Summer 2014

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Aaron Potek. Photo by Bruce Powell.

Faith and Humor

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Fiedler Hillel rabbi finds spiritual lessons in improv comedy.

Aaron Potek is not your typical rabbi. The 27-year-old recent rabbinical school graduate joined Northwestern’s Fiedler Hillel Center staff in July last year, bringing a comedic perspective to studying and teaching Judaism. Potek, who mixes earnestness and wit in his teachings, recently wrapped up a two-person show at Chicago’s iO Theater, where he takes improvisation classes. At Hillel he helps guide ShireiNU, a Jewish a cappella group, and the Jewish Theatre Ensemble.

What drew you to Northwestern?

“Obviously I wanted a school with smart students because I want to engage with topics in a deep, critical, thoughtful way. I’m not really here to impart my deep wisdom on the uninformed masses. I actually want conversations and questions and critical thinking. Jewish learning isn’t done in a vacuum.”

What’s your role as rabbi?

“My job is to help Jews understand their place in the Jewish world and guide them on their own Jewish journey. I kind of use a community-organizing model. I meet with students one on one, get a sense of what they’re interested in learning and try to make spaces for that to happen.”

How does improv inform your approach to life and faith?

“There’s really a theology behind improv, I feel. This idea that there’s no such thing as a mistake sounds trite, but in improv there is actually no such thing as a mistake. A mistake is a gift. There are so many profound lessons behind improv that I believe are deeply spiritual. It encapsulates so much of what I’m trying to do as a rabbi, which is to help people live a more meaningful and intentional life, one that is full of joy.”