The Ordination and Academic Convocation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's Taube Family Campus on November 14, 2019 was a milestone of firsts in the Jerusalem campus's history. It was the first convocation of its kind convened in Israel by HUC-JIR's new President, Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., who was inaugurated as HUC-JIR President in Cincinnati on October 27, 2019. It was also the first time that Israeli Reform rabbis were ordained by a woman rabbi in Israel, in a traditional ritual performed by Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost at HUC-JIR. Highlights of the convocation were the ordination of seven new Israeli Reform rabbis, the certification of twelve new Israeli pastoral counselors, and honorary degrees bestowed upon distinguished scholar Professor Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi and dedicated social activist Rabbi Susan Silverman.
President Rehfeld stated, "Israel has been central to the mission of our College-Institute since Rabbi Stephen S. Wise founded the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR) almost a century ago with a commitment to a strong and vibrant Jewish State. Dr. Nelson Glueck established our School of Archaeology and dedicated this campus in Jerusalem in 1963. In 1970, HUC began requiring all first-year rabbinical students in our North American rabbinical program to spend their first year here, because HUC recognizes the continued importance of the State of the Israel to the Jewish People today. And in 1980, we created a distinctive Israeli Rabbinical program to prepare remarkable rabbis to serve and transform Israelis and Israeli society. HUC's commitment to Israel was reinforced, strengthened, and expanded through the efforts of my predecessor, Rabbi Aaron Panken, of blessed memory. His commitment to strengthening a pluralistic and democratic Jewish society in Israel is an important part of his legacy, and one that I am committed to continuing."
Rabbi Weiss added, “It was a powerful experience to stand before the open ark, walls of the Old City in the background, and perform the ancient, sacred act of the laying on hands to transfer rabbinic leadership to seven impressive and inspiring individuals who are dedicating their lives to serve God and the Jewish people as Israeli Reform rabbis.”
HUC-JIR's Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem is the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism in the State of Israel. It prepares Israeli rabbis, educators, and pastoral counselors who are building religious pluralism in the Jewish State; welcomes 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; offers Israel Seminars for its nonprofit management and graduate studies students; and invites the larger Israeli community to educational and cultural programs.
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of the Taube Family Campus, said, "Our seven outstanding ordinees are already serving communities and institutions as our Reform presence grows and becomes more rooted in Israeli society and prove that the Reform rabbinate is essential to the lives of a growing number of Israelis. Our honorary degree recipients, nourished by American democratic values and the deepest of humanistic traditions, have greatly impacted the world of ideas and letters. Our twelve newly trained pastoral counselors will enrich their respective fields of education, mental health care, and social welfare using their skills acquired through our Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling."
Rabbi Amy Perlin, DD, Chair of HUC-JIR's Board of Governors Israel Committee and Founding Rabbi Emerita of Temple B'nai Shalom in Fairfax Station, VA, noted, "Our HUC-JIR/Jerusalem Ordination was a moving and joyous celebration. It was a privilege to witness seven brilliant, innovative, and passionate new rabbis eloquently accept the leadership of our Reform Movement with a hopeful vision of tomorrow and an Israeli resilience that inspired me to work even harder to make their dreams a reality. Their rabbinic courage and devotion to seeding a progressive Jewish alternative in the spiritual desert of Israel has been made possible thanks to the tireless efforts of generations of Jews worldwide who believed, and continue to believe, that we have something important to contribute to the soul and fabric of Israel. As a member of the Board of Governors of HUC-JIR, Chair of the Israel Committee, a lifelong Zionist and lover of Israel, and passionate Reform Jew, Ordination was a highlight of my week in Israel. It reinvigorated all of us to continue to work for a better and more pluralistic society in the land we love."
The Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, was presented to Professor Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi. She also delivered the Commencement Address.
