August 27, 1998
Back To School
Rapping with Their Rabbis
Students turn to spiritual leaders for matters personal and religious
By Alexis Sherman, Contributing Writer
Even as Adam Weintraub embarks on his senior year at UCLA, the most important lessons he receives are those taught by his longtime rabbi.
"I e-mail him any questions I have about Judaism, and I receive a response," says Weintraub, who has known his rabbi since third grade. "My rabbi has helped me to form my Jewish identity and how I view Judaism."
Like Weintraub, other college-age adults have formed relationships with their rabbis. Some talk about religious matters; others about personal; and some talk about both.
According to Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, maintaining their relationships with rabbis is invaluable. "It gives students a model of what Judaism can be in action," he says, "and it enables them to feel that somebody in the tradition cares."
Psychologist Neil Rochlin, who works with students at Jewish day schools, says that a rabbi has the opportunity to greatly impact an adolescent's growth and development. Often, if a patient raises a spiritual matter, such as death, Rochlin refers him or her to see a rabbi.
David Rosenholt credits his rabbi, whom he sees every two or three months, with influencing his development. The college freshman says that he feels comfortable discussing both personal and religious matters. Recently, he and his rabbi talked about Jewish doctrine and sex.
Of course, the Jewish context is always in the background of discussions. "Judaism is why the topics are brought up," Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh of Temple Israel of Hollywood says. "It is the jumping-off point."
According to Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am, the relationship between a young adult and a rabbi has changed over the years. "Rabbis used to be viewed with a capital R. There was a loving distance," he says. "Now, rabbis are more familiar with their students."
Some teens and young adults, such as Julia Witkow, a high school senior, say they only see the new role of rabbis when they attend sleep-away camp. Witkow says that she likes the relationship she formed with her camp rabbi, meeting regularly with him to ask questions about Jewish views on different issues. At home, though, she has only met once with her rabbi, and that was because he asked her to do so prior to being confirmed.
Who to Turn To
Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who also serves as a rabbi at Hilltop Camp, says that teens and young adults often feel more at ease speaking with rabbis who are not affiliated with their home synagogue. "There is less baggage," he says. "I need to create informal settings, where students feel they can relate to me."
According to psychologist Dana Kiesler, some young adults are reluctant to discuss personal matters with their rabbi.
That is the case for Nera Tassa, a UCLA sophomore who meets weekly with an Orthodox rabbi and studies biblical text. "I don't feel comfortable discussing personal matters with rabbis, because they are authority figures," she says.
Aaron Neinstein, a high school senior, says that he turns to a friend on questions of Jewish identity. "I would not turn to a rabbi, because of the discomfort that he knows a lot of the same people I know," he says.
Psychologist Rochlin notes that rabbis are extremely concerned about maintaining confidentiality and are bound to the same guidelines as therapists.
Weintraub's most recent e-mail to his rabbi included a question about Jewish wedding traditions. "It is nice to have a Jewish resource," he says. "I feel I could ask my rabbi anything, and he could answer it."
Alexis Sherman, a summer intern at the Journal, will attend Wellesley College this fall.