Rabbi Rena Rifkin
(She, her, hers)
Director of Youth Education
Office: (212) 877-4050, ext. 236
Rena Rifkin received her master’s in Jewish education from the HUC-JIR Rhea Hirsch School of Education in 2008 and was ordained by HUC-JIR in 2010. During her time as a student, she was a Mandel Fellow for clergy-educators and worked in various communities throughout Los Angeles and New York City, including Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Shaaray Tefila of New York City.
Following ordination, she served North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, N.Y., as the director of lifelong learning, and most recently was coordinator of faculty and family engagement at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.
Rabbi Rifkin grew up at and continues to have strong ties with the URJ Camp Eisner. She is a board member for the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (formerly NATE). Rabbi Rifkin lives in Manhattan with her husband, Scott, and their three children, Eden, Simon and Micah.
We Are Not Perfect
“I have a little secret: I’m not perfect. We’ve all made mistakes,” said Rabbi Rifkin on Erev Yom Kippur. “We are not perfect — and God is not even perfect. On Yom Kippur we ask for forgiveness, but we also give forgiveness.”
Filling With Light
For the new year, Rabbi Rena Rifkin shares one of her favorite Jewish tales about how we can truly fill every corner of our lives.
When Rabbi Rena Rifkin set out to solve a 1,500-piece puzzle she was dismayed to find a broken piece. “One night, we managed to fit it into the puzzle and by the next morning, I could no longer see where it was,” she says. “Look around: everywhere we see people who are trying to hide broken pieces. We aren’t meant to be perfect, which leaves us the chance to work to see our own beauty and enhance it.”
Choosing Hope Over Fear
“I am done with fear — with feeling suffocated and as if I were wearing a straitjacket,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin. “It’s stunning to watch our fear turn into rampant negativity. Fear ends conversation, clouds all rational thought, stifles progress and destroys hope. I would rather use hope to find ways to push forward.”
We Are What We Wear
“Whether we want it to be or not, what we wear is important,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin. “The Megillah is careful to tell us that, after fasting for three days, ‘Esther wore royal clothing.’ Who is Esther? She is Hadassah; she is a Jew; and she is the queen. Sometimes our attire helps us reveal what is really inside.”
Is Anything New This New Year?
Rabbi Rena Rifkin welcomes the first Shabbat of a new decade and reminds us that “change doesn’t happen overnight.” If we want to make to make real change, “we must plant seeds and continue to work on them over many years.”
Know Before Whom You Stand
On Shabbat Shuva, Rabbi Rena Rifkin asked: What makes you who you are? And who gets to decide? “The importance of knowing oneself and being true to oneself is not something that our tradition stays silent about. Claiming our identity, knowing ourselves and declaring it to the world is our constant struggle.”
From Destruction to Creation
Rabbi Rena Rifkin reflects on Tisha B’Av, the day set aside for communal mourning and commemorating the disasters – including the destruction of both temples – that befell our people throughout history. She explains how in the midst of tragedy, we can still find light. “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation. When we are broken down and left without all our comforts, we rebuild.”
Jewish, Not Exempt
With all our differences, what makes us one Jewish people? Rabbi Rena Rifkin has always believed that what connects us “is the core belief and understanding that we must protect one another and care for others.” That’s why she’s so troubled by Jewish individuals who are claiming religious exemptions from vaccinations amid a serious outbreak of measles.
The Comfort of Belief
“Belief is significant and essential for our constantly transitioning lives.” Rabbi Rena Rifkin reflects on the story of Jacob and her own parenting experiences.
Recent Commentaries and Op-Eds
West Side Rag: Enrollment Opens For In-Person And Virtual Hebrew School Classes At Stephen Wise Free Synagogue
Apr 30, 2021
When Stephen Wise Free Synagogue had to close its physical doors in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, like so many other schools its Religious School went online. But unlike most others, in fall 2020, Stephen Wise’s school gave students the choice to return to a hybrid model of in-person learning and remote Hebrew lessons or continue fully remotely.
The Forward: How good it is to sit together: Why we re-opened our religious school during the pandemic
Apr 7, 2021
“When we decided last spring to give all of our religious school students the option to attend in person, I’m pretty sure most people thought it was a pipe dream — and a risky one at that,” writes our Rabbi Rena Rifkin in the Forward. “Nothing beats sitting in a room together. Learning builds community. Physical togetherness builds community.”
New York Family: Why To Consider A Religious School For Your Child
Jan 7, 2019
Our Director of Youth Education Rabbi Rena Rifkin makes the case for religious education in New York Family Magazine: “Judaism is not just about God and prayer. Judaism offers us a history, a community, and a set of values and ethics to guide our lives. Even if your family chooses not to celebrate holidays or follow ritual practices, you can still be guided by Jewish values and ethics.”
New York Family: When Should Your Kids Start Religious School?
Oct 29, 2018
Our Director of Youth Education Rabbi Rena Rifkin discusses Challah Club, our revolutionary afternoon drop-off class that introduces young children to Jewish learning: “If we want our kids to be as good at Judaism, as well-versed and as thoughtful about Jewish life as they are at math, then we have to start as soon as we can.”