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Listen from the Heart and Honor Others
Abiding Lessons from my Internship at Or Ami
By Rebecca Berger

Serving as Congregation Or Ami’s intern and Mishpacha Coordinator taught me four lessons that have guided my work as a Jewish educator:

Hillel teaches Don’t say ‘When I have [free] time I will learn, lest you never have [free] time’ (Pirke Avot 2:5). 

Rabbi Paul Kipnes modeled how to set clear priorities in work and in life. For example, we started every meeting with a text study that could deepen our work together. Furthermore, he shared how he always made time to go on date nights and walks with his wife. Rabbi Kipnes taught me how to live a balanced, meaningful life.

Those who rebuke find favor and a good blessing falls upon them (Proverbs 24:25).

One time I was in the midst of leading a Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning Program session and needed to write a note to Or Ami’s administrative assistant. I grabbed the first writing utensil I could find — a red crayon — and scribbled a note. Later Rabbi Kipnes called me in to talk. In his kind yet direct manner, Rabbi Kipnes advised that impressions matter. In my mind I couldn’t help thinking “it was just a crayon!” but that moment stayed with me. Now I recognize how the way that I present myself can have a significant impact on how seriously my learners, colleagues, and supervisors take me.  Furthermore, I strive to follow Rabbi Kipnes’ practice of kind rebuke.

Grant me a lev shomea [a listening heart] (1Kings 3:9).

New to the Mishpacha Coordinator job, I was taken aback by a parent calling to berate me about the  family education session I had just led. I don’t remember the specifics but I do remember feeling the sting of this parent’s words. In conversation afterward, Rabbi Kipnes shared two insights. First, there will always be people who don’t like what you do; accept criticism, consider it, and take it as an opportunity for growth. Second, pick up the phone and listen. Listening is our sacred responsibility.

Who is honored? One who honors others (Pirke Avot 4:1). 

During a faculty and staff retreat, Rabbi Kipnes gathered us into his living room. He went around the room extolling the merits of each person who was on his incredible team. I learned from Rabbi Kipnes not only how to make individuals feel valued but also how to create a team of people who value each other. He made his staff feel seen.

As Rabbi Kipnes taught me, if Jewish leaders continue to study Torah, strive to be their best selves always, listen from the heart, and honor others, our Jewish community will surely be strengthened.

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Rebecca Berger is the Assistant Educational Director at Sinai Akiba Academy in Los Angeles. While earning her Master’s in Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, she interned at Or Ami as the Mishpacha Coordinator. Committed to Jewish day schools, she has taught TaNaCh, Rabbinic Literature and Jewish history to middle school students and strives to help her students strengthen their Jewish identities and their commitment to justice. She and her husband are parents of two wonderful girls.