Directed by LILAC (Bryn Mawr’s Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center), the Extern Program provides an opportunity for students to explore their desired field/s and get a firsthand look at the world after undergrad. During winter or spring break, externs shadow professionals (usually Bryn Mawr alumnae/i) in their workplaces and throughout their normal routines; they have the chance to experience a regular workday and the opportunity to receive advice and guidance from sponsors and their colleagues.
As a double major in sociology (at Bryn Mawr) and religion (at Haverford), Rachel’s used to managing her time carefully; but when she worked as an extern for Rabbis Jonathan Rubenstein (HC '71) and Linda Motzkin in Saratoga Springs, she was stunned by the amount and variety of work they did every day.
In addition to their regular rabbinical duties—preparing and leading services, leading Shabbat services, holding bar and bat mitzvah lessons, and teaching Sunday school and Hebrew school—Rubenstein and Motzkin act as volunteer chaplains for a local hospital, are active in political advocacy and social justice work, work in their town’s interfaith coalition, and run a nonprofit bakery out of their synagogue. Rubenstein also frequently leads group counseling sessions at a psychiatric facility, while Motzkin breaks new ground as a Torah scribe (she’s currently completed 10 out of a projected 18 years on the work). And Rachel had the opportunity to shadow them through it all.
Rachel’s enthusiasm about the placement stems partly from the fact that it combined so many of the concepts she’s studying right now. Most of her sociology classes have been centered around social inequality in the U.S., which has helped her become passionate about justice work. Her religion major's concentration in ethics and society, on the other hand, has led her to take classes on religion's role in politics, gender, and sexuality, and exposed her to the history of various faith-motivated social movements. And it’s the intersection between these courses that has challenged her to reimagine the boundaries between social issues and faith values.
The timing of the externship allowed Rachel to watch the planning process of Saratoga Springs’ MLK Jr. Weekend of Service, which is an annual town event first begun by one of the rabbis she shadowed.
“Almost every place of worship in the town, every school, was doing something that day. They worked at the homeless shelter, held workshops on race, showed documentaries on the civil rights movement, did service projects… and that was just really cool for me to see, all of these faith leaders who were progressive and inspired by social justice and really wanted to make an impact for the community, not just the people in their individual congregations.”
This work, she explains, “helped me to see that my focus on social justice isn’t just compatible with my faith, but integral to it, and to see how my community can be a part of doing good.” It’s shifted her perspective on faith communities at Bryn Mawr, too; as current vice president of Hillel, one of Bryn Mawr’s major Jewish affinity groups, she’s bringing a new kind of energy.
“I was motivated to have interfaith events, to collaborate with other groups—it’s made me realize how important doing that type of work in the Jewish community is, and I want to use my position as a student leader to bring about that kind of change.”