Professor Aharon Barak, President (Ret.) of The Supreme Court of Israel, was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's Ordination and Academic Convocation ceremony at Mercaz Shimshon on the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem on November 10, 2006.
Doctor of Divinity degrees, in recognition of 25 years of service to the Progressive community in Israel, were awarded to Rabbi Gil Nativ and Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon.
Six new rabbis, Ilana Baird, Ezra Nadav Ende, Navah Hefetz, Ofek Meir, Avraham Yitzhak (Stanislaw) Wojciechowicz and Corrie Zeidler, serving the Progressive Jewish community in Israel and worldwide, were ordained by Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. These new rabbis exemplify the growing impact of Progressive Judaism among young Israelis and their quest for authentic Jewish expression.
PROFESSOR AHARON BARAK, President (Ret.), The Supreme Court of Israel
Aharon Barak was born in 1936 in Kovna, Lithuania. In 1941, Lithuania was occupied by the Nazis, and the five-year-old boy suddenly found himself with his family in the middle of the nightmare. In 1943, during the Kinderaktion, the young Aharon was smuggled out of the ghetto in a suitcase and hidden together with his mother by a Latvian peasant family - Righteous Gentiles - until the area was liberated by the Red Army.
In a speech to the Israel Bar in 2002, Barak presented the ideological lessons he learned from this period:
|"||The first lesson is the importance of the State of Israel and a defense army. Much of what happened to us would not have happened had we had our own state. The state for me is a dream come true... we will never abandon our state. This is where we live. And this state must be strong and must protect the public for whom it is home.
The second lesson I draw is that nothing is more important than the human; nothing is more important than liberty and dignity. I was saved thanks to the human dignity of a Lithuanian peasant. Life in the ghetto was possible thanks to human dignity and mutual assistance. Although we were at the lowest point possible, we lived a life of culture in the ghetto; we lived together as brothers. For me, the importance of the human, created in God's image, even a dreadful terrorist, is not because professors tell us it is so, but because of my own experience. The internal tension I have faced all my life is how to combine the state that is so dear to me with the liberty that is so important to me. The solution is through balance. Not all of one or all of the other, but a constant, demanding, unexciting effort to strike a balance. There can be no human rights without society, and we cannot observe human rights without a state to protect them. This is all the more so in our state, a democratic state, and a Jewish state in the Zionist sense of the word. And I see myself as a Jew with every fiber of my being."
In 1947, Barak arrived in Israel with his family. The family settled in Jerusalem, and Barak studied at the Hebrew University High School. He then immediately began to study law at the Hebrew University. In 1958, he received a master's degree in law and began his military service in the office of the financial advisor to the chief of staff. In 1963, Barak received his doctor of law degree from the Hebrew University,cumma sum laude.
In 1968, after two years at Harvard University, Barak was appointed to a position as lecturer of law at the Hebrew University. He later served as a professor and as dean of the faculty. In 1975, at the age of 39, he won the Israel Prize for the Legal Sciences. Even after he was no longer working on a full-time basis in the university, Prof. Barak maintained close contacts with the academic world and helped train a large number of students at the Hebrew University, Yale, and other research institutions around the world. His academic articles and writings, written over many years of activity, provide a foundation for the theoretical and practical study of a wide range of legal issues.
During the period 1975-1978, Barak served as the attorney-general, leaving a unique mark on this office and its place within the legal and governmental system of the State of Israel. As attorney-general, he acted fearlessly against public figures who were suspected of criminal offenses. It was in this context that he proposed the "Buzaglo Test," which requires that public figures and leaders be treated in the same way as ordinary citizens in terms of the law and legal considerations. Due to his position as attorney-general, Barak was a member of the negotiating team that shaped the Camp David agreement and the peace treaty with Egypt.
In 1978, Professor Barak completed his period of office as attorney-general and was appointed to the Supreme Court. During this period, he served as a member of the Kahan Commission, established in 1982 following the Lebanon War. In 1993, he was appointed vice-president of the Supreme Court, and, two years later, he took on the position of president. During his period of office, he expanded the range of issues addressed by the Supreme Court. He abolished the tests of presence and justiciability that had often been applied by the court in the past, opening its doors to a series of public petitions on a wide range of issues. At the same time, President Barak advanced a series of standards, both in the field of public administration (such as the expansion of the use of the principle of the reasonableness of an administrative decision) and in the field of private law (such as the extension of the use of the principle of good faith in contractual law).
