Each year, the New York campus of HUC-JIR hosts an evening where the scholarship students and donors can meet and mingle. On January 27, along with WRJ Executive Director Rabbi Marla Feldman, I attended this year’s Scholarship Recognition Dinner, where we had the pleasure of meeting two of this year’s WRJ’s scholars – Ariel Milan-Polisar and Rachael Pass.
The evening began with wine and hors-d'oeuvres in the HUC-JIR lobby, and an opportunity to meet our “WRJ scholars” and other scholarship recipients... followed by Havdalah, and then dinner in the great space downstairs. We heard from Rabbi David Adelson, dean of the New York campus; and Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of the school; and we were also entertained by the several of the cantorial students with music and song, including an original composition that got everyone singing along.
Like the city where it is situated, the New York campus of HUC-JIR is a melting pot of students and talents. The current group of scholars hails, literally, from corner to corner of the U.S. – from Tacoma, Washington, to Miami, Florida – and also from Toronto, Canada; London, England; and Melbourne, Australia. As undergraduates, many specialized in “expected” subjects – Religion or Judaic Studies for rabbinic students, or Music or Voice for cantorial students. But there’s lots of variety – Economics, History, Political Science, International Relations; Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, Anthropology, Race Studies, Gender Studies; Classics, English, Creative Writing, various foreign languages; Dance, Theater, Film Studies – and also Microbiology, and even Metallurgical and Materials Engineering. Many were double majors, and many graduated with honors. What a diverse – and talented – group! Our future rabbis and cantors are so impressive! The situation was summed up by one of the donors at our table who, along with her husband, was filling in for her in-laws for the third year in a row. “I tell my in-laws, each year after the dinner, Give more! ”
WRJ sponsors one-half of the full tuition for two students at each of the North American campuses or HUC-JIR – Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and New York. WRJ also provides a block grant to HUC-JIR in Jerusalem to support all of the Israeli rabbinical students there.
Here are brief bios for this year’s WRJ scholars on the New York campus:
Ariel Milan-Polisar grew up in Irvington, New York. She was involved in her Tarrytown synagogue from a young age; spent 13 summers at URJ Eisner Camp as a camper and staff member, and was involved with temple youth in her synagogue and as an NFTY board member. Ariel earned a B.A. in Sociology at Brandeis, where she was on the Hillel Board, and also worked in youth engagement at a Wellesley congregation – both during and after college.
Rachael Pass grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where she was a member of Kentucky’s oldest Jewish congregation (chartered in 1842). She attended URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (URJ GUCI) as a camper during most of her childhood, and then as a counselor/Unit Head during college. After graduation, Rachael worked in youth engagement in Massachusetts for several years. During her Year-In-Israel, Rachael was a Rabbinical Intern on Kibbutz Gezer, and an active member of Women of the Wall. Most recently, Rachael returned to URJ GUCI as Director of Education and spent the High Holy Days as the Student Rabbi at Bowdoin College Hillel in Maine.
Carol Chaykin is a WRJ Northeast District Area Director and a member of the Women's Organization of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Sisterhood in New York, New York.