Lifelong Jewish Educator Harvey Raben Retires
Harvey Raben. Credit: Sandy Raben
By Ruth Goldhor Chlebowski
From Shabbat through Shavuot, June 7 through 10, Congregation Agudas Achim will say “todah rabah,” “thank you,” to Harvey Raben, director of congregational learning, as he retires from a lifetime career in Jewish education. Honors will include a special Shabbat dinner as well as d’vrei torah by notable scholars and personal friends, professor Everett Fox and Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox. For details, visit theaustinsynagogue.org/harvey.
Raben, who holds a master’s in Jewish studies and a doctorate in education, has worked at CAA since 2009. In those 10 years, he has led both adult education and kindergarten through twelfth grade religious school programs. He also spearheaded the development of Agudas satellites —one north, one south—to make Jewish education and observance accessible to families in Round Rock and South Austin.
Raben serves as the principal of CAA’s religious school (CAARS), a Sunday morning and Tuesday afternoon program with hundreds of students, and dozens of teachers and madrichim, eighth-graders through 12th-graders who assist in kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms). As principal, he is responsible for staffing, enrollment, curriculum, books, supplies, schedules and more—all on a $300,000 annual budget.
Special kindergarten through 12th grade programs he has started from scratch or expanded for CAARS during his tenure include CAARS Shabbat for K-6 families; consecration for new kindergarteners; kabbalat ha-siddur, a ceremony for graduating third-graders to receive new prayer books; mishloach manot, a CAARS fundraiser at Purim which raised almost $20,000 in 2019; Northern Area Chavurah Austin Texas, a CAA satellite; Selah School in South Austin, a CAARS satellite; Shabbat Shmooze for middle and high school students; Shabbaton, a weekend with third through sixth-grade students from CAA’s sister congregation in San Antonio, held at Camp Young Judaea in Wimberly; personalized supports for religious school students with special needs; Vacation Torah Camp in August and December; and a 10th grade tour of Jewish New York during spring break.
In addition to leading adult classes in Hebrew, Torah, Talmud, philosophy, history and literature, Raben developed Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night study with congregational and guest teachers and lots of good food, thanks to CAA Kitchen Manager John Sutton and his staff.
Looking back on his career at CAARS, Raben is most pleased about building a community of learners with parents as partners and teachers with long tenure. More than half of CAARS teachers have taught five or more years, including Raben’s wife of 46 years, Sandy Raben. He is proud of madrichim, which has grown from 15 to 30 participants, keeping post-b’nai mitzvah students engaged in Jewish learning and community. Incorporating primary texts from Torah, Midrash, Mishnah and Talmud into the curriculum is another happy accomplishment for Harvey Raben, as is implementing a nuanced study of Israel and the Shoah.
When asked to reflect on CAARS’ future, Harvey Raben quickly notes the needs of families living outside Central Austin. Religious schools throughout the United States must adapt to the realities of geography and transportation as well as the many extracurricular activities that compete for student and family time. The challenge for all weekend and after-school Hebrew and Judaic studies for kindergarten through 12th-grade students is balancing learning in community on schedule with on-demand learning at the individual’s preferred time and place. His response to this challenge is an online Hebrew school option on Tuesdays for seventh-graders. His advice for his successor: listen, reflect, act—in that order.
In retirement, Harvey and Sandy Raben look forward to reading, studying, volunteering, beer brewing (Harvey Raben is an accomplished home brewer), traveling and visiting their three children and two grandchildren on the two coasts. Although they will remain in Austin and active in the synagogue, Harvey Raben says he will miss working daily with the wonderful CAA staff and clergy.
A native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Harvey Raben has lived, studied and worked across the United States and in Canada. As a child, he lived with his family in Houston and San Antonio before moving to Oakland, California. He earned degrees from University of California at Berkeley, Brandeis University and Toronto University in political philosophy, Jewish studies and education respectively.
Before CAA, his career in Jewish education included teacher and administrator positions in Montreal, Canada; Toronto, Canada; Toledo, Ohio; Akron, Ohio; Seattle, Washington; and San Diego, California. He served five years on the board of the Jewish Educators' Assembly and served as president of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network.
Todah rabah, Harvey Raben, for your many contributions to Jewish learning and Congregation Agudas Achim! ■