Professor Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi's life has evolved between two countries, America and Israel, and two languages, English and Hebrew. Born in Washington, DC, she grew up in the Chicago area. After two years at Wellesley College, she spent her junior year abroad at Hebrew University. Falling in love with Jerusalem, she would make her home there, marry and raise three children. She received her B.A. from Hebrew University in 1965 and her M.A. (1968) and Ph.D. (1976) degrees in English and American Literature from Brandeis University. Her primary base would remain the Hebrew University, where for decades she directed the literature program at the interdisciplinary Institute for Contemporary Jewry, and taught undergraduate and graduate students at the School for Overseas Students. She eventually joined the Department of General and Comparative Literature, where she taught until her retirement as Full Professor in 2012. DeKoven Ezrahi was invited to teach at many universities abroad, including Princeton, Yale, Michigan, Duke, Dartmouth and the University of Toronto. She has lectured at universities and institutes all over the world, and, in 2007, was elected a Guggenheim Fellow.
Trained in English and American literature, DeKoven Ezrahi gravitated towards Hebrew and Jewish literatures, exploring the impact on Jewish aesthetics and ethics of major upheavals in Jewish history. Her first book, By Words Alone: The Holocaust in Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1980; pbk 1982), offered a typology of imaginative responses to the Holocaust and helped to establish an entire area of inquiry. Booking Passage: Exile and Homecoming in the Modern Jewish Imagination (University of California Press, 2000), represented a new direction in DeKoven Ezrahi’s work, and provided a fresh appreciation of the challenges of radical displacement and homecoming over time. This book identifies “diasporic” aesthetics as licensed in an ancient moment by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has always been at the center of DeKoven Ezrahi’s scholarly and personal concerns. Her current book project, Figuring Jerusalem: Politics and Poetics in the Sacred Center, explores the challenges and privileges of the “return” of the Hebrew imagination to the Holy Land. Beginning by probing the evolution of sacred space in the biblical corpus and in medieval thought, the book then interrogates the aesthetics and ethics of return, focusing on the fictions of S.Y. Agnon and the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, as they faced the sacred center—in their persons and in their writing.
DeKoven Ezrahi has always seen her scholarly work as a public responsibility. In addition to publishing in major scholarly journals in England and America, she has participated in literary and cultural forums in Israel, helping to foster bicontinental exchange. Her hope has been to get beyond the narratives of mutual exclusion—Jews and Moslems, Jews and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians, Zionists and Diasporists—in order to create mutually engaging and ultimately liberating exchanges. Her contribution to this conversation presumes an arena of academic and public risk-taking. She has been active for decades in the peace movement in Israel and was a founder of a longstanding dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians that began during the first Intifada in 1988. Together with Rabbi Susan Silverman and others, she helped organize the “Kol Dikhfin” initiative that brought asylum seekers from African persecutions together with Jerusalem hosts at Passover Seders in Jerusalem in 2018.
DeKoven Ezrahi and her husband, the writer Bernard Avishai, spend the summer and fall months in New Hampshire and the winter and spring in Jerusalem. Between them, they have six children and ten grandchildren. DeKoven Ezrahi’s longstanding connection with Hebrew Union College, where she has often lectured and participated in symposia, was cemented when her friend, the revered American-born Hebrew poet T. Carmi, asked her to take over his course on Hebrew Literature in 1994, just before he died. She would like to share this honor with him, in absentia.
The Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, was presented to Rabbi Susan Silverman.
Rabbi Susan Silverman grew up in New Hampshire in what she calls a "secular-Jewish" home. She was ordained by HUC-JIR in 1994, and in 1997, she and her husband wrote the bestselling Jewish Family & Life: Traditions Holidays and Values for Todays Parents and Children, which launched a Jewish multimedia enterprise, JewishFamily.com.
Rabbi Silverman and her husband made aliyah in 2006, and now live in Jerusalem with their five children, Aliza, Hallel, Adar, Zamir and Ashira.
