Reflections from Our Students in Israel - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Reflections from Our Students in Israel

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

HUC-JIR students stand with Israel


HUC-JIR’s 36 first-year rabbinical, cantorial, and education students and 11 Cantorial Certification students began their Orientation in Jerusalem just as the Gaza rocket offensive was launched.  As they embark on their studies in Israel, students offer personal reflections on their experiences to date.

Rabbinical student Zachary Goodman: “Nearly 40% of the Israeli population has at one time in the past week had to take cover during an air raid Red Alert. Imagine if 40% of America, or any other country in the world for that matter, was under this sort of terrorist threat…. Here lies the question of what is the correct response? Why is it so necessary to have a “proportional response”? What exactly is this illusive proportional response? Why would one of the most militarily advanced nations in the world not respond with the best means necessary in our arsenal? It’s not a fair fight by any means. Israel could wipe out Hamas in a matter of minutes, but doesn’t because more innocents would die in the process. I am amazed at Israel’s restraint and Hamas’ recklessness. As Hamas fires rockets at the Israeli civilian population, they hide behind their own civilians…I want to stress that I am safe, I do not feel like I am in harm’s way, I am staying informed on what is going on around me, and I know what to do if there is another Red Alert in Jerusalem. Although I wish my classmates and I did not have to go through this experience, it is a true taste of the Israeli reality. I have taken on the mindset of the Israeli people. Life must go on. These terrorists mean to terrorize our society. We will not let them win. I pray for peace and safety to return to every living innocent soul that is caught in this conflict. I pray that the voices of rationality and decency speak louder and clearer than the voices of extremism and hatred. I pray for a quiet night in the State of Israel and wish everyone a very literal Shabbat Shalom.” [Born and raised in Dallas, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was active in Texas for Israel and Israel Block Party organizations; and worked at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas.]

Rabbinical student Bryan Zive: “This week was orientation. We got to know our class, went through amazing limmudim (learning sessions), and even took a couple of field trips and strolls around Jerusalem. We went to Ramat Rachel, which was a summer palace for the kings of Judah. Dr. David Ilan pointed out some fascinating aspects of the area and the geographical history of Jerusalem…Shabbat was absolutely glorious here.  The city shuts down around 5 pm.  The noise from the roads ceases.  The smells from the people’s homes are indescribable.  There is a completely different feel.  It’s a peace that…is difficult to obtain in the U.S. Friday evening, Melyssa and I joined our classmates at Kol HaNeshamah, the big Reform synagogue in Jerusalem.  It was a beautiful service…completely in Hebrew…and full of song that brought the true meaning of Shabbat community to live. The walk home was peaceful…spiritual…thought provoking…inspiring. We are grateful for being here…for these experiences…for learning new things, living a new life, praying with fellow Jews, and for adding new chapters to our story…

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting outside in a large shopping and entertainment plaza, enjoying a beer with your wife and a good friend from camp, now a rabbi in Connecticut. Your wife is sitting back at the table while your friend and you go to the bar to get drinks. All of the sudden, your worst fear comes air raid siren that you only see on the news or in movies begins to sound in a loud, piercing tone. All of the people you see sitting run to the left under the big stone overhang, which seemed to be the safest place to be. What would you do? If you had 90 seconds...what would you do? How would you react?...We heard two explosions, which is as good of news as we could have hoped for (1 boom means the rocket landed...1 boom, followed by a second boom 5 seconds or so later means the Iron Dome defense system shot and then hit the incoming rocket). Five minutes later, the concert was back on, and we enjoyed our beers (albeit a bit on edge). We have experienced code red sirens three times now. The truth is, we know what to do and feel safe. It's not what anyone would hope for. But, we feel safe.” [Born and raised in Los Angeles and recently living in Denver, Bryan Zive graduated from Ohio State University; served as the cantorial soloist at Temple Sinai in Denver, Music Director of Temple Israel in  Columbus, and Head Songleader at URJ Camp Newman-Swig and Goldman Union Camp Institute; volunteered as the 20s and 30s liaison for AIPAC in the Rocky Mountain Region; and is spending his Year-In-Israel with his wife Melyssa.]   

