Address Delivered by President Aaron Panken at the Groundbreaking Ceremony of The Taube Family Campus

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Mayor Barkat, Yoshev Rosh Sharanskay, Ambassador Shapiro, Ambassador Chodorowicz, Mr. Taube, Dr. Penn, Chancellor Ellenson, Governors and Overseers of HUC-JIR, alumni, students, friends,

It is a special joy to be here with you today as we celebrate the groundbreaking of the Taube Family Campus and honor our respected and cherished friend Tad Taube, Founder and Chairman of Taube Philanthropies. It is a day of hope and joy, a day of celebration of the past and of looking forward with great anticipation to what will soon be, here, in this magical place. 

Our Jewish tradition teaches that no piece of land in the State of Israel is without its own sanctity and significance. Here we stand, not far from the foundations of the ancient village created by the Jebusites near a small spring of water, high atop a mountain that protected them from the advances surrounding tribes. Here we stand, near the subsequent City of David, where Kind David wrote Psalms and united kingdoms, where his son Solomon built the First Temple, where Ezra and Nehemiah once returned with the exiles from Babylonia to recreate a Second Temple to continue Jewish life here once again.  Here we stand, in a place held sacred by hundreds of generations of our people wherever they were scattered around the world. And here we stand, grateful witnesses to our astounding return, after so many years, and to the building of a vibrant living city called Jerusalem in the modern State of Israel.  Today, we share that same vision and commitment to building Jerusalem that has always been here as we build this precious institution of higher Jewish learning and leadership – Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion – to ensure a vital Jewish future for our children, grandchildren, and the generations yet to come.

This campus began as a notion in the mind of Dr. Nelson Glueck, the noted archaeologist, who became President of the College-Institute in 1947.

In 1952 the government of Israel offered HUC-JIR a two-acre site on King David Street, and the official building permit was granted by the municipality in 1956.  A gala convocation celebrated the opening of the HUC-JIR Biblical and Archaeological School in 1963, with the presence of Israel’s leadership, including Prime Minister Ben Gurion, Jewish Agency Chairman Moshe Sharett, Minister of Education Abba Eban, Foreign Minister Golda Meir, and Jerusalem Mayor Mordechai Ish-Shalom.  The renowned International Style architect Heinrich Heinz Rau designed our first buildings, which included the first Reform synagogue in Israel.  The School of Biblical Archaeology, in cooperation with the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums, would go on to excavate Tel Gezer, Tel Dan, and other great cities of ancient Palestine.

In 1970 we became the first American seminary to require all of our stateside rabbinical students to spend their first year of study in Jerusalem at this campus. The mission of the Year-In-Israel Program, which later expanded to encompass our North American education and cantorial students, continues today.  It is here that our students are immersed in an in-depth encounter with the land and people of Israel and develop a deep understanding of the social, political, cultural, and religious fabric of contemporary Israel.  These emerging Jewish leaders forge strong relationships with the State of Israel that they then bring to bear in over a thousand congregations, organizations, and institutions they lead throughout North America and around the world. These vital links of arevut – mutual partnership and responsibility – linking Israel and North American Jewry are more crucial in today’s world than ever before.  In the years since, thousands upon thousands have felt the impact of the work of this campus through teaching, leading and building ever greater links between the disaporan and Israeli Jewish communities.

But the vision for this campus was even greater. 1975 saw the establishment of the Israel Rabbinical Program, which trains Israeli students for Israel’s growing Reform Movement. President Alfred Gottschalk created this program with the conviction that an Israeli-born and educated rabbinate could best address this nation’s need for a pluralistic and egalitarian form of Judaism that can bring enhanced meaning and relevance to the lives of all Israelis.  During the course of the past forty years, we have ordained close to 100 Israeli rabbis who are the pioneers of Israeli modern religious lifeas they build communities and congregations that are enriching the Jewish fabric of the Jewish state.

