It was a snowy day in February, but that did not deter forty Jewish communal professionals and rabbis from coming together for a retreat sponsored by The Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumni Collaboration Grants created in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation. In Philadelphia, a team of Wexner Graduate Fellowship alumni convened a day of learning and sharing of professional expertise stretching across denominational lines and loyalties.

When the call for Wexner Collaboration Grants went out, a message was sent to all Philadelphia area Graduate Fellowship alumni asking whether we were up for doing something together. One after the other, each alum wrote back, “I’m too busy and overwhelmed to even think about this.” Hence, the idea was planted to deal with the stress of working for the Jewish community. Originally called “Avoiding Burnout” we searched for a title that was more positive and spoke to our tradition.  We settled on “Serving the Stiff-Necked People in Challenging Times: A Retreat Day for Jewish Professionals.“

The title was used as a jumping off point to learn about trauma and trauma treatment: how the Jewish community has been persecuted historically, and also developed resilience. We talked about the Holocaust and whether seventy years after Auschwitz it was time to forgive, though not to forget.  We could have talked about this all day, and in fact there are some who want to focus a whole conference on post Holocaust Judaism.

Our goals for the day were to bring together Jewish professionals across institutional lines, deepening a sense of shared mission and community, and promoting the exchange of ideas. We wanted to review issues of historical and contemporary trauma in the Jewish community and to provide examples of how to cope with them and better address trauma within the Jewish community. We also hoped to address the low morale among many Jewish communal professionals due to the many recent job losses and the personal insecurity that comes with that.  We endeavored to boost and restore professional creativity and spiritual health for Jewish communal professionals by offering creative and spiritual workshops.

We were a five person team, three Reconstructionist and two Conservative rabbis spanning a wide range of ages (from our 30s to our 60s): Rabbi Rayzel Raphael (Class 2), Rabbi of Temple Israel of Lehighton; Rabbi Melissa Klein (Class 12), healing service leader and teacher of spiritual writing; Rabbi Annie Lewis (Class 20), Assistant Rabbi of Germantown Jewish Centre; Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston (Class 1), Director of Jewish Studies, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy; Rabbi Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin (Class 2), Assistant Vice President for Community and Rabbinic Engagement at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.  We serve the Jewish community in many different settings and this definitely enhanced the diversity of vision. We were actually so efficient we had only one meeting and the rest was on email.  The five of us had a good time working together, each taking a piece of the program. We would not have been brought together if not for this grant.

We had the following co-sponsors:  New Legends: a non-profit dedicated to Jewish education through the arts and spirituality; the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis; Tri-State Jewish Professionals.  As well, we were endorsed by the Delaware Valley of Reform Rabbis; The Mid-Atlantic Region of the Rabbinical Assembly; The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and of course, the generous support of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumni Collaboration Grants.

Our day was truly a gift. Although it was cold outside, the comaraderie of the day created a lasting warmth. Connections were made for further projects, including creating a conference on the Holocaust and healing, and a support group for chaplains. A dream group may be forming, and the suggestion is to make this an annual event. The icing on the cake was when the massage therapist brought her chair for neck massages – to help us really get the kinks out.

Rabbi Rayzel Raphael, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumna (Class 2), is an outreach rabbi for Jewish and interfaith families in the Greater Philadelphia area. She is an “unorthodox rabbi” and loves teaching about ” the Jewish Mysteries” – Angels, Dreams, Ritual, the Soul, Magic and Kabbalah. She has served as a Hillel chaplain doing outreach to students and served as spiritual leader at three congregations – mostly recently Temple Israel of Lehighton. Rayzel is also an award winning songwriter/liturgist, having recorded 5 albums including two solo recordings. In addition she is an artist – painting silk tallitot and most recently creating a deck of Shechinah Oracle cards through collage and paper. For more information visit her website: Rayzel can be reached at