Home » Other Articles » Yeshiva University uses actors to train their future rabbis in dealing with “hard subjects” their parishioners may have

Yeshiva University uses actors to train their future rabbis in dealing with “hard subjects” their parishioners may have

As part of their job, rabbis and priests are required to be not only religious teachers and guides but to also serve as a first-line psychologist.  Sometimes the questions are small, “Should I or should I not go and visit Fair Go casino login?” Other times a rabbi or a priest is going to have to deal with issues that are not fun to deal with, especially if the root of the problem deals with sexual, physical, or emotional abuse as a child.

So how do seminaries train their religious counselors to deal with these future potential issues when many of these students may have been raised in a very sheltered life?  Some of these students have never even said or heard the word “penis”.

Yeshiva University in New York City came up with an ingenious way to handle this problem.  They hire actors to play the role of potential future parishioners coming to their clergy to talk about different life problems: spouse died, child was abused, they were a victim of abuse, and even in some cases, questions about their gender identity.

Directors of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in Upper Manhattan grappled with this training gap for years before settling on a way of at least simulating real life in a classroom: They have been inviting actors and acting students to sit across a table from seminarians and act out roles — as stunned parents, suicidal teenagers, terminally ill V.I.P.’s “or anything we can think of,” said Rabbi Marc Penner, the seminary’s director of rabbinical training, “to try to shock the students.”

The actors work through a New York agency called Professional Actors Training and Helping, which also finds role-players for medical students being introduced to the real-life emotions of sick people and their families. Some are stage veterans, like the Broadway and Off-Broadway actor Joy Seligsohn, who in a recent class played an elderly woman dealing with the indignities and sense of invisibility that many older people confront.

Most are novice actors and recent graduates of drama school.   The teachers, Rabbi Penner and Dr. David Pelcovitz, a psychologist, give the actors a sketch of the scenario, and a minimum of direction. In one outline, the actor is told to act “uncomfortably.” In another, the actor is instructed, “Cry if you can.”

Most of the characterization is improvised.

In these classes, the future rabbis have learned a few clear-cut dos and don’ts: Never take calls on your cellphone when counseling someone. Never express shock, or say, “Oh, my God!” or show disgust when a congregant unburdens himself of a terrible secret.

But for the most part, the lessons are of the subtle and intangible kind.

Author’s opinion

I think that what Yeshiva University is doing is wonderful.  But this type of training is also needed for school principals and other people who have a high potential of becoming a go-to person for when a person is in trouble.

My son was a victim of abuse in school.  We went to the school principal, and the school principal’s reaction was horrible.  Not only did the school principal not follow the legal law (reporting the incident to the police), she also essentially blamed the student for not being able to handle the abuse.

Her solution was that my son should sit in front of the principal’s office before school, after school, and during all breaks, so his classmates would no longer be able to abuse him.  And what about the kids who were doing the abuse? She refused to even call their parents.

The principal’s view was that the problem was not that my son was being abused at school.  The problem was that my son had emotional problems that were preventing him from being able to handle the abuse he was receiving at school.

We tried to change schools, but at the time we lived in a place where a lot of school principals still held onto the belief that if a woman or child was abused the child or the woman must have done something to cause the abuse.

Not all school principals are as horrible that this specific school principal, but it definitely proves that a school that is responsible for educating rabbis, priests, school officials, and educators need to be taught these soft skills.

This is not a ‘visit Fair Go casino login’ or no question.  This is somebody’s life, and life is not a casino or gambling.  You can’t roll a dice and hope for the best.