From 1992, after the enactment of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and the Basic Law: Freedom of Vocation, President Barak's judicial activities focused mainly on advancing and shaping a process that became known as the "constitutional revolution." According to him, these Basic Laws entitled the court to maintain judicial review of legislation passed by the Knesset (i.e., to strike out laws that were contrary to the above-mentioned basic laws). Thus these Basic Laws transformed Israel into a constitutional democracy. During his period of office, President Barak also promoted the concept of judicial activism, which argues that the court need not confine itself to interpreting the law, but must also fill in missing aspects of legislation on the basis of the basic constitutional values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Throughout his years of activity as a judge and as president of the Supreme Court, Barak worked to protect human rights and human dignity in every circumstance; to shape the values of the State of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state; and to strengthen pluralism within Israeli society. He encouraged his students and peers to share the approach that the position of a judge in a democratic society is infinitely greater than that of mere interpretation and arbitration. At the age of seventy, on his retirement from the position of president of the Supreme Court, he made the following comments:
|"||I see myself as a judge who is sensitive to his position within a democratic society. I take the tasks with which I have been charged very seriously. Despite the criticism that is sometimes leveled at me - and which often shifts onto personal ground, creating the mortal danger of violence by extremists - I have continued to take this approach for many years. I believe that, in so doing, I am best serving my legal method. As judges in the supreme judicial instance, we must indeed continue on our path as our conscience dictates. We judges have a northern star that guides us on our way. These are our basic values and our basic principles. We face a heavy responsibility. Even in our worst hours, we must remain faithful to ourselves. This is my approach to my function as a judge. This approach has accompanied me every day as I enter the courtroom. I write my rulings in accordance with this approach. This is an approach centered on the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish state and as a democratic state; this is an approach centered on the human, created in God's image; this is an approach that sees the function of the judge as one of service, not of power. "Do you imagine that I am granting you power? It is slavery that I grant you.
This is a slavery designed to ensure liberty, dignity, and justice; slavery to the human spirit and body; recognition of human dignity and equality; the aspiration for a just society. Have we any slavery more noble than this?"
Aharon Barak lives in Jerusalem with his wife Elisheva, the vice-president (retired) of the National Labor Court. The couple has four children, all of whom are also active in the legal sphere.
RABBI GIL NATIV
"Typically extraordinary" is the way Gil Nativ describes himself. He is a Sabra, born in November 1946, whose upbringing was typical for Israelis his age: school, youth movement (Scouts), military-service (Paratroopers). His family moved from Kfar Saba to Haifa in 1958 when his father, Moshe Nativ, was invited to teach in the Leo Baeck School. Together with his father Gil searched for a long time for a path between secular and religious life.
During the Six Day War (1967) Gil fought in the paratrooper brigade in Jerusalem. After the war, he studied Social Sciences at the University Institute of Haifa, which was the forerunner of Haifa University. In 1969 he founded and led the youth group of Congregation Or Chadash. In 1972 he left for North America to serve as a teacher and youth leader in a Jewish community in Upstate New York.
When he was a high school student, his sister introduced him to her best friend, Zivah. They were married in 1969 and their children are Inbal (1971), Dror (1977) and Noga (1979). Gil was Zivah's teacher of biblical-cantellation and she quickly took over his role of teaching bar-mitzvah boys. At the same time Zivah was his teacher of Israeli folk dancing. They have been dancing together twice a week for the past 26 years.
With the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war, Gil returned to Israel to serve in the IDF as a reserve soldier. This period was a turning point in his life that led him to decide to study for the Rabbinate. After three years of study at Hebrew Union College and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in the summer of 1977, Gil and his family joined Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava. He held the position of religious spiritual guide. After two years of this pioneering he returned to Haifa in order to serve as the first Rabbi of the Ohel Avraham congregation and to teach Oral Law at the Leo Baeck Educational Center. During the next six years he convinced many high school students to choose this subject as their major elective in the matriculation exams. During these years he also served as the convener of the religious court (Beit Din) for conversions of the Israeli Council of Progressive Rabbis (MaRaM) and in January 1983 published in the literary journal "Sh'demot" a paper concerning conversion to Judaism under the title "To seek refuge under His wings".
