President's Letter from Jerusalem - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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President's Letter from Jerusalem

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Wednesday, September 1, 1999

I am writing these words while in Jerusalem where Judy and I are spending time with the students, faculty, administration and overseers of our Jerusalem School. Our first-year rabbinic, education, and cantorial students have begun their studies. They are men and women of great potential and spirit. It is a privilege to witness their excitement as they begin their journey. Judy has met with their spouses and significant others, and has begun the ongoing dialogue which they will share over the years. We wish them all well in their studies, encounters with Israel and Israelis, and look forward to their work with us stateside as well.


We have begun "revisioning" and transforming the first Year-in-Israel Program. The entire community has been engaged in this process. Our students need to accomplish more than Hebrew linguistic competence during their year here. They need to experience and encounter Israel --- its people, culture, traditions, society and the land itself. After a year of thorough review, evaluation and self-reflection, major changes have been implemented in our first-year program. We are eager to see the results, and shall continue to involve the entire College-Institute in an ongoing evaluation of our present and new programs.


From the earliest days of our Jerusalem program, our major emphasis has been on our Year-in- Israel Program. We believe that it has made an essential and significant difference in the training of our students and has had major impact on the current rabbinic, cantorial and educational world outside of Israel. We must not diminish this program and, as our planning proceeds, our goal is to enhance and enrich this program. Yet we cannot be an isolated North American island in Jerusalem. We must engage and be engaged by Israel. Our work is here as well --- for this community and country. We have much to learn from Israel and we have much to bring to Israel.


Dean Michael Marmur, the faculty and staff have been reviewing and evaluating the Israel Rabbinic Program. We want to increase dramatically the numbers of students, as well as review, enrich and transform the program itself. Much has been done in a very short period, and much more remains. The admissions interviewing process is taking place presently and I have had the opportunity to sit with the Admissions Committee. We are looking forward to a new class much larger than ever before in the history of our Israel Rabbinic Program.


In addition, serious planning is taking place with regard to teacher training for the Israeli school system, serving our Israeli Movement's schools, and creating a center for education and teacher training for Israel. Rabbi Shaul Feinberg and Rabbi Naamah Kelman-Ezrachi are working closely with Rabbi Marmur in all of these areas.


It is our task to bring the values, ideas and dynamism of approach and interpretation of Reform/Progressive Judaism to Israel. We shall train and ordain more rabbis to serve in Israel. But that alone is insufficient. We need teachers and educational leaders who can teach Jewish values, tradition and observance from a Reform/Progressive viewpoint in our Movement's schools, and, just as important, in the Israeli public school system itself.


We are battling for the soul of Israel not only to defend the soil of Israel. We believe that the values that we espouse can add greatly to the people and State of Israel. It is this task to which we are dedicating a major effort in our planning and work at the Jerusalem School.


These are exciting and wonderful times for our people, our Movement and our School. We are grateful to Rabbis Michael Marmur, Shaul Feinberg and Naamah Kelman-Ezrachi and the entire Jerusalem faculty, administration and staff for their achievements, planning, vision and for the dreams of an extraordinary future. They are our builders, the guarantor of shalom --- a society of wholeness, soulfulness, justice and peace.


As we approach this new year, Judy, our children Rabbi Brian and Mimi (both alumni of our School), Kira and her fiancé Jeffrey Kerstine, David and Micol, join me in heartfelt wishes for a year of goodness, blessing, wholeness and peace. From Jerusalem, the city that dreams of Shalom, to all of you throughout the world --- Shalom! Shana tovah umetukah --- a good and sweet 5760!

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.