Wednesday, September 02, 2009

High on the High Line -- dreams can come true

The columns and beams to the right have that early 20th century look of overbuilt steel, complete with the little bumps that are the heavy rivets communicating "I am solid" and "I am steel" about the whole structure.

The stairway on the left, however, communicates nothing lightness with its see-through railing mostly made of thin wire and its stairs full of little holes.

The marriage of the two sharply contrasting structures constitutes something that almost felt like a miracle to me yesterday when I stumbled across it while strolling on the West Side of Manahttan. For years, the older structure was a symbol of the abandonment, neglect and lost potential that seemed to characterize New York City -- especially in the 1970s -- for so many years. New York lovers like myself dreamed that a structure like this -- which once boldly carried freight trains over the busy streets of Manhattan, even sometimes passing through buildings -- could be reclaimed as parks or public transit systems. But, amid the abandonment of spending on public amenities in the United States that began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, these dreams seemed to be just that -- dreams that would never find reality. It seemed impossible that Americans would ever rediscover the 19th century belief in building parks that gave us such treasures as Central Park, etc.

So you can imagine the joy that I felt on walking up these newly built stairs to find this scene amid yesterday's beautiful weather:

The weed-like plants on the lower right are a reference to what you would have found not long ago if you had been up there on what's now called the High Line -- weeds growing amid abandoned railroad tracks. Now it's been converted into a beautiful walkway. You can even see the mighty Hudson River from up there as the next two pics attest:

From New York walking sept. 1 09
One of the High Line's most dramatic features is that it actually goes through buildings, which you can see in this pic here:

I was in New York for something else that very much related to the possibility of dreams coming true -- a meeting with Dr. Charles "Chip" Edelsberg, the executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which has made a $5 million gift to support New York University's Education and Jewish Studies program. I have the honor of being a beneficiary of that gift, which is providing me with a stipend and full fellowship for the doctoral studies I am beginning next week.

It was a thrill to hear Dr. Edelsberg's passion about the Jewish people and about the potential for improved and more professionalized Jewish education to play a role in sustaining our people and the seriousness of their engagement with Judaism and Jewish identity. I feel privileged to be supported in being a part of that process. In meeting my new fellow students, I also felt privileged to be part of such a group of bright, young, impassioned leaders and researchers.

My passions are about rabbinic (and other Jewish leadership) education and about education around pastoral care. There are so many exciting things going on in rabbinic education these days, especially with the recent founding of two new rabbinical schools -- the trans-denominational school at Hebrew College in Boston (where Minna goes!) and the modern Orthodox program at Chovevei Torah in New York. But in order for the wonder of all this newness to move on to becoming established and sustainable -- as it must for the benefit of the Jewish people -- we must become more professionalized. That means studying what we are doing more seriously and it means learning more about what people in related sectors are doing, so we can bring in their tools and insights. For the last four years, I have been immersing myself in one such related sector full of tools and insights that can help us on the path to sustainable excellence -- the world of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I hope my doctoral research will help us bring the wisdom of the CPE world into dialogue with the great wisdom of our Torah and of our leaders in the education of rabbis and other future Jewish leaders.

I am not sure yet exactly where my doctoral work will take me, but I had many new thoughts during my time with Dr. Edelsberg and my new peers, yesterday. One was about the importance of continuing education. Only so much material can be covered while people are in school and many things can only really be well understood once somebody gets on the job. CPE is all about educating people about what it is that they are already working on, so there is much that the CPE world has the potential to give to efforts to help our teachers and rabbis continue to grow, especially to grow in ways that will help sustain them in their often highly challenging work, and to help keep them from burning out and fleeing the field.

One of the great things about being in dialogue with leaders in the field like Dr. Edelsberg is it can make you aware of other people who are doing work parallel to your interest. Yesterday, Dr. Edelsberg mentioned teacher induction programs. These programs help formalize and support mentoring relationships for new teachers. This is something that can inform how we do rabbinic education and the education of Jewish educators. Everyone seems to agree that new professionals need mentors, but seldom are real resources put towards supporting the creation of mentoring relationships. If you really want to assure that all of your rabbinical students, for example, find mentors, you need to provide resources to support that. The mentors need to be trained in mentoring. Their efforts at mentoring need to be rewarded and assessed in some kind of systematic way.

And providing mentoring relationships for students is only the beginning. Where new rabbis and new Jewish teachers really need mentors is when they _start_ their new jobs. There have been some programs -- like the recently canceled Star Peer program -- that have provided mentoring and other support for a privileged few of new rabbis, but I don't know of any rabbinical school that provides such support for all its students.

I am so glad to be starting this new part of my learning and Jewish journeys! I hope it helps dreams to come true!

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