Voices from the Field
The word 'mentor' is used a lot these days. We hear about mentorship programs, finding professional mentors or becoming a mentee. There are peer mentors, senior mentors, and coaches. And we also hear talk of developing cultures of mentorship.
I spent the first half of last week at the Wexner Graduate Fellowship alumni institute. Being part of the Wexner community is one of the greatest gifts I've ever received, primarily because of the culture of mentorship at its heart. Twice a year during my four years of rabbinic school, I would gather with my 19 Wexner classmates--rabbinic students, education students, Jewish Studies graduate students, and students in Jewish professional programs--for multi-day institutes that included significant time for reflection. We became a cohort that could be honest with each other in laughter and tears. We formed deep relationships with one another that have continued into our professional careers. And we established relationships with mentors--alumni from previous classes, faculty at our fellowship institutes, and the staff of the foundation. I have called on those relationships time and time again throughout my life since.
Mentoring isn’t a small thing. It is more than an occasional lunch or phone date with a senior colleague. Theorist Sharon Daloz Parks defines mentoring this way: “an intentional, mutually-demanding, and meaningful relationship between two individuals, a young adult and an older, wiser figure who assists the younger person in learning the ways of life." [i] The process of mentoring, in this view, is one in which a younger person is welcomed and guided into a community by a senior colleague. It is a process that involves openness on the part of both the mentor and mentee: openness to sharing by the mentor, openness to learning by the mentee. Perhaps this is what Hillel had in mind when he said, "לא הבישן למד ולא הקפדן מלמד," "The embarrassed person cannot learn, and the haughty person cannot teach" (Pirkei Avot 2:5).
When it is done best, mentoring doesn't take place in isolation, but rather within a community in which mentorship is valued, embraced, understood, and nurtured. The iCenter builds mentorship into all of its ongoing professional development programs, because we know the importance that these relationships have for both the mentee and the mentor: creating a space for reflection, honest conversation, real probing and thinking, yields increased capacity, effectiveness, resiliency, and dedication to our shared educational mission and calling. The reverse is also true: the absence of these things leads to dryness, shallowness, and burnout.
What Wexner has modeled for the Jewish community is the potential of bringing diverse groups of people together, creating space for them and nurturing them in becoming communities of reflection and support, and developing a culture in which generations open themselves to each other. Over 25 years of this work, Wexner has set a standard for an entire generation of Jewish leadership. The iCenter has embraced the same values of community, mentoring, and reflection. My hope, and my expectation, is that the iCenter will bring those same values and practices to an ever-wider audience, for the benefit of Jewish professionals, educators, and the Jewish people.
[i] Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith. 127.
Prior to joining the iCenter staff in August 2013, Josh was the founder educational director of Ask Big Questions, an initiative of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, that trains students to facilitate reflective community conversation about questions that matter to all of us. From 2005-2011, Josh served as the Campus Rabbi at Northwestern University Hillel. A 1998 graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in Music, Josh thought he was going to be an orchestra conductor (and was, in college) until he spent a year at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and fell in love with Torah study. He was ordained by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2005. He is a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at Northwestern University, focusing on the place of history and memory in the work of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. Josh and his wife, Natalie Blitt, are the parents of three boys, and live in Skokie, IL.
Following my semester on Kesher Hadash, I attended my first iCenter seminar, invigorated to reinforce my learning in Jerusalem with fellow Israel educators. During this time, I was also preparing to become a Community Educator for Genesis (a summer program for high school students at Brandeis University) where I would have the unique opportunity to design and facilitate an Expedition - an experiential learning course on a Jewish topic.
Inspired by the iCenter's Master's Concentration in Israel Education, my decision was clear: create an Expedition about Israel. What came out of that summer was a NU Campaign promotional shirt promoting Israel Sport Center for the Disabled (ISCD) - one of the world's pioneers in the field of children's sports rehab.
As these resources revolved around the theme of storytelling, I titled the Expedition, “Stories of Hope in Israel” to teach stories of causes and challenges in Israel and thes organizations that aim to solve them.
After hearing these stories, the students voted to create a NU Campaign shirt to promote the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled. Students then crafted their own stories about their evolving relationships with Israel. The result? Meaningful conversations and an incredible shirt to promote ISCD. I could not have been more proud.
The iCenter helped me as an educator in so many ways. The iFellows gathering introduced me to valuable content and provided innovative ways to execute the content. The peers in my cohort were also extremely helpful – I turned to them for advice and suggestions. Designing and facilitating an Expedition on Israel was a huge learning opportunity for me as I navigated teaching Israel to a diverse group of students with various levels of familiarity. I learned the importance of creating a safe space where students feel comfortable sharing what they know, and more importantly, what they do not know.
Ilana Sidorsky earned her BA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Sociology from Brandeis University, graduating with Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude honors. She has continued her studies by pursuing an MA in Jewish Experiential Education at The Davidson School of The Jewish Theological Seminary. As a part of her graduate studies, she spent a semester in Israel in the JTS Israel Education pilot program, Kesher Hadash. For many summers, Ilana worked as counselor and unit head at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack where she developed her passion for Jewish education. This past summer Ilana was a Community Educator for Genesis at Brandeis University and is presently a graduate intern for the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal at the UJA-Federation of New York.
With the 2014 Olympic Games on my mind, I have been thinking about how the Israeli athletes must feel as they represent Israel at the highest level of their sport. I also recall how the Olympics, specifically the Munich Games, played a role in my own training when I was playing basketball for Maccabi Haifa.
Our most grueling speed training took place at Haifa’s athletic stadium. As we ran the track, we would pass a monument dedicated to the Israeli athletes killed by terrorists during the Munich games. Seeing those names and thinking about the athletes’ legacy always inspired me to run harder and faster even when my body was physically exhausted. I transformed from training just for myself to training to represent Israel, no matter where we were playing: in Israel, in Europe or beyond.
Similarly, I believe that because Olympic athletes are competing as ambassadors of their country they have an extra level of motivation to push past their limits. This idea is not new. In the recent Torah portion, parashat Trumah (vs. 13 ch. 25) there is a seemingly unusual commandment that the poles used for transporting the Holy Ark should never be removed from the Ark. Our sages shed light on the deeper meaning behind this mitzvah. They explain that the poles represent our legs and the Ark represents our heritage, indicating that no matter where a Jew travels on his or her legs, our heritage needs to come along with us. From this idea we learn that by staying connected to our roots we will have a boost of confidence and motivation to face whatever challenge we encounter on our journey.
By proudly representing Israel at the Olympic Games, our Israeli athletes are making the entire Jewish people proud, while adding another page to our eternal heritage.
Learn more about Tamir’s exciting new basketball product Zone190 and check out TamirGoodman.com to learn more Coolanu Israel Charity, Tamir’s book The Jewish Jordan’s Triple Threat and to contact Tamir.