In 1985 the Nativ family moved to Cincinnati and Gil began his doctorate studies in Rabbinic Literature at Hebrew Union College while serving as the Rabbi of the Conservative congregation "Bnei Tzedek". In 1990, after completing his studies, he returned to Haifa as the Coordinator of Jewish studies at the Leo Baeck High School. After two years he left this position and was appointed Rabbi of the Moriah Masorti congregation in Haifa. At the same time he joined the Rabbinical Assembly and was elected as its Israeli president (1996-1998). He also served for five years as a visiting lecturer in Talmud at Haifa University.
In 2003 while on Sabbatical he served as a lecturer in Talmud at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and in 2004 filled a similar position at the Leo Baeck College in London. In August 2004 he returned to Israel and since then has been the Rabbi of the Eshel Avraham Masorti (Conservative) congregation in Beersheba. In 2006 he served as a lecturer in Halachic Literature at the Israeli Rabbinate Program at Hebrew Union College. His articles in recent years deal with historical-conceptual analysis of Talmudic stories.
When he is not studying a page of the Talmud or folk dancing, Gil wields the poet's pen. To date he has published these booklets of Hebrew verse: "Standing" (1993), "Woe to you if you call" and "Drashirim" (September 2000). Zivah and Gil have three granddaughters: Yarden (9), Ayala (6) and Gaia (2).
RABBI KINNERET SHIRYON
Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon was born in 1955 in North America. She grew up in upstate New York and spent her adolescent years in Northern California. In 1977 she completed her studies for a bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkley, which she combined with Hebrew studies at Haifa University and Comparative Literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She received a Master's degree in Hebrew Literature from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1980. She also studied Yiddish at Columbia University in New York. A year later she was ordained as a Rabbi by HUC-JIR in New York in 1981.
Rabbi Shiryon served as the community Rabbi in Adelaide, South Australia in 1978, and in Wilton, Connecticut,USA in 1979. In 1983 she immigrated to Israel and served for seven years as a Rabbi of Kehillat Ramat Aviv in Tel Aviv. For the past ten years she has served as the Rabbi of Kehillat "Yozma "(an acronym for Judaism of Our Time - Heritage of Our People) in the city of Modi'in, a congregation she founded and established and directed for many years. Rabbi Shiryon served as the Director of the Inter-faith Department for Jewish Congregational Affairs of the American Jewish Committee (the A.J.C.) in Los Angeles; while living in Tel Aviv, she was the foreign correspondent for the "Los Angeles Jewish News"; and she served as the Regional Director for "ARZA" in Israel. She was the Educational Director of University Student Programming in Israel for the American Union of Reform Judaism, a teacher at the E.I.E. High School and she directed the program for "The College Academic Year (C.A.Y.)" in Israel.
Over the years Rabbi Shiryon has been a guide and spiritual mentor for many rabbinical students.
Rabbi Shiryon served as the chairperson of the Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel from 2002-2006 and was the first woman to serve in this position.
In her years of service Rabbi Shiryon has been awarded recognition from the United States National Environmental Protection Agency; The Stephen S. Wise medal of Academic Excellence; Medal of Appreciation from the State of California, USA, for her contribution to the Jewish community in Los Angeles; and the Modiín Regional Prize as Career Woman of the year 2000.
Kinneret Shiryon is most proud that she and her husband Baruch, together have raised four amazing children.
AVRAHAM YITZHAK (STANISLAW) WOJCIECHOWICZ
Stanislaw Wojciechowicz (known as Stas) was born in 1977 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he grew up and was educated. In his youth and adolescence, like most Soviet children of his age, he did not receive any formal religious Jewish education, since this was impossible during the period of the Soviet regime. His first significant exposure to Jewish tradition occurred at the beginning of the 1990s with the breakup of the Soviet Union. When he was 14 years old, Stas attended a Chabad sponsored summer camp for the first time in Tashkent and he began to attend the daily Kolel for boys, which had been opened in his city. There he studied for the first time the basics of prayer and the Jewish way of life, the Hebrew language and the foundations of Jewish literature.
