On paper it is easy. Make a list of what was needed, then do it. Contact a few people, make sure everything was set up in the right place—pretty straightforward. But I never had to plan an event before. I have done programing, certainly, but I have never had to handle logistics, or ensure that speakers were present and all their needs met. I never had to worry about advertising, beyond flyers. I never had an event be primarily my responsibility, and I never had to manage that responsibility alongside other rabbinical student responsibilities. As you might imagine, the idea that managing an event would be easy did not last long. There were too many variables and component parts for things to automatically run smoothly—which is probably why a specific job exists to handle the whole process.
And where did I learn this important life skill, you ask? Why, at a cemetery, where else? This past year I had the privilege of serving my Foundation fellowship at the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati (JCGC). Coming into the fellowship, I knew that I would be doing research, either in genealogy or in cemetery art. This was something I anticipated with joy. But I also knew from the beginning that, for the first half of the year at least, I would be handling logistics for the new lecture series that JCGC was hosting with Rockdale Temple. JCGC wished to present these lectures as a way to reach out and serve the Jewish community beyond the cemetery walls. My supervisor, David Harris, was incredibly understanding and agreed to take me on even though he knew that I had little to no experience in event planning and organizing.
David is one of the best supervisors I have worked with in my adult life. He embodies all the things we are taught as the ideal way to lead, and he does so humbly. He was patient with my inexperience and treated it as a genuine teaching opportunity. He often asked how I would approach a task instead of telling me what he thought was the right way to do it. When he did need to correct me, he was supportive and constructive, so that it felt like he was merely showing me a different, more effective way of doing things. He reached the perfect balance of knowing when I needed to be managed a bit more closely, and when he could give me free rein. Thanks to his mentorship, I learned skills that I will take with me wherever I go. More importantly, David has given me a beautiful model of leadership that I hope to emulate in my future rabbinate. It is my sincere hope that other rabbinical students will choose the opportunity to learn and work with David through a fellowship at JCGC. It would only be a blessing if David could share his mentorship and leadership skills with others so that they, too, may reap the benefits of his experience and ability, which he shares so freely.
Caroline Sim is a fourth-year rabbinic student at the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and served this year as student rabbi at Temple Israel in Paducah, Kentucky, and as Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati fellow at the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati.