Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer:A quick look
Resides in Providence.
The rabbi emeritus at Temple Emanu-El, Providence has taught for many years in many venues.
Holds a B.A., Brandeis University, ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Q: Can you describe your background in teaching?
A: As a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, I used the sermon as an opportunity to challenge the congregation with open-ended questions about the Torah portion or intriguing and sometimes puzzling commentaries.
Even after “retiring,” I continued in my role as a teacher and a teacher of teachers. I teach a course in the rabbinical school at Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., called “Rabbi as Educator.” I introduce these future rabbis not only to the basics of pedagogy, but also to the theories and practices of such things as synagogue havurot, family and adult education and how to run a religious school.
For several years, I also gave a course for education and rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary on “Teaching Jewish Theology,” in which we discussed a range of ideas about God, revelation and Holocaust theology; we then asked how those ideas might be taught to students of various ages.
Q: With all your experience, is there one aspect of teaching that is most rewarding to you?
A: My most rewarding teaching comes from two classes that I continue to teach at Emanu-El. One is a “Parashat Hashavua” (Torah portion of the week) class that I have conducted since 1992. A wide range of people whose backgrounds include psychology, literature, medicine and Judaic studies, all bring ideas about the weekly Torah portion from their professional and personal perspectives.
The other class that has been meeting for about 10 years or so consists of a group of women, many of whom are involved in communal leadership, who asked me to start a Torah study class.
Those two classes are exciting to me because we read a section of Torah, I offer a few traditional or modern commentaries and the discussion takes off. They are really running the class (although they think I am more directive). That indeed is what real Torah study is, and should be – and I love it!
Q: What advice would you offer a newly minted teacher or rabbi?
A: Be passionate and creative about anything you teach.