CLASP: The Next Generation of Educators


Rena Rifkin   November 5, 2019

CLASP: The Next Generation of Educators

The newest member of my team is a member of another team and he has many supervisors.

That’s because the newest member of my team is a CLASP fellow. The CLASP (Camp Leadership And Synagogue Professional) fellowship is an amazing initiative from the Union for Reform Judaism where synagogues and camps partner to hire ONE staff member who will work for the synagogue during the school year and will work at camp in the summertime. It’s a win-win! We both get an amazing, dynamic, emerging Jewish professional who needs full-time work and we work together to foot the bill. I am so excited to have this new member of my team, and I know that I am not the only Association of Reform Jewish Educators member who has a CLASP fellow this year.

However, our CLASP fellows are more than just great staff members. They are, as I mentioned above, emerging Jewish professionals and they need not only our supervision, but our mentorship. Some of our CLASP fellows are already considering careers in Jewish education, and others don’t even realize that they can make their love of Jewish experiential learning into a career! Here is where we can and must step in.

In my role as the co-team leader of the ARJE’s advocacy team, I was fortunate to spend time with the CLASP fellows and other new youth professionals at the URJ’s YP101 Conference this past September. I talked a great deal with all the participants about what it means to be a Reform Jewish educator and that their role, whether they are hanging out with teens or teaching in a classroom, is exactly that! They are role models of Jewish life and we hired them with hopes of them showing our students and families what it means to live a Jewish life.

I also spoke with the conference participants about the ARJE. I encouraged them to see us as the extension of their new network and to realize that we are here to support them, to learn with them and to mentor them. I wanted the participants to realize that this can be more than a fellowship, more than a job that they fill for a few years. This can be a long-term career and we are here to show them all that a Reform Jewish educator can be and do!

The future of our profession depends on each of us taking the time to build relationships with and mentor potential and emerging Jewish professionals. We must tell them that this is an option and that we are here for them. We know in our hearts that being a Reform Jewish educator means more than working with the learners that stand before us each day - it also means educating those who can be educators. And we are not only Reform Jewish educators, but also Reform Jewish leaders who need to find, build and mentor the next generation of educators.

This article originally appeared in the Association of Reform Jewish Educators' newsletter, ARJEAchshav. Learn more about ARJE and the benefits of membership here.

Stephen Wise's CLASP fellow, Ben Kern, joined us this summer as our teen programming associate. Get to know him a little better here.

RABBI RENA RIFKIN is director of youth education at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. She received her MAJE from the HUC-JIR Rhea Hirsch School of Education in 2008 and was ordained by HUC-JIR in 2010. She has worked at synagogues across the New York area, including Temple Emanu-El, Temple Shaaray Tefila, and North Shore Synagogue. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Scott and their three children, Eden, Simon and Micah.