Driven to be a Rabbi

My name is Rachel Rothstein and I am a 2nd-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio but chose to study at the Los Angeles HUC-JIR campus because I thought it was important to get out of my comfort zone and experience the vibrant Jewish communities in LA that are very different from where I grew up. Graduate school is about stretching your mind and learning new things, not just as they relate to your coursework, but also about oneself. For those reasons, I’m so thankful to be on the Los Angeles campus, where I am constantly being challenged by my wonderful professors, my classmates, and my new surroundings. The scholarship I received from WRJ has helped to make the expensive burden of living in Los Angeles easier so I can concentrate on translating and understanding prophetic literature, ancient midrashim and other texts that make our tradition as vibrant as it is.  

I’m often asked what kind of rabbi I want to be and to that question, I don’t have a good answer. I loved working with children at the Mayerson JCC’s Early Childhood School in Cincinnati when I was the HUC-JCC Rabbinic Intern in the summer of 2018. My experience working at my congregation in Victorville, California has made seriously consider becoming a pulpit rabbi. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each of the experiences that HUC-JIR has offered me, I’ve also become less able to narrow down what I want to do once I’m ordained. This causes me slight angst, but I know that overall, it’s a good problem to have because I understand how much I enjoy working with people, children, and adults and forming connections with all the individuals who interact with our tradition. Distilling and translating the wonderful vortex of history, prayer, language, Israel, and culture into something I can use to form connections with people both young and old is what drives me to be a Rabbi, no matter what kind of Rabbi I end up becoming.

I’m very much looking forward to getting involved with the PJ Library and the WRJ’s work on environmental causes. I worked at the Mayerson JCC in the summer of 2018 and spent a significant amount of time working in the classrooms at their Early Childhood School. PJ Library is ever present and I’ve seen the importance and impact of Jewish literature on the lives of young Jewish children and their families. As a student Rabbi at a small congregation in rural California, I hope to get involved with the work the WRJ does in partnership with PJ Library because Jewish literature is a wonderful point of connection for families who live on the fringes of our communities.

As an advocate for public transportation and the reduction of greenhouse gases from automobiles, I would also love to get involved with the WRJ’s work on environmental causes. After living in Israel for a year and navigating public transportation in Hebrew, I moved back to the United States empowered and ready to maintain my usage of public transportation and carpooling. If I could figure it out in Hebrew, I could figure it out anywhere! The idea of reducing our carbon footprint can feel very daunting, but there are small ways that we can make progress and I feel empowered to encourage other Jewish women to understand how doable this task truly is!

Rachel Rothstein is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion Los Angeles campus.

Published: 6/18/2019

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