Jerusalem Ordination and Academic Convocation 2015 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Jerusalem Ordination and Academic Convocation 2015

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's (HUC-JIR) Jerusalem Ordination and Academic Convocation took place on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at the Blaustein Hall at Merkaz Shimshon Beit Shmuel.  HUC-JIR's Jerusalem campus is the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism in the State of Israel. It prepares the Isareli rabbis, educators, and pastoral counselors who are building religious pluralism in the Jewish State, hosts all of HUC-JIR's North American rabbinical, cantorial, and education students for their first year of study before returning stateside to the Cincinnati, Los Angeles, or New York campuses, and welcomes the larger Israeli community to educational and cultural programs. 

"This year's Academic Convocation was a perfect blending of Arts and Letters," said Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, "by recognizing James Snyder's transformative impact at the Israel Museum and David Grossman's standing as a beloved novelist, writer, and thinker. Our distinguished alumni have enriched our Reform presence in Israeli society, joined by five women determined to lead us in new and exciting directions for years to come. Together, we celebrate hope and light in these troubled times."



David Grossman (left) and James S. Snyder (right)

David Grossman, prominent Israeli author and inspirational social and political activist, was honored for his extensive literary work, derived from ancient sources and contemporary Israeli experience, which has a great influence on Israeli culture, brings Hebrew and Jewish culture to the world, and offers an engaging search of the human spirit and the challenges facing Israeli society. Read more >

James S. Snyder, Director of the Israel Museum and cultural entrepreneur, was honored for his transformation of the Israel Museum to new heights as a world-class institution through inspiring support spanning continents and generations, organizing a major renovation that has created a place of beauty and sanctity where antiquity meets contemporary expression, and welcoming unprecedented numbers of visitors from all sectors and backgrounds. Read more >



The 2015 Israel Rabbinical Program ordinees with Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D.; Rabbi Ofek Meir, Director of the Israel Rabbinical Program; Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, former Director of the Israel Rabbinical Program; and Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, Jerusalem.

Michal Ratner Ken-Tor was born in Kibbutz Geva and grew up on Moshav Kfar Yehezkel in the Jezreel Valley in a Zionist family who immigrated to Israel in 1968 from the U.S. After her military service as an officer, she attended Bar Ilan University, where she studied Political Science and Communications. She continued her education at the Schechter Institute, where she received her MA in Jewish Studies.  She is a multi-talented educator who has been engaged in the field 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, and leading mothers-and-daughters groups. Her formal educational work includes teaching and training courses for schools, colleges, and teaching training institutions. Most recently, she has been responsible for developing curricula programs on subjects such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Social Justice, and various streams of Judaism."The type of Judaism which I wish to teach is respectful, creative, deep and meaningful," says Ken-Tor. “We should not only talk about Judaism but also from within Judaism, to understand that our sources define our identity, which we evaluate, criticize, and use to embrace the spirit of Judaism, and turn it into a creative force in our lives." She is a creative and innovative Jewish leader, heading a new community in the Megiddo Regional Council as part of its work for the Israel Reform movement and teaches Talmud and Tefila at The Telem Mechina (pre-army academy) in Jaffa.

Lior Nevo grew up in the Reform Movement in Israel and is a graduate of the Movement's educational institutions and programs. Following her military service in an intelligence unit, she spent a year in Washington DC as an emissary for NFTY, Kesher,and the Jewish Agency. Upon her return, she joined the “Revivim Program –  Training of Educators of Judaic Studies,” studied at The Hebrew University, and received a B.A. in Bible and Jewish Thought and accreditation as a teacher for Jewish studies in high schools. She received her graduate degree in Pluralistic Jewish Education in a joint program of The Hebrew University and HUC-JIR/Jerusalem. During the course of her rabbinical studies, Nevo was active in the development and execution of family education programming at Kol Haneshama and Kehilat Mevaseret Zion, including events related to Shabbat, holidays, and life cycle.  She also submitted a dissertation relating to the implementation of family education programs in congregations of the Reform Movement in Israel.  Nevo believes in the importance of social and political engagement and ongoing efforts to create a more just society. During the past year, Nevo was involved in a number of efforts related to the rights of workers employed through HR firms and dedicated her major Halakhah paper on this subject.

Efrat Rotem was born in 1978 in Ra’anana to a secular family. She is the Rabbi of Kehilat Halev, a congregation in the heart of Tel Aviv that is one of the congregations of the Daniel Centers. A LGBT and feminist activist, she holds an M.A. in Literature from Tel Aviv University, and has worked for many years as a translator and editor. She found her way to inclusive and egalitarian Reform Judaism as part of a journey into her Jewish identity, through which she discovered her passion for learning and teaching. She sees the field of Jewish renewal as an exciting place for radical innovation.

