This series is named after the popular TV franchise known as the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. We have a bit of a different mission, though. Whereas the Real Housewives series aims to highlight drama between its subjects, the Real Rabbis series sheds light upon the wonderful diversity we have within Jewish life at UCLA.
Periodically, Ha’Am News will select one rabbi from a UCLA campus organization such as Hillel, JAM, or Chabad. Each rabbi answers the same eleven questions about their work and theories and shares their answers with you. For this edition of the series, we selected Rabbi Naftali Hanfling from JAM. Enjoy his answers below!
1. What Jewish campus organization are you affiliated with, and in what way are you affiliated?
I am the director and Rabbi of the JAM UCLA branch of Olami.
2. How would you describe the degree of Jewish observation of your organization (ex. is your organization Orthodox, Reform, etc.)?
We have, involved with our organization, students with an extremely diverse spectrum of beliefs and practices. Labels are so often used to be divisive. We believe in helping every Jew be the best they can be.
3. What do you and/or your organization ultimately hope to accomplish in terms of impacting Jewish life at UCLA?
Our goal is to inspire Jewish greatness which means helping everyone learn about and develop their potential through Jewish education, inspiration and experiences.
4. What made you decide to become a rabbi, and when did you make that decision?
After I got married, I decided to dedicate a few years to Jewish study and personal growth (highly recommended). While I was there I was inspired by my Rabbi about taking responsibility and impacting the world.
5. What steps were necessary in order for you to become a rabbi in your sect of Judaism?
After developing a proficiency and fluency in Jewish texts, laws and practice, we were required to pass exams that covered several areas of practical Jewish laws and also show an ability to assume a leadership role.
6. What was the most challenging part of your rabbinical training?
There were so many complicated and intricate topics to study. It was very hard but also rewarding and kind of fun.
7. What aspect of your rabbinical training surprised you the most?
The capacity of the human mind. You really can learn, understand and remember so much more than you think.
8. What is the most challenging part of your current role as a rabbi in your organization?
There are only 24 hours in the day, there is so much to do and so much more I want to do.
9. What aspect of your current role surprised/surprises you the most?
I will never cease to be amazed by how incredibly unique each student is and how much I have to learn from each one.
10. What are some misconceptions that individuals tend to make about your role in the Jewish community at UCLA and beyond?
People don’t always realize that we’re approachable and accessible and here for all kinds of Jews.
11. What advice would you have for students who aspire to become a rabbi?
The more you develop yourself, the more you have to give to the world. Also, I hope that you love coffee.
So…. Let’s get coffee sometime?