Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger
WOODBRIDGE — Rabbi Joel Hoffman’s physical and spiritual journey has included stops in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Israel.
Now, Hoffman comes to New Haven as the new director of the Department of Jewish Education for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven.
Hoffman succeeds Sydney A. Perry, longtime DJE director who was appointed executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven last year.
Although Hoffman isn’t set to begin his work as director until March 1, he has already been spotted teaching a class on a recent Shabbat morning at a neighborhood synagogue.
“Rabbi Hoffman is committed to Jewish education and making people — kids and adults — want to learn more, attend more, connect more and want to love their Judaism. Rabbi Hoffman embodies and embraces all of these thing,” notes Dr. Norman Ravski, chairperson of the DJE search committee.
“One thing that stood out about Rabbi Hoffman was the fact that he asked us our vision before we even asked him his vision, a question
asked of each candidate,” reports Ravski. “Hoffman is committed to working with the DJE board and all constituent groups-day schools, Hebrew schools, and others.”
Hoffman, his wife Beth and their three young children – two-year-old twins, Avi and Abi, and six-months-old, Akiva n are settling into their new home in New Haven. Hoffman says he is ready to take over the reigns of the already vital Jewish education department.
“Sydney Perry, the previous DJE director, has developed a wonderful DJE,” Hoffman said. “As the new director, my primary role is to apply my knowledge, experiences and skills in doing the necessary tweaking to keep DJE at the forefront of Jewish community education,” reports Hoffman.
Hoffman said his goals for the DJE are “to expand the DJE’s learning opportunities for adults, as well as to increase our partnerships with area institutions, and to increase the exposure and participation level of the DJE’s programs and services.”
A Spiritual Journey
Rabbi Hoffman grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where he was “very involved” in United Synagogue Youth (USY).
“My experience in USY was so important. I think involvement in Jewish youth groups – any youth group, of any denomination or affiliation is so important for Jewish identity,” notes Hoffman.
Hoffman received a B.A. from the University of Illinois where he played ice hockey, and spent a semester studying in Israel at Tel Aviv University. Hoffman received masters of arts degrees in both Jewish Philosophy from Spertus College of Jewish Studies in Chicago, and in Jewish Education from Gratz College in Philadelphia.
In what Hoffman describes as a “multi-year spiritual journey,” he studied with Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. Hoffman spent three years studying in Israel, mostly at Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s Yeshiva, and received his rabbinic ordination.
The personable Hoffman has already spent a lifetime in Jewish education.
Early in his career, Hoffman worked as a classroom teacher and informal Jewish educator. In St. Louis, he served as director of education at the Central Agency for Jewish Education. In this capacity, he directed a community Hebrew school, ran shabbatons, and taught adult education classes.
As director of the Department of Jewish Education in New Orleans, Hoffman provided educational leadership, facilitating a community needs assessment, strategic planning for the community Hebrew school, and providing for the Judaic studies needs of the community day school.
Dr. Ravski acknowledged that it can be difficult replacing a long-term director.
“Sydney Perry was the DJE director for more than 18 years, and these are big shoes to fill,” noted Ravski.