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Questions and Details that Stretched My Creativity
Abiding Lessons from my Internship at Or Ami
By Laura Siegel Perpinyal RJE 

My time at Congregation Or Ami taught me how to communicate, to actualize a vision, and to create meaningful relationships; these are enduring lessons that I use on a daily basis in my life as a Jewish professional. 

I remember sitting with Rabbi Paul Kipnes and my internship partner, then Rabbinical student, Rebekah Stern, as we started to craft the lessons of our Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning Program’s 2008-2009 curriculum. I was so excited to explore Jewish Holidays and thought I knew how to write a lesson plan. I wasn’t prepared for Rabbi Kipnes’ questions, asking about what at the time seemed like minute details. “What will families do when they first walk into the room?” “Who will greet them?” “How will they know where to go and what to do first?” “I don’t understand what you mean by X or Y or Z…”

Rabbi Kipnes has a gift of pushing us without feeling like we are being pushed. He asks questions that guide us and help us grow. I remember sitting in my office writing a lesson plan for the first time as a professional in the Jewish community, and could hear Rabbi Kipnes’ questions as I wrote! Still to this day I am mindful as I write lesson plans and try to account for the little details that I might take for granted. 

Because of my time leading Mishpacha, I start every program I lead with name tags; even if families have been part of the same cohort for years together. I love the tradition at Or Ami of putting on a name tag everytime you walk into the building. It ensures that each person is seen, literally named, and welcomed when they arrive. 

Leading an innovative year-long family education experience as a graduate student involved hard work and long days but was exceptionally rewarding. I was especially grateful to be tasked with calling the parents of each of our special needs students prior to each session to help walk through the lesson so they and their child could be prepared and feel comfortable. This practice at Or Ami reminded me, week after week, of each person’s individuality.  It stretched my creativity and left me in awe of parents and parenting well before I became a parent myself. 

I treasure my learning experience at Congregation Or Ami, with Rabbi Kipnes and the entire Mishpacha team.  It was humbling to watch parents teach their children the lessons we had crafted on paper, literally making Judaism come to life before our eyes! 

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Laura Siegel Perpinyal has been the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Chai in Long Grove, Illinois since 2011. She served as the Mishpacha Coordinator at Congregation Or Ami in 2008-2009. She currently serves as the President of ChARJE, the Chicago Area Reform Jewish Educators, and serves as the Advocacy Co-Chair for the national ARJE, Association of Reform Jewish Educators. She graduated from Hebrew Union College-, Jewish Institute of Religion with double Masters Degrees in Jewish Education and Jewish Non-Profit Management in 2009.