Ordination and Academic Convocation
March 11, 1999 / 23 Adar 5759
Almost 125 years after the founding of Hebrew Union College, and some 35 years after our establishment here in this city, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem now looks to the future. The dedication and wisdom of my predecessors as Dean of the Jerusalem School, and most notably the work of Michael Klein, helped ensure our efforts in Jerusalem a solid basis and a stunning campus. Based on the progressive insight that there is no more traditional response than the impulse to change and develop, we now prepare ourselves for the tasks which lie ahead.
Relations between Israel and the Jewish world are in a state of flux, and new thinking is required to find ways of allowing for real exchange and genuine interface. If Torah is to go forth from Zion, we will need to think of new ways to facilitate this process. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem is in the process of revising its Year-in-Israel programs, just as the institution as a whole is looking again at its core curriculum on four sites. And we would like to find ways of collaborating with partners and sister institutions around the Reform Jewish world so that a liberal reading of Torah may indeed issue forth from Zion to the four corners of the earth.
Israeli society has never been so split, and never has the possibility been so palpable that its fabric may be rent asunder. HUC-JIR/Jerusalem wants to be part of a renaissance of Jewish learning which gives hope to those who believe that a fruitful encounter between Judaism and modernity is not only essential, but also attainable. In particular, the College will develop programs and courses of study which speak to its primary mission: the development of leadership. As an academic institution with a liberal religious identity, we want to provide Israeli men and women with a way of grappling with Judaism, Zionism and Democracy at the highest level.
The institutions of Reform in Israel are at an historic crossroads. For the first time in history, demand for our programs and personnel far outstrips supply. There is a need both pressing and profound for a leadership group capable of articulating a Liberal Jewish alternative in this country. Whilst seeking to raise our own professional and academic standards ever higher, we intend to provide for the burgeoning leadership needs of a resurgent Israeli Reform Movement.
HUC-JIR/Jerusalem is committed to a great expansion of our Rabbinic training program, so that tens of candidates of the caliber of Miri Gold and Ada Zavidov can be attracted, recruited, supported, impacted upon, educated, trained and inspired. This cadre of rabbis will not only serve the institutions of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism as they exist today, but will also establish the synagogues, run the community centers, direct the schools, found the kindergartens, write the books, and inspire the communities which have yet to be created. And still others will be a blessing to Israel in other frameworks and institutions.
Our Jerusalem School seeks to attract the very finest faculty available, so that our students may encounter models of excellence and commitment. Over time our faculty will grow, and ties with the other centers of the College-Institute will strengthen, such that many of the finest members of the stateside faculty will serve Jerusalem, too.
In keeping with the activities of our other learning centers in the United States, our Jerusalem School also looks to expand its programmatic base, seeking in time to offer courses in Communal Service, Sacred Music, and perhaps most urgently - Education. The struggle for the identity of modern Israel is being waged in the classroom, and it is a major goal of the College-Institute here in Israel to meet these educational challenges. We need to find the very finest young men and women of Israel to help bring about significant educational change.
HUC-JIR/Jerusalem wants to establish a resource center around its beautiful Abramov Library. Our vision is that anyone, from school child to scholar, will see in our school an indispensable tool. In time, such a resource should become an instrument of profound social change.
A necessary precondition for the kind of progress envisaged here is the creation of an atmosphere in which a liberal Judaism rooted in the intellect and sensitive to the needs of the spirit may flourish and prosper in Israel and around the world. Study, prayer and action will be woven into the fabric of the institution, and yet a spirit of openness and curiosity should always prevail.
As the College-Institute seeks to grow, it will have to find a way to clarify its relationship with its neighbors and partners. This period of adjustment may be uncomfortable, but the strategic goal is clear: we must find a way of working side by side with the various institutions of Reform in Israel, in harmony and in partnership. As we salute the World Union for Progressive Judaism at this historic time, we look forward to ever closer ties, and ever greater successes. We want to be a center of intellectual ferment and spiritual search for Israel in general, and for our own constituencies in particular. In time the College-Institute will make itself available to the congregations of our movement as a focus of study and quest.
At root, the plans for expansion of HUC-JIR/Jerusalem are an expression of great optimism. They are predicated on the belief that individuals can indeed make a difference, and that they can indeed change the course of history. From this moment we begin a search for the individuals who will shape the future of Liberal Judaism in North America, in Israel and perhaps even around the world. Through an analysis of our contemporary context, and a renewed emphasis on content, we now nurture a concept of growth and development capable of contributing to change for good in the Jewish world.
Aided by a great team, led by Associate Dean Rabbi Shaul Feinberg and Administrative Director Dan Canaan, it is my hope to prove worthy of the faith put in me as I undertake this daunting task. It will take years to put the plans mentioned here into place. It is hard when our problems are so urgent to find the strength to build for the long term. But it is to this perspective to which I am committed most of all. Aware of the context here in Israel and around the Jewish world, driven by content profound enough to engender change, I present a concept by which Israel may be blessed with a strong voice for learning and moderation, and Reform Judaism may be blessed with the leadership it most desperately needs and most richly deserves.
It is ultimately a presumption to attempt to speak of vision in this city, at this place. It has been done before, and much more convincingly. Perhaps the best we can do is to quote Isaiah (33:5-6):
The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He has filled Zion with judgement and righteousness. And He shall be the stability of your times, a store of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is His treasure.
May our vision serve that great vision.
(Rabbi Michael Marmur became dean of the Jerusalem School on July 1, 1998.)
Copyright © 1999 Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Most recent update 6 Apr 1999