Staff Spotlight: Jenn Handel, Program Coordinator

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Photo: Jenn Handel

Thumbnail Tell us about yourself, Jenn. 
I’m the Program Coordinator here at JLD, which means I help students develop and implement programming. Prior to coming to Duke, I got my Master’s degree from Stonybrook University and taught history at a high school in my hometown of Long Island, NY. I was inspired to make a career change and become a Jewish educator after going on Birthright Israel a few years ago. I’m excited to have my Bat Mitzvah and take the next step in my Jewish journey.
What made you decide to have a Bat Mitzvah now?
It was a combination of factors. I turned 30 recently, which hit me hard. My Grandma also passed away this past May; she was the biggest supporter of my ongoing desire to explore Judaism. So, I decided that now was the right time to take the next step. I’ve wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah for a long time and I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to have one here at JLD.
What was the most challenging aspect of preparing for your Bat Mitzvah?
There’s so much Hebrew! It was really hard trying to learn trope. There are just so many different symbols.
What was the process of becoming a Bat Mitzvah like? What do you think you gained from it?
Going through this process solidified two key ideas for me: first, that there is no “right way” to be Jewish and second, that it is never too late to go after what you want. 
When I starting throwing around the idea of having my Bat Mitzvah here, the students were so excited at the prospect of being able to be a part of my Jewish journey that their enthusiasm helped convince me that this was something I wanted to do.  I was a little nervous about going through this process at first, but the students were incredibly supportive and helpful – I’ve learned so much from them. I'm also really grateful to Jesse; together, we experienced all of the struggles and successes inherent in this process. He always kept us moving and was so encouraging. 
What are you most looking forward to about your Bar Mitzvah?
I'm really excited to have my whole family of six down here. We haven’t been able to get us all together at the same time since before I moved to Durham in 2013.