Jerusalem Convocation Ordains New Rabbis and Honors Avraham Shapira and Stef Wertheimer

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ordination and Academic Convocation at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem took place on November 7, 2013.  

Four new rabbis for Israel’s Reform Movement were ordained: Eli Levin, Ayala Ronen Samuels, Nicolas Socolovsky, and Josh Weinberg. 

Professor Avraham Shapira and Stef Wertheimer were presented with honorary doctorates. 

Thirteen graduates of the Mezorim Program, pioneering pastoral counseling in Israel, received certificates: Evgenia Berezhnoy, Hany Cohen, Joseph Cohen, Ruth Flesh, Lea Fried, Rabbi Talia Goshen, Deana Henig, Gil Pinchassi, Roni Sever, Dorit Shippin, Dr. Vered Yahalom, M.D., Sharona Yekutiel, and Rabbi Or Zohar. 

Nine graduates of the Sugyot Chaim bibliotherapy program received their certificates: Adi Apel-Tal, Yehudit Bar-Dor, Orit Bibi, Uriel Dinar, Ofra Feffer, Chagit Fuchs, Annie Kurland, Ayala Mazeh, and Orna Goldberg Syrkin.

Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa

Avraham (“Patchy”) Shapira was born in Haifa in 1935. He was one of the leading members of the “Shdemot Circle,” which sought to develop secular-Jewish identity. He founded the journal “Shdemot” and served as its editor until 1970. He has been a member of Kibbutz Yizrael since 1955. He read Jewish Studies and Philosophy at the Hebrew University and built bridges between leading Jewish intellectuals and scholars and the kibbutz movement – particularly its second generation. He completed a doctorate in Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv University, writing a thesis on the subject of “Dual Structures in the Thought of Martin Buber.”

During his period as editor of Shdemot, he brought together a group of creative and inquisitive members from all sections of the kibbutz movement. Together with Amos Oz he initiated the preparation of the book “The Seventh Day” (known in Hebrew as “Discourse of Warriors.”) The book presented the testimonies of combat soldiers from the kibbutzim and was later recognized as one of the most important documents reflecting the realities facing Israelis at the time.  From 1968 to 2001 he served as a member of the editorial board of Ofakim Library and founded and edited the “Jewish Bookshelf” library for Am Oved Publishers.

In 1975 he was among the founders of the Center for Jewish Studies at Oranim, the teaching college of the Kibbutz movement under the auspices of Haifa University. In 1985 he received a professorship from Tel Aviv University. He launched the “Bible for Israel” project to prepare a scientific and historical commentary on the Bible, and coordinated the project’s editorial board from 1981 to 1989.

Shapira has collated and edited the writings of Gershom Scholem and was responsible for the “Collected Works of Gershom Scholem” project of Am Oved Publishers. He was responsible for Jewish and Zionist Studies at the IDF’s National Security College and developed curricula in these fields.  He was awarded the Avi Chai Prize for his work to improve the relations between religious and secular Jews in Israel.

Stef Wertheimer

Forced to flee Nazi Germany at the age of 10, Stef Wertheimer has long recognized the importance of Israel to the survival of the Jewish people. Trained as a pilot in the War of Independence, he served in the Palmach as a close technical aide to Yigal Alon.

Since then, he has spent his life fostering the economic independence of Israel and promoting peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. The latter goal has been pursued with initiatives aimed to encourage the financial self-reliance of the Palestinians, as well as ventures with several states in the region. Export manufacturing and educational initiatives have been the vehicles to achieve these goals.

The firm he founded in 1952, ISCAR, Ltd., is today one of the world’s top two manufacturers of precision carbide cutting tools. These precision tools are used in the automotive, aerospace, and electronics industries. 

In 1967, in response to Charles de Gaulle’s embargo on French weapons to Israel, Mr. Wertheimer began to manufacture jet engine blades. What began as a liability was transformed into a strategic asset: no longer was the Israeli Air Force dependent on imported blades. Recently, Pratt and Whitney and Rolls Royce have both become partners with him in the creation of Blades Technologies International, Inc. and TechJet. He has also recently created a third international blades industry in Xian, China. 

Since 1982, Wertheimer has built seven industrial parks. The original park, at Tefen in the Galilee, created an unusual model that has been replicated at Tel Hai, Lavon, Omer, and Dalton. In the spring of 2013, Wertheimer opened his latest park in the Arab city of Nazareth. The seventh park – the first to be built outside of Israel – has been active since 2005 in Gebze, Turkey, near Istanbul. It is a joint venture with Turkish partners. 

