1. How did you get involved in Jewish education?
I began, I suppose, as a 4th grader when a boy in my class, a sad boy, overweight and from a divorced family, became the object of what I perceived was our Hebrew teacher's unfair displeasure. I stayed after school to complain, and the teacher suggest that I become the boy's tutor.  And so every Wednesday, he would come for a lesson.  After he left, I would discuss his progress with his father, standing in the closet in my parents' room to assure privacy.  I was very serious.  I was eight.   Since that time, I can never remember a time that I was not involved in some way with trrying to establish the cables of concern upon which Torah travels most effectively.

2. Your synagogue has famously been described as a “teaching synagogue.”  What does that mean?
In the year 2000 I resigned from my synagogue to pursue a personal passion: the training of young Rabbis, with an emphasis on the arts of the shepherd.  A committee of the Board of Trustees came to ask me to reconsider.  Their offer: whatever work you had hoped to do outside the Riverdale Jewish Center, come back and do it here.  Shortly thereafter I brought aboard the first Rabbinic intern.  
    Since that time, some thirty young men, all learned, devout and talented before they ever crossed my threshold, have come to the Riverdale Jewish Center to learn the craft of the community Rabbi.  The RJC is a multi-generational, multi dimensional synagogue community.  It has multiple minyanim, each with a unique character.  It has an active youth community, young couples, titans of industry, Holocaust survivors, elders, academics and Torah scholars.  It is a multiplex of stages, intimate and public, intellectual and emotional, joyous and catastrophic.  

    The concept of the Teaching Shul was to use these “stages” as a way to provide a full range of Rabbinic functions, with mentoring and supervision and with minimal political pressures.  Beginning with the second year of the program, we included more than one intern.  Currently our annual team averages 4-5.  

    Interns generally serve for two years, the second as “Senior Interns” with more administrative and programmatic responsibility.  In addition to shadowing opportunities and many Shabbatot around my family’s table, each Intern has a weekly private meeting with me.  These are used at the Intern’s discretion for Homiletic consultation, personal issues, faith-related discussions or professional guidance.  It is their time.

    Referred to as “The Rabbinic Team” or just “The Team,” the Interns, the Assistant Rabbi and I meet weekly together to distribute responsibilities, to evaluate programs and to chart the future.  In that meeting, everyone is expected to be candid and creative; hierarchy is largely abandoned.  “The Team” runs the sacred dimension of the synagogue, thus distinguishing our approach from internships that are more limited in scope.  It is my hope that Rabbis trained in a team approach will be, in future, more trusting and cooperative colleagues.

    What has occurred in the course of the decade of the Intern Initiative is a shift in our congregational structure.  The members and leadership of the RJC have come to see the training of young Rabbis as part of the synagogue’s core mission.  Each Fall, the arrival of the new Interns is a major event; their company at Shabbat tables is often a hot ticket.  Within a month the pundits, armchair mentors are predicting which ones are headed for greatness and which ones need work.  And when former interns return for visits, they are embraced and welcomed with great pride.

    Perhaps the greatest testament to the Intern Initiative is that the past three assistant Rabbis have been chosen from among our Senior Intern and that now, in the job description of each Assistant Rabbi appears the obligation “to assist in the coordination of Rabbinic Interns.”  Once I saw that a large mainstream congregation could be used as a training platform; now the members and leaders of the community define their synagogue as a Teaching Shul.

3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
     I am looking forward to learning.  The conference has gathered some of the most creative and accomplished people dedicating themselves to the transmission of the Massorah.  And I am looking forward to meeting the young people who are just beginning their adventure in Jewish education.  I know that some of the stars of tomorrow will be in that hotel, and I am impatient.  I can't wait for tomorrow ; I want to meet them now! 

Rabbi Jonathan I. Rosenblatt, a native of Baltimore, has served for more than a quarter century as the Senior Rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, Bronx NY. Under his leadership the RJC has become the largest 'teaching synagogue' in the country, through its Rabbinic and Pre-rabbinic internship programs. Rabbi Rosenblatt holds a BA and an MA of the Johns Hopkins University and a Phd of Columbia University. He studied in Yeshivat Har Etzion and was ordained by RIETS. He and his wife Tzipporah, an attorney, have 4 children.

Check out the Synagogue website: http://www.rjconline.org

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