Today, Susan’s rabbinical work includes activism on behalf of asylum seekers in Israel, advocating for liberal Judaism and promoting adoption. She is a founder of KAMOCHA: A Jewish Response to Refugees, on the Board of Directors of Women of the Wall, on the International Council of The New Israel Fund and the Founding Director of Second Nurture: Every Child Deserves a Family – And a Community. Susan is currently on a multi-media book tour in the U.S. with her memoir, Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World (Da Capo Press).
Seven new rabbis for Israel’s Reform Movement were ordained:
David Barak-Gorodetsky was born in Tel-Aviv, where his parents were born and raised. They relocated to South Africa returning to Israel a few years later to a moshav near the Mediterranean coast. David graduated from the agricultural high school in Pardes Hannah, where he specialized, amongst other things, in growing avocado. He served in the Israeli Air Force for six years as a programmer and then an officer, where he was awarded the IAF commander award and was honored with an overstanding soldier award by the Israeli President. He later worked, in Israel and in Manhattan, for an Israeli startup company that was launched on Wall Street.
David's Jewish journey began following a trip to Asia, where he was introduced to the world of Eastern spiritual thought. He was later associated with various Jewish Renewal circles in Israel, studied at the Alma College for Jewish Culture in Tel-Aviv, and taught Batei-Midrash on behalf of "Elul." He then became the director of Hillel in Haifa, was a founding member of the KUMU initiative for the politicization of Jewish Renewal in Israel and started his academic studies. His Ph.D.-turned-manuscript, "Jeremiah in Zion" – an intellectual biography of Rabbi Judah Leib Magnes – was published by Ben Gurion University Press in 2018.
David is a member of the "Israel and the Jewish People" lab at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute and specializes in the religious aspects of Israel-Diaspora relations. He teaches Jewish-American denominational history at the Ruderman MA program for Jewish-American Studies at the University of Haifa, and lectures in various settings on Jewish history, thought and peoplehood.
David was the Interim Rabbi of Kibbutz Yahel for a year, and for the past two years has been serving as a student rabbi at the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council. In his rabbinical work, he addresses issues of Jewish pluralism and identity in the secular society in Israel and conducts Kabbalot Shabbat and life cycle ceremonies at the edge of the cliff on the Ramon Crater and overlooking the Zin riverbed.
David lives in Midreshet Ben-Gurion with his wife Anat and two boys, Shalem and Ily.
Mori (Mordechai) Li-Dar was born in Jerusalem. From his childhood bedroom window on French Hill, he would look upon a tree marking the traditional burial place of the Biblical Esau, in the neighboring village of Isawiya. He is a graduate of Frankel Primary School, where he received the foundations of pluralistic Judaism and the Masorti High School, which was was adjacent to the Mahane Yehuda Market. He has a B.A. in History and Bible Education and is a graduate of the Democratic Education Institute in the Kibbutzim Seminary. He has an M.A. in Judaism from the Ono Academic Campus. His military service was spent under the skies on the deck of a navy missile ship.
Mori studied and graduated from the prestigious Sam Spiegel School for Cinema and Television in Jerusalem. Subsequently he worked in the Israeli film and television industry, and later as an Israeli correspondent for a Swiss Evangelist periodical. After a year-long trip in the Far East, Mori decided to incorporate education and Jewish values into his life. He worked with youth at-risk in a number of frameworks: he was a counsellor in the Ministry of Labor and Welfare, ran a hostel for teenage girls at-risk, worked as a coordinator in Elem’s rehabilitation program for teenage prostitutes and as a coordinator for high school students at the Kadima youth houses. Later, Mori worked alongside Rabbi Naava Hefetz in the education department of Shomrei Mishpat -Rabbis for Human Rights, and alongside Rabbi Galia Sadan as Bar and Bat Mitzvah program coordinator at Beit Daniel.