In 1999, he worked closely with Palestinians, who wished to emulate his successful model. The Israeli and Palestinian governments approved this initiative, which would have stimulated the Palestinian economy. The idea was to create twin industrial parks—one Palestinian, the other Israeli—on either side of the border. These parks were expected, ultimately, to enjoy the benefits of a free trade zone. The second Intifada, however, prevented its construction.

All of his parks are designed to promote export and to ensure a better quality of life. To encourage a new generation of entrepreneurs, they include incubator facilities for start-up firms. They also offer cultural facilities, schools, and aesthetic landscapes. In addition, Wertheimer has built designed communities near several of the parks. 

Ordination Class of 2013

Eli Levin grew up in a secular-Zionist Israeli home where learned the values of peace, equality, charity, and justice at an early age. Following completion of his high school studies, he served in the IDF as an instructor to officers and afterwards served in a select unit. He completed his reserve duty ten years ago at the rank of Major.  Following his IDF service, Eli began studying medicine, graduating dental school at Tel Aviv University in 1989.

In 1999, during a family trip to Wales, Eli visited a Reform synagogue for the first time. The combination of innovation along with traditional prayer, poetry, and theological discussions, the egalitarian service, and the warm Shabbat welcome were spiritually uplifting for him and served as a turning point in his life. That same year, he met with Rabbi Prof. Yehoyada Amir, out of a sense of determination to be part of the Jewish leadership, ready to commit to an open, multi-faceted Judaism. At the end of 1999, he joined the Natan-Ya Congregation. Since then, he has served as chazzan and prayer leader at the Reform synagogue in the Ramat Poleg neighborhood where he lives. 

At the same time, he began studying at Tel Aviv University, where he completed his B.A. and M.A. in Jewish History, with distinction, while also studying "Judaism as a Culture" at the Tmura Institute, where he was ordained as a Secular Rabbi. In the course of the last year, he has served as a student rabbi at the Darchei Noam Congregation in Ramat HaSharon.

Ayala Ronen Samuels was born and raised on Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee. As a graduate of the “Shomer Hatzair” movement, she had the benefit of a Zionist education that sanctifies the search for inner truth, social action and tikkun olam.  These basic values have been her moral compass ever since.

Ayala graduated from Haifa University with a B.A. in Jewish Thought and Psychology (with a Teaching Certificate), and then completed a Ph.D. in Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. During her years in New York, Ayala was introduced to American Judaism and the challenges it faces, and learned to appreciate its cultural, social, and spiritual creativity.

Ayala’s experience as a formal and informal Jewish educator includes 10 years at Oranim Teachers' College and various educational leadership training and curriculum development programs. She has also taught in informal Jewish education programs such as batei-midrash, "Rosh Hodesh" women's groups, preparing for conversion, and others. 

Ayala was the founding director of an innovative community program called “Olamot – Jewish Israeli Identity” in Upper Nazareth.  There, she recognized the significant potential of Jewish culture as a bonding and community-building force. In that setting, Ayala learned to identify and nurture local leadership in order to promote social change.  Her work at Olamot is what brought her to rabbinical studies at HUC-JIR.

Ayala initiated, founded, and is leading a new Reform congregation in Caesarea, “Tfilat HaAdam.” She seeks to make this congregation a driving force for personal and communal change in Caesarea and in the broader Israel society. 

Nicolas (Nico) Socolovsky was born in 1982 in Buenos Aires, where he grew up and was educated. He as an active member of Netzer Argentina, starting out as a 'chanich' in the youth movement and advancing  to become director in Buenos Aires and later in Nahariya and in Haifa.  Nico initiated the zedakah group "Ani VeAta," which led social activities in remote rural communities in Argentina. He also initiated the program for training graduates of Netzer Argentina - "Derech." At the end of 2002 Nico made aliyah. He studied at a kibbutz ulpan and then received his B.A. in Education and Jewish Thought and his M.A. in Jewish Thought at Haifa University.

In the course of his studies Nico taught in the immigrants' preparatory program at Haifa University, in the "Neta" program which offers social and technological education in the periphery, and in the "Bar-Mitzvah for the special needs child" program at a school for children with behavioral issues. At the same time he also directed congregation Moriah in Haifa. 

In 2010 Nico initiated the "Shchuniya," a home for Jewish continuity in Haifa, out of the belief that Jewish life should be created where life is. The "Shchuniya" wished to become an organic part of the life of the Hadar neighborhood in Haifa. At the Shchuniya, Nico was initiator, rabbi, music director, and fundraiser.  During the same years he also worked for Rabbis for Human Rights, directing the center for rights in Chadera.  Nico completed his last year of studies at HUC-JIR's New York campus.

