2012-13 Rabbinical Intern
Congregation Am Haskalah
Note: Chana Leslie Glazer currently serves as chaplain for the Jewish community at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.
On a Friday night in late fall, a visitor finds about 20 members of Reconstructionist Congregation Am Haskalah in Bethlehem, PA—an intellectually curious community that started life as a study group—gathered in a slowly warming chapel. “It’s been a long week,” begins Leslie Hilgeman, a fifth-year student who serves as the group’s rabbinical guide. Heads nod. “But what a wonderful opportunity we have to spend Shabbat together now. Let’s take a deep breath in; breathe out the cares of the week, and breathe in the light of community.” Calm settles in as she adds, “We are all angels of Shabbat.”
Later they pull out the Humash (Hebrew Bible), and Hilgeman asks what people think of Jacob’s motivations in the week’s Torah portion, Vayishlakh. Here Jacob plans to approach his long-estranged brother Esau by offering a generous gift. But then Jacob also splits up the family that is traveling with him, into two camps. Why do that? It’s not long before the congregants pop up with answers. “It’s about protection,” says one. “Trust but verify,” jokes another.
Hilgeman nudges the discussion a bit further: “Traditional texts call this a lack of faith. But is acting from a place of doubt or fear always wrong?” Insurance, wills and advance directives all stem from a “just in case” mindset. “Perhaps having those protections may be what allows us to act from a place of faith,” Hilgeman says.
An accomplished jounalist skilled at analyzing and synthesizing information, Hilgeman had to make a transition early on at RRC to start injecting her own point of view in a professional setting. “In my first year of rabbinical school I went right into advanced Hebrew,” she recalls. “I had the language ability, but I was not ready for the assignments there—for instance, to write a misheberakh [a blessing for someone who seeks one]. I remember going to the professor and saying, ‘I’m having trouble with this.’ She said, ‘Yes—I forgot you are in your first year.’ It was challenging to define my own rabbinic voice and to put it out there to share.” Hilgeman says she has benefited since from writing many divrei Torah (scriptural interpretations), lesson plans and other expressive pieces that are regular assignments at RRC.
She sees how far she’s come. “Every year has been an amazing discovery—seeing myself step up in new roles that before had been only a vision.” She’s particularly grateful for the internship leading Am Haskalah. “My internship experience is as important as anything I’ve learned in class. Actually doing the work is empowering. And it’s very well supervised. I’ve really been mentored at RRC. Now I am prepared, and I can really show up professionally.”