Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship Program a Milestone in Collaboration - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship Program a Milestone in Collaboration

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

New York, NY, May 27, 2008–In a first-of-its-kind partnership, the Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship Program will bring together eight outstanding rabbinical students from the Conservative and Reform Movements for three years of formal study. 

The inaugural class will be composed of four students each from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). The program is designed to create a cadre of Reform and Conservative rabbis who share a broad and dynamic vision of communal leadership of American Jewry. 

"I am excited to be part of a ground-breaking effort to train rabbinical students to better respond to the needs of interfaith families and unaffiliated Jews, to provide them with enhanced leadership and management skills, and to think outside the box to create vibrant congregations," said Lynn Schusterman, Chair and Co-Founder of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which is funding the project. "This is a great opportunity for future Reform and Conservative rabbis, as well as their seminaries, to work more closely together on issues that face the entire Jewish community." 

Beginning this fall, SR Fellows will study leadership, collaboration techniques, and key issues in American and Israeli Jewry. Through semi-annual retreats, monthly conference calls or webinars, and informal exchanges, the SR Fellows will examine management methods, define personal visions for their rabbinate, and cultivate strategies for drawing Jews who often feel marginal–including those in interfaith relationships and those not affiliated with any Jewish congregation–closer to the heart of the Jewish community. The SR Fellowship provides funds for tuition and a living stipend during the third and fourth years of the fellows' rabbinical studies, in order to give the participants more opportunity to focus on becoming rabbinical leaders of contemporary American Jewry. 

"JTS believes that collaboration across all denominations is essential to the vitality of American Judaism. The Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship Program is a terrific opportunity to break down denominational barriers and enable future rabbis to talk on the multiple levels–personal, spiritual, communal, and professional–that transcend the differences between the Reform and Conservative Movements. We are so grateful to the Schusterman Foundation for making this project possible," stated Professor Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of JTS. 

Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said, "The creation of the Schusterman Fellowship Program is one of the most exciting developments on the Jewish scene today. This program will not only allow HUC-JIR to educate leaders who will speak to the needs of Judaism in the twenty-first century in more nuanced and joyous terms. This program will also allow for an unparalleled cooperation between JTS and HUC-JIR and, in so doing, will serve to strengthen the Jewish community in America as it confronts the challenges of the present and moves toward the future." 

The program will be taught by HUC-JIR and JTS faculty and outside experts. It will be shaped by two leading institutions in North America that are training Jewish organizational leaders to have greater impact on the Jewish community, STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) and The Center for Leadership Initiatives, Inc. (CLI). STAR's expertise lies in areas including: innovation, interfaith outreach, leadership development, strategic planning, non-profit management with a focus on synagogues, and thought-leadership on the existing state of the American Jewish community and future trends. CLI's expertise is in the design and convening of gatherings that feature skills training and networking opportunities to develop collaborations and mutually supporting frameworks for leaders. 

SR Fellows include*: 

Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion:
Ethan Bair, Boston, MA
Aaron Miller, Birmingham, AL
Sara Newman, Crofton, MD
Samantha Orshan, Miami, FL 

The Jewish Theological Seminary:
Michael Mauricio Fel, Miami, FL
Jason Fruithandler, Mount Kisco, NY
Jesse M. Olitzky, North Brunswick, NJ
Deborah Zuker, Nepean, Ontario, Canada 

* Full biographical statements can be found below. 

Further information about the fellowship is available by contacting Rabbi Ellen Flax, project consultant, Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship, at (212) 665-7262

Editors/Reporters: To schedule an interview with Rabbi Flax or one or more of the Fellows, please contact Jean Bloch Rosensaft (HUC-JIR) at (212) 824-2209,, or Sherry S. Kirschenbaum (JTS) at (212) 678-8953, 

Founded in 1886 as a rabbinical school, The Jewish Theological Seminary today is the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism worldwide, encompassing a world-class library and five schools. JTS trains tomorrow's religious, educational, academic and lay leaders for the Jewish community and beyond. Visit the JTS website at

STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) helps synagogues deepen their connection with the American Jewish community. As a national thought leader, STAR bridges the chasm between the American Jewish community and the synagogue through congregational innovation and leadership development. 

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is dedicated to helping the Jewish people flourish by supporting programs throughout the world that spread the joy of Jewish living, giving and learning. The Foundation also provides assistance to non-sectarian charitable organizations dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in Oklahoma, especially in the areas of education, child advocacy and community service. 

The Center for Leadership Initiatives, Inc. (CLI) catalyzes the power and potential of individuals to lead organizations and communities to higher vision, meaning, and effectiveness. As a new private operating foundation, CLI offers programs that serve current and future leaders of the Jewish community. Through a weave of skills trainings, coaching, conferences and retreats, as well as online networks, CLI seeks to cultivate excellence, leadership and vision in the Jewish non-profit world.