In 1993 Stas completed his high school studies with honors and went to the U.S. for additional studies within the framework of a program to encourage democracy in the countries of the Former Soviet Union (the Freedom Support Act). During the course of the year he was hosted by an American family (by chance a Jewish family) in Randallstown, Maryland. In the US he was exposed for the first time to non-Orthodox Jewry, since his 'adoptive' family belonged to a Conservative synagogue called "Beth Israel". While he was studying in the local high school he also studied "in chevruta" with students of the Rabbinical Beit Midrash "Ner Israel" in Baltimore.
In 1994, upon completion of his visit to the US, Stas returned to Tashkent and after about two months immigrated to Israel, thus realizing the Zionist dream of his youth. In his first years in Israel he studied and worked in a Kibbutz-Ulpan at Kibbutz Yavne, and after finishing the Ulpan volunteered for an additional six months in the Kibbutz until his family joined him. First they settled in the town of Maalot in the Galilee and later moved to Haifa.
In 1995 he began his academic studies at the University of Haifa in the field of Political Science and Statistics and received his Bachelor's degree in 1998. Upon completion of his studies Stas was drafted into the IDF and served until 2001 in the Youth and Education Corps. He spent most of the second half of the 1990s searching for a spiritual framework that would comply with a modern Jewish life style that was emerging in Israel. As a result of the wide ranging public relations program by the Reform Movement and the Conservative Movement leading up to the High Holy Days in 1999, he arrived - with a great deal of curiosity - at Yom Kippur prayers at the congregation Or Chadash in Haifa. On that Day of Judgment he decided that the Reform Movement would be his spiritual home. While he was still a soldier in the regular army he decided to apply for admission to the Israeli Rabbinical Program at the HUC-JIR in Jerusalem and was accepted in 2001 for a preparatory year. Beginning in 2002, Stas was a matriculating student in the program. In this framework he began, in 2003, his studies for a Master's degree in the History of the Jewish People at Tel Aviv University. Recently he received his Master's degree with Honors.
Between the years 2004-2006 he served as a student Rabbi in the congregation "Esh David" in Ashdod, a new congregation established in 2001 by a group of activists who emigrated from the Former Soviet Union. At the same time he took an active part in a n HUC-JIR project, begun in 2004, with the purpose of increasing the presence of liberal rabbis in the countries of the Former Soviet Union. Within this framework he served as an associate rabbi in a Netzer (Reform Zionist Youth) summer camp in Kiev, Ukraine. During the holiday season he visited, a number of times, two Reform Russian congregations in Lipetzk and Krasnodar and participated as a lecturer at a large number of educational seminars for Reform Jewish youth in the Former Soviet Union.
In his dissertation "The History of the Development and Main Focus of the English Reform Prayer Book" he researched the reformed liturgy of a well-known West London congregation. This was a subject that became close to his heart following an inspiring encounter with Rabbi Yehoram Mazor, who is a lecturer in liturgy at HUC-JIR, and who over the years has become his rabbi-mentor and spiritual leader.
EZRA NADAV ENDE
Ezra, the son of Gabriel who made aliyah from the U.S. and Yael, who made aliyahfrom Iraq, and the eldest brother of Yoav and Hamutal, brings together two heritages - the Mediterranean and the Western. He strives to give them both expression in his life and in his rabbinical mission. Ezra spent his youth in Herzliah and was educated in the Tali (Jewish enrichment) school in Hod Hasharon on the one hand and NOAM (Masorti Youth) on the other. He did his military service within the framework of a Nachal-gar'in (a military unit made up of graduates of a youth-movement) of the Masorti Movement and as a combat soldier in the 50th Battalion.
His work as a teacher at the educational center in Kibbutz Hanaton, during the non-combat section of his service, was highly influential in building his personal and professional identity and impelled him to study for his Bachelor's degree in the Schools of Education and History of the Jewish People at The Hebrew University.
During the course of his studies Ezra married Avigail Laniado and coordinated thePerach project (volunteering students) at the Illanot School for special education.
