Communication from Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D. Regarding Year-in-Israel Program - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Communication from Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D. Regarding Year-in-Israel Program

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Dear First-Year HUC-JIR Students,

With tremendous disappointment, we have reached the decision about the Year-In-Israel that Dr. Rehfeld just shared with you, in advance of an announcement to the wider HUC community.

To allow us to discuss this decision with you and address your questions to the best of our ability, we scheduled a meeting for later today: Tues, June 9 at 3 pm PT / 5 pm CT / 6 pm ET / 1 am ISR. 

We recognize that this is in the middle of the night for those of you who are overseas, but the Middlebury schedule limits our options, and we wanted to speak with you as soon as possible. In advance of that meeting, I write to provide additional details about our plans for the coming year and beyond.

Campus placement

We know rabbinical students are eager to find out their stateside campus placements. Rabbi Dr. Dvora Weisberg, HUC-JIR Rabbinical School Director, will provide this information to you by June 17.

What will the alternative first-year program involve?

We will create a top-notch online first-year program for you that provides a strong curricular foundation for the subsequent years of your studies at HUC. The curriculum will focus on key areas including but not limited to Hebrew, Bible, liturgy, rabbinic texts, and ancient history, plus appropriate cantorial classes. As we design this program, we will take into account best practices of online learning and elements that we know make for meaningful cohort building, rich academic offerings, and growth as religious leaders in formation. We will have more details to share with you by July 31.

We announced last week that all Fall 2020 stateside classes will be online, and that students need not be in residence on any stateside campus. As public health permits, we will endeavor to find optional opportunities to bring our campus communities together for in person, socially distanced activities, such as tefilah, small group study, one-on-one meetings, or other feasible gatherings.  We will make decisions about whether our campus facilities (including libraries) will be open to students, faculty, and staff later in the summer as we learn more about the course of the pandemic in New York, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles.

Although we will not decide about Spring 2021 until November 1, the nature of the first-year program dictates that the core required courses will need to be delivered online in the second semester. Even if our stateside campuses are able to be open for in person classes in the Spring (something we sincerely hope will happen), it would not be feasible to offer three separate first-year programs in LA, Cincinnati, and New York. As in the fall, we will endeavor to create in person learning and community building opportunities, as conditions allow, for first-year students who chose to live in or near a campus city. 

In her role as Coordinator of Seminary Special Projects, Rabbi Dr. Lisa Grant will oversee this special program, which will be created in collaboration with the Cantorial, Rabbinical, and School of Education Directors and representatives from the Jerusalem campus.

When will we go to Israel?

While the risks and uncertainties of the coronavirus are forcing a postponement of your studies in Jerusalem, we are committed to keeping Israel as a centerpiece of our seminary. Therefore, after consultation with the relevant program directors, we decided to shift our objectives to the fourth year for cantorial and rabbinical students. Our two dual degree education students will work with Dr. Heller Stern to craft a fitting alternative. We will provide you with more details about the fourth-year Israel program by June 1, 2021. 

Concluding thoughts

In Psalm 13, the speaker repeats the words עד אנה   four times in rapid succession: “How long, YHWH, will You forget me always? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I have cares on my mind, sorrow in my heart all day? How long will my enemy loom over me?” (vv. 2-3). This plaintive phrase captures the unnerving, unknowable nature of any crisis, especially the one we are experiencing now. How long will the virus last? How long will it be before we can gather on campus? How long will we endure the crushing social and economic effects of COVID-19? How long until outcries against racism and injustice result in systemic, lasting change?

While I cannot answer those questions, I do know that we at HUC are blessed with incredibly caring and conscientious faculty, staff, and students who have responded to an unprecedented situation with fortitude and flexibility, kindness and creativity. I thank you for choosing to fulfill your dream of becoming a cantor, rabbi, or Jewish educator at HUC. We commit to you that we will work diligently to realize our highest aspirations, even if our academic mission moves online for the coming year.

With best wishes for your well-being and peace for our world.

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.