Schusterman Rabbinical Fellows, 2008-2011: 

  Ethan Bair, 26, is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion/Los Angeles. Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, he received his BA from Oberlin College, where he majored in Religion, German, and Jewish studies, minored in History, and led High Holy Day services at Hillel. In 2003 he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study re-emerging German-Jewish life in Berlin. He currently serves as the student rabbi at Congregation Brith Sholem in Ogden, Utah, and teaches religious school at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. He is the co-author of Artzeinu: An Israel Encounter, a textbook to introduce Jewish youth to the richness and challenges of Israel. In his spare time, he enjoys making music, running, and writing.
  Michael Mauricio Fel, 25, a second-year student in The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary, is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami, where he majored in Political Science in the School of Business. Since starting rabbinical school, Michael has worked at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, New Jersey, where he has taught fifth-grade Hebrew/Rabbinic literature and led its high school education program. This past winter, Michael was selected as a Steinberg Fellow and co-led a National Ramah Commission delegation to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where American college students helped staff a summer camp for more than 200 Argentine Jewish campers. In March, Michael also staffed an American Jewish World Service trip to Muchucuxcah, Mexico, with eighteen teenagers from Congregation B'nai Jeshurun of New York City. This summer, he will complete his Clinical Pastoral Education rotation at Beth Israel Medical Center and serve as the program director of Camp Ramah in Nyack, New York. While his parents are from Argentina, Michael is originally from Miami, Florida. In his spare time, he enjoys biking, photography, and carpentry/woodworking.
  Jason Fruithandler, 25, is a second-year student in The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Jason is also working towards his MA in Jewish education at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. Jason is a graduate of the Joint Program of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies at JTS and Columbia University, where he earned two bachelor's degrees: one from Columbia in Sociology and the second, magna cum laude, in Talmud and Rabbinics from JTS. While at List College, Jason served as co-chair of its January 2002 Israel Solidarity mission, which brought more than 100 JTS students from its five schools to Israel. Before beginning rabbinical school, Jason served as a Segev Fellow at the Pelham Jewish Center in Westchester, New York, where he helped create a youth community, taught seventh grade, and created one-on-one learning opportunities for adults in the community. Since beginning rabbinical school, Jason has continued his relationship with the Pelham Jewish Center as youth director, sixth grade teacher, and junior congregation leader. Jason hails from Mount Kisco, New York, where he was a member of Congregation Bet Torah. In his spare time Jason enjoys reading science fiction books and cooking.
  Aaron Miller, 24, is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion/Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, Lauren. He received his BA from Brandeis University, where he majored in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and spent a semester studying abroad at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. While at Brandeis, Aaron was elected as a class senator, and was the education coordinator of BaRuCh, the Brandeis Reform Chavurah. As education coordinator, he initiated a variety of interdenominational programs, including Mesibot im Morim(Parties with Professors), which brought Brandeis Jewish Studies faculty members to dinner every month for discussions with students. He currently serves as the student rabbi at Beth Isaac Synagogue in Trenton, Michigan, and teaches kindergarten and third grade for two synagogues in Cincinnati. He grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, as a member of Temple Emanu-El. In his spare time, Aaron enjoys running and playing guitar.
  Sara Newman, 23, is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion/New York. Originally from Crofton, Maryland, she belonged to Temple Solel in Bowie, Maryland, where her parents, sister, and brother-in-law are still active members. Sara studied psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she was active in Hillel, serving on the boards of Kesher, the Reform students' group, and the pluralistic Religious Life Consortium as well as a counselor and board member for the UMD crisis hotline. After graduating in 2005, Sara studied Jewish text at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. She now lives in Brooklyn and teaches Hebrew to the fourth-grade students at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. In her free time, Sara volunteers at the International Center as an English conversation partner for new immigrants, and enjoys cooking and riding her bicycle.
  Jesse Olitzky, 24, is a second-year student at The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Jesse is a graduate of the Joint Program of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies at JTS and Columbia University, where he earned two bachelor's degrees: a BA from Columbia in Religion and a BA in Talmud from JTS. While at Columbia, Jesse was very active in Koach, the Conservative Movement's student group, Hillel programming and was a leader in the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. Since starting rabbinical school, Jesse has taught all age levels at Reform and Conservative congregations throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. International president of United Synagogue Youth in 2002, Jesse is now an active staff member, serving as a group leader on many summer programs and as a regional field worker in New Jersey. This past year, Jesse led High Holiday services and programming at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. This summer, he will serve as rabbinic intern at the Orangetown Jewish Center in Orangeburg, New York. Jesse hails from North Brunswick, New Jersey, where he was a member of Congregation B'nai Tikvah. In his spare time, Jesse enjoys playing baseball and being politically active.
  Samantha Orshan, 25, is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion/Los Angeles. She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Florida, where she majored in Political Science and minored in Religion, worked as the Weinberg Tzedek Hillel Intern, and served as president of both the Florida Israel Project and Jews in Greek Letter Organizations. She was recognized for her passionate engagement in the pro-Israel movement on campus by AIPAC's Activist of the Year Award in 2004. After graduation, she worked as the Arison Israel Program Associate for Hillel at the University of Miami and Hillel Second Generation. She currently serves as the student rabbi at Temple Shalom Congregation in Yakima, Washington, and teaches at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. She grew up at Temple Beth Am in Miami, Florida, and her strong Jewish identity was fostered by her dynamic Jewish home life, wonderful youth experiences in B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, and the warm environment of the Miami Jewish community.
  Deborah Zuker, 27, is a second-year student at The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary, where she is a Neubauer Fellow. Deborah obtained her undergraduate degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, with a Chancellor's Scholarship. She graduated with a BA in Psychology and was awarded the Medal in Psychology. While at Queen's, she was president of Hillel and also worked as a volunteer at a crisis phone line. Deborah has a master's degree in Jewish Studies from JTS and a master's in Social Work from Columbia University. Since starting rabbinical school, Deborah has served as the High Holiday Day spiritual leader for Adath Shalom Congregation in Ottawa, Ontario, and has worked as a staff advisor and parent liaison at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. Deborah is originally from Ottawa. When not in school, she enjoys yoga, running, and cooking.

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.