Six new rabbis for Israel’s Progressive Movement were ordained by Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), at the Ordination and Academic Convocation at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem on Friday, November 20, 2009. The ordinees are Judith Edelman-Green, Chen Ester Ben-Or Tsfoni, Jehiel Benjamin Gruber, Zipora Livneh, Oded Mazor, and Dalia Tibon Lagziel. These four women and two men join the 59 alumni of the Israel Rabbinical Program, established in 1975, which, with this new cohort, will have ordained 65 Israeli rabbis to date to serve Progressive congregations, schools, and communities throughout Israel.
The academic convocation also featured the inaugural cohort of seven graduates receiving certificates in Specialization in Pluralistic Jewish Education, the HUC-JIR program that is part of the M.A. in Jewish Education from the Melton Centre for Jewish Education of the Hebrew University. The graduates receiving certificates are Michal Burstein-Azrieli, Maital Cohen-Sabag, Nitza Harel-Attias, Oded Mazor, Lior Nevo, Israela Ravid, and Rinat Safania.
Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Deputy Foreign Minister, Deputy Minister of Education and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s office and one of Israel’s leading legislators, was presented with the Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa; Rabbi Edward Rettig received the Doctor of Hebrew Letters degree; and Larry Tishkoff received the Doctor of Jewish Religious Education, honoris causa.
Greetings were presented by Dr. Avraham Melamed, Chair of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and Rabbi Meir Azari, Chair of the Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel. Sheila Lambert, Vice Chair of the Board of Governors, confirmed the degrees.
About the rabbinical ordinees:
Judith Edelman-Green grew up in the Reform Movement in the United States, and made Aliyah in1984. She received her Masters Degree in Jewish Studies from the Schechter Institute in 1994. For the past 25 years she has been an active member of Kehilat Hod ve-Hadar in Kfar Sava. Judith served as a communal youth worker in Manchester, England, for the World Zionist Organization, working with 30 youth groups across the religious spectrum. Later, she led Jewish identity seminars at the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora and developed educational museum games. Under the auspices of the Masorti Movement, she initiated the national program, “Bar/Bat Mitzvah for the Special Child,”which she directed from 1995-2004. This program reached thousands of children with special needs. Judith has taught Judaism using creative techniques in Stockholm, Prague, Moscow, Manchester, New York, Madison, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and throughout Israel. She has included the deaf through sign language in prayer. Immigrant Lessons, published in 2007, her first book, is the story of the great hardships and great joys of Aliyah. She has received several awards for her outstanding work, among them the Liebhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance and Pluralism in 2003. She is currently working to create a community for adults with special needs -- “Rimon Community Project” -- which has become a non-profit organization and has been allocated land by the City of Kfar Sava. In 2008, she was awarded the Prize of Excellence for the Contribution to Israeli Society, from the Israeli Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem for this initiative.
Chen Ben-Or Tsfoni, born to a traditional family of Iraqi immigrants, grew up in a secular atmosphere in Tel Aviv, and later on Kibbutz Bahan. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Haifa University and M.A. in Jewish Education from HUC-JIR/New York. She has worked for twenty years at The Midrasha at Oranim College, a center for the renewal of Jewish life in Israel, where she works on developing workshops on Jewish identity for teens and adults, group facilitation, developing young Jewish community leadership, and programs for new immigrants. She spent 2006-2009 with her family in Manhattan as a Marshall T. Meyer Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. Chen is one of the founders of the Nigun HaLev community at Moshav Nahalal. Members of this community are residents of the Jezreel Valley who gather for Shabbat services, holiday observances, life-cycle events, Jewish studies, and social action projects. She leads prayer, coordinates the community's steering committee, and teaches b’nai mitzvah students. She also works with the Institute for Jewish spirituality, community building, pastoral care, developing Jewish peoplehood. In addition, she is involved in attempting to establish a national network of communities experimenting with renewal in prayer. Her rabbinical thesis discusses pastoral work with death and illness in emerging