Why is This Visit to The Rashi School Different From All Other Visits?



Next Wednesday, May 23, will be a big day for our family.

That night, my wife, Dana Gershon, the outgoing president of The Rashi School’s board of trustees, will be honored at the school’s annual dinner. Dana has been president of the board for two years and, with four daughters, all of whom are Rashi students, we spend a lot of time at 8000 Great Meadow Road in Dedham, where we’re all part of the wonderful kehillah that is Rashi. Needless to say, between meetings, classes, sports, parent-teacher conferences, plays, t’filah, and more, it’s very often where our family hangs out.

What a wonderful opportunity that evening will be for me, as a husband and a father, to celebrate the people I love.

What a wonderful opportunity it will be for us as a family to celebrate the school we love.

That celebration, though, will only happen after a day at The Rashi School. Instead of hanging with Dana and the girls as I usually do there, I’ll be spending the day with incoming URJ President Rick Jacobs, NATE President Lisa Barzilai, PARDES Executive Director Jane West Walsh, and other leaders from the Union, the CCAR and HUC-JIR. We’ll be joined by 10 HUC-JIR students, future rabbis, cantors and educators who were selected from a host of applicants to visit Rashi for a week of experiential learning about Reform day school education in the 21st century.  They’ll attend classes, participate in t’fillot, and confer with teachers and administrators as part of the Reform Day School Externship, jointly sponsored by Rashi, the URJ, HUC-JIR and PARDES: Day Schools of Reform Judaism.

I’m excited to introduce my colleagues to Rashi and to show them the power and potential of Reform Jewish day schools as we meet with students, parents and administrators, and attend the school’s Memorial Day commemoration. Even more exciting to me, though, is that 10 HUC students—my future colleagues—will, over the course of a full week, see this power and potential firsthand.  I am confident that by the time they return home, they’ll have acquired a deep understanding of many facets of Reform Jewish day schools that they’ll share with fellow students now and incorporate into their future work as rabbis, cantors, and educators.

Prior to my appointment as senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, I spent a decade as a community organizer, first at Boston’s Temple Israel and more recently as the founder of the Union’s Just Congregations initiative. One of the central tenets of community organizing is to build capacity for the future. Without a doubt, Rashi’s Reform Day School Externship is capacity-building at its best.

What a wonderful opportunity that day will be for me, as a rabbi and a community organizer, to share and celebrate the work I love.

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Rabbi Jonah Pesner

About Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Rabbi Jonah Pesner is Senior Vice President of the URJ. Rabbi Pesner is also the founding Director of Just Congregations. He works with synagogues pursuing social justice across the country and teaches on all three campuses of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He has led efforts to engage thousands of members of congregations to join together in successful campaigns for health care access, affordable housing, public education and other social action initiatives.

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