so delighted today to welcome a very special guest a distinguished guest, in fact. We have with us today, Rabbi Stacy Rigler, RJE. She is the executive director of the Association of Reform Jewish educators, ARJE. She’s a lifelong learner. Stacy is passionate about inspiring excellence, advancing the field of Jewish education and supporting fellow educators and students. Stacy has worked in Jewish education at the foundation for Jewish camp, and URJ Camp Harlem. She served as Rabbi Educator for 17 years at Reform congregation K’nesset Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Stacy is on the volunteer leadership team of RAC that’s the Religious Action Center of Pennsylvania and #onwardHebrew and serves on the URJ Camp Harlem camp council. She received her Masters in Jewish Education and Rabbinic Ordination from Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, and her undergraduate degree from Emory University. Stacy lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband, Rabbi Peter Rigler and their three adorable children who are not such children anymore. And when not at work, Stacy loves to exercise travel and enjoy amazing pescatarian food. So Rabbi Stacy Rigler, Welcome! We are so happy to have you here. And throughout our episode today, what would you like us to call you and why? And what are your pronouns?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Thanks so much. I’m super excited to be here. My pronouns are she/her. And I’d like you to call me Stacy. I’m grateful for my title. And sometimes I feel like titles are a barrier to connection. So just Stacy’s fine.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: When you’re in professional roles, what do you prefer to be called?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I often joke I don’t really care, as long as you say it nicely. I’m not a big fan of “Rabbi Stacy”. I think when I began my career, Rabbi Stacy was felt to me that male colleagues weren’t always the rabbi and the first name, things have changed a lot in the past 25 years. So I generally, I don’t have a preference. But again, I think I think it’s more about respect shown through communication.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Nice way to put it. Haven’t quite thought about it that way before. So I really I love that. How and why did you choose to become a rabbi? And of course, the corollary is how and why did you choose to become an educator as well.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: So when I was in college and thinking about what I might do, I got the advice that you should figure out what you love to do, and find a way to make money doing it. And it seemed to me that almost everything I love to do was either in the Jewish community or in the education and learning space. And so when I realized that you could do both that really seem like a dream come true. I had a conversation with an amazing mentor, Joanne Barrington Lipschitz, when I taught at The Temple in Atlanta, and she talked to me a lot about what I imagined my everyday life as a rabbi was going to be, and really helped me see that I viewed myself as an educator, and that the day to day work I wanted to do was in education. At that time, I went right to rabbinical school, I was young, I looked young, I sounded young, I still look a little young and sound a little young or younger. And I didn’t have a lot of background and I went to rabbinic school really, to add a title to my name to add information and content and background that I didn’t feel like I had and honestly to give me a leg up at a time when I knew my gender, my appearance, my size might prevent me from doing everything I wanted to do.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: That is fascinating. To give yourself all of that, you know, to be worried about the perception of you, and to therefore take five years of education upon yourself so that the perception would be a little less important so that you could achieve what you wanted to achieve.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: So tell us about the different positions that you’ve held so far in your career and what they’ve meant to you.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I had amazing experiences as a student and they still are very valuable to me. I worked in Mandeville, Louisiana. I also work as an educator in Staten Island, New York. When I was completing rabbinical school. Both of those jobs, I really felt even though I was a student, I really was doing the work and learning with great mentors and guides. And then I worked for 17 years at a Reformed congregation keneseth, Israel and Elkins Park. And I will say in all three of those communities that the opportunity to really be present in people’s lives, to shape experiences, and to do some visioning and dreaming and testing out of ideas and experimentation and innovation. And I think for me that experimentation work has to come with a relationship work so that you can really build trust, those relationships are amongst the most important to me in my world. And then on march 1 2020, I gave notice from my job of 17 years and shifted full time to the camping world where I was really blessed to work at foundation for Jewish camp, an absolutely amazing organization. And then about a year ago, I applied for the job of executive director of ARJE an organization that has really guided me professionally that I volunteered for, and I’ve always considered to be a big source of my career, became Executive Director this past January.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: And has it been the case that there’s been a rabbi in that role before?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler Yes, my predecessor, who was the executive director of ARJE for 22 years as also an educator Stan Sheckler.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Interesting. Thanks.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: So obviously, we mostly are talking about Rabbi Educator related things today. Some of our listeners might be wondering, you know, aren’t all rabbis educators? And if so, how is a Rabbi Educator, you know, in quotations or hyphenated or however we’re writing it – How is that different than other rabbis?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I’m so glad you asked. ARJE actually has been spending a fair amount of time thinking about this question led by enlarge from our colleague, Rabbi Amy Rossell in Texas. What I would say is, of course, all rabbis are educators in the role of teachers. When we use the term educator as a professional label, we think about someone who has a specialty in pedagogy, in educational vision, and in day to day educational administration. And so by and large, when we’re talking about Rabbi Educators we’re people who really view view themselves as being two roles. One is always in the pastoral and rabbinic work – and we also see this in our Cantor Educator colleagues – and the other is thinking about the application of that Jewish content, and how they’re setting a lifelong trajectory. So while yes, certainly all rabbis are educators, and all educators think about things in terms of pastoral connections and relationships, educators lead t’filah in many places. But this is really someone who has a dual specialty, and is combining that specialty together and their role.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: To be a Rabbi Educator, do you need to have a different kind of education than other rabbis or to be Cantor Educator, than other Cantors?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: So that answer is a little complicated. I love that we live in a world where people can self define and careers can emerge. What I would say is Rabbi Educators, preferably are trained with an education degree from a graduate institution. We also know that there are many amazing individuals in our community who have lived experience. But what I would say is, if you are someone who finds yourself in a job with a title, that doesn’t always define your career. And so we know people take jobs for different reasons. But when we think of the cohort of Rabbi Educators, we really think about people who have that dual lens and who see that as their vocational calling.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: That’s a very great and clear answer. Thank you. I’d love to hear what you love about being a Rabbi Educator.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I don’t know how long you have. I don’t know I just It’s how I see the world. I as you mentioned, my spouse is a rabbi, I have lots of friends who are traditional rabbis. And I do think that there is a way Rabbi Educators see the world, or at least see our Jewish professional world that is, at the same time, practical on the ground, visionary, and deeply committed and connected to the Jewish people. Wherever I go, I’m just always, always operating at asking why, asking how, as well as looking at the what. I think I just have been blessed to be able to do work that really is part of my sacred calling. I want to be involved in the production and the planning and the behind the scenes. But I also don’t mind, I often use the the description that I both I’m equally comfortable being guide on the side and stager on the stage that I like to preach. I like to connect with people. I like to be there for individuals at their most sacred lifecycle moments. But I don’t necessarily want to do that every day. I want to I also want to plan I want to mentor I want to ask insightful questions and have people thinking and have relationships for the long term.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: And are there things that are not so awesome about being a rabbi educator?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I would say that, when I, I often have dialogue with or I had dialogue with my colleagues in my last position. When you are clergy on the Bimah, you get a lot of immediate praise. You also get tons of challenges. But there is almost built into your week, people commenting on your words of Divrei Torah, your assistance in lifecycle events. When you’re an educator, you know, there’s not a lot of emails like thanks for having religious school super organized and the carpool line went smoothly today or thanks for that, you know, hug when my child was walking in. They really needed it. It’s a lot of behind the scenes work. And I think for many of us, that is our choice, and sometimes I feel it can be challenging to be a rabbi educator because not always lifted up in the same way. I will also say that I know from the work that we have done at ARJE, in reflecting on the field of Rabbi educators, that often the compensation and the perceived value is less-than. I have colleagues who aren’t listed on their clergy web pages. You know, it’ll say, our clergy and then even though they are clergy, because they’ve chosen an education position, they’re not listed as “our clergy”. And while that may that may be about the hiring in the congregation, I think that it can feel challenging and when that’s combined with less compensation for equal work, that can also feel challenging. So I think we know worldwide education is undervalued and under compensated, and if I were going to list the folks at the top, I would probably look first around our early childhood educators. But I do think throughout education, that can be a challenge.