June 7, 2007
Academy of Jewish Religion offers alternate path to rabbinate for 16 new grads
(Page 2 - Previous Page)She was attracted to the multi-denominational focus at AJR, CA because, as she put it, "I found a lot to love about each of [the denominations] but didn't fit into any of them."
While enrolled at AJR, Watts Belser began a joint doctoral program at UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. She pursued both programs simultaneously, undaunted by the weekly flights from Berkeley to Los Angeles and the fact that she has been in a wheel chair for the past decade due to cerebral palsy. She also completed a rabbinic internship in Germany, where there are only a handful of female rabbis.
This fall, Watts Belser will begin teaching in the Religious Studies department at UC Davis. She will also serve as retreat director for Nehirim, a spiritual initiative for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews.
Academy leaders were initially concerned about whether their graduates would find jobs. However, rabbinical school dean Gottlieb said that 90 percent of alumni have found positions within the Jewish community. This year's graduates will serve in institutions including Sinai-Akiba Academy, Jewish Home for the Aging, Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village and Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. The school is in the process of obtaining accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which should further enhance its stature.
Rabbi Stan Levy, co-founder and president of AJR, CA, sees the Academy's trans-denominational, spirituality-infused approach as a way to expand Judaism's reach. Using a business analogy, Levy noted that if 75 percent of Jews are unaffiliated, that means organized Judaism "is only servicing 25 percent" of the market. "We need to package and market it in a more appealing way," he said, "and AJR is in a position to do that."
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