Nico's rabbinical thesis ’From thence we ask', Conversation and Rethinking about Jewish and Universal Values" discusses a succession of theological values.  Nico wishes to interpret and to make available these values for the readers who are part of the wide and diverse population often referred to as 'Israeli secular.'   He sees his rabbinical thesis as deeply related to his work at the Shchuniya, and explains that both are the continuation of an Argentinean 18-year-old youth's dream to be a 'madrich' all his life.

Josh Weinberg grew up in the Reform Movement and is an alumnus of OSRUI summer camp and NFTY.  Originally from Chicago, he has a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in Hebrew Literature, Political Science, and International Relations, and studied Jewish Education at the Hebrew University.  He made aliyah in 2003 and has built a career as a Jewish educator and rabbi in Israel.   He has taught Jewish History and coordinated the Jewish Studies programs for NFTY’s High School in Israel (EIE) and "Kivunim" gap-year programs, and has led numerous tours and trained tour educators for the Reform Movement’s teen tours.   He has hiked 'Shvil Yisrael' and is a reserve Lt. in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.  For the past two years, he has served as the Director of the Israel Program for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.  In addition to being a 'STorahtelling' “mayven,” Josh has recently relocated to New York to serve as the president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) where he aspires to bridge the gap between Israel and the Diaspora communities of the United States.  

Mezorim Program Graduates: 

Evgenia Berezhnoy made aliyah from the Ukraine in 1990. She is a graduate of the nursing school of Bikur Cholim Hospital in Jerusalem and works at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem as the head nurse of the Allergy Clinic and as assistant head nurse in the Internal Medicine Clinics.

Hany Cohen is a social worker and director of the Division for the Advancement of Youth in the Jerusalem Municipality. Her professional orientation is therapeutic-educational-spiritual. She sees spiritual counseling from the place where the good in people meets with their search for inner peace. 

Joseph Cohen was born born in Afghanistan, made aliyah at age 4, and grew up in immigrant transit camps. He is a graduate of the Teachers' Seminary at Sde Boker in the Negev and worked as a teacher and educator in development towns. He has a B.A. in Educational Counseling from the Hebrew University and works in the Division for the Advancement of Youth in the Jerusalem Municipality.

Ruth Flesh studied teaching at the David Yellin Teachers' College. She also completed her studies at the School of Social Work at the Hebrew University and was certified to work as a group therapist and psychotherapist at the Israeli Institute for Psychoanalysis. Ruth was the director of Social Services at the B'nai Brith live-in facility for children with severe emotional disorders. She created and developed the therapeutic services for children and their families and counseled the staff there. She works as a clinical psychotherapist in the private services of B'nai Brith.

Lea Fried worked for 35 years as a high school teacher of literature and history. She volunteers in the Oncology Department of Sheba Hospital at Tel HaShomer. In the course of her work there, she encountered people who are desperately in need spiritual help in order to deal with their difficult illness, which inspired her to participate in the Mezorim Program. 

Rabbi Talia Goshen earned her B.A. (with distinction) in Media Production from Northumbria University, England in 1990. She is a film and TV producer and founder and owner of one of the first documentary film and TV editing studios in the heart of Tel Aviv called "Ulpanei Edit Televisia" (editstudios.com). Talia is also a doula (birthing coach). In 2008, she was ordained as a secular rabbi by "Tmura" – the academic institute for ordaining secular rabbis in Israel. She teaches Judaic Studies, conducts life cycle ceremonies, and does spiritual counseling.

Deana Henig is a shiatsu practitioner and works in special education. She treats oncology patients with shiatsu, as well as parents of children with special needs who are coping with the difficulties in their child's life.

Gil Pinchassi is a retiree from the Prime Minister's Office. He has an M.A. in Political Science. He is a social activist and entrepreneur, facilitates groups, is a mediator, an actor, a member of the board of the NGO for disabled people "Beit HaGalgalim,"and volunteers at the NGO "Pa'amonim" (which helps people get out of and avoid financial crises). He directed the "Tehuda"program at the beit midrash "Kolot" and the HUC-JIR program "Tnufa" for young social entrepreneurs. He also manages the program "Mifras Patuach," an entrepreneurial incubator for school principals. He is a recipient of The President's Volunteer Award, as well as The Israel Security Prize.

Roni Sever has a B.A. in Philosophy and Jewish History. She worked at the Jerusalem Municipality as a community worker, created and managed two women's clubs, was responsible for a volunteer program in Jerusalem, and supervises youngsters in the 'personal responsibility' program of the Ministry of Education. She participated in the writing of a guide book on the subject. 