After gaining his Bachelor's degree, Ezra began his studies in the educational leadership track at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and, within this framework, he completed his Master's degree in Jewish Studies. During the course of his studies he worked in the field of education at NOAM, instructed and taught American Jewish youth from NFTY, the youth organization of the Reform Movement in the US, and worked as educational director of the Mevakshei Derech congregation in Jerusalem.
His educational work in this congregation and his serious involvement in the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism opened a new world to him and created within him the urge to fulfill his ambition of becoming a Reform rabbi.
When he began his studies at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, Ezra served as a student Rabbi in the Tzur Hadassah congregation. This experience greatly enriched him and was the foundation for the development of his vision of being a community rabbi. During the course of his studies, Ezra combined activities in a number of different areas including serving as Rabbi in TALI schools, educational work with special-needs adults, and practical training in spiritual counseling at the "B'Ruach" center operating in the Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem.
In his last year of study, he was a Fellow in the "Mezorim" group, a first step in HUC-JIR's development of a program to teach spiritual guidance.During the course of this year Ezra returned to congregation "Mavakshei Derech" and worked as a student Rabbi alongside the Cantor and Director of the congregation, Iris Wiener. His rabbinical thesis focuses on the challenges facing a Reform Jewish congregation in Israel in becoming a Caring Congregation (converting it into a caring, supportive community).
Upon completion of his studies, Ezra decided to spend a period in the U.S. as a rabbinical emissary, together with his wife and their four children, Avshalom, Avia, Itamar and Achinoam. Ezra is currently serving as the Assistant Rabbi at Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ezra views his association with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and his future as a Rabbi as a privilege and a religious mission.
Ilana was born in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, just to the east of the Ural Mountains. She is only child of Ludmila (Liora) and Alexander. Her grandmother, Dr. Evgenya Meilach, came from the Yiddish speaking shtetl of Borisov in Belarus. Her grandfather, Ben Tzion Meilach, was also a native of Chelyabinsk, and the son of one of the first Jewish businessmen granted permission by the Tsar to live and work in Russia. Ilana was first introduced to the spiritual meaning of her Jewish identity when, in the early 1990s, Rabbi Maya Leibovich visited her city to invigorate the newly formed Jewish community. After Ilana completed her compulsory education and nursing school with honors, her family made aliyah to Israel in 1993.
Ilana began her academic journey in Israel at Haifa University, where she completed her B.A. and teaching credentials in Art History and the Study of the Land of Israel, and her M.A. in the History of the Jewish People. During her undergraduate years, she met and married David Baird, a new immigrant from America who grew up in the Reform movement. Ilana was attracted to the Progressive Jewish Movement when attending classes at Or Hadash Congregation in Haifa, led by Rabbi Moti Rotem. Recognizing Ilana's love for Judaism, he encouraged her to apply for rabbinic studies at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.
During her studies at HUC-JIR, Ilana worked with new immigrants and converts from varying backgrounds at Or Hadash, taught youth at Leo Baeck Education Center, and led Shabbat services at many congregations in Haifa, Kiryat Tivon and Karmiel. She took particular interest in teaching Bar and Bat Mitzvah classes and giving a personal meaning to Shabbat services through telling Hasidic stories.
Ilana has spent much time over the past two years with Jewish congregations in the Former Soviet Union, particularly in Belarus, where she has formed a personal bond and strengthened the ties between the Jewish communities there and in Israel. Ilana completed her final work at HUC-JIR with a program for Bar and Bat Mitzvah classes for the Russian-speaking community, as a means of uplifting a meaningful Jewish and Israeli identity.
Ilana, David and their twin daughters Anat and Daniella live on the picturesque Carmel Mountain in Haifa.
Nava Hefetz was born in Israel, the eldest daughter of a family that emigrated from Cairo at the end of the 1940s and whose roots originated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the city of Livorno in Italy, on the island of Crete, and in Safed. The fact that she was the daughter of immigrants affected her life deeply. In the Israel of the 1950s, and even the 1960s, there was no place for cultural-ethnic pluralism and she could not withstand the pressure of the "melting pot".
