Lauren Brody-Hyett and Samantha Safran have quite a few things in common: Both are rabbinical students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote (Brody-Hyett is in her fifth year; Safran in her third) and both have known since they were young that they wanted to be rabbis. Together, though they're not yet ordained, they will share the role of spiritual leader at Bristol Jewish Center in Bucks County, taking turns leading services for the congregation of about 60 families.
These young women, no matter how similar they might seem from their biographies, took different paths to RRC — and Bristol Jewish Center.
Brody-Hyett, 27, who is actually starting her second year as a student rabbi for the shul, grew up in State College and Wayne, and attended the University of Arizona, where she studied anthropology and also took a few Jewish studies classes. She credits these courses, as well as the enthusiasm of her childhood rabbi and the rabbi at U. of A., for her wish to incorporate Judaism into her life. She entered RRC right after college.
Safran, 29, said she was about 14 when the thought of becoming a rabbi occurred to her, since she "looked up to" the rabbinical leaders at her family's synagogue. But she pursued her many other interests first.
A classics major in college, she studied Latin and Greek with the idea of becoming a college professor. Post-college, she pursued a one-year film preservation course for a few years and worked at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. But then, Sept. 11 occurred.
"Being in New York on 9/11 had a profound affect on the city … and on me," commented Safran. "It helped me to re-evaluate what I am doing every day. I wanted to be out with people."
Safran began working as a program director for Hillel at the Claremont Colleges in and around the Los Angeles area for several years, "which only reinforced my desire to eventually go to rabbinical school."
Brody-Hyett recently took some time off from RRC to work as a Jewish student life coordinator for Penn Hillel, and earlier this year she and her husband had their first child, a son. Besides being a full-time student, wife and mom, and part-time rabbi, she also works with youth groups at Temple Brith Achim in King of Prussia, and is a Hebrew and Jewish studies tutor.
So how does she juggle all of these responsibilities?
"It's not easy," said Brody-Hyett with a laugh, but she added that everyone has busy schedules, and hers only helps her relate and understand her congregants better. She explained that she is just trying to gain as much experience as she can working with different populations in multiple venues (Jewish education, interfaith outreach, chaplaincy and pulpit work).
Safran, who was married just three weeks ago, said she's happy to have the position at Bristol since it will allow her to gain congregational experience and teach her ways "to make Judaism accessible and meaningful."
She added that, whereas she used to help preserve film, she is now helping to preserve the trditions of Judaism "to make [them] accessible for the future."
Brody-Hyett said that she and Safran are lucky to be continuing a tradition "the synagogue takes great pride in" — having student rabbis serve as rabbis. It's a congregation, she added, that is warm, welcoming and very open to the new ideas that she and Safran can contribute, such as a wine-and-cheese get-togethers before Shabbat services instead of an Oneg afterward.
She added: "Bristol Jewish Center is a unique synagogue in that it is at the forefront of training the next generation of rabbis for the Jewish community."