by Julie Lamb and
Shiela Steinman Wallace
Rachel Lipkin has been the middle school director at Louisville’s Jewish Community Center for two and a half years. During that time, she has built a successful Teen Connection program, engaging over 100 young teens and facilitating their transition into BBYO. She’s also worked with the JCC Summer Camp and brought Jewish culture and learning into many parts of the agency.
At the end of this month, however, Lipkin will be leaving to enter FEREP, the Jewish Federations of North American Federation Executive Recruitment and Education Program. In exchange for a commitment to work for at least two years at a Federation, FEREP provides a scholarship for graduate study.
Lipkin will return to her hometown, Columbus, OH, where she will take a two-year graduate program at Ohio State University while serving an internship with the Columbus Federation. She will pursue dual master’s degrees in public administration and Jewish studies.
Torn between working on a Federation Campaign and a passion for Jewish Community Relations work, she plans to explore and experience both before making a career decision.
Lipkin learned about FEREP from Jewish Federation Development Director Tzivia Levin Kalmes, who is a graduate of the program.
Louisville has provided Lipkin with a number of opportunities to grow professionally, too. Last May, she was one of 40 young Jewish communal professionals who participated in the national JCC Association’s first Birthright Israel trip, which provided lots of networking opportunities and many new ideas for activities that she was able to use at JCC Camp this summer.
In addition to visiting Matnas centers, the Israeli counterparts of American JCCs, Lipkin said, “we also visited youth organizations [and] student homes… that were truly unique to our trip.”
It was a tremendous opportunity to observe the differences as well as the similarities that exist “even though we’re thousands of miles from each other,” Lipkin said.
Common concerns include space and programming issues. One way that the Matnas address both issues is to bring programming outside of the limits of JCCs to external sites like schools, an idea that Louisville’s JCC might be able to adapt and use.
A game-changer for Matnas is “a huge presence of volunteers, no matter the day, where they’re having to … turn away people,” Lipkin noticed, making Matnas feel like “a home away from home” for Israeli children.
More volunteers also create more opportunities for teens to take leadership roles. Lipkin has always sought to add leadership elements like community service component in the B’nai Tzedek program. Additionally, through collaboration with groups like Beta Club, the JCC could increase volunteer turnout.
Her professional Birthright trip gave Lipkin an enhanced understanding of what “the country means, not only to me, but to the Jewish people.”
It was a personally amd professionally meaningful experience. From climbing Masada to hiking the Waterfalls of Nachal David, Lipkin gained a whole new sense of accomplishment and discovered “personal strength” she did not know she had. Through these physical triumphs, Lipkin also formed lasting friendships.
She interacted with Israeli soldiers and college students and discovered that even across continents, people share similarities from food to music to collective uncertainties about the future.
A highlight of her experience was meeting the children. “We went to Save a Child’s Heart, where they provide heart surgery for children all around the world. We got to meet some of those children and play with them,” Lipkin said.
Her favorite memory of these children was Krembo Wings, a youth movement for special needs children and teens who love working with them. It enables the two groups to develop friendships, where, despite physical limitations, “they made it work,” Lipkin explained, with cheers and sports activities.
Lipkin was able to apply what she learned to Louisville’s Yachad program this summer. She is one of several JCC Camp staffers who provide immersive camp experiences for special needs children and enable them to succeed.
It was a life-changing experience for Lipkin, who feels she came out of Israel as “a much better, well-rounded person.”
“I love Louisville,” she said, “and it saddens me to be moving on, and I’m excited for the opportunities waiting for me there.”