Keva and Kavanah: The Importance of Authenticity in Mentorship

December 23, 2022Eliana Rubin

(NOTE: Names have been changed.)

In this piece, you will note that the author refers to their mentee using both "they" and "he" pronouns alternately because their mentee uses both pronouns. Learn more about pronouns and using two pronouns.

"Hey!" The text said. "Can I call you?"

It was September 2021, and I was sitting in my apartment in Los Angeles. My phone had just lit up with a text message from an old camper, Carter (they/he), who I got to know at the URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy (CAA). Carter, who was 18 at the time, had just begun their freshman year of college, studying theatre. I sent them a quick, affirming response, and they called me a few moments after. They told me about school and the reason for their call - an issue within their friend group. They were a bit anxious, as they had just started a new adventure in a new city, and their friend group was suddenly turning on him due to manipulation from someone else within the group.

I'm grateful for Carter's trust in me. What started as a teacher-student relationship (I was his theatre teacher at 6 Points Creative Arts Academy) slowly morphed into a mentor-mentee relationship with post-camp questions about Judaism, acting, and being a young trans person in this world. I have had many mentors in my life, but this was my first time serving as one. As we spoke on the phone that day, I thought back to the lessons my mentors had taught me and reminded Carter that he deserved to surround himself with people who care about him, freshman year is a brand-new start, and he would eventually find his place.

I remembered our first summer together, when I brought the Jewish ideas of keva (form) and kavanahKavanahכַּוָּנָהOne’s personal intention or direction of the heart when praying or performing mitzvot; the intentions and devotions individuals bring to their own prayer; often juxtaposed with keva. (intention) into the theatrical classroom space. I reminded Carter of these concepts as I used to do during our weekly voice lessons during the camp season. It was gratifying to help him digest these ideas in a new context and teach them in real life.

Keva and kavanah are two aspects of Jewish education that I carry with me throughout my journeys. The actions I take as a mentor are just as important as my intentions. Why do I do this work? How am I fulfilling the mitzvahmitzvahמִצְוָהLiterally, “commandment." A sacred obligation. Jewish tradition says the Torah contains 613 mitzvot Mitzvot refer to both religious and ethical obligations. of tikkun olamtikkun olamתִּקּוּן עוֹלָם"Repair of the world;" Jewish concept that it is our responsibility to partner with God to improve the world. A mystical concept of restoration of God's holiest Name to itself and the repair of a shattered world. Often refers to social action and social justice. ? How might my mentorship help my mentee develop his own mentorship style?

When I first attended CAA in 2018, I rediscovered my love and passion for my Judaism. I grew up in a Reform household; my mother was a cantor, and I spent my high school years in NFTY. In college, I took an active step away from Judaism. It wasn't until five years later at CAA that I dove into what Judaism meant to me personally. My Judaism influences my mentorship in many ways: the values I hold, the stories I teach, and the importance of tradition and innovation are all with me as I help others grow.

Being able to bring my transgender identity to the forefront in my mentorship with Carter is a blessing. It is so important for people to see their identities reflected in those they work with, especially within marginalized communities. The kavanah of this is explicit: we're all made b'tzelem Elohimb'tzelem Elohimבְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִיםLiterally "in the image of God;" the concept—from Genesis 1:27: “God created humankind in God’s image”—that because all humanity is created in the image of God, each person is equally valued.  . By being my authentic self with a young trans person, I hope to help others see the importance of being proud of who they are. Being able to be a trans mentor to a trans mentee is something I hold dear; I know Carter does as well.

When I checked in with him a few days later, Carter let me know that he was doing better and had found other friends who valued him in a healthier way than his initial group. He thanked me for checking in. I always appreciate when my mentors follow up with me; it lets me know that they care about me as a human beyond the otherwise limited scope of our professional relationship.

As Carter continues his journey, he will always carry his keva and kavanah with him, as we all do. One day, he may choose to share that wisdom with mentees of their own.

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