Year-In-Israel Program Welcomes New First-Year Students

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

HUC-JIR’s new class of first-year students launched their Year-In-Israel Program (YII) studies at the Jerusalem Campus during Orientation on July 6-11, 2015. 

“We are delighted to welcome our new YII students, who are now beginning their academic journey in Jerusalem, where they are surrounded by biblical and contemporary Israel, as they immerse themselves in Hebrew language and text studies and get to know the land, culture, and people of Israel,” stated Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., HUC-JIR President.  “As they explore the rich and complex diversity of Jewish ethnic and religious identities, music, worship, ritual, and spirituality that have evolved across centuries and continents here, they are introduced to the intellectual, cultural, religious, and political leaders of Israeli society and define their role in the complex search for solidarity and mutual responsibility among Jews living in both Israel and the Diaspora.  They forge relationships with Israeli peers leading the Reform congregations, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations shaping a pluralistic state.”

HUC-JIR is the academic leader in placing Israel at the center of Jewish studies:  the first seminary to inaugurate the required YII Program for all rabbinical and cantorial students and the first institution to require the YII for full-time students in our M.A. in Jewish Education/Religious Education programs. During Orientation, the students became acquainted with each other, and met with the Jerusalem faculty and administration.  They learned about the academic opportunities and requirements of HUC-JIR as a whole, as well as those of the Jerusalem campus and participated  in experiential programming to discover more of Jerusalem.

Highlights of Orientation included a welcome reception on July 6, which concluded with “From Zion Comes Forth Torah,” a ceremony atop Mt. Zion, a short walk from the Jerusalem campus. Students learned about our modern and ancient connection to Mt. Zion and then, led by President Panken, passed the Torah to each other in a ceremony of community.

On Tuesday, July 7, Rabbi Don Goor and Cantor Tamar Havilio led services at the Murstein Synagogue, and Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, gave the D’var Torah. Students were introduced to Zohara Pardes Feinstein, Summer Ulpan Coodinator and Hebrew and Rabbinic Text Study Teacher.

"Our entering class is already building deep connections to each other, and to Jerusalem," remarked Rabbi Kelman. "Our interns have helped create a sense if joy and community. With nine cantorial students and a number of very talented rabbinical students their singing at tefillah is totally uplifting! I am looking forward to getting to know this collection of great individuals."

Rabbi Panken welcomed students to HUC-JIR over breakfast at his apartment. Later that day, students participated in the reflective session, “Who Am I?” Following lunch, key note speaker Yossi Klein Halevy, Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, led the discussion, “How to Frame Your Year in Israel.” That evening, Rabbi Michael Marmur, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost, shared the Mandel Statement of Visionary Leadership with the new class.

On Wednesday, July 8, Dr. David Mendelsson, Director, YII Program, provided an overview of the program. Dr. Mendelsson and Nancy Lewitt, Head of Student Life for the YII Program, led a Q+A with the incoming class. Later, students participated in Limmud with Rabbi David Levine, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Talmud and Halacha, who discussed “From Ancient Israel to Early Judaism: Temple and Torah.” They reviewed general observations and study texts regarding the century following the Babylonian exile and evaluated them as historical sources. The day concluded with walks through different Jerusalem neighborhoods with members of the HUC-JIR faculty and administration.

Current HUC-JIR students Shanna Zell and Michael Shefrin, who served as YII Orientation Interns, led morning tefillah and the Torah service on Thursday, July 9. The Alumni Council distributed Tikkun gifts to all of the new students.   Students then met with Dr. Mendelsson and Jeremy Leigh, Head of Israel Studies, for “Interacting with Israel,” where they left the campus and explored parts of the city.  The day concluded with a session of reflectionand discussion with students about “Expectations, Visions, and Values for our YII Program: Creating a Covenant” The session was led by YII staff and summer interns. 

On Friday evening, July 10, Rabbi Haim Shalom, Assistant Director of Recruitment and Admissions, led a pre-Kabbalat Shabbat study session. The session looked at different classical Jewish texts around journeys and used them to explore some of the ways in which the students’ journey to Israel can prepare them for Jewish leadership. YII Interns Zell and Shefrin led Kabbalat Shabbat service, and Rabbi Marmur presented the D’var Torah. Following services, students, faculty, staff, and significant others gathered together for dinner in the courtyard. Shabbat concluded with a meaningful closing ceremony and Havdallah led by the YII Interns.

"I was impressed by the amount of time that was dedicated to getting to know one another and developing a covenant for our community," reflected a YII student. "It is important for us to develop shared vision, expectations, and commitments as a community." Another student added, "Orientation was a great way to meet students and faculty while simultaneously learning about the program and our surroundings. By the end of the week, I was not only prepared to start classes, but I could not wait to build deeper relationships with both my cohort and my professors." 

Students invite you to read their blogs and follow their journeys in the YII Program:


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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.