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah, as you were talking, I was thinking about all of that, these are tropes that we hear, but with really good reason, you know, that, that lifting up, educators of all kinds is such important work. And I think it’s really important for our rabbis in the audience. I mean, we have our podcast listeners, many of them are rabbis, believe it or not. So I think, for those of our listeners, who are rabbis to think about, you know, if we are rabbis who are getting lots of recognition for the kind of Rabbi that we are, how can we ensure that we’re sharing that recognition and uplifting our colleagues who may be getting less recognition? So really important.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I think so many times, we don’t ask the question of what what would recognition look like to you? One of my favorite tools, if the love languages, and there’s some of the love language work that’s been applied to work settings, in thinking about, how can that value be shared on because what we’ve learned from talking to Rabbi Educators is that experience is so vast, and we have a lot of colleagues who are celebrated and valued and a lot of female rabbis who are really doing that lifting up. And so it’s, I couldn’t possibly speak to the whole experience.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Thanks so much for raising those really important pieces of awareness for us and our listeners. So you’ve worked in different kinds of Jewish education settings, in congregations in camps and in broader Jewish organizations. And so I’m wondering if you can give us a little bit of insight into how Jewish education looks different in different places.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I think the biggest way, in my experience of how Jewish education looks different is what people bring to it. As someone who’s a real believer in what can happen in congregational education, people bring a lot of negativity to congregational education. And so much of it is simply the time. I used to say to my kids, like, I would rather not be here on Sunday morning at 9:30, or after school, like nobody took a vote and thought this is the very best time. But it always feels put upon or additional in a way that other settings, just don’t. And so your starting place is a little bit different. I would talk with my kids, who were my congregational members, and my campers, and we would do the same activity and they would love it. And I’d say like, what’s the difference, and they would talk about, first of all the relationships built a camp, there’s so much more safety and security, the pure, the near pure experience of leadership of having someone who is 18, 19, 20 being thier guide, rather than a different type of adult, maybe in a congregational or educational setting. But I think the biggest difference is around the mindset very often. And increasingly, in the past 10 or 15 years, the content and the approach is similar, but it’s about positive Jewish identity. It’s about forming relationships and connections, you know, but when you’re at camp, like nobody leaves early to go to a doctor’s appointment, and nobody comes in late because of traffic. And it’s just very different in terms of what you bring to that experience in this setting. And so I think that, in many ways, the congregational schools are just bringing the challenges of everyday life and of whatever history their parents or whoever’s driving them comes in with. I do think there’s a really interesting, new trend emerging in afterschool education – communities around the country, that part of their aftercare is their Jewish education. And certainly, I’m not an expert in day schools, I’ve never spent intense time in the schools on the day schools are a whole other amazing setting of Jewish education. But the after school education combines that every day with the play and with the enrichment of camp in a way that feels very focused on 21st century skills, and community building. So I think, if I’m answering your question, I think so much is about the exterior. I think the interior has so many similarities and parallels.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: That’s a really interesting way of thinking about them and sort of compare and contrast that, that there’s sort of a through thread, and then external factors.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: I never would have thought of that that as hard as a synagogue might try to reproduce the camp experience and to say, Okay, we know in formal education works, you know, and this is the best way to build Jewish identity. You can’t get rid of certain variables and certain factors that are inherent in this synagogue community and the synagogue experience that camp has, and you’re just you’re not going to recreate it.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: And vice versa. And yeah, you know, I have spent time over the years with kids who don’t have a synagogue experience and always have a camp experience. And the camp experience isn’t, isn’t total. And so the they really complement each other. They were designed to complement each other in so many ways in terms of year round and lifelong education. And there’s so many families that are blessed to have both experiences, whether they are overnight camp, I also think take camp gets short shrift, and there’s so much there’s so many opportunities. We know that the vast majority of our Jewish kids are never going to be able to be overnight campers and creating that summer community. There’s just something about summer. That is so enriching, and we do see more and more creativity in the immersive experiences that are year round. That really, really are able to capture both.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: I’d love to hear a little bit more about what some of those are like for our listeners who are thinking like, oh, where? Tell me more about that? Where should I be sending my kids? What kinds of experiences are out there that maybe aren’t the traditional route? And in a minute, we’re going to ask you sort of for some of your, your wisdom drawn from 17 years of being a congregational, educator, but maybe just to sort of transition from this conversation that we’re having now. I’m wondering, you know, for congregations who are trying to replicate that camp experience, would you say, you know, no, you should actually not be trying to do that there’s some a different way? Or is there a best practice way of doing that? Or sort of like cease and desist? What would you advise?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Definitely not cease and desist. You know, when I worked at Foundation for Jewish camp, we used to joke that we had $1, for every time someone said, like, I want to recreate the camp experience. The really interesting place is what happens four sentences later, like, What do you mean by that? Are you talking about joy? Are you talking about outdoor education? Are you talking about a shift in goals? There’s so many different ways that people think about the camp experience and the congregational experience. And if you look at those two things, in 1975, you know, they, they feel really complimentary. If you look at them today, they’re ever closer. So you have all sorts of models of education, where you might have congregations that are doing day long or weekend experiences, that are outdoors that are based at a camp that really get you away from that day to day, you know, oh, my goodness, I have to pick up my kid or I’m checking email, or, you know, I’m getting texts, and that’s for the kids and the families and the teachers. Then you have congregations that are creating a Sunday morning model that maybe has that near peer experience, if congregations that are located near universities, where they can have those young people that really serve as inspirations. And they might have some senior educators that have the capacity to think about the curriculum, the breadth of organizations. I really think so much is about articulating goals. The other thing I would say is so much is about having a curiosity around innovation. Education is unique. In the work world, in that everybody participated in it. There’s very few fields that folks go into that they have lived experience. So then when you change what they participated in, it’s hard for them to imagine they want it different. And for our Jewish parents raising Jewish children, no matter what they might have thought of their Jewish education, by and large, it did get them to this result that they are raising Jewish children. So even though they might state that they didn’t love it, there’s something about it that really worked for them, folks are hesitant to let go. I don’t think there’s anything else in our society that looks so similar to the way it looked 75 years ago as education. Even if you just think of like the actual physical classroom, like how many buildings are still the exact same. And I think what I would encourage congregations to do is lean into innovation. We always have a backward bias that what’s going to be in the future may not be as good as what we have right now. And we’re nervous to make that jump. And so those congregations that are willing to play willing to experiment, they’re the ones that are really going to lead us into the future. Or we’re gonna have new startup communities that are emerging and creative. And they won’t have the what we did before to build upon. So they’re increasingly going to be more likely to take those risks, and we shouldn’t be afraid of them. Our community has always been innovative and creative. We just we want to we want to build upon that positive goodwill and deep Jewish education.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: I’m fascinated by how often you’ve used the word relationship and you seem to use it in contexts that predate the more kind of common contemporary use of it, where it’s like the new buzzword is everything is you know, relationships and congregations and post COVID We need to rebuild relationships. And I’m, I don’t mean to say it in such a mocking tone, because it really is, It really is important. You seem to have been working on relationship based education for a very long time. What gave you that insight so early?