Tamara Schagas was born in Argentina and immigrated to Israel in 2003. In the early 1990s, the Buenos Aires community established a branch of the Netzer (Reform Zionist Youth) movement, in which she was active and later filled various educational and leadership roles. Before making aliyah, she studied economics at the university in Buenos Aires and also studied in the pre-rabbinical program at Rabbi Marshall Meyer Rabbinical Seminar. During the same period she worked as a teacher of Jewish studies in the Reform school and was part of the professional staff of Netzer. After the economic crisis in Argentina in the early 2000s, Tamara joined the professional team of the Fundacion Judaica (the umbrella organization of Reform institutions in Argentina). Under the leadership of Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the team worked to assist thousands of families affected by the crisis. She worked for about three years with local organizations as well as with international Jewish organizations in general, and Reform bodies in particular. Upon arrival in Israel in 2003 as a new immigrant, she began to study for a B.A. in Jewish studies and education at The Hebrew University. During her studies, she worked as coordinator for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in Netzer Olami and served as the liaison for young olim (immigrants) from the Reform Movement. She also worked for seven years in the NFTY offices in Israel as an assistant and as office manager for the summer programs. After beginning her rabbinical studies at HUC-JIR, she worked as the national coordinator of the Young Adult Forum of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). She served for three years as a student-rabbi at the Atid Community in Barcelona, Spain, and worked for a year in a project to establish a Reform community in Beersheva.  After her ordination, she will begin to work as director of the Hebrew school at Romemu Congregation in New York.

Tamara Shifrin was born in Haifa in 1964 to parents who immigrated to Israel from South Africa and England. At high school Tamara she the B’nai B’rith youth movement, which emphasized volunteering and leadership. She participated in a youth movement delegation to the United States, visiting various Jewish communities on the East Coast and attending a youth camp in Pennsylvania. The visit was a watershed in her life, as the first time she encountered liberal Judaism, a woman cantor, families sitting together in the synagogue, and the inclusion of musical instruments and choirs in the service. Ever since, she has been guided by the mission to sustain Judaism in Israel. This conviction eventually led her to rabbinical studies as a way of preserving the moderate and loving Judaism in which she was raised. She served as a computer programmer in the army and has experience of programming large systems in both military and civilian settings. She feels that Judaism, just like large computer systems, is supposed to be based on logic. When the surrounding laws change, the programs must adapt and change, all the while preserving the system. She was an active member of a group of parents that established a liberal school in Kiryat Ono, which now has over 200 students.  She serves as rabbi of Achvat Yisrael Congregation in Rishon Lezion. 

Meet all Israel Rabbinical Program ordinees (1980-present). 



From left: Rabbi Yehoram Mazor; Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D.; and Rabbi Leah Benamy

Rabbi Leah Benamy was ordained in 1990 at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati. She subsequently served as a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, lectured at the Faculty of World Religions of the University of Alabama, and served as the rabbi of Beit Hillel on the Tuscaloosa campus. From 1991–1997 Leah served as a rabbi in Temple Emanuel in Gastonia, North Carolina, where she founded a dialogue group for Christian and Jewish clergywomen. From 1994–1996 she taught a course on world religions at Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina.  She immigrated to Israel in 1997 and settled on Kibbutz Lotan. In 2004 she spent a year in Australia, working as a rabbi in Temple David, Perth. Since 2005 she has been a member of Kibbutz Lotan. Rabbi Benamy serves as a resource for the Lotan community and works as a part-time educator on the kibbutz, teaching in its conversion program, providing pastoral care, participating in its demographic growth team, and assisting with the absorption of new members of the kibbutz. She also also volunteers as coordinator of the kibbutz’s social action committee and library.

