Rabbinic Intern Jonathan Prosnit Segued from Politics to Rabbinical School
Temple Micah has as its summer rabbinic intern one of only three Tisch Rabbinic fellows named this year by Hebrew Union College. Jonathan Prosnit began at Micah in mid-May and will remain until early August.
Each year, Hebrew Union College--the academic, spiritual and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism--names winners of the fellowship "designed to train exceptional rabbis who have the ability to lead and transform synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions," according to the HUC Web site.
Prosnit, whose father is a rabbi, just finished his third of five years in HUC's rabbinical program in New York. He considers Manhattan home, since he lived there most of his childhood until high school. At that point his family moved to Fairfield County, Conn., where his father, James Prosnit, became the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Israel in Bridgeport.
Prosnit did not take a direct path to the rabbinate. He attended Trinity College in Hartford and then returned to New York to work in politics. He served as the Greenwich Village liaison to a state senator, who he advised on development, school and nightlife issues. It was politics, rather than his father's influence, that convinced him to enter rabbinical school.
"I see the rabbinate and synagogue life as an extension of my public service," Prosnit said.
He offered the following example: Through HUC, he travels monthly to East Liverpool, Ohio, a formerly vibrant mill town on the Ohio River. While the Jewish community there retains a synagogue, the Jewish population has diminished and aged and cannot afford a full-time rabbi. So, Prosnit performs that function every few weeks, providing an opportunity for the community to come together around prayer and learning.
"These people show a remarkable commitment to Judaism, and this program offers them the opportunity to continue to engage," he said.
Prosnit has a range of ideas about how such engagement can occur across the country and across age groups. He noted that, by virtue of their locations, different synagogues have unique "niche markets." In Washington, Prosnit would like to explore how Jews stay connected in what is, for many, a transitional city.
With respect to age, he said, "Historically, 30-somethings would have kids who would connect them with a shul. Now, that is often not the case. So how do we create shuls where childless 30-somethings stay engaged?"
One answer to this question, Prosnit said, is flexibility: "We need to think creatively. We need to create a place where people can try things--lectures, worship, study, social justice. We shouldn't remain stagnant. Judaism is always changing, and we should be open to those changes."
Asked whether he thought some Jewish denominations were merging, Prosnit responded, "I think the Reform movement has a lot to offer that is unique from other movements. Reform has the ability to cater to a lot of different needs." Prosnit cited the feminist and gay communities among those whose needs were well-served by Reform Judaism.
Prosnit brings with him a Jewish worldview developed in his travels. His first year at HUC was spent in Israel; he spent last summer working in Melbourne, Australia, as a rabbinic intern in the Progressive movement, as Australia's Reform movement is known. Prosnit went to Israel in early June to travel the country with Protestant seminarians; he will return to Washington in mid-June and stay at Micah through early August.
"I love school, but the hands-on experiences are the ones I get really excited about," Prosnit said. "I'm looking forward to meeting the members of the Micah community, whether through formal or informal experiences."