Kornfeld starts job as JCC family life director
By ALAN SMASON
(This is the third and final report in the series on new Jewish community directors.)
Liba Kornfeld, a young, bespectacled mother and wife can’t help but beam a blatant smile as she sits behind the desk of her sparse new office in the Uptown JCC. Soon, the office will be filled with more photos adorning the walls and shelves will brook volumes of books and programming helps as she begins taking on her new responsibilities as the Jewish Community Center’s director of family life. But in a very real sense this is a job for which she has been preparing her entire lifetime.
Aside from being a wife to Rabbi Ethan Linden of Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation and a mother of three young children, Kornfeld, who has never stopped using her maiden name, has been steeped in Jewish learning all her life.
Born in Israel to two American parents who had made aliyah prior to her birth, Kornfeld returned to the United States when she was still a one-year-old as her parents sought more educational opportunities here. She returned to Israel with them when she was six and remained there until a young teenager, when she and the family moved to New York.
All of this traveling between the two countries served to reinforce her deep attachment to Medinat Yisroel and America.
After graduating from high school, she returned to Israel to complete her compulsory two years of service to the country. Among her duties, she worked to ease suffering in a pediatric cancer unit and taught at a boarding school. Upon her return to New York at 21, she enrolled as a student at the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the Conservative movement’s center of learning.
And then came Ethan and love. The two met at JTS in Israel when Linden stayed an extra year for study there and Kornfeld was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Talmud and Rabbinics. Kornfeld was a fellow at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and had become involved with the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning (formerly the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School) associated with Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “He did the Melton Senior Educators (course) the year after I did,” she recalls.
“It’s the same money, but it’s the not the same organization,” Kornfeld posits. “Both run out of Hebrew University, but they are both separate programs within Hebrew University. The program I did was a fellowship for Jewish educators around the world.” The fact, though, that both became senior educators with Melton is even more curious today, since one aspect of Kornfeld’s new job will be to run the pluralistic Jewish learning courses taught at both the Uptown and Metairie JCC campuses.
Her commitment to learning and teaching has been a cornerstone of her professional life. While still at JTS in New York, she taught Hebrew, helped to develop course curricula and taught classes at Abraham Joshua Heschel School and Solomon Schecter School. She enrolled at Bank Street College of Education and achieved a master’s degree in education there.
Married in her former hometown of Rochester in 2003, Kornfeld began to experience full Jewish family life as the wife of a rabbinic intern and, following his ordination, when Linden served both as assistant camp director at Camp Ramah in New England and as rabbinic advisor to the Student Conservative Minyan at Harvard University. Even as she began to raise her family, she taught at the Jewish Community Day School in Boston and prepared Hebrew students at nearby Congregation Or Atid.
Teaching has become second nature to her. “It informs a lot of my positions and a lot of my thoughts on how to live a meaningful Jewish life, even before I had children,” she affirms. But Kornfeld, who took over the job from recently-retired Debbie Pesses, knows her job will entail much more than just teaching.
Pesses left a part-time position, while Kornfeld’s new job is fulltime. She sees this as a major commitment on the part of the JCC towards infusing both of their campuses with more Jewish content.
“Melton is one aspect of my job,” Kornfeld elaborates. “I’m doing a bunch of other things as well. Under my auspices will be the (Jewish) book fair, the (Jewish) movie festival and I’m going to be working with Adloyodah.” Kornfeld also will be infusing more aspects of Jewish family life into the Summer day camp program and especially the JCC’s nursery school.
Another one of the aspects of her position will be to work as the liaison and coordinator of the New Orleans Holocaust Committee, which sponsors the annual Yom Ha’Shoah Community Memorial program at the Uptown JCC each year. Kornfeld has already begun to work with the members of that committee, which include several of the remaining area Holocaust survivors, their offspring and a number of community volunteers. “I helped select the speaker for this year,” she points out, keeping the selection sacrosanct for the present.
“I’m going to be trying to bring Jewish content into programming at the JCC,” she reiterates. “It’s going to be grown organically.”
As she becomes more involved in the programming, Kornfeld hopes that youngsters and adults interested in learning more about Jewish life will come to rely on her as a respected authority and friend. “I would love to be involved more with being out there,” she adds. “I hope to be a person that, when they want to discuss Judaism, they will come to me.”
She also believes her previous work running the Shir Chadash Religious School for the past three years and her helping with the Hebrew school will also come in handy. Kornfeld’s experience as the wife of a rabbi will also add to her life experience, but she quickly points out “we’ve always worked as a team.” She is not simply a rebbetzin, but it is a role she can fill “and something I’m happy to do.”
As a Jewish homemaker, Kornfeld enjoys cooking in her spare time. “I just cook a lot,” she confides. “I can make a meal for 20 people in three hours. I don’t have to. I choose to.”
And when she’s not teaching, cooking or otherwise raising her kids, Kornfeld will occasionally devote herself to reading novels. “I’m not very good,” she suggests. “If I’m bored by a book, I put it down.”
Her most happy time, though, is typically spent playing with her children, the oldest of whom is seven and the youngest of whom is now two. “I love spending afternoons with them and playing with dinosaurs,” she admits.
It’s taken a few years, but Kornfeld feels she has turned the corner, adjusting to the New Orleans lifestyle. “Everything was pretty strange, but it’s pretty normal now,” she says. “I love living here now. I love Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. I love the craziness of this crazy city.”
Liba Kornfeld looks forward to making Jewish programming more vital at both the Uptown and Metairie JCC locations and invites community members interested in participating in Florence Melton Adult Learning courses or becoming involved in any other Jewish programming under her purview to call her at 504-897-0143 or email her here.