Learning by Doing and by Thinking about Doing

I have been surprised by how strongly I have been influenced by one of the subtexts of this fellowship experience, which is the introspective learning that we engage in. The purpose of the fellowship, I’m told, is not just to learn about our placements or our coursework, but to learn about ourselves. I’m also discovering that one of the great lessons the fellowship can teach is not just what we learn about ourselves, but also how we learn about ourselves. This lesson is proving to be really valuable as I enter the job search and as I work on my thesis.

A major part of the placement process, the means by which we rabbinical students find congregations to serve, is figuring out what congregation will be the best match. The most important factor in making this decision, I’m told, is finding a senior rabbi with whom you will work well. Therefore, when deciding where to apply, students will ask rabbis and mentors if they know certain senior rabbis, and they will look at their blogs or sermons to see which senior rabbis appear to be the kinds of people for whom they would want to work. Still, the senior rabbi is only half of the equation in a supervisor-supervisee scenario. In some congregations, I would be given more freedom to create my position. In others, I would have less hands-on supervision. Now I need to know more about myself than my supervisor. What kind of supervisee am I? The fellowship has been a great opportunity for me to learn about this, because I have a supervisor at my placement, but I also have Rabbi Katzew as a mentor with whom I can reflect about my relationship with my supervisor. In my two fellowship placements I have had two very different supervisors, and I think that both experiences will help me as I navigate and build my relationship with a senior rabbi.

Similarly, the introspective learning has helped me cope with the difficulties in writing my thesis. The thesis writing process has been incredibly stressful for me, but by practicing some of the same reflective thinking that my fellowship has challenged me to do, I am hopefully coping with that stress better. For example, I am learning from my supervisor that there is a delicate balance between the quality and speed of implementing a big project. If we spend all of our time planning and taking care of every little detail, the project will never get off the ground. Similarly, if we rush into implementing the project without doing the proper preparatory work, the project will fail because it will not be of high quality. Although I think I am still struggling at striking this balance both in my fellowship and with writing my thesis, it does help me deal with the stress a bit. At times I am frustrated with the quality of my work, but then I remember that I am covering two millennia of Jewish history in a thesis which I am writing in less than a year, while taking a full load of courses. At other times, I finish a day of research and am frustrated with the lack of progress I’ve made, but then realize that though I only read two articles, I took very careful notes which will help me in the future. I’m still not great at striking this balance, but the introspective learning that I am doing in my thesis is giving me a helpful paradigm for evaluation myself and my performance.

Josh Herman

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