The author on the road down South last year... and this year!

Another Kind of New Year

In a two-year fellowship, the "second time" can be the charm...

On August 9th, 2016, I found myself in the Florida panhandle in the thick of summer community visits in my then-brand-new-to-me-role as an ISJL Education Fellow. On this particular trip, I was with two other first-year Fellows and one second-year Fellow.

Last summer, as I embarked on the first of those many community visits, I often times felt lost. The only real way to learn how to do this job is through actually doing it — visiting communities, talking to different people, and soaking up information about the ISJL. I was grateful to have a second-year Fellow traveling with me almost all of the time; last summer was a whirlwind, but I didn’t realize how much I had grown over the past year until this summer.

A few weeks ago, I was looking at my hectic summer visit schedule when I noticed something: On August 9th, 2017, I would be in Tallahassee again– and this time around, I was the “senior” second year Fellow joining just for the summer visit.

Being in this same community and house on the same day, a year later, forced me to see how much I had changed in the past year. On this second round of summer visits, I realized how much I have grown — not only as a Jewish professional but also as a young adult. But I didn’t just see the change in myself; I saw it in the community as well. My colleague, first-year Fellow Rachel Katz, led the religious school teachers in a fun team-building activity and we had a lovely, relaxing dinner together. Because this is that Tallahassee congregation’s second year in partnership with the ISJL, it was very humbling to see how all the teachers have embraced the curriculum and identity of the ISJL this past year and how excited they are to begin another school year.

I noticed a similar feeling while I was on the road in Richardson, Texas. This is also their second year of the partnership, and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to be their Education Fellow this year. During my summer visit, I talked to a handful of teachers who felt more prepared to take on this upcoming school year after having taught with the ISJL curriculum for a year.

I identify with these communities because I too am beginning the second year of an intense learning experience. Last year, I learned an immense amount about Southern Jewish life, religious programming, and the challenges and strengths of a wide variety of religious schools. This year, I get to put everything I learned into practice. I now truly understand and appreciate why it is important to be in a job for more than a year. The first few months and even the first year are full of learning experiences, and the second year is for implementation and even more professional development.

This offers a parallel in our ISJL partner communities. The first year using the new ISJL curriculum is oftentimes an exciting learning experience but also a time of growth and transition that might be uncomfortable at first. But if you push through the more difficult periods of transition, like I did during summer visits last year, you can emerge even stronger.

As we celebrated Rosh Hashanah last week, we all have new years on the mind. It’s incredible that we get to have so many “new years,” and I know this new, second-and-final year as a Fellow will be a poignant one for me. I can’t wait to see how the congregations (and I!) grow even more this year. I am thrilled to be embarking on this journey with some new partner communities myself.

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