Rabbi Rena Rifkin
(She, her, hers)
Director of Youth Education
Office: (212) 877-4050, ext. 236
Rabbi Rena Rifkin, RJE, received her master’s in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s 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 in New York.
Following ordination, she served North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, New York, 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 and she is member of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators’s board. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Scott, and their three children, Eden, Simon and Micah.
“Sometimes, we get caught up in what we’ve lost,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin. “But when we do that, we forget to give kavod to what’s really important… The only thing we really have to worry about losing is ourselves.”
Bonsais and Boulders
After a summer spent admiring bonsai trees and traversing a boulder field, Rabbi Rena Rifkin brought home two lessons: “The strongest trees are ones that can bend in the wind,” but you also need sure footing. “Our relationships, our community, our underlying beliefs — these are our rocks.”
We Need Pride
As Pride Month begins, Rabbi Rena Rifkin wonders “What is pride anyway? What does it mean to be proud of yourself and your identity? How does one develop pride? And where and when should we put it on display?”
What do non-binary people do at the Western Wall? “I think it feels like you would have to quiet yourself a little bit to be there,” one of our Rabbi Rena Rifkin’s colleagues said. Reflecting on silenced Holocaust survivors, our children’s quiet traumas, and the catharsis built-in to the Passover Seder, she says, “These quiet times may be fleeting or they may last longer, but there is a lingering effect…”
Admitting Our Faults
“Asking for forgiveness is hard because it means admitting we were wrong,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin on Erev Yom Kippur. “And yet, Yom Kippur commands us to do just that. Once we truly admit our fault, then we can start to find forgiveness…”
Go-ing, Go-ing, Gonnne
During Rosh Hashanah, “I stopped in my office in between services to check on the Yankee games,” admits Rabbi Rena Rifkin. And now she finds that “the space between Aaron Judge’s 61st and 62nd home runs is similar to the 10 Days of Awe”: we reflect on how far we’ve come and wonder how much farther we can go…
On the High Holy Days, “we use this time to refocus and to recenter ourselves,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin. “Our lives are full of small gems. But on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are reminded to see the entire cave..”
Gathering In A Holy Place
“We Jews gather,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin. “Sure, we can feel God with us anywhere, but it is here — at synagogue — that we keep a reminder of the Holy Ark of the Covenant, God’s dwelling place among our wandering ancestors.”
“The time to speak is now,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin, in response to the leaked Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. “Jewish tradition allows for — and even sometimes requires — a woman to have an abortion. It is simply an enactment of the value of pikuach nefesh, the obligation to preserve human life.”
Zachor Is Not Enough
“I know it feels impossible: To keep up with every tragedy and important cause. To help as much as we can,” says Rabbi Rena Rifkin. “That is our burden as Jews who have woven the words ‘Never Forget’ into the fabric of our being. Our memory must spur us to act — and to truly act, we must be fueled by memory.”
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.”