As a rising third-year Cantorial student at Hebrew Union College: Jewish Institute of Religion, life has certainly been a wild ride since graduating from my undergraduate studies. Just three weeks after getting my degrees from the University of Michigan, I had a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv and a plan for the next five years of my life in an incredible program filled with intense academic learning, rigorous vocal and musical studies, and the opportunity for spiritual growth and expansion.
On top of the rigors of the program itself, we are encouraged to garner experience out in the field through internships and employment at New York City’s various synagogues and Jewish institutions. For the past year, I have been employed at Central Synagogue as a B’nei Mitzvah tutor, and in the fall, I will continue those duties as well as adding two new titles, religious school teacher and Tefillah specialist. I will also enter my second year as the student cantor of Glen Cove’s North Country Reform Temple where I spend my Shabbatot and all of the Chagim. At the end of this year I was given the Women of Reform Judaism Award for greatest academic progress over the 2018-2019 school year, awarded to me by the faculty of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, and it was a complete honor for multiple reasons. There have been times over the past year in which I have been completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of unticked boxes on my to-do lists, the little things needing to get done, and the amount of endeavors that I ‘wanted’ to do being pushed to the side by the things I ‘needed’ to do. I had to prioritize and organize my life in order to not let my academics fall by the wayside because my education is and will always be my number one priority while I am at HUC.
The stellar faculty consisting of bright scholars, seasoned cantors, and distinguished rabbis are my teachers that I will never take for granted. The knowledge I am gaining is the knowledge I’ve hoped to attain since I discovered the cantorate as my passion years ago. The academic resources this program has given to me are immeasurable and I am so thankful that I am able to use them every day as tools to put in my toolbox for my future in this field.
Another reason this award is a huge honor is that it is made possible by the WRJ. I am a part of a class at HUC that is largely female, and a picture is rapidly forming of the future of Reform clergy--one that includes something a little different than the traditional male presence on the bimah. As I have followed WRJ over the years, I have continually been impressed and intrigued by the leadership development aspect of their organization, including their consultant program. The fact is, a large part of the future of Reform Judaism is the increasing number of women who step up into roles of leadership at their synagogues, become Jewish educators, or Rabbis and Cantors, and the way WRJ is facilitating their acquisition of leadership skills is admirable and important. WRJ’s engagement with social justice and outspoken stances on hard-pressed issues that I am passionate about makes me want to join their fight for equality, the environment, and more. I hope to preserve this connection established between myself and WRJ by doing whatever I can to further their causes and their fight.
Jenna McMillan is a third-year cantorial student at HUC-JIR DFSSM. Jenna is currently living in New York, NY.