By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future and affiliate Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) recently launched “Drashas and Shiurim: From Good to Great,” a continuing rabbinic education course that aims to provide communal, campus, and outreach rabbis with the tools they need to deliver timely, engaging, and inspiring drashas and shiurim.
“Public speaking, performing, and preparing and delivering shiurim are things I absolutely love to do,” said Rabbi Natan Farber, director of student life, DRS. “The art of public speaking is something I grew up with. My grandfather, an ordained rabbi, practicing lawyer, and talented speaker, served as a NY State Senator. Throughout my childhood, I heard stories of the impassioned and impactful speeches he delivered in front of fellow senators, congressmen, and constituents. As a child, my father expected me to say a dvar Torah every week at the Shabbos table to hone my skills and become more comfortable. My uncle, Avromi Farber, is a master orator who has inspired me to work on my skills. When I saw that YU was offering this course, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up.”
The 11-part online lecture series leverages the communications expertise of longtime community rabbis, experienced educators, acclaimed authors and storytellers, successful entrepreneurs, and award-winning producers and entertainers to explore methodologies for research content development and delivery, as well as best practices for adding depth and dimension to all public speeches by weaving in historical facts, current events, psychology, pop culture, humor, business knowledge, and personal experience. Presenters share tips for perfecting storytelling techniques and locating interesting and relevant materials for inclusion in drashas and shiurim.
“The course provides access to some of the most inspiring speakers and thoughtful rabbis our community has to offer,” Rabbi Farber told the 5TJT. “What a tremendous opportunity to learn from personalities like Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, one of the most impactful and impressive pulpit rabbis in the country, as well as Rabbi JJ Schachter, “the rabbi’s rabbi.” I was excited to see that my good friend, Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, director of education at NCSY, was delivering a lecture on the proper use of “pop culture” references in shiurim, and my personal rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, was offering his insight on the proper structure of a good halachah shiur—something he is most famous for.”
Boasting 60 participants from around the world, including rabbis in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and Israel, the course began on January 7 with an in-depth look at the ultimate goal of giving drashas, lectures, and Torah classes.
“The Shabbos-morning drashah is one of the most important responsibilities a rabbi has,” explained one of the participants, a noted pulpit rabbi. “This is his personal opportunity to connect with the congregants, teach Torah, and reveal to them just how much the Torah relates to our everyday life and struggles. This is an opportunity that can either be capitalized or totally forfeited. Personally, I can easily spend 20–25 hours preparing for a 12-minute drashah. This course is designed to make good drashas even better and I felt compelled to join.”
The rav added, “YU is an amazing place that does its best to create successful rabbis and happy ba’alei batim. Even after its original semicha training, YU offers many continuing education courses. This is another one of their great courses.”
“As a rebbe and as someone who is often called upon to speak publicly, it seemed like an opportunity to get tips from the pros on improving,” said Rabbi Shimon Kerner, rebbe at MTA/YUHSB. “One can always grow and become better. It has made me aware of various resources for shiurim and stories that I was unaware of before. I have also benefited from the give-and-take of the e-mail conversations between the participants after each session.”
“Public speaking is one of the most important skills for rabbis to develop, and their abilities to craft and deliver powerful and informative drashas and shiurim will determine their impact in the communities they serve,” said Rabbi Naphtali Lavenda, director of online rabbinic programming at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. “This webinar series was developed to equip rabbis with the tools they need to maximize every speaking opportunity as a vehicle for connecting with and inspiring their audiences.”
Throughout the course, participants receive a comprehensive selection of reference materials and related articles. In between classes, participants interact with one another via the course’s dedicated online forum and schedule offline conversations with the instructors and experts in the fields of communications and entertainment.
