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Putting down the paintbrush, picking up the Torah

Posted: June 21, 2008 1:40 a.m.
Updated: August 22, 2008 5:04 a.m.

Sarah Kensin, an artist now training to become a rabbi, stands outside Temple Beth Ami in Newhall with one of her paintings. "L'dor V'dor," meaning "from generation to generation" in Hebrew, is a depiction of her interpretation of the passing down of the Jewish faith in her family.

 
Everyone who knew Sarah Rensin believed that she would grow up to become an artist.

Oil painting was part of the Valencia resident's life. She attended Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles for a period of time in the late 1990's and was on her way to one day becoming a fine artist who would hold gallery showings.

But her path and priorities would soon change after she began working at The Picture Store, a custom framing store in Valencia.

Although Rensin, 33, said she grew up immersed in "cultural Judaism" and always identified herself as being Jewish and maintained a relationship with God, she decided to bring Judaism more into her life.
At the suggestion of a friend, she visited Temple Beth Ami in Newhall with her father and began taking part in the weekly Torah study classes.

The Saugus High School graduate joined others like her who were not Bar or Bat Mitzvahed at the age of 13 and trained to experience the tradition.

But things changed when she met Rabbi Mark Blazer.

"When I saw him teaching, I knew this is what I was meant to do," she said.

While she studied Judaism on a deeper level, Rensin put her plans of becoming an artist on hold and enrolled at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles in 2006 with a new goal - to become a rabbi.

Last month, she graduated from the school, formerly known as the University of Judaism, with a Bachelor of Arts in Jewish Studies.

During her time, Rensin, who lives near the university's campus, decided she "needed more" and took part in the school-sponsored program that takes students to Israel for a year.

The opportunity allowed Rensin to "completely experience a Jewish life" and celebrate Jewish holidays on the streets with the people.

"The week was wrapped around Shabbat," she said.

Except for her time in Israel, Rensin continued to attend Temple Beth Ami and even taught two children's classes at the temple.

Now with her undergraduate studies out of the way, Rensin is preparing herself to spend the next six years at American Jewish University's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies to train to become a rabbi.

"I want to learn as much as I can," she said.

Even though she is not officially a rabbi yet, practicing conservative Judaism has already created new opportunities for Rensin.

"Aspiring to be a rabbi has made me a better person," she said, adding that she has learned Hebrew and gained the strength to travel abroad on her own.

She maintains that her prayers are "a daily affirmation to keep my values straight."

Along with her prayers, she "loves to keep Kosher" because it serves as a reminder of her relationship with God.

And her studies have taught her a life-long lesson.

"You should fearlessly pursue your relationship with God wherever it takes you," she said.

Blazer has already noticed a change in Rensin.

"In the last few years, she's really taken on a lot of learning. She's really pushed herself and tried to maximize herself," he said.

Blazer said this is one of the first students he's encountered who has decided to switch career paths.

"The reality is that it's a very demanding program," he said. "The amount of work and time and that needs to be devoted to this is quite extensive."

Regardless, he is pleased with Rensin's accomplishments and looks forward to the future.

"We're pretty proud that she started her Jewish learning here in Santa Clarita through our synagogue," he said. "It gives us a lot of pride and a lot of hope."

But Rensin is not pushing her artistic skills aside. Instead, she is looking for a way so that her painting background can compliment the skills she will take from rabbinic school.

For her Yiddish Literature class in the spring, Rensin painted "L'Dor V'Dor," which means "from generation to generation" in Hebrew. The oil painting, which took her 50 hours to complete, is a symbolic and personal representation of Judaism's influence in her life.

She also used molding clay to teach lessons about Judaism and Israel to Temple Beth Ami's fifth- and sixth-graders.

"Now I feel like my art is a gift from God and will use it in a spiritual way," she said.

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