Until the age of nine she grew up in a completely secular home in Ramat Gan (her father was a member of "Maki", Israel's communist party, and later of the Mapai, the Zionist social democrat party), was educated in a secular school and belonged to a socialist youth movement. There was no sign of religiosity in the home. At the beginning of the 1960s, her father was recruited to serve in the U.N. and Nava was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Paris. There, to her astonishment, she encountered for the first time her identity as a Jew, a member of the people who killed Jesus.
Over the following years, the family wandered around the world and Nava was exposed to a mixture of life styles: life in the Hadasim boarding school; exotic cultures in Equatorial Africa; education in the lap of French culture. In Africa she realized for the first time what social injustice was and met ideas such as Colonialism, European imperialism, exploitation, and so on.
When she was 16, her family returned to Israel and Nava continued her studies in an Alliance (Kol Israel Chaverim) school in Tel Aviv and at the same time was active in the "Machanot HaOlim" youth movement. She was drafted into the IDF about three months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war, which proved to be a turning point in her life. The loss of friends, others who returned shell-shocked, the disillusionment that followed the war, all combined to shatter the foundation of her Israeli identity.
After her release from the IDF, Nava left for Paris and studied at the Sorbonne and, at the same time, directed the office of the military attaché in the Israeli embassy. There she was exposed for the first time to a vibrant Jewish community that was integrated into a non-Jewish society. The community produced content that was at once both particular and universal.
Upon her return to Israel, Nava continued her studies for a Bachelor's degree in the field of Linguistics and French Literature and worked as a teacher and a curator of exhibitions at The Diaspora Museum. After 10 years of working in this field, she turned to the field of educating the children of the younger generation within the framework of the institutes for Jewish-Zionist education. The aim was to awaken within this generation an awareness of their Jewish identity. In this framework she also led meetings between North American Israeli youth. Here she was exposed for the first time to the Jewish culture of North America and to the Reform Movement. This exposure increased with her appointment to a senior position as director of planning at the Charles R. Bronfman Center.
In 1995 she moved with her two children to Jerusalem in order to give her children a progressive Jewish education and to be part of a community that would enable her family to develop spiritually. Kehilat Kol HaNeshama was the natural choice. Gradually everything that had been unknown in the home of her parents became an everyday part of her life: belief in God, prayer, the significance of the Sabbath, the kosher kitchen, membership of a synagogue, active participation in and appreciation of the richness of Jewish events and rituals - all now belonged to her. Meanwhile she was studying for a Master's degree in Jewish Studies (Jewish education and the history of the Jewish people) at the "Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies". This process instilled in her a desire to adopt a way to influence Israeli society and to contribute to the changing of its socio-religious structure. As a result of all of this, she came to study for the Rabbinate in the Israeli program at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.
For the past few years Nava has been serving as the director of the educational department of "Shomrei Mishpat - Rabbis for Human Rights", developing and greatly widening its scope of activity. She initiated the entry of the department into pre-military academies, into national service year-programs and even within the IDF where she promoted the establishment of an educational program based on the Declaration of Independence. She also developed a program of Israeli-Palestinian meetings for the joint study of various topics related to Human Rights from the Judeo-Christian-Moslem point of view.
Born in Israel in 1967, Ofek grew up in Jerusalem. At the Telem Scouts (the youth movement of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) he was introduced for the first time to the possibility of observing a different type of Judaism from that which he knew from the media and politics. After years of active involvement in the Telem Scouts, he moved, shortly before his enlistment into the IDF, to Kibbutz Yahel and lived there for a year. He served as a musician in the IDF orchestra and kept in constant contact with the Telem Scouts and with Kehilat Har-El congregation in Jerusalem.
After his army service he coordinated the leadership and counselor programming of the Telem Scouts and was one of the founders of the first "Chavaya" summer-camp, the youth summer camp of the IMPJ.
Ofek started on his path of religious education as an assistant to the rabbi in the Ohel Avraham congregation in Haifa and undertook a variety of roles and tasks in the Leo Baeck Education Center and in the Movement for Reform Judaism. He was a member of the board of the Movement and chairman of its youth committee.