Dorit Shippin has been living for 30 years in the Arab-Jewish village of "Neve Shalom" (Oasis of Peace), where she established and managed its pluralistic spiritual center from 2000 to 2010.  Until three years ago, her job at "Neve Shalom" was representing the village in Israel and the world. She trained as a yoga teacher in the early 1980s and since then has been a yoga teacher. As of 2000, she has been teaching and practicing Buddhist meditation, inspired by the Vietnamese Zen teacher, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. In the last few years, she has been studying therapeutic yoga.

Dr. Vered Yahalom, M.D. is an internist with a specialization in hematology and transfusion medicine. She is the deputy director of Blood Services at Magen David Adom. She facilitates groups for women's empowerment, which she initiated and founded. She is a member of the Yozma Congregation in Modi'in and is a graduate of the HUC-JIR "Sugiyot Chayim" program.

Sharona Yekutiel has a B.A. in Education and Judaic Studies and an M.A. in Organizational Management from the Hebrew University. She is the director of "Keren B'Kavod," a fund of the Reform Movement for social responsibility. 

Rabbi Or Zohar is the rabbi of the Ma'alot Tivon Congregation and the founder and formerly the rabbi of Kehilat HaLev Congregation in Tel Aviv. He is a musical ba'al tefila (prayer leader), a Judaism and Kabbalah teacher, a radio broadcaster of the program "Mahut HaChayim" (the meaning of life), a re-birthing and breathing awareness therapist, and conducts life cycle ceremonies throughout the country. 

Sugiyot Chaim Graduates: 

Adi Apel-Tal has an M.A. in Jewish Pluralistic Education from HUC-JIR and the Melton Centre of the Hebrew University. She works in the Education Division of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, responsible for developing content and training educators. Her work also includes writing study programs in the spirit of the Reform Movement for the Ministry of Education, the Community and Leisure Network, and schools and congregations affiliated with the Movement. She coordinates and leads sessions at batei midrash, enrichment programs for rabbis, teachers, and educators in formal and informal educational frameworks.

Yehudit Bar-Dor has an MA in Social Work and has worked for 45 years in the area of mental health. She was a mental health officer in the IDF, where she established and commanded over the regional mental health clinic. She also headed the Social Workers Unit in the Psychiatry Department at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. She taught and coordinated the practical training at the School of Social Work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Orit Bibi is an 'alumnus' of the youth movement "Machanot HaOlim," served in the Nahal Brigade in the IDF, and was a member of a kibbutz for 16 years. She studied at Oranim College of the University of Haifa and at Machon Schechter of the Conservative Movement in Jerusalem. She studies and teaches Torah. Orit works as a teacher, educator, and lecturer in various fields of Judaism and in various frameworks.

Uriel Dinar is a retiree of the Meteorological Service. He came to "Sugiyot Chayim" because of his attraction to Talmud and his curiosity about the possibility of combining it with psychology and various methods of treatment.

Ofra Feffer is a registered nurse, works in the Hematology and Oncology Departments, and has a specialization in bone marrow transplants. She has an M.A. and works in spiritual care and counseling.

Chagit Fuchs is anurse and clinical counselor for nurses in the field of nursing, as well as an advisor on the internet forum for nursing counseling. She has been studying for the past 10 years in various batei midrash. She has an M.A. in Hebrew Literature, with an emphasis on creative writing. During the coming year, she will be continuing her studies at the graduate level of the "Sugiyot Chayim" program, as well as intensively studying in the "Women's Leadership" program of the beit midrash of "Matan" in Ra'anana, in addition to studying for a Teachers' Certificate.

Annie Kurland made aliyah from France in 1982, and works in education at the Jewish Agency for Israel and at the Ministry of Education. She studied theater and teaches Jewish Studies using drama. She completed her M.A. in the Jewish Pluralistic Education program of HUC-JIR and the Melton Centre of Hebrew University. Annie was awarded a prize for initiatives in education called "Mikra-Drama-Teaching the Weekly Torah Portion Using Drama". She volunteers at Magen David Adom. 

Ayala Mazeh grew up in a workers' cooperative settlement. The basic concepts of the world of her grandparents and parents, such as, the various 'aliyot' to Israel, the British-established Jewish Brigade, and education, filled her with the values related to the process of fulfilling the Zionist dream. In other academic contexts, the evolving Israeli society and its complexities was a subject of interest and observation for her. Lately, she has been going through a process of getting to know the Jewish sources as an additional anchor in her life and work.  

Orna Goldberg Syrkin teaches Israeli Culture and Talmud in a high school and facilitates groups studying Torah at the moshav where she lives. She enjoys studying and teaching Talmud.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to 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 American Jewish Archives, 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. www.huc.edu