The Wexner Graduate Fellowship Summer Institute entitled “God, Spirituality and Belief” took place August 16-21, 2015 in Stowe, VT. The institute was planned by a committee of Wexner Graduate Fellows and Davidson Scholars in a yearlong process around a theme selected by the entire WGF community. Below are reflections from current Graduate Fellows from three different classes.
My approach as we headed into Summer Institute this year fluctuated between personal trepidation and a deep trust that if I were ever going to spend 5 days grappling with God, Spirituality and Belief, a Wexner experience would provide the space to do so with intentionality, thoughtfulness and empathy. I’m not someone who wrestles or hugs God with any frequency and in general my relationship to God is far more defined by the shame that I feel when I hear of the terrible things that people do in the name of God. To my great surprise, and with a deep sense of gratitude, this week allowed me to place that shame aside and to consider in communal and personal terms God’s role in my Judaism, my relationship to prayer and the inherent possibilities when one embraces discomfort.
-Eli Massel, WGF Class 26
Elisheva Massel emigrated from Johannesburg, South Africa to Sydney, Australia at the age of 14. She received her BA/BSW in Transgenerational Transmission of Holocaust Trauma from the University of New South Wales. Elisheva has led multiple international programs in Israel, Poland, Austria and the United States. She is an avid believer in Limmud, having been a volunteer and presenter at Limmud-Oz and a steering committee member for Limmud-Oz Fest. She spent her gap year in Israel on the Hineni Shnat program and is a graduate of Machon leMadrichei Chutz La’Aretz and a Nahum Goldmann Fellow. She spent three years as Education Officer at the Sydney Jewish Museum before deciding to further her studies. Elisheva has an MA/MBA from Brandeis University and is an Associate, Federation and Foundation Relations at Birthright Israel Foundation. Elisheva can be reached at email@example.com.
What I found extraordinary was that the two elements of institutes that are usually distinct – the program (speakers, sessions) and the people (relationships, community-building) – were weaved together to create a holistic experience of learning. All of the programming really pushed us to connect with each other. There was designated time for check-ins and reflection in small groups, and opportunities for us to share “nuggets” about our experiences, both of which allowed us to process what we were learning and prepare to take it with us beyond the institute itself. The fire-circle gave us an opportunity to connect while hearing our friends share where they each find meaning, while “The Moth Storytelling” provided a platform for fellows to share pieces of their own remarkable spiritual journeys. It was almost as if the message was: “You can’t experience real spirituality without first connecting.”
-David Block, WGF Class 27
David is a Doctoral Fellow at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and a rabbinical student. Prior to his doctoral studies, David graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva University (2011), received an MA in Jewish History (2012) and an MS in Education (2013). Formerly Assoc. Director of and singer in the Maccabeats, David co-wrote the lyrics for and co-produced the group’s viral hits, such as “Candlelight,” and performed in hundreds of Jewish communities around the world. David served as Educational Director for NY NCSY and has been a recurring scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Center of Atlantic Beach. As Featured Presenter at Limmud NY (2014), David developed a curriculum on teaching the Holocaust through music and is a Curriculum Developer at Aleph Beta Academy, where he designs comprehensive Jewish Studies curricula for classroom use. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week was filled with thought-provoking faculty lectures, heart wrenching personal stories of struggle and triumph from other Fellows, fits of laughter so intense they led to tears and new experiences that forced me to rethink the Jewish community. One event that sticks with me is the “spiritual lab” led by a Fellow, during which I joined a group of women in immersing in a nearby creek. This “alternative Mikvah” brought about in me a newfound sense of appreciation and understanding of Mikvah as a renewing and empowering practice.
-Sara Aeder, WGF Class 28
Sara Aeder is in her first year in the dual-degree MPA/MA in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Previously, she served as Assistant Director of AJC ACCESS Global, the young leadership division of AJC. Additionally, she served as Director of AJC’s Goldman Fellowship, an opportunity for students to gain substantive experience working in Jewish communal life. Prior to her time at AJC, she interned at the Clinton Global Initiative in the Event Logistics department. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, where she concentrated in the Sociology of Extremism and De-Radicalization. Sara can be reached at email@example.com.