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I think when I was a young educator, to be honest, I made some missteps in communication. And I think we all learn best by doing. And sometimes I think our current young generation is afraid to make mistakes, because it feels hard and it feels uncomfortable. But what I learned was, when someone sends an email, upset about the policy, it’s almost never about the policy. And if I respond to the email, saying, Oh, I appreciate your feedback. Thank you, I’ll bring this to the committee meeting, I will have missed the whole point of Jewish education. And in my mind, I think this is about education in general. But it is that pastoral and communal lens that I talked about before that I believe all educators bring to their work. So often, the work we do is about getting to know people holding their hands and guiding them through the educational process. And I know that there is these buzzwords around relationships. When I was a participant in the, the Bnai Mitzvah Revolution, we were tasked with designing an intervention around B’nai Mitzvah. At the same time, I was learning about community organizing, I had had some really amazing conversations with Dr. Friedman, who works Religious Action Center. And we were talking about the one on one meeting and what you gain from it and what you learn around it. And my intervention around B’nai Mitzvah was that I would have a one on one meeting with every fifth grade family, and really learn what becoming a Jewish adult meant to them, and set the stage for ongoing Jewish education towards confirmation. Those meetings were amongst the best things I ever did in my career. There’s so much conversation around how do we get kids to stay for confirmation? How do we change our teen programs? How do we hear from kids individually and guide them and lead them? In taking time when kids were 10 years old parents weren’t new to the congregation, and they weren’t about to leave the congregation. But just hearing from them. What keeps them up at night around their parenting? changed everything about my practice. And then it changed, it changed our work in the congregation. One of these families who, when they came to me, they said, We’re never going to come because we have hockey on Sunday mornings. But we’ll do our best to come at 1030. Now some folks say like 1030 to 12. That’s not enough time. And where are this family’s priorities? I have to say like if you’re getting your kids out to be on the ice at six. And after that you’re driving your kids to religious school, from 10 to 12, from 1030 to 12. Like, to me that’s way more commitment or equal commitment than the family that lives two minutes away and rolls out of bed in their pajamas and shows up at 930. Like that’s a lot of commitment to come after hockey. Folks always say like, are they really going to be professional hockey players? Well, it turns out this kid is currently playing hockey in the Junior League. So even better, I don’t think the mom maybe knew that at four. But all along this family and I had this open dynamic where I appreciated them for who they were and where they were. And when I made a ton of changes in our program and their kids were not fond of it, the mom said to me, I have to tell you, my kids come home and they complain, and they really don’t like the changes. And I said to them, You know what? We’re going to share what we don’t like. But we’re also just going to wait and trust. Because we know Rabbi Stacy, we know that she cares about us, we know that she made those changes with people like us in mind. So we’re just going to wait and see. And that kind of trust can only be built through relationships. And it can only be built through those conversations about hockey and about coming in late and like yes, I’ll make the extra effort to make sure that your child doesn’t feel lost or cut out of this process. Because the exceptions are the norm. And I think it’s a shift that a lot of educators were forced to make during COVID. But a lot of educators were already making these shifts long before and it was the communities that were willing to live in the gray that are really able to thrive in that way.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: I want to build on that with another question. Because I think you, you brought up at the end of that beautiful story. The connection to, you know, what we’ve learned in COVID. And how COVID is or isn’t shifting are building on different ways of thinking about engaging and relating. And one of the conversations that we’re having in in my shul now is is less about how to get the kids back in the classroom, because kids are thrilled to be offline and in person again, but how to get the parents out of the cars and into the shul, for anything, you know, like, it’s not, it’s not even that we would love them to help make minyan on Saturday morning, but we’d also love them to stay and have a cup of coffee or join a book club or, you know, and this is also we talked a little bit about this earlier, sort of thinking about what are we carrying forward? And what are we not carrying forward? Are we rebooting old models of how we get parents into the building? Or are there new ways of thinking about how to get parents into the building? Or are we not asking these kinds of – is that, is that an outdated question? So I’m curious, I’d love your your take on that. From again, like drawn from your years of experience, and also current conversations in this sort of transitioning back or transitioning ahead.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: One of my favorite books is Simon Sinek, Start With Why. I think we have to be really clear about our why. If we’re looking to get parents in the building, because we remember a time when the lobby was full of parents drinking coffee, then that’s not a good enough why. If we knew that there was a time when parents share deep connections, and we want to reestablish those connections, then I think we probably need to go to that one on one work, and having individual conversations, you know, really using the community organizing model of investing in one person and then encouraging them to invest in other people, to figure out what is it they wanted from synagogue education? I don’t know that we spend enough time thinking, for those folks that work in synagogues about that choice. Everybody has a choice. By and large families don’t sign up to join a synagogue only for B’nai Mitzvah, if you only wanted a B’nai Mitzvah, you could find that without a synagogue. So why did they make that choice for synagogue community? And if they continue never coming out of the car, will will their choice be validated? I think that COVID gave us the ability to reflect on all of our interactions. Also, it just it decreased our muscle of interpersonal dialogue. And we’re all really tired. And so if I am going to get out of the car, and I am going to go have coffee, I want to remember why I’m doing it and why I’m going to use the energy in that way. And so I think, I think we just have to, as Jewish professionals, be really clear about what we’re looking for, and then be really focused on listening and helping other folks remember what it was that they were looking for.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: So important, thank you. What is the future of Jewish education? Where are we going?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Oh, that I love that question. And I will tell you I have found in my 20 years of work, it is impossible to predict. You know, I reflect on when Birthright happened and everyone was like 10 days, what could 10 days in Israel possibly do and who’s gonna want to go? You know, and it’s shaped the landscape of kids trajectory. Where I hope it’s going is creativity, innovation and joy. I hope that Jewish education always remains at the intersection between people’s curiosity and imagination and people’s spirituality. I hope that one of our COVID keepers is the value of educators. While I talked before about the undervaluing, I do think there’s a new awareness around the key role that educators play in a community. I think we’re seeing this in a lot of places. And so I hope that we see an investment in educators in all sorts of arenas, and we see an investment in educational programs and a curiosity around change and innovation that we know that COVID is not the is not the last disrupter. Disruptors can be great teachers if we let them and I hope Jewish education will learn from the disruption and enable us to really harness our resources.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Thank you so much Stacy! Now as you may know, in each episode, we have an Ask The Rabbi segment where we have a an interesting or provocative question that really makes us think as rabbis and we would love to hear your thoughts on this question. There’s been this recent spike in public anti semitic statements that have no shame, right? It’s taking anti semitism that may have always been there, but it’s out in public, we have things that have been said by politicians, as well as pop stars like Kanye West. And how would you respond to a student who brings it up? Or a parent of a student? And how do you help them feel either at ease? Or how do you help them handle those kinds of feelings?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I think, any time there are large challenges and threats to the Jewish community, there’s only one response, which is, what does this mean to you? How can I help you in this moment? What’s challenging about this to you? Every individual responds to threats in a different way. And just like we talk about, you know, a lot of people talk about answering kids questions, and that they go into these elaborate answers. And kids really just wanted something simple. I think, parents, kids, the question they’re asking, always requires a lot of listening. And so as an educator, I just want to know, how I can help them and support them, what’s on their mind, what do they want to grapple with together? Because there might not be an easy answer, it might just be about acknowledging pain and shared sadness, disappointment, fear, not every emotion can be or should be created with information. On the other hand, sometimes it is about actual information. What should I do? What should I say? And you really want to parse out, are people asking for support? Or are people asking for help? Connections? What is it that you, you want to be in that moment?