Today, Mori serves as a regional student rabbi for the Reform Movement in the Gilboa regional council, and as a student rabbi for the Kibbutz Beit Hashita congregation. In this capacity, Mori takes part in spreading Jewish culture and tradition and in mediation efforts between Jews, and between Jews and Arabs. Mori also teaches Judaism, Israeli culture and human rights in pre-military preparatory programs in the north of Israel.
Mori lives with his wife, Olga, and his two daughters Naomi and Alma in Lotem, in northern Israel.
Binyamin Daniel Minich was born in 1987 in Crimea. He grew up in the Reform Jewish community of Kerch. He made Aliyah at the age of 15 with the Naale Project and studied at Migdal Ohr High School in Afula. He served in the Caracal Battalion (the only mixed infantry battalion in the IDF in those years). After his military service, Benny started his BA studies in Psychology and Jewish Thought in the University of Haifa. During his academic studies, he joined the Shirat Ha-Yam Carmel congregation, which serves Russian-speaking Israelis in the Haifa area. Today, Benny is proud to be the Rabbi of SHC.
In the final year of his first degree, Benny married Elena, and she became his partner on his personal, spiritual and professional path to the rabbinate. The following year they moved together to Jerusalem.
During his the years in the Israeli Rabbinical Program, Benny worked in different Reform congregations in the Jerusalem area and in Holon, coordinated community programs, and learned for his future rabbinic career. Nevertheless, he continued to serve the Russian-speaking Jews in Israel and all over the world, including participating and working at summer camps and Limmud FSU conferences in Minsk, Lviv, London, New York and Los Angeles.
Benny has a BA in Jewish Thought from Haifa University and is about to receive his master’s degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and from HUC-JIR in Jewish Education and Pluralism.
He lives in Kfar Saba with Elena and their two sons – Hadar Yosef and Levi Moshe.
Dahlia Shaham was born in Haifa, the youngest of three children, to Vera and Uzi. From her mother’s family she received the Iraqi Shabbat Nigun and sense of humor, an expansive family tree and stories of cosmopolitan Baghdad of the early 1900s. From her father’s side she received the love for the Hebrew language and the land of Israel, stories from the lives of the first Galilean pioneers and Ottoman Jerusalem, and the agricultural and military traditions of early Zionism.
She grew up in Haifa and had a happy childhood full of music. From an early age she developed political awareness and a deep desire to bring peace to the Promised Land. Her first encounter with the worldview of Reform Judaism came as a student of the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa. This connection grew deeper through the EIE student exchange program that sent Dahlia to the United States on a six month journey with NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) in New England. There she learned about the vibrant community life, tikkun olam commitment and musical creativity of the Reform Movement in North America.
As an Arabic translator in the military, Dahlia expanded her love for the field of linguistics and the art of translation. She holds a LL.B degree in Law and Latin American Studies from the Hebrew University (2003) and a MA.L.D in International Political Economy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (2009). Between 2005-2017 Dahlia worked in policy research and advocacy, strategic planning and programming with some of the leading civil society organizations working to promote a shared, thriving and democratic society in Israel and the Middle East.
In 2008 she married Aran Brender and gave birth to their son Nouri in 2013. It was motherhood that brought her to the rabbinical journey, by teaching her about the deep relationship between the wellbeing of women, their physical and emotional integrity and the possibilities of peace within society. Also, limmud, prayer and music became central to her life as a mother. During the summer war of 2014, as the land was burning, Dahlia began to convene and lead song circles for women in Hebrew and Arabic, and she joined the cantorial team in the Reform synagogue in Ra’anana.
The renewed connection to the Reform Movement opened Dahlia’s eyes to the possibility of becoming a rabbi, and to the understanding that this life choice would allow her to integrate all she truly cares for: the love of learning and teaching, the power of prayer and music and the pursuit of peace and justice. During her years of study at HUC-JIR, Dahlia has conducted Shabbat and holiday services in IMPJ congregations all over Israel; B’nei and B’not Mitzva courses and services; “musical Beit Midrash” sessions on prayer and prophecy; women’s circles for Rosh Hodesh and various life events; and interfaith events in Israel and abroad. In the past two years she served as visiting student rabbi for the high holidays with Kedem community in Melbourne, Australia. Her rabbinic thesis: “Spiritual Feminism in the Promised Land: Journey with D’vorah the Prophetess” presents her insights on the roots of the conflict in our country, and the road to peace and partnership between the genders, tribes and peoples who live in it.
