Posted on January 5th, 2014
Meet NATE’s Leaders – 10 Questions
Meet NATE’s Leaders—10 Questions
This month’s NATEnow includes a new feature–Meet NATE’s Leaders: 10 Questions. Each month, we will spotlight a current ARJE leader, and will ask him or her 10 questions. This month, we are pleased to focus our attention on Rabbi Stan Schickler, NATE’s Executive Director.
1. What keeps you up at night?
I worry about where the Jewish community is going and what it is going to look like in 15 years. As I think many of us know, it is not totally clear that the current model of synagogue building-based community is going to survive without significant modification. I am as troubled as anyone by the finds of the Pew Survey, and it does not appear that any of us really knows with any certainty what things will look in 15 years. Those thoughts notwithstanding, we have the good fortune to have a tremendous amount of data at our disposal, and we have many brilliant minds who are working on charting the way forward.
2. What gets you up in the morning?
Ironically, the notion that we are living in a time that seems to be a juncture point in Jewish history. The opportunity to serve the Jewish community at such an important juncture is tremendously exciting, and I feel fortunate to be a part of it. I will admit—while there are times that I wake up in the morning feeling a bit nervous and frightened about the way ahead (I’ll admit that some of that trepidation involves commuting into New York City on the Long Island Rail Road . . . .), most of time, I am excited and energized by the task(s) at hand. It is an incredibly stimulating time to be working as a Jewish professional.
3. What is most compelling about your current professional position?
The opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, especially when it comes to the advocacy part of NATE’s mission that is so much a part of my job. ARJE is an organization that has grown tremendously over the almost 60 years of our existence, and I feel blessed to serve as our executive director as we move into our next 60 years.
4. What was your most moving experience with Israel?
During my first year of rabbinical school at HUC in Jerusalem, I lived in the center of Jerusalem with a Persian Jewish couple, Moshe and Rosa Satat. Moshe had arrived in Israel in 1929 when he was 6 years old, landing with his parents on the beach in Haifa hidden in a burlap sack, and Rosa arrived with her family from Bukhara in 1935. They grew up in Jerusalem during the Yishuv period that was such an important part of Israel’s history leading up to the founding of the state in 1948. They told wonderful stories of life during that time that were right out of history books. They and their family really were living history. Moshe and Rosa passed away a number of years ago, but I remained very close to them and always stayed with them in subsequent visits to Jerusalem, including with my sons. They also came to visit me in the US, both when I was a student in Los Angeles, and later on in New York.
5. What is the last non-work related book you read?
During the summer, I read a recently-published biography of the Jewish comedian and parodist, Allan Sherman. I remember very clearly what a phenomenon he was for a few years while I was growing up in the 1960’s. Without oversimplifying too much, he was an important popular figure in American Jewish life in that he signified the acceptance of Jews into the mainstream of American life without self-consciousness or awkwardness. My parents loved to sit and listen to his records, and were examples of American Jews who were tremendously excited about his success and what it meant for their place in America. Allan Sherman was actually a very tragic figure who was successful for only a very short period of time, and he died at a very early age. But, to use a cliche, his star burned very brightly for a number of years.
6. What is the most interesting or different non-Jewish job you’ve ever held ?
Starting in high school and throughout undergraduate school, I worked summers in an asphalt factory. I held different jobs there, but the most interesting was as a mill operator, during which time I actually was the person responsible for manufacturing the asphalt that was used to pave roads. It was a physically demanding job—the immediate area right around the mill where I stood and worked was over 100 degrees, but because of the splashing tar and chemicals, I had to wear a full uniform with a long sleeve shirt, long pants, goggles, and a hard hat. I worked all different shifts, including 3rd shift, from midnight to 8:00 am. I did that for 6 summers, and then the summer after my HUC Jerusalem year, before I headed to HUC in Los Angeles, I worked as a forklift operator in a paper mill.
7. How did you get engaged with NATE?
My dad, alav hashalom, worked as one of the earliest Jewish educators in our profession as we know it today. In fact, he was the first person ever to earn any sort of Masters Degree in Jewish education from HUC-JIR, which he earned in Cincinnati in 1955. Dad was a founder of ARJE and was its president in the mid-1970’s. So I grew up watching my dad work as an educator—first in Richmond, Virginia, where I was born, then in Portland, Oregon, then in St. Louis, Missouri, and finally in Cincinnati, after which time he retired from Jewish education. All during this time, Dad was very active in NATE, and it was a major focus and passion in his life. I like to say that I grew up in a ARJE household, and I enjoyed hearing him tell stories of the organization and people he worked with to build it up.
But my own professional involvement in ARJE began when I was invited to co-chair the HUC-JIR/ARJE Interns program at our Long Beach conference in 1992. I had a blast doing this job, and was hooked on ARJE from then on.
8. What is one thing about you that you think might surprise people?
Well, 30 pounds ago, I played college baseball for 2 years. It was a small Division 3 school, Denison University in Granville, Ohio, but I was the starting 3rd baseman during my freshman and sophomore years there. I was not a very good hitter, but was an excellent fielder, and it was “my glove” that kept me in the lineup.
9. What is on your playlist?
Ah, that old question from the dawn of the iPod ! My sons always used to ask me what music I would want with me if I was stranded on a desert island, so maybe I’ll answer the question that way—Miles Davis and John Coltrane, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Dylan, and Gerry Mulligan. And although it is not music, I would also need to have all of the 2,000 Year Old Man bits of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.
10. Is there something else you would like us to ask you?
I’d love it if you felt compelled to ask me how I got be such a good-looking six-footer, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.