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Very insightful, and I think different answer than a pulpit rabbi might give, which would be I would imagine more top down. Let me impart all my knowledge and wisdom upon you, instead of coming at it, as you know, let me help understand what you’re thinking and feeling about this.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Save that comment for when you get to my favorite text.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Okay. All right. Well, thank you. Emma, do you want to say anything about this, this question?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: You know, it’s, it’s such a bizarre experience to be outside of North America. Watching these things happen, you know, to be first of all, to be North American, but to be living outside of North America, the reality in South Africa right now is very different. We’re not feeling this intensity of renewed anti semitic rhetoric in public spaces and by public figures. And it feels troubling and also unbelievable, to sort of see what’s happening from afar to watch sort of on TV and on social media and to hear about it from loved ones. But I feel like I’m not almost not qualified to to answer because it’s, it’s just, it is something I’m only experiencing as a witness right now, and not as a directly impacted – I mean, obviously, anti semitism impacts and affects all Jews. But, but I think what American Jews are experiencing right now is unique, and I’m not there. And so really, like all I can just do is send love and say that the rest of the Jewish world is is watching and supporting and loving and hoping and troubled and, like I don’t have students coming to me in fear or parents coming to me in fear. You know, it’s, we’re worried about all of you, but we’re not worried about ourselves right now in this moment. So…