In 2016, Dahlia returned with her family to Haifa. She is a member of congregation Ohel Avraham and enjoys working with all Progressive Jewish communities that are growing and thriving in the city.
Devorah Shoua-Haim was born and raised in Jerusalem. Together with her family, she traveled between neighborhoods and Jewish identities: starting off as an Orthodox family and slowly transitioning into a Conservative-Masorti family. During her childhood and teenage years, she attended a variety of synagogues, including Jerusalem Reform communities. Every synagogue left its impression and, combined with the example of her mother and father's personal spiritual practice, she developed her unique cantorial skills and spiritual identity.
Alongside her four sisters, her educational upbringing took place in both formal and informal frameworks of pluralistic-liberal Judaism in Jerusalem. She took part in interfaith meetings, was a youth leader at Noam (the Masorti youth movement) and served in a variety of educational positions as a young adult, both as part of her military service and afterward. After spending a year in Melbourne, Australia, as a Shlicha (emissary) at 'Nitzan' Masorti synagogue and Bialik Jewish day school, Debi studied in the Revivim teacher training program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, earning a BA and teaching degree in Bible and Jewish studies, as well as an MA in Bible studies. Debi has experience as a high school teacher for Tanach and Rabbinical literature, activist Rabbinical work developing and implementing educational programs at the educational department of Rabbis for Human Rights, and in community work as the Jewish Renewal coordinator for Ginot Ha'ir community council.
Out of a strong urge to highlight the presence of varied identities in many different spaces, Debi has recently begun working at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem and is in charge of educational programs for families and communities, as well part of the interfaith program team. She believes that the work of a Rabbi is to 'be' with people in the places where they are at. But also, to be a 'walking bridge' between our tradition and the places where the people and their hearts dwell. Debi is interested in Liberal-Jewish-spiritual preparation for childbirth and parenting and has developed a rabbinical tool to work with regarding this issue which she aspires to implement in a variety of non-profit and governmental frameworks in the future.
Debi and her husband Alon raise their children Rony and Martin in Jerusalem.
Olya Weinstein was born and raised in a Jewish family in Soviet Russia. She learned about being Jewish through the story of her family and elements of the Jewish and Yiddish traditions that remained in her family despite the Communist regime. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Olya's family became members of the Jewish community, renewed and reopened in their town. Through this community, Olya participated in the Jewish summer camps and seminars organized by the Jewish Agency in Russia. It was in these camps that Olya began deepening her knowledge in the fields of Jewish tradition, Jewish lifecycle and the history of the Jewish people. At the age of fifteen she became a camp counselor, and founded a club in her local community where Jewish youth and students met to celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat and learn about Jewish tradition and history. In time, most of them immigrated to Israel.
The richness of the world of Jewish thought and culture thrilled Olya and gave her "a breath of fresh air" during the uneasy period of transition between Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia. At the age of eighteen she began managing the Aliya department of the Jewish Agency in her area; as well as coordinating the work of her local Jewish community. In this position she assisted Jewish families in the process of immigrating to Israel while she was dreaming of her own Aliya. In 2000, at the age of twenty, having finished three years of university studies in English Linguistics and Literature, Olya made Aliya as part of a Jewish Agency program.
During her studies at Bar Ilan University, Olya got acquainted with the Masorti (Conservative) students' activities. A year later she began managing the Masorti students organization, "Marom," and at the same time, she coordinated two Masorti communities in Russia on behalf of "Masorti Olami." Working with Jewish texts in an informal environment, both on campuses and in Masorti congregations motivated Olya to start thinking of professional academic studies of Judaism as well as Beit Midrash studies. After managing the students' and the congregational departments of the Masorti movement for five years, Olya was accepted to the Schechter Rabbinical School.