During the 1980s, Dr. Gottschalk and Richard Scheuer, Chair of our Board of Governors, embarked on the expansion of the Jerusalem campus on a four-acre site adjacent to the original HUC-JIR buildings. Internationally recognized architect Moshe Safdie designed the campus you see before you today – hailed as among the most beautiful architectural achievements in the city. Around thirty years ago, I was privileged to stand in this same courtyard, when I was a first-year rabbinical student here during the dedication of this campus in 1986. It is such a powerful experience for me to be here today to launch the completion of this campus, guided once again by Moshe Safdie, and to be a part of fulfilling the hopes and dreams of all those leaders, both lay and professional, who came before us. 

Since the 1990s, this campus has been the center for so many exciting developments impacting on Jewish life in Israel:

  • the establishment of our Early Childhood Center, which has nurtured two generations of Israeli families and whose alumni are now among our rabbinical students!
  • the historic ordination of Rabbi Naamah Kelman, our Dean, as the first woman rabbi to be ordained in Israel, expanding equal rights and opportunities for women as religious leaders here.
  • the development of our Masters in Pluralistic Jewish Education Program with the Melton Centre at the Hebrew University, preparing Israeli educators to teach pluralism within Israeli schools.
  • the creation of the Mezorim Program pioneering pastoral counseling and bibliotherapy among Israeli clergy and healthcare professionals.
  • the growth of programs for high school and college students coming to Israel under the auspices of the Union for Reform Judaism,
  • the very significant cultural and educational outreach to the Jerusalem community, and more. 

As President Rivlin noted in his meeting with our Board two years ago, we can all take pride in the many achievements of the College, which has now brought forth three generations of Israelis living, working, teaching, and leading here.  Furthermore, the College has nurtured a love of Israel in thousands of rabbis, cantors, educators, scholars, and nonprofit management professionals who touch the lives of more than 2 million Reform Jews around the world each and every day.

Today, we are proud that our campus is the headquarters for the Reform Movement in Israel.  We are honored to have with us the leaders of our partner organizations who are an integral part of our campus, and I ask that they please rise as they are recognized: 

  • Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ);
  • Rabbi Dan Freedlander, head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ);
  • Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President  of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
  • Anat Hoffman and Noa Sattath, leaders of the Israel Religious Action Center.

My friends, during these short 50 plus years, our College-Institute has continually been motivated to build for the future.  Today, with the groundbreaking of the Taube Family Campus, we are poised on a new era of excellence and impact.  We are deeply honored that Tad Taube and his son Sean Taube are here with us today for this milestone occasion.

We are enormously grateful to Tad Taube for his vision and support as we enhance, modernize and complete our Jerusalem campus. The Taube Family Campus will serve as a preeminent welcoming venue for the larger Jerusalem community, as well as for all Jews visiting from around the world. The new piazza and renovated Rau building will provide state-of-the art facilities for educational programs, worship services, and cultural events. Tad’s generosity represents an enormous investment in advancing Reform Judaism in Israel. His foundation’s generous gift will secure our Jerusalem campus as an enduring testament to the vital links among Israel, North American Jewry, and the global Jewish people.

I would now invite Tad Taube, together with Dr. Shana Penn, Executive Director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture to join me at the podium.

Tad, as you know, our College-Institute has excavated at Tel Dan, the ancient capital of northern Israel, for the past five decades. It was in 1993 that the renowned director of our Archaeology School, Dr. Avraham Biran, made a stunning discovery there.  He uncovered a fragment of a stone monument with inscriptions bearing the first known reference, outside of the Bible, to King David and the ruling dynasty he founded, the House of David. According to biblical scholars, this stone is corroborating evidence for the existence and influence of the House of David in early Jewish history and in the traditions of both Judaism and Christianity.  We have commissioned a replica of this stone as an expression of our heartfelt appreciation to you. Just as King David built this city, so, too, are you a boneh Yerushalyim, a true builder of the city of Jerusalem, of the global Jewish community, and of the Hebrew Union College. This ancient king of Israel had a vision to unite the Jewish people and to inspire the Jewish future – a vision that inspires us today in the outstanding work that your Foundation and you do. May your work, your family and your legacy continue to inspire us for many generations to come.

Read More: The Taube Family Campus Named at Groundbreaking of Jerusalem Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

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.