Rabbi Marci Bellows: it is really hard. I think what bothers me the most about it is as a pop culture fanatic, and to know the power of popular culture on on influencing attitudes, politicians aside, because we know the politicians who have been saying these things are nut cases anyway and especially in Pennsylvania, and I know you’ve been dealing with some really terrible things in Pennsylvania, and some frightening politicians there as well. And you may or may not want to comment done any of those, but especially with Kanye West, and with the Kardashians, I mean, not that they’ve been making anti semitic statements, but you’ve had for, you know, for a decade or more influencers, making dangerous comments or influencing us in dangerous ways that they don’t realize the importance of. And now when you have somebody who is definitely battling mental illness, and we know that from a number of incidents that he has been involved in to go on multiple rants about Jews, and to try to bring other stars into it, who have said, I don’t want anything to do with what you’re saying, it’s, it’s frightening. It’s and here, I am being top down about it. So forgive me. But I think we do need an action plan. Because if it does spread, we do have to have an idea of, you know, what would we do if the Rachel bloom Instagram post that Emma was showing me a few minutes before we started recording, and Rachel Bloom is one of my heroes as the star of Crazy Ex Girlfriend. We have extolled her virtues many times on this podcast, you know, when there are already protests and gatherings that are anti Jew happening? We have to take it seriously. It’s not just a crazy person who’s saying crazy things. It’s somebody who’s already stirring the pot. So both.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I guess I would just add to that, as someone who maybe is on the opposite end of pop culture than you are. But is I do spend a lot of time focused on politics. You mentioned I’m involved in RAC Pennsylvania. I think, my fear is that we see the dramatic rise in White Christian Nationalism. And we think these politicians are pop stars, and that the line between pop stars and politicians has been blurred. And so I don’t know that we as a community are doing enough to help folks understand the gravity of both of the the gravity of the intersection between media and politics that we’re living in and 2022.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Excellent point. Really important and excellent point.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Thanks so much for having that important and difficult conversation with us. And for your insight.

