Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), has announced the appointment of Rabbi Naamah Kelman as Dean of HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem School, effective July 1, 2009. Rabbi Kelman currently serves as Associate Dean at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem.
“Rabbi Naamah Kelman’s pioneering role as the first woman rabbi ordained in the State of Israel and as a founder of liberal Jewish educational programs and institutions in the Jewish State demonstrates her passionate commitment to religious pluralism. As Dean, she will bring academic strength, creativity, vision, and vitality to our community of faculty and students from Israel, North America, and throughout the world, and will strengthen our Jerusalem School’s role as the academic, spiritual, and professional development center of Reform Judaism in Israel,” stated Rabbi Ellenson.
Ordained by HUC-JIR in Israel in 1992, Rabbi Kelman has devoted her career to strengthening the Reform Movement’s outreach, community organizing, and Jewish education. She has been intensely involved in the emerging education system of the IMPJ and was among the founders of the first Progressive Day School, where she has overseen the development of curricular materials, teacher training programs, and family education. At HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, she has strengthened the Year-In-Israel Program for North American first-year rabbinical, cantorial, and education students, advanced professional development for the Israeli Rabbinical Program, and has been a catalyst for new and innovative programs in the areas of pluralistic Jewish education and pastoral counseling.
“The College-Institute has a unique mission in Jerusalem: to be that bridge that brings Reform Jews to active engagement with and concern for the Jewish people in Israel; to inspire and shepherd Israeli Jews to become participants in the Jewish tradition; and to foster a Jerusalem that embraces the plurality of the Jewish experience, and be a place for coexistence and healing,” says Rabbi Kelman.
Rabbi Kelman’s leadership capacity is inspired by a distinguished family legacy of 10 generations of rabbis. Her grandfather, Rabbi Felix Levy, ordained by HUC-JIR in Cincinnati in 1937, served as President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and helped overturn the anti-Zionist sentiments codified in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 with the passage of the “Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism,” known as the Columbus Platform, in 1937. Her father, Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, was a major leader of Conservative Judaism for four decades who helped professionalize the American rabbinate, paved the way for the ordination of women, and served as Executive Director of the Rabbinical Assembly from 1951 to 1989, during which time the number of Conservative rabbis rose from 300 to 1200. Her brother, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, is the founder and leader of Kehilat Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem.
As Director of Educational Initiatives at HUC-JIR (1997-2003), Rabbi Kelman coordinated the development of Beit Midrash - The Liberal Yeshivah (1996-99); established the Pedagogic Center for Early Childhood Education (1998) to create materials and the setting for teacher enrichment for the growing network of Progressive pre-schools and beyond; established the area of professional development and mentoring in the Israeli Rabbinical Program; built alliances with organizations in Israeli renaissance work; enlisted the support of American foundations and Federations; and advanced placement of HUC-JIR’s Israeli rabbinical students in field positions. She also serves as an adjunct member of the faculty, teachinga variety of courses in the Israeli Rabbinical Program in the area of professional development, and is part of the clergy team at HUC-JIR’s Murstein Synagogue, which welcomes the Jerusalem community and visitors to Israel.
As Director of the Year-in-Israel Program (2004-2008), Rabbi Kelman has initiated major changes in Hebrew curriculum, implemented student assessment and reflection groups, strengthened sequencing in every key area of study from the first-year in Israel to subsequent years of study on the stateside campuses; revitalized the Reform Liturgy Workshop and student involvement in Tefillah (worship); increased contact with between North American and Israeli students and other Israeli programs; initiated the integration of an Israeli student as summer intern; supervised the special 4th-year program for returning stateside students; and established task forces for subject matter cohorts to improve teaching and sequencing.
For the past five years, she has supervised Outreach Initiatives, most notably the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation-sponsored initiative of rabbinical infusion and leadership development in the Former Soviet Union, through which scores of HUC-JIR students and alumni have provided spiritual and educational enrichment for the renascent Jewish communities in the FSU. She has guided the implementation of the joint program with Geiger Kollege in Potsdam, Germany, and the Leo Baeck College in London, England, for entering rabbinical students joining HUC-JIR’s Year-In-Israel program; and has been actively involved in HUC-JIR’s new joint M.A. Program in Pluralistic Jewish Education with the Hebrew University, particularly in the area of creating individualized educational initiatives for each student.
In 2005 she was the co-founder of the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling, and continues to serve as the co-supervisor and mentor of this new field through the Mezorim Program, which is training Reform rabbis, and medical and health care professionals to serve as pastoral counselors and introduce the role of chaplain to Israel society.
Rabbi Kelman served as Director of the Department of Education of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (1993-97) and, from 1986 to the present, has been associated with Jerusalem Progressive School system (Gannai Chaim, Tali Bayit Vegan, and Tali Bait Chinuch )as a founding parent, school rabbi, and mentor.
She served as Coordinator of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, the Melton Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, Hebrew University (1982-86); teacher and Program Development for NFTY Programs in Israel for American Reform Movement teenagers (1986-93); and Adult and Family Education teacher at Congregation Rodeph Sholom and the 92nd St. Y in New York City (1989-91).
Born and raised in New York, Kelman received her B.A., cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Israel since 1976. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Bar Ilan University in 1981 and her M.A. degree from the Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Hebrew University’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology in the area of "The Construction of Meaning for Young Israelis: Examining Non-Orthodox Weddings."
She is a contributor to numerous anthologies, including “30 Years of Feminism in Israel,” in New Jewish Feminism, ed. Elyse Goldstein (Jewish Lights, 2008); "Leviticus 19 and Interfaith Dialogue," in Hermeneutical Explorations in Dialogue, ed. Anantanand Rambachan(ISPK-Indis, 2007); "I am a Jew," contribution to the book in memory of Daniel Pearl ( 2005); Why I Love Israel, ed. Allan Dershowitz (2006); and a "Contemporary Reflection" in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (Women of Reform Judaism/URJ Press).
Rabbi Kelman is very involved in Jewish and Zionist Pluralism and Renewal in Israel as a founder of Panim: Jewish Renewal in Israel and has served on its Board. She serves on the Boards of Rabbis for Human Rights, Melitz-Centers for Israeli-Jewish Education, and the Tali Education Fund of the Seminary of Judaic Studies (Machon Schechter), and is a past Board member of the Women’s Network. She is deeply committed to interfaith dialogue and peace and justice work and has represented Judaism and Reform Judaism at global interfaith gatherings from 1992 to the present, most recently at the Global Women’s Peace Summit in Jaipur, India.
She is married to Dr. Elan Ezrachi, a leading professional in the area of Jewish-Diaspora Relations and Jewish Education, and former pilot in the Israeli Air Force. They are the parents of Leora (26), Michael (23) -- both pursuing degrees at Tel Aviv University -- and Daphna (20) serving in the Education Corps of the IDF.
Rabbi Kelman succeeds Dr. Michael Marmur, who has served as Dean for the past decade and will become Vice President for Academic Affairs on July 1, 2009.
For more on Rabbi Naamah Kelman, please see her article, “A Decade of Educational Initiatives,” in the Fall 2008 issue of the HUC-JIR Chronicle magazine at http://www.huc.edu/chronicle/71/articles/5%20-%20A%20Decade%20of%20Educational%20Initiatives.pdf