The years 1991-1992 were spent in London as an emissary of the Liberal Movement. At the same time he studied classical guitar at the Royal College of Music in London and obtained the degree of A.R.C.M., a certificate for classical guitar musicians. During these years he began to develop a consciousness that the Jewish people and its Diaspora were a single unit. This awareness created within him a feeling of obligation to engage in creative action that has guided his path ever since.
Upon his return to Israel, Ofek was one of the founders of the "Etgar" program, a community and study project for graduates of "Netzer" (Reform Zionist Youth) worldwide that brings youth to Israel for a year.
In 1998 Ofek founded the Lokey International Academy of Jewish Studies at the Leo Baeck Education Center. From then on and continuing today, the Center has been running hundreds of programs in Israel and abroad promoting Humanist religious Judaism. Within the framework of his rabbinical studies, Ofek went to New York in 2006 on a sabbatical year granted him by the Leo Baeck Center. During that year, he completed his studies for a Master's degree in Jewish education and gained work experience with the community of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York.
Today he officiates as the Rabbi at the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa, as a homeroom teacher and director of the project for building the first private Reform Jewish school in Israel that is scheduled to open its doors during the school year of 1998. The topic of Ofek's rabbinic thesis is "Religious Jewish Humanistic Education in Israel - Challenges and Goals," which is an attempt to present a general educational conceptual approach that should guide ones activities as a rabbi and as an educator in Israel.
Corrie (Keren) Zeidler was born in July 1959 in New Guinea, which at the time was a Dutch colony. The fifth of six children born to the Moll family, she lived in that country until the age of three. She grew up and was educated in Holland in a Protestant Christian family. Her parents always loved and respected Israel and Judaism. At the age of 17 she visited Israel for the first time with her family. A year later, after she matriculated, she came as a volunteer for three months to Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim. There she met Amit. The love of Israel instilled in her by her parents and the love that blossomed in those months for Amit made her decide to make a sharp change in her life.
In July 1978, after she and Amit married in a civil ceremony in Holland, Corrie immigrated to Israel and immediately began the conversion process. The couple studied Judaism together in order to provide an equal base of knowledge upon which they would be able to build their Jewish identities together as individuals and as a family. On the eve of Passover 1979 Corrie was converted by the Orthodox Beit Din (religious court) in Jerusalem.
At the same time, Corrie quickly mastered the Hebrew language and began that same year to study for a Bachelor's degree in Hebrew at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which she completed with Honors in 1981. In December 1982 Corrie and Amit joined Kibbutz Yahel. Corrie studied to lead services, to read the Torah and the Haftorah and learned about the principles of Reform Judaism. At Yahel the seeds were sown that many years later blossomed into the decision to study for rabbinic ordination. At Yahel, Corrie gave birth to her first two daughters Shimrit (1983) and Dikla (1984).
In the meantime, Corrie's parents also converted (by Reform conversion) in Holland and came on aliyah to Israel. In the summer of 1987 the family left Yahel and moved to Jerusalem. Very quickly Corrie integrated into the Har-El congregation and served there as the Torah reader and as an active member of the ritual committee. In January 1992 her youngest daughter, Chamutal, was born and in that same year the family decided to move to Holland for a number of years. In Holland, too, Corrie immediately integrated into communal activity in the Liberal Jewish community in the East of the country. Corrie served as a member of the board of the congregation, chairwoman of the ritual committee, Torah reader and cantor. Amit also integrated well into these activities and served as the gabbai of the synagogue. In the years that they lived in Holland, Corrie translated 11 books from Hebrew to Dutch (among them the works of Shifra Horn, Zeruya Shalev, David Grossman and Dan Tsalka).
In the summer of 2001 the couple returned with their youngest daughter to Israel to Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, owing to the ill-health of Amit's father, who passed away a month after their return. A year later, the family moved to Kiryat Tivon and immediately joined into the activities of the Ma'alot Tivon congregation. At the same time, Corrie began her studies for the rabbinate in Jerusalem and for her Master's degree in Hebrew language at Haifa University. Within the framework of studies, she did a year of practical work in the Ma'alot Tivon congregation and in her final year she was the student rabbi of the same community.
Corrie's rabbinical thesis deals with a comparison between the Prophets Elijah and Elisha, using an analysis of the stories of the miracles of these two characters.