Perspectives from an Israeli Alumna of the New York School of Education

Monday, December 8, 2014

By Rabbi Chen Ben-Or Tsfoni

Between the years 2006-2008 I studied at the New York School of Education HUC-JIR. During these two years I took a break from my rabbinic studies in Jerusalem and arrived in New York with my family of three children and my husband. My children attended the Heschel School and I divided my time between my family, taking classes at HUC and an internship at Bnai Jeshrun.  These were intense years as well formative ones.  For someone who grew up in Israel, it was a great transition from thinking that Jewish education was only framed in a religious setting and my challenge was to better understand Liberal Judaism possible in Israel culture.

In the early years of establishment of the Israeli state, there was a great effort to integrate the varying sects of Judaism into one melting pot.  The naïve idea of Ben Gurion was that there would be no need for the various religious identities because a strong Israeli identity would replace it.  Religion was perceived as a need of the diaspora. When I was a child in school, there was a deep reference to holidays, bible studies, Hebrew language and more, but all of this was presented in a cultural frame and not a religious or spiritual one. When I was introduced to the different perspective of Jewish education through my studies at HUC and through my children’s Jewish education, I was exposed to a very different world of thinking about Jewish learning.  I began to understand that Jewish learning is a life time process and not just a children’s endeavor, in addition to being a community life-cycle.

The concept of wrestling as a spiritual component of Jewish education and the effort to strengthen and deepen Jewish identity challenged all my assumptions and prior experience until this moment in time. The years that I studied at HUC, observing my children in Heschel, and their summer camp experience, changed my entire approach towards the purpose of Jewish education and primarily the need for an ongoing and deep application of Jewish values in every aspect of our lives.

Today in my role as a community rabbi, I understand that all my work is “Jewish education”. The spiritual component, the studying, the rituals, the prayers, Tikkun Olam are all critical pieces of the bigger picture of Jewish education. The work is never-ending and we are called to find meaningful ways to apply the knowledge into our daily lives. We need to address the questions, and to walk the path on a journey through life.

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה

“Lo alecha hamelacha l’gmore, v’lo ata ben chorin l’hevatel memena” (Pirkei Avot 2:16)

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.