We’re gonna move into Questionnaire Maher we know you have other important places to be this is also an important place to be, but we know you have other important places to be. So, Questionnaire Maher is designed to be answered quickly as the Hebrew of the name indicates. So you don’t need to think too hard, too deeply just answer as it comes to you. And we’ll move through these and get you on your way. So, Stacy, are you ready?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I’m ready.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: So who was your first woman rabbi, either in your home synagogue or that you were first aware of?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: So I’m going to cheat and answer two. When I was very young, Rabbi Amy Perlin was a rabbi at my congregation, but she left to establish her own congregation. And so I didn’t have a connection with her. But I do believe that image was really important of knowing female rabbis existed. But as a teen, I had a number of times, where I was at Rabbi Amy Schwartzman’s congregation, she was a neighboring rabbi, and I continue to look to her as a guide and an amazing leader.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Two great Amy’s. Tell us about a woman it could be a Jewish woman or any other woman who inspires you.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Hard to identify one, but I’m gonna go with Brene Brown, because though she’s not a Jewish woman, her core values and beliefs and leadership style are always always inspirational.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: I feel like we’d welcome her into the Jewish community in a pretty, pretty quick heartbeat. So, fill in the blank, being a woman rabbi, or if you want being a woman, Rabbi Educator is –

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: empowering.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: And what do you think would surprise people to learn about women rabbis or women Rabbi educators?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: That they’re normal people you know, we do the laundry, we have fights with our kids and you know, all the same things that every other, every other human being lives and experiences.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Do you have a favorite Jewish character from a book movie or TV show? Its Okay if you don’t.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I don’t know that I do. But I will say if we’re going to shout out Jewish Jewish pop culture heroes, I think I will just shout out Barbra Streisand in all the roles she plays just for being so authentically, female and Jewish.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Yeah. That’s a great one. And you were referencing and so we’d love to hear a favorite Jewish text teaching or value that inspires you or informs your life.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Sure. There’s a woman named Ray Frank. She was a preacher in the 1890s. And she wrote a piece she was interviewed on, you know, would, would she be the first female rabbi? And she spoke about that she’s not a rabbi, she wouldn’t deign to imagine herself as a rabbi. But if she were, what would she do? And that text about how she wouldn’t stand on high and say, I am the rabbi, and I should do this. But she would try to lead by example. And precept. We talked before about relational work. It just to me was always the image of what I wanted to be as a female rabbi. And so it to me, it’s shocking how much it holds up. So many years later, with the exception of she talks a lot about how she wouldn’t get paid for her work, especially lifecycle events. And I always feel a little, you know, you have to make a living and you should be compensated for it.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Maybe different times. Stacey, that’s such Kismet we were just talking about before you came on, in our What Are We Thinking About segment we were just talking about Regina Jonas and other women who predated female rabbinic ordination. And that one of the things we wanted to do on this podcast is find other ways of lifting them up and teaching about them. So it’s remarkable that you brought forward Ray Frank, the Girl Rabbi of the West, I think she was called something like that. And not that I’m advocating for that title. But –

