First Person

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Newton, Mass.
Jewish Chaplain, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston

What was your motivation for pursuing a degree in Jewish studies?

I enrolled in the MAJS program as one component on my path toward becoming a professional Jewish chaplain. This was in addition to completing four units of clinical pastoral education, as well as participating in the Davenning Leadership Training Institute through Aleph.

nancy rigelhaupt smithHow has your Jewish studies degree helped you in your professional life?

It has allowed me to fulfill one of the educational requirements necessary to become a board-certified Jewish chaplain. Much of my learning has proved to be invaluable in my role as a hospital chaplain, including courses in Jewish Medical Ethics and Modern Rabbinic Thought, and my master’s thesis, which looked at "bikkur cholim" (commandment to visit and extend aid to the sick) as a mitzvah of sacred relationship.

In your personal life?

The program both significantly broadened and deepened my Jewish knowledge. Unlike my children, I did not attend Jewish day school, so my path of Jewish learning began as an adult. Additionally, my spiritual practice and understanding has expanded.

Whom or what do you draw inspiration from?

I have the privilege of entering someone’s life when that person may be struggling with what I would call “significant life questions and issues,” such as meaning, trust, forgiveness and love. I am inspired daily by the expressions of hope, resilience and gratitude that I am witness to as I participate in these sacred relationships. I also draw inspiration from experiencing the growth of my three children as they continue on their paths into adulthood.

Describe the Jewish studies program in three words.

Challenging, supportive, self-directed.

Did you have a favorite class or professor?

I particularly enjoyed the class on Job that was jointly taught by faculty from Hebrew College and Andover Newton. It afforded me the opportunity for in-depth text reading and exposed me to a wide range of rabbinic commentaries and secular literature. I often find myself drawing on these insights in my work as a chaplain.

What was it like to take an online degree program, and how may that have differed from your expectations?

While my own learning style is better suited to an in-class experience, I was able to adapt to the online platform thanks to understanding teachers and the support systems put in place to make it more user-friendly.

To whom would you recommend this program?

Independent, self-directed students. That said, the faculty are always available to help you clarify and reach your learning goals and support you throughout the academic process.

What advice would you offer students just starting out in the Jewish studies program?

What allowed me to maximize my experience was to be thoughtful about my own learning and career goals, and then to develop a path within the curriculum that would best address these. I would recommend revisiting such goals as one engages with the program, making use of one’s adviser in this process.