Rabbinical student Robert Friedman: “Luckily for us in Jerusalem, we have 90 seconds to find shelter before the rockets hit. I say "luckily" because down south, the amount of time is 15 seconds to find a shelter. As all Israelis have had way too much practice and experience with these procedures, they are able to find shelter immediately. However, the precision with which they do this is not the impressive part. The impressive part is that, even with the constant fear of hearing the sirens and needing to find cover, they are still able to go about their daily lives. Cars are still driven, dogs are still walked, restaurants stay open and busy, and life proceeds. You see, while the rockets can indeed do physical damage, it is the potential mental and psychological damage that they can do which can be most effective. Israelis know this, and in the face of all this danger, to spite the terrorists they continue with their daily lives. They do not let fear take over and they will not let it stop them from doing that which is necessary in life. This is the resiliency of Israel and this is why, over hundreds of years of adversity, Jews have always survived and persevered.”  [Born and raised in Cincinnati, Robert Friedman grew up at Isaac M. Wise Temple; is a product of the URJ’s Goldman Union Camp Institute and NFTY’s Ohio Valley Region; graduated from Vanderbilt University, where he was a Hillel leader; taught at Congregation Ohabai Sholom in Nashville (‘The Temple’) and Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York; interned at Cincinnati’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education and at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life; and has an M.A. from JTS.]

Rabbinical student Alicia Harris: “I've attended some really incredible lectures over the last week on subjects that varied from Abraham Joshua Heshel's views on prayer and song, a Shalom Hartman Institute panel on the future of North American Judaism with keynote address by the new President of HUC-JIR, Rabbi Aaron Panken, and yesterday a lecture by Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers, who raised excellent points about being a diaspora Jew and how we and Israeli Jews should approach one-another. I have learned that my idealistic viewpoint as a Western (diaspora) Liberal Jew that “everyone should just sit down at a table and work this out and stop fighting” is naïve. Yossi Klein Halevi expressed a thought that I found really interesting. He said something along the lines of expecting more shame about the situation from the Orthodox world and less shame from the Liberal world.  That right wing Jews should attempt to identify more with the Palestinians and left wing Jews should be more concerned with identifying with Israel…What worries me even more than what's going on here in Israel on both sides, is the anti-Semitic nature of the demonstrations around the world. In the last two days, 700 people were killed in Syria, yet activists aren't calling for #freesyria and staging "die-ins" in front of Syrian embassies. Around the world, in places which used to be safe for Jews to practice freely, more and more large gatherings against Jews and Israel have formed. There was basically a pogrom in Paris this past week, as hundreds of Jews were trapped in a synagogue by Hamas supporters.  Now, French Jews are fleeing as stores are looted and fires started in Jewish owned buildings and schools by these groups. In London, Boston, and New York, people are demonstrating en mass, chanting hate speech such as "death to Jews" "gas the Jews." Notably, the slogans aren't about "death to Israelis." The anti-Israel groups are growing more and more anti-Semitic. I feel, it is my responsibility as an American Jew to stand up for Judaism. We've gone through this before. It is in recent history that this kind of hate led to the extermination of 6 million Jewish people…I do not think it's acceptable to be quiet about the hatred of Jews stemming from propaganda and social media.”    [Alicia Harris grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where she began teaching religious school shortly after her bat mitzvah. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where she served on the Hillel board, and also studied in Buenos Aires. She served as the Executive Assistant to the Senior Rabbi at Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh.] 

Rabbinical student Avi Fine: “Most of the classes we take over the summer are Hebrew.  Interspersed in the afternoons and on Wednesday and Thursday is Biblical History, which consists of both lectures and field trips. Biblical history is starting in the very beginning, looking at Genesis, but also looking at what we know about that time period and the other cultures/peoples that were living in this land.  We started out learning a lot of the geography and topography of the land of Israel and then talking about what history is. We discussed the documentary hypothesis, the idea that the Tanakh was written by multiple authors in different times with different agendas.  We looked the parallels between the development of the Israelite culture and what was happening in the other cultures in the area.  The name for God of “El” or “Elohim” is almost identical to the El who was a god in canaanite culture.  Starting in the “time” of Abraham, we looked at archeological findings to either prove or refute what is written in the Torah.  Using archeological findings gives new light to events in the Torah.  For example the tower of Babel (or Bavel), can be linguistically broken into baab and el- meaning gate of the God(s).  Around that time, ziggurats were constructed as massive temples to the gods.  It is possible that the tower of Babel was a ziggurat…One image that I saw online and that an Israeli posted about sticks in my mind.  As this person was driving home from a night out, driving in the other direction were columns of trucks carrying tanks.  It was clear they were heading toward Gaza.  Here she was living her life, while this huge line of tanks, and with them people putting their lives at risk was heading to fight.  A very Israeli moment and a very daunting one.” [Born in Cincinnati and raised in Seattle, Avi Fine graduated from Carleton College; was involved with URJ Camp Kalsman and the NFTY NW region; and was a preschool teacher at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle and worked for NFTY E.I.E. in Israel.]  

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.