The Pesach Project - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

The Pesach Project

Main Content

Participants at a kindergarten in Minsk

Participants at a kindergarten in Minsk

Every Pesach, in partnership with the the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) sends rabbinical, cantorial, and education students on a service trip to the Former Soviet Union.  Participants visit Jewish communities that were once under the realm of Soviet oppression and have since been able to create a revitalized Jewish identity within their communities. 

In pairs or small groups, participants - joined with a translator - embark into a country and culture they've yet to experience. As they make their way through Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, students will have the opportunity to impact and learn from these communities.  Participants will lead Pesach seders and educational programs while experiencing Jewish life and Jewish peoplehood in the Former Soviet Union.  As future leaders of Reform Judaism, it is our students' responsibility to understanding the Progressive Jewish world outside of their own communities.

Support HUC-JIR's Pesach Project

For this trip to become a reality, our students must raise funds to cover flights and transportation, lodging, translators, and programming materials. For every donation, a small portion will go directly to serving the needs of progressive Jewish communities in the FSU. In a record-breaking year, we hope to donate to over 20(!) communities, with your help. We deeply appreciate the support of our community at large to keep this amazing program going for many years to come. Please donate today!

Partnership with JDC Entwine 

Participants praying in one of the last remaining wooden synagogues in the world in Zhezmir, Lithuania

Participants praying in one of the last remaining wooden synagogues in the world in Zhezmir, Lithuania

​JDC Entwine and HUC-JIR have established a first-ever graduate Fellowship in Global Jewish Leadership for rabbinical, cantorial and Jewish education students.  This unique initiative represents a new platform and model in the Jewish world, providing a growing cadre of up and coming Jewish leaders with significant expertise in global Jewish issues. 

This two-year fellowship will provide students the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of global Jewish issues; contribute their unique skills through tailored field placements in overseas communities; and enrich Jewish life in North America through delivering curriculum focused on global Jewish responsibility in synagogue settings and beyond.  Through the Fellowship’s integrated platform of in-class study, overseas service, and local field work in North American synagogue communities, Fellows will form a core force of young Jewish leaders equipped to bring a global perspective and value of Jewish mutual responsibility to their leadership in congregational settings, Hebrew schools, and beyond.

Meet Our 2020 Participants

Yonatan Arnon is a rabbinical student, Weitzman-JDC Jewish Peoplehood Fellow, and Be Wise Fellow in Jewish Entrepreneurialism at HUC-JIR. Yonatan holds a joint B.A in Jewish Philosophy and Theater and a M.B.A from the Morton Mandel Social Leadership program. Yonatan began dancing at an early age and has since dedicated much of his life to dancing, training, and performing in diverse movement techniques. For the past two years, he has integrated his spiritual and movement experiences, founding his signature "MoveMeant - Embodying Sacred Texts" workshops. Alongside world-class musicians, Yonatan has co-created workshops in diverse Jewish settings in Israel, India, and the US. Yonatan originates from Jerusalem and today works as an experiential educator in Romemu and lives in New York City. 

Rebecca Benoff is a second-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati. She currently serves as the student rabbi for a small community in Bryan, TX.  She previously served as the executive assistant at the Edlavitch DC JCC and as an educator and director of youth group at Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, VA. Rebecca grew up outside of Philadelphia and attended The George Washington University in Washington, DC, where she studied Psychology and Judaic Studies.

Aaron Blasband is a rabbinical and education student at HUC-JIR. He was born and raised in San Diego, CA, and lived in Dallas, TX, since 2012. Aaron received a BS from Texas A&M University in 2018, where he majored in Computer Science with minors in Physics and Astrophysics. While studying, Aaron was very involved in Jewish life on campus, serving on the Student Executive Board of the Hillel organization on campus, and as its President in 2016-2017 academic year. Additionally, he worked at Greene Family camp for five summers serving in varying roles. Furthermore, Aaron spent one summer as an Intern working with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, working on the Orion Spacecraft. Upon graduating, Aaron went to Israel to participate in the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program where he taught English in an Israeli middle school while also living amongst the community. He is very excited to be learning and living in Israel for another year as well as being a part of the JDC Fellowship.

