Michelle with the ISJL Education Team

Once A Fellow, Always A Fellow

Or, How I Spent My (Southern Jewish) Summer Vacation

There’s a hashtag floating around in there, which is worth clicking on if you want to see the smiling faces of happy young Jewish professionals: #onceafellowalwaysafellow

I’m not much of a “hashtag person,” but that one means a lot to me – and it certainly sums up my summer. Since finishing my two-year Education Fellowship at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) in 2012, I’m always telling people how working there provided me with a new Jewish perspective that I never knew I needed. Seven years later, I’m still working in the Jewish world; I’m also finishing up my graduate studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

But my ISJL journey was not over when I finished my fellowship. This summer, when Rabbi Matt Dreffin was preparing for parental leave, I was asked to take on a temporary role as Interim Educator. I was excited to take on the role.

Rabbi Matt Dreffin has truly taken this fellowship to new heights. Before I arrived, we were discussing all of the trainings that the fellows would partake in through their first two months on the job. When he asked me if there was anything else I would add based on my experience, I had no words. My response was something along the lines of, “Matt, you are doing it all! These trainings over skills that we had to figure out on the job and it’s amazing to see them turned into official trainings.” His attention to detail and his commitment to providing a safe space for his team to workshop new skills is beyond what I’d ever imagined. The new skills these Fellows are learning will transfer far beyond their work at the ISJL and I feel so blessed to be a part of such an impactful organization.

This ten weeks I spent back with the ISJL this summer helped me think more clearly about my career and allowed me to see the ISJL with fresh eyes. The passion, love and empathy that the ISJL has for the underserved communities in the south is infectious and has been such an honor to be a part of such holy work.

Helping these ISJL Education Fellows transition into adulthood while navigating their role in this meaningful work has truly been a gift. Each one of these bright, charming, passionate, creative, empowering, strong, enthusiastic, schticky Fellows has so much to offer their communities and I have no doubt they will each do such amazing things during their 2 years as fellows and beyond. I have been inspired by their creative drive and ability to think out of the box. I have loved connecting with them on the important things in life like Stranger Things, Queer Eye, and of course, southern food. I have loved helping them work through issues or brainstorm programs, all while noticing a growth within myself that is often difficult to see when you are “stuck in the weeds” of graduate school life. It brings me great joy to think about where all of them will be 10 years from now, knowing that I, and the ISJL, played a role in their trajectory.

And on a personal note – this summer I also got engaged, while in Mississippi… and my fiancé, Elias Chajet, is another former ISJL Education Fellow! We didn’t cross paths during our fellowships, instead meeting when we began our studies at HUC-JIR. But the ISJL is part of our connection, too.

The ISJL has this unique way of bringing people together to build meaningful relationships with colleagues who serve similar communities, with similar challenges. To see how vast the ISJL Fellow Alumni Network spans is truly remarkable. The impact the organization has on our personal and professional lives is amazing. That’s why, as our ever-popular hashtag says: #onceafellowalwaysafellow

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