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: that was the title of the newspaper article

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb:  –but that’s incredible. I’ve never seen that quote, and I’m going to ask you to send it to me. Thank you for honoring her and brining her into this conversation and this space. So we talked at the beginning of the podcast about what we’re thinking about these days. And we’d love to hear what you’re thinking about these days.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Oh, what a great open ended question. I think there’s two things I’m thinking about. This past Saturday afternoon, I attended a local community organizing event where the Reverend Al, I believe his name is Alvin Haring, who is the National Director of Faith and Action, spoke, and he spoke to a group of clergy, all suburban Philadelphia clergy. And he basically said, in his very clear and inspiring words, what were you put on this earth to do? And why were you called? And were you called – I wrote it down, I’d have to look it up his exact words. But he basically, to me talked about, are you here just, you know, to tend the sheep? Or are you really here to make inspirational change, because that kind of change takes risks and acknowledge the risk and acknowledge the challenge. We’re really encouraged as, as clergy members, if you are not actively focused on the work, of ensuring that every human being is represented if you’re not actively focused on fighting White Christian Nationalism in all of its forms? What are you even doing as a clergy member? And we talked a little bit about Rabbi Educators in this podcast. And we talked about the difference between a pulpit rabbi’s approach and an educator’s approach. And I think I just spent a lot of time thinking about what is my role as a Rabbi Educator in helping to ensure that I am not sitting on the sidelines in what seems like the fight of our lives, and, and the challenges being raised and the opportunities. We’ve we’ve never been better positioned to make change, how much awareness has happened in the last five years in the difference in people’s individual experiences. And that backlash and how can we, how can we counter that backlash? through education and through relationship building, which, you know, as you’ve identified are core to my rabbinate. I’m also thinking about my day job, which is uplifting the voices of educators and everything we do. ARJE prides itself on being the voice of Reform Jewish education, and how can I ensure that those people who got into this work to help people understand that Judaism can add value and meaning to their lives don’t leave it because of their burn out, because of their lack of recognition or value? Because people are taking their everyday frustrations out on their educators for things that have nothing to do with them? Because they’re struggling and in pain. And so how can I help our colleagues? How can I lift them up? How can I advocate for them? How can I get more resources? And how can we build our ARJE community to really enrich the lives of educators? So those are the two things I think about mostly. And then I think about, you know, how can I get more exercise, drink more water, the sort of everyday things that that we all do.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: For self care.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: self care, so important. Will you please make sure that we have the links to the ways that our listeners can support you in that work?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Absolutely.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Yeah, that would be wonderful. Oh, Stacy, you, I feel like I’ve always learned from you. We overlapped a little bit in school. And I always enjoyed having classes with you and hanging out on the C level of HUC with you. And we, of course, have learned so much from you today, as would be expected and enjoyed by all, you are truly an inspiration. And I would love to be able to have our listeners know how to contact you. What’s the best way for people to reach you?

