Update from Dr. David Mendelsson, Director, Year-In-Israel Program, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dr. David Mendelsson, Director, Year-In-Israel Program, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem

Dear Friends,

We are coming to the end of our third week of programming for our Year-In-Israel students and our Cantorial Certification program. Students are working very hard in the Hebrew intensive ulpan, are enjoying a Biblical history class that this week took them to the Israel Museum and are getting themselves orientated to Jerusalem. They are a wonderful group who are really committed to learning and also know how to have a good time.

The student experience has been impacted by the events that are focused down south on the border with the Gaza strip. We have had several rocket attacks in the vicinity of Jerusalem but they have landed outside of the city, mainly in the Palestinian territories. When the first siren went off our President, Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., was with us and his presence was much appreciated. Our last experience was some ten days ago when many of the students were at the College-Institute. Students followed the instructions of the Home-front Command and the college guidelines.   

It is a very challenging time in Israel at the moment, although thankfully life in Jerusalem goes on almost exactly as usual. Israeli students and staff of the college have relatives who are directly involved in the operation in Gaza, and our thoughts are naturally with them, and with all who are paying a price in the current hostilities. The fact that our students, in the Year in Israel program and in the Cantorial Certification program, are responding with such maturity to the situation is a great testament to them. 

We are following events very closely. The college is connected to the Jewish Agency which provides updates on the security situation. They also put out advisories and we follow their instructions. We have a team of our own who monitor the situation regularly and we also update students on both security and geo-political developments.  It goes without saying that the well - being of the students is a high priority for us. They are coping very well and we are very proud of them. 

The day before yesterday a number of airlines decided to suspend their flights in and out of Tel Aviv. This decision seems to have been directly triggered by the fact that a missile landed some three miles from Ben Gurion Airport, among the many missiles which have been fired into Israel in recent days. It is important to point out that thankfully there have been very few injuries from these missile attacks. Nonetheless, the FAA and several airlines decided to withhold flights until the situation stabilizes. Israeli and some other carriers are making every effort to pick up the slack wherever possible. As I write these lines the FAA has rescinded its directive and flights are being resumed. We are heartened that a number of high-level solidarity visits are planned in the coming days which include a delegation of Reform rabbis and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism. We are scheduling meetings with them.

How long will the situation last? No-one can tell for sure, of course, but it is possible that in the course of the next week or so the framework for a ceasefire agreement will emerge. It remains to be seen what that agreement will look like, and how long it will hold. Israel has made it a high priority to limit the military capability of Hamas, and to destroy as much as it can of their offensive tunnels which reach across the border into Israel.

The coming months are likely to be painful and fascinating. Painful – because the impact of loss and destruction will become clear, and fascinating because it may be that some window of change in the region can be opened up, as the bombs and bullets give way to diplomacy. Our students find themselves here at a significant and important time. We will work with them to provide support, security, and opportunities for learning, just as we go through this experience together.

With every hope for a peaceful and quiet shabbat,

Dave Mendelsson


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