Find Yourself a Teacher
By Rabbi Amanda Schwartz
On reflection of International Women’s Day, 2022
“Find yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend.”
(Pirke Avot 1:6)
The Mishnah, one of the most ancient sources of Jewish wisdom teaches to “Find yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend.” As someone who feels passionately about education and about being a good friend, I’ve always loved this text. Up until recently, when I imagined this text illustrated, the teacher and the friend were two different individuals. Recently, I’ve started thinking of this text in a new way because of my relationship with Rabbi Caryn.
Rabbi Caryn and I met in 2004, when she was a professor at the University of Denver and I was a senior in college. I took her class “Israel through Film,” as part of my Judaic studies minor. I likely wouldn’t have taken this course had it not been for the requirement because I knew nothing about film and, at the time, had no connection to Israel. But, as so many of us are, I was immediately drawn into Rabbi Caryn’s dynamism.
I remember that on one of my reflection papers she wrote at the top, “This is very good, have you considered getting a PhD in Judaic studies?” I’d thought about becoming a rabbi since my Bat Mitzvah but I had kept the dream somewhat closeted because I thought it was outside the scope of what was realistic for me. When Rabbi Caryn wrote that comment, it made me feel more confident. I went to one of her office hours and shared with her that I hadn’t thought of getting a PhD but that I wished one day I might become a rabbi. She said something like, “That’s a great idea!”
“She said something like, That’s a great idea!”
Rabbi Caryn and I kept in touch after I graduated college. When I moved away to work in NYC, and later to study in Israel, we would always reconnect when I came home to visit. I was at her daughter, Sasha’s, babynaming and she came to celebrate with me after I got married. Though Rabbi Caryn was always my go-to person for writing me letters of recommendation (and she still is), our relationship slowly started to shift to that of friends.
During my first year of rabbinical school, I remember talking to her on the phone and she shared with me that she was thinking of starting rabbinical school herself. It became my turn to tell her what a great idea I thought that was! We traveled the journey of becoming rabbis together, at two different schools, in two different cities, and in different life stages.
On one of my visits home from rabbinical school in 2015, I visited with Rabbi Caryn and she shared with me how Judaism Your Way was growing and there was a new need for two simultaneous High Holiday services. I (somewhat) jokingly told her that if she found funding, I would gladly come and help lead High Holidays. As you can imagine, Rabbi Caryn made this opportunity possible for me and thus began our time working together as colleagues. Now, my office is right next to Rabbi Caryn’s, and while neither of us are in the office as much anymore (thanks Pandemic!), I still feel so grateful that I get to work with her everyday.
“I feel so grateful that I get to work with her everyday.”
Over the almost twenty years that I have known Rabbi Caryn, our relationship has gone from teacher-student to mentor-mentee to colleagues. There are countless ways in which she has positively impacted my life and countless lessons that she has taught me and continues to teach me to this day. While I am so grateful to have Rabbi Caryn as my teacher, and she will always be that, I am also equally grateful to have her as my friend.
By Rabbi Amanda Schwartz
Family Life Director