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Sure, you can go to our website, reformeducators.org And my contact information is on there. So that’s probably the easiest way to reach me and I will make sure you have links to the words of Ray Frank, most easily captured in Camelina Nadels, book, Women Who Would Be Rabbis. And if you’re looking to uplift an educator, one of the ways you can do it is by making a gift to ARJE in their honor. Sort of lifting up all educators and especially an educator in your life. And that donate page is also on reformeducators.org

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Oh, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much. Tzadakah is always a good thing, especially when it can lift up the people who we care about. Thank you so much for your time. And with your incredibly busy schedule and all of the very holy work you do. We really appreciate your wisdom today. Thank you so much.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Thank you for your partnership for asking me and for lifting all of us up.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: A pleasure

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: This can be an end clip somewhere, but I feel like the listeners need to know that the C level at HUC is an A-B-C level and not like a Down by the Sea level.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: I believe it C is in concourse.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Yes. (sings) Down by the sea.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Yeah, it’s really it’s really like a subway level.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: It’s not and it’s not like the H-U-C it’s not like HUC has like level H level U level C.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: funny, but I would I would advocate for a sea level. We need a beach but not the Hudson seaside

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Where is the seaside campus of HUC?

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Come on guys. Where’s that?

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: It should be in Cape Town. We’ve got beautiful beaches.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Okay, interesting. Well, thanks all.

Rabbi Stacy Rigler: Thank you. Have a good one.

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Thank you for listening to Women Rabbis Talk

Rabbi Marci Bellows: We’d like to thank Seth Lindman for tech and Sound Support

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb: Our music is by Aviva Chernick and Jaffa Road.

Rabbi Marci Bellows: Women Rabbis Talk is self edited and self produced and we hope to one day have some help with that.

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Rabbi Marci Bellows: Todah Rabah!

Transcribed by https://otter.ai