Golden Family Hanassi Fellows Link Israeli and North American Jewry

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

“It is one thing to talk about the relationship between Israel and North America.  It is another to do something about that relationship,” says Rabbi Michael Marmur, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost at HUC-JIR.

Rising to the challenge is the Golden Family Hanassi Fellows Program, now in its second year, which is designed to forge stronger links of commitment and identification between North American Reform Jews and congregations and the people and State of Israel. 

Established by Suzanne and John Golden, Co-Chair of the HUC-JIR Board of Governors Israel Committee, and the Golden Family Foundation, this innovative five-year program links HUC-JIR/Jerusalem’s Israel Rabbinical Program and North American communities by placing Israeli rabbinical students and recently ordained Israeli rabbis in Reform congregations for a residency that is mentored by leading North American Reform rabbis.  The Program has placed two Israeli rabbinical students per cohort each year.

“As we move farther away from generations with shared experiences, Israeli and American Jews need to understand more about each other,” states John Golden. “HUC-JIR has done a wonderful job of bringing North American and other non-Israeli Reform Jews to study and absorb Israeli life experiences through our Year-In-Israel Program.  We are pleased that the Hanassi Fellowships will serve as a bridge in the other direction, so that Israeli rabbinical students at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem can be more deeply exposed to Reform Jewry in North America.”

By leading services, teaching in congregational education programs across all generations, participating in pastoral care, and serving as ambassadors of Israeli life, culture, and politics, the Hanassi Fellows develop a deeper understanding the ongoing process of Jewish identity formation and affiliation within the North American Reform Movement.

Upon their return to Israel, the Hanassi Fellows are better able to engage Israelis who are seeking spiritual meaning in a society polarized between ultra-orthodox and secular approaches to religious life.

Rabbi Jonathan Blake and Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY are welcoming Israeli Rabbi Myra Hovav and Rabbi Shira Milgrom. Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, NY is welcoming Israeli rabbinical student Efrat Rotem, in the second cohort of the Program. 

At the same time, the two Israeli rabbinical students in the first cohort will be returning for their second year: Tamara Shifrin to Temple Sinai of Roslyn, NY, led by Senior Rabbi Michael White, and and Michal Ratner Ken Tor to Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ, led by Senior Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz.

Following their residencies, the Hanassi Fellows will continue to be mentored by their North American clergy hosts through on-line meetings.

Meet the Golden Family Hanassi Fellows – Cohort Two:

Efrat Rotem is a fourth-year rabbinical student in the Israel Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, student Rabbi at Kehilat Halev, a Reform congregation in the heart of Tel Aviv, and an LGBT and feminist activist.   She holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Tel Aviv University, and has worked for many years as a translator and editor.  “I grew up in the suburban town of Ra’anana, in a secular family, and found my way to the inclusive and egalitarian Reform Judaism as part of my journey into my Jewish identity, through which I discovered my passion for learning and teaching,” Rotem explains.


Rabbi Myra Hovav, ordained at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem in 2010, is the first rabbi of Kehillat Yuval in Gedera, a young and fast-growing Reform congregation that she established four years ago. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Linguistics from the Department of English in Hebrew University and an M.A. degree in Jewish Studies from the Schechter Institute.  Raised in a secular environment, but in a home that treasured the Jewish tradition, she found her way to the Reform community – first as an active lay member and later in professional positions in diverse fields:  early childhood education, leading musical services, b’nai mitzvah programs, training musicians, working with people with special needs, and other programs.  “My goal is to open the doors of the liberal Jewish world to secular Israeli families and to integrate modern Israeli culture into Jewish traditional life.  I see music as a central aspect of Jewish life and have developed various projects which integrate Israeli music from various traditions into Jewish liturgy,” she says. Her newest project is "pitchu et ha-sha'ar" - a musical duo with composer Ariel Lazarus that gave concerts at many Israeli Reform congregations during the High Holy Days. Read her report during the Israel-Gaza conflict >

Meet the Golden Family Hanassi Fellows – Cohort One:

Michal Ratner Ken Tor, a third-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, is heading a new community in the Megiddo Regional Council as part of her work for the Israel Reform Movement.  Born at Kibbutz Geva and raised on Moshav Kfar Yehezkel in the Jezreel Valley, her Zionist family made aliyah in 1968 from the U.S.  After her military service as an officer, Michal attended Bar Ilan University, where she studied Political Science and Communications. She continued her education in Jewish Studies at the Schechter Institute, where she received her M.A.  A multi-talented educator for over twenty years, her informal education work includes leading youth groups, discussion groups, and coexistence groups, teaching in Batei Midrash for adults and youth groups, leading mother and daughter groups, and more. Her formal educational work includes teaching and training courses for schools, colleges, and teacher-training institutions.  Most recently, Michal has been responsible for developing curricular programs on subjects such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Social Justice, and the various streams of Judaism.  “The Judaism I wish to teach is respectful, creative, deep, and meaningful.  We should understand the sources that define our identity, and evaluate, criticize, and embrace the spirit of Judaism as a creative force in our lives,” she states.

Tamara Shifrin is rabbinical student in HUC-JIR's Israel Rabbinical Program and an M.A. student in Talmud at Bar Ilan University, where she completed her B.A. in Social Science. For most of her professional life she worked as a computer programmer and in systems design for relatively large systems and founded a pluralistic school in Kiryat Ono. Her first encounter with liberal Judaism was as a teen visitor to the U.S. with Bnai Brith Youth Organization. “Jewish studies and large computer systems share similar traits.  Both are supposed to be based on logic, both constantly test boundaries, and both have to cope with change while keeping going. I hope to guide more Israelis to be able to enjoy the logic within the rules, to ask questions, and to find the place to pray that I have discovered,” she notes.

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 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 Jacob Rader Marcus Center of 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.