The Joseph Slifka Center has hired a new associate rabbi: recontructionist Jew Megan Doherty.
Doherty was hired this August after spending three years in Israel as a spiritual director teaching Judaic Studies to rabbinnical students from England, South Africa and Australia.
Though being in Israel gave her an opportunity to speak Hebrew and made it easier for her to observe Jewish holidays, she said she is happy to be back in the United States and to be part of Slifka Center.
“Israel is a very complicated place to be a liberal Jew,” she said. “For someone who does not identify with the Orthodox world but still wants to practice Judaism, it’s hard to fit in.”
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In Israel, Jews can feel pressure to be either religious or secular, Doherty explained, adding that Slifka has allowed her to practice as a rabbi in a non-orthodox way.
“It’s the best position I could imagine,” Doherty said of her new post at Slifka Center.
Doherty graduated from Philadelphia Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2007, after which she became involved in non-profit work and community service, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). She visited Israel twice during her six years in college, at one point spent six months there taking classes in language studies. She met her current partner on her second visit, and a year later, they both moved back to the United States.
Doherty strongly identifies with reconstructionism, a North American Jewish movement started in the 20th century by Mordecai Kaplan. Reconstructionism conceives Judaism as a religious civilization which is continuously evolving to encompass current law, art, music and culture while still maintaining core Jewish values.
“We study Jewish law but our choices in life are not automatically bound by Jewish law,” she said. “What makes us Jewish is our connection to the Jewish community.”
Reconstructionist Jews take a distinct approach to Jewish law, she said, but added that she has not encountered any problems in integrating with other Jewish movements. For liberal Jews, reconstructionism is not that radical, she added.
Doherty also said that although Yale’s Slifka Center is representative of many Jewish movements — some rabbis are reform Jews, while others are orthodox — the reconstructionist community at Yale is still relatively small.
Doherty said she will teach weekly classes introducing students to Jewish theology and tradition which will be open to undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members. She will also lead a weekly music session called Shabbat Unplugged at Slifka Center each Friday. In the spring, Doherty plans to lead 15 Yalies on a trip to Ghana, where they will have the opportunity to do community service and collect and study Jewish texts on social justice.
Steven Sitrin, executive director of Slifka Center, said there are still three vacant rabbi positions at Slifka, two of which will be filled in the next few weeks. As for the third position, Sitrin said the center is still searching for a qualified candidate.