Rabbi Yehoram Mazor is the son of two Holocaust survivors and represents the fourth generation of Liberal/Reform Jews in his family, which has its origins in the Sephardi community that settled in Holland following the expulsion from Spain and Portugal. During his military service in Nachal, Yehoram embarked on a search for an Israeli-Jewish religious approach that would be modern and open. As an undergraduate at Ben Gurion University, he joined the local Reform community, serving as a Torah reader and prayer leader. After the Yom Kippur War, he was asked to stand in for the community’s rabbi, who had been drafted to the army. The appointment became a long-term position, launching his  path to the Reform rabbinate. He began to study at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 1975, in the first class in the Israel Rabbinical Program. In addition to work leading the community, he also worked as a counselor in the Jerusalem youth group and was one of the first people to be involved in reviving the tradition of the Tu Bishvat Seder, which has since become a cornerstone of Jewish renewal in Israel. Rabbi Mazor has served as a communal rabbi for 33 years – seven years in Beersheva, Ramat Aviv and Ramat Gan, and 26 years in Darchei Noam in Ramat Hasharon. He has guided Darchei Noam as it progressed from the stage of initial consolidation through years of growth and setting down roots in the city, onto municipal and legal campaigns to secure land to build a permanent home, and through to the commencement of work on the synagogue building. Alongside his work as a congregational rabbi, he has also been extremely active in the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and in MARAM – the Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel. He served for 20 years as secretary of MARAM, and currently serves as president of the religious court for conversion and personal status matters. Rabbi Mazor is also active in the field of liturgy, including writing, editing, research and teaching relating to prayers, lifecycle ceremonies, and events around the Hebrew calendar. He has a strong interest both in the history of Jewish prayer and in its revival in modern times.  He was involved in the publication of the Israeli Reform Siddur Ha’avoda Shebalev. Together with Rabbi Motti Rotem, he later edited the Machzor Kavanat Halev for the High Holy Days; and with Rabbi Dalia Marx and Rabbi Yehoyada Amir he wrote the Israeli Reform Haggadah. Prayers and services written by Rabbi Mazor have been adopted by many congregations and groups in Israel and in the Diaspora and have been translated into many languages. These include the prayer “Supplication for Times of War” and a special Yizkor prayer in memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Several years ago, he founded Ha’avoda Shebalev – the Center for the Renewal of Prayer, a joint body of MARAM and the IMPJ. Rabbi Mazor has taught liturgy in the Israel Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem for over 20 years, as well as serving for 35 years as a lecturer on Judaism at Beit Berl College.



  • Lea Alexander holds a bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s degree in gender and Judaism. She is a member of Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, a psychotherapist using expression and creative work, a counselor for families and couples, and a group facilitator.
  • Liat Dagan holds a master’s degree in educational sociology from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (research track).  Working for over ten years in organizations for social change, her last position was in the organization Community Advocacy, where she supervised and established community food cooperatives in weakened communities. She currently is the West Jerusalem director of the National Program for Children and Youth at Risk.
  • Ruti Dayan holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Bar Ilan University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of British Columbia. She works as a family therapist.
  • Naftali Gans has a bachelor’s degree in Jewish history, a multidisciplinary degree in the humanities, and a master’s degree in educational management, policy and leadership from The Hebrew University. He also holds a teaching certificate from the Kerem Institute. He is an educator and principal of the senior section (grades 4-8) at Achi Tekoa School.
  • Shai Gilboa has a bachelor’s degree from the Ofakim program at Tel Aviv University, which trains outstanding teachers in the field of Jewish philosophy, and a master’s degree in political science from the Department for Public and Political Leadership of Tel Aviv University and the Yitzhak Rabin Center. He educates high school students and applies humanitarian values to his teaching work in civics, history and Jewish philosophy.
  • Yael Lifshitz has a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew literature and the history of the Land of Israel, and a master’s degree in literature (creative writing track)from the University of Haifa. She instructs teachers of Jewish culture on behalf of the Be’eri program of the Hartman Institute. She also prepares boys and girls for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, conducts ceremonies, and is a graduate of the Tehudah Beit Midrash for Jewish leadership.
  • Jack Kandel
  • Hana Kontorer holds a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Bar Ilan University and a master’s degree in Jewish philosophy from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has worked for four-and-a-half years as the coordinator of educational and community volunteers at a shelter for women victims of violence. She maintains daily contact with the women and their children, helps them navigate boundaries and emotions, and supervises the volunteers at the shelter in their different roles.
  • Yael Krauss holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from The Hebrew University and a master’s degree from the Schechter Institute, with a major in Jewish art and Midrash. She studied music therapy and special education at David Yellin College and has also studied the diagnosis of Learning capabilities. She works as a docent at the Israel Museum and Yad Sarah. 
  • Roni Yavin holds a bachelor’s degree in Jewish and Middle East history and a master’s degree in Jewish education (Talmud teaching) from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is an educator and for many years served as a teacher and senior staff member at the Experimental High School in Jerusalem. She is the director of Elul Beit Midrash, a founder and partner in the establishment of the network of Batei Midrash and the websites Midreshet and Reshut Harabim, and a participant in many other educational and cultural projects.

Established in 1963 as a post-doctoral center of archaeological and biblical studies, the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has grown since 1971 to serve as the center of HUC-JIR’s Israel experience for stateside students, including theYear-In-Israel Program, and prepares Israeli students for leadership in the Israel Rabbinical Program, M.A. Program in Pluralistic Jewish Education with the Melton Centre of Hebrew University, and the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling’s Mezorim Program.  Scholars and students from around the world are enriched by the excavations and publications of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology, and the resources of the Abramov Library and Skirball Museum.  The Murstein Synagogue welcomes the community for services and holidays.

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.