During her studies at the Schechter Rabbinical School, Olya worked at Itim, where she deepened her knowledge in the field of state and religion in Israel. She worked as deputy director of the Yuri Shtern Foundation and she began teaching at the Masorti Women's Study Days of the Masorti Movement. Eight years ago, Olya began teaching various fields in Judaism and state and religion at "Project Kesher"- Russian speaking women's organization and four years ago she became the head its Alice Shalvi Jewish Learning program. Three years ago Olya joined the Israeli rabbinic program at HUC to complete her studies and be ordained as a Reform rabbi. She has B.A. in English Linguistics from Bar Ilan University as well as an M.A. in Talmud, Halacha and the History of the Jewish people from the Schechter Institute of the Jewish Studies.
Olya's rabbinic internship took place at Kamatz reform congregation in Mevasseret Zion and at the Temple Israel of New Rochelle, NY sponsored by Golden Family Hanassi Fellowship.
Olya and her husband Yonatan have three children: Avigail, Avshalom Baruch and Avinoam Yosef, and they live in Jerusalem.
Shlomo Yehuda Zagman was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to a Religious-Zionist family. His father Moshe z”l, was raised in a religious home, and was an esteemed educator and school principal, and deeply involved in Brazil’s Jewish community. His mother, Regina, grew up in a secular Brazilian family; she was a teacher and has been a dedicated artist since her youth. After volunteering in Israel after the Six-Day War, she knew that she wanted to make Aliyah with her family. In 1976, the Zagman family, with three young children, made Aliyah to Israel and settled in Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion area. At home, Shlomo absorbed a love for, and dedication to, Jewish tradition and heritage, as well as an appreciation for human culture and values, and respect for every human being. Because of his father’s educational career, the family travelled twice on extended missions abroad, and as a child Shlomo experienced Jewish life in Brazil and the United States.
Shlomo was educated through the national-religious system, went to a yeshiva high school, was active in the Bnei Akiva youth movement, and spent a year in yeshiva before his military service. During his year at the Kibbutz HaDati Yeshiva, Shlomo was exposed to varied Jewish philosophies and approaches, which prompted a personal journey of questioning faith and morals, and Jewish identity versus universal identity. Throughout this period, Shlomo also participated in various Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs, and in a community leadership initiative as part of the Modiin-Rochester partnership project.
Shlomo began his professional career as a finance manager in a global corporate company, but after a few years he decided to shift his professional focus to non-profit organizations promoting social justice. Shlomo worked as an assistant to the Executive Director at the Mosaica Center for Inter-Religious Cooperation; a project manager in Israel’s National Road Safety Authority; and was the CFO at ORAM, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration.
As he was making this career transition, Shlomo also moved with his family from an Orthodox community to an egalitarian one. This exploration of liberal Judaism and becoming active in his new community eventually drove Shlomo to join HUC’s rabbinical program. After starting rabbinical school, Shlomo worked at the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), a division of the Israeli Reform Movement. For the past year and a half, he has served as the Executive Director of Kehilat Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem. Shlomo also prepares boys and girls for their bar and bat mitzvahs and conducts ceremonies for families in Israel and from abroad, in Hebrew, English, and Portuguese.
Shlomo earned a B.A. in Political Science and Communications from Bar Ilan University and an M.A. in Pluralistic Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Shlomo lives in Modiin with his wife Rachelle and their children: Tair, Aviad and Maya.
Twelve students received certificates from the Blaustein Center for Spiritual Counseling Sugiyot Chayim Program:
Rachel Helfer Balf
Shirley Zfat Davidai
Sarit Shabtai Hamawi
Rabbi Galit Oren-Moran
Dr. Elana Sztokman