“The course provides participants with an incredible pool of resources to use for shiur and lecture preparation,” Rabbi Farber posits. “One week of the class was completely devoted to navigating online resources such as the Bar Ilan Responsa Project, Otzar HaChochma, and how to properly use the incredible and vast amount of references available through the YU Libraries online portal. Other classes focused on how to collect inspiring stories, how to use humor in the most effective way, and how to use personal life experiences as a vehicle for engaging listeners. The course has widened my vision of what, and who, is available to assist in helping me become a better marbitz Torah. It has also allowed me to connect to other like-minded young mechanchim through an ongoing Google chat group. We share our ideas on the weekly presentation, often impacting the participants as much as the course itself.”
“I welcomed this opportunity to participate in a course focused on public speaking, which effectively offers a three-pronged approach to strengthening our skills,” said Rabbi Lawrence Teitelman, rabbi of Young Israel of New Hyde Park. “First, we get to hear directly from recognized masters in public speaking, each focusing on his or her specific area of expertise. Second, many of the participants themselves are seasoned rabbis and educators, and there is a great deal of knowledge sharing—including valuable content and best practices and methodologies—among this ad hoc network. [Finally,] merely being in such a course creates additional motivation to enhance our craft, not only by applying and implementing strategies we are gleaning from the professional presenters and colleagues, but to also give more attention to develop ourselves from within. I should also point out that in this day and age, many rabbis work in other jobs alongside the rabbinate—in my case, teaching at CUNY—and what we are learning in this course is often invaluable as well in those other parallel careers.”
“We live in a world in which the rabbi must compete for the congregant’s attention with an array of highly developed technological devices,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “In order to pierce the distractions of the modern world and hold people’s focus, drashas and shiurim must be substantive, creative, and highly engaging. This course will elevate a rabbi’s capacity to serve as an educational and inspirational force of religious and spiritual transformation in people’s lives.”
The course’s impressive lineup of instructors includes David Sachs, Emmy Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter; Ashley Blaker, internationally acclaimed comedian and award-winning producer for radio and TV in the UK; Charlie Harary, noted motivational speaker; Lior Arussy, prolific author and president and CEO of Strativity Group Inc.; Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, director of education for International NCSY; Rabbi Binny Friedman, rosh yeshiva of Orayta and director of Isralight in Jerusalem; Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, rabbi at Beis Haknesses of North Woodmere and author of the popular “10 Minute Halacha Shiur;” and Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, dean and rabbi of Yavneh Hebrew Academy and author of “Judaism Alive,” as well as numerous members of the Yeshiva University and RIETS faculties.
“Drashas and Shiurim: From Good to Great” was cultivated by Rabbi Lavenda and Rabbi Glasser with input from Rabbi Menachem Penner, Max and Marion Grill Dean of YU affiliate Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), and Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, senior rabbi at Boca Raton Synagogue. The course is the eighth virtual continuing rabbinic course organized and run by the Center for the Jewish Future in coordination with RIETS. In previous years, CJF ran courses on the issues surrounding infertility, rabbinic marriage counseling on a range of pastoral issues, child abuse, end-of-life issues, the fundamentals of fundraising and cultivating lasting relationships with congregants, chassan teacher training, and confronting mental issues. Some of these past courses are available on demand at cre.rabbanan.org.
“Whatever field one is in, he or she should always look to grow and inspire for greatness,” says Rabbi Kerner. “This is an example of a course for rabbis to do just that, with a minimal time commitment.”
“Yeshiva University, and RIETS in particular, should be applauded for the continuing education they provide for their graduates and young aspiring rabbis,” Rabbi Farber said. “Those who have access to YU’s Rabbanan site should avail themselves of what Yeshiva University and Rabbi Josh Flug are providing. I have a tremendous amount of hakarat ha’tov to Rabbi Menachem Penner and his team at RIETS for the opportunities they have afforded—and continue to afford—my many colleagues and me. YU provides so many incredible outlets for extra learning opportunities, whether it’s the unprecedented YUTorah website, offering thousands of shiurim to listeners with the click of a button, the YUTorah To Go, offering stimulating Torah thoughts on various moadim to shuls throughout the country, or the the many “yimei iyun,” bringing fascinating personalities to many communities. My message to YU is one of heartfelt gratitude.”
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.