Madeline Budman was born and raised in Norfolk, VA, where she was a fourth-generation member of her Reform synagogue. After graduating high school, Madeline moved to her adopted home city of Washington, DC, where she attended Georgetown University. She graduated summa cum laude and with department honors with a major in English and minors in Jewish Civilization and Women’s and Gender Studies. Before beginning her rabbinical studies at HUC-JIR, Madeline designed and carried out an experimental gap year. She studied at Yeshivat Hadar in New York City, participated as a fellow at the Adamah Farm at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, and worked at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC as a rabbinical intern. Madeline is excited to pursue her passion for feminism, ritual, and creative midrash at HUC-JIR over the next five years.

Jamie Field was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, and spent the past six years living on the East Coast. After graduating from New Community Jewish High School in Los Angeles, Jamie attended Boston University. She graduated with a Religion major and minors in Jewish Studies and Hebrew. While there, Jamie was actively involved in the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies. She was also a member of the inaugural cohort of HUC-JIR’s Founders’ Fellowship, where she explored ways to connect Judaism and college culture. Jamie has spent the past two years working as the Curriculum Coordinator for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Religious School, and is thrilled to begin this new chapter of her journey to the rabbinate though HUC-JIR’s rabbinical and education programs, and to be a Weitzman-JDC Fellow.

Tim Gaylord grew up in Plano, TX, and graduated magna cum laude with a dual major in Industrial Engineering and Philosophy from Northwestern University, where was a Dean’s Scholar and recipient of an Engineering scholarship. While working full-time, he earned his Masters of Business Administration from the Executive Program at Southern Methodist University. During his business career, Tim worked in progressive roles at PwC and Lockheed Martin, where he led Mergers and Acquisitions, and was recognized as an acclaimed coach, leader, and training facilitator. Tim’s relationship with Judaism has developed over time, manifesting itself through participation in several initiatives at his daughter’s school Levine Academy, a Solomon Schechter school, as a Religious School Teacher at Temple Emanu-El Dallas, and by supporting staff development efforts at Greene Family Camp. With his matriculation to HUC-JIR, Tim and his family have moved to Israel, where Tim is beginning HUC-JIR’s rabbinical and education programs. Following the HUC-JIR Year-In-Israel program, Tim will continue at HUC-JIR's Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. Tim is thrilled to be part of the Weitzman-JDC Fellowship.

Alissa PlatcowAlissa Platcow is a rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. Originally from Brookline, MA, she is passionate about building Jewish community and dedicated to creating both powerful and empowering prayer. She has served as the shaliach tzibur in congregations large and small from Boston to Brooklyn to Belarus and many places in between. Before moving to Jerusalem, Alissa lived in New York City where she worked at Temple Israel of the City of New York engaging young professionals, inspiring members to invest in their community, and teaching children of all ages to connect to the power of their Jewish identities. She also helped to strengthen the Bay Ridge Jewish Center leading monthly Musical Shabbatot and High Holiday services, and built confidence in young Jewish teens by walking them through the B’nei Mitzvah process from start to finish. A graduate of UMass Amherst, Alissa earned degrees in Judaic Studies and Jazz Voice. She was active both in her own Hillel as the president of the Conservative Jewish group on campus and on a national level through Nehirim, encouraging collegiate Jews to develop more inclusive Jewish spaces across the country. Alissa had the pleasure of leading several seders throughout Belarus with JDC Entwine last year and is thrilled to be returning again this Pesach.

Aaron Torop is a first-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. Previously, Aaron was a Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he advanced the legislative and advocacy priorities of the Reform Jewish Movement on the environment, Israel, international religious freedom, and genocide prevention. He graduated from American University in May 2018 with a dual degree in Political Science and Jewish Studies. He is currently a Nachshon Project graduate fellow, a multidenominational fellowship that develops the next generation of North American Jewish community leaders. Aaron enjoys trying new restaurants with his fiance, rooting for Washington, DC sports teams, and has very fond memories of his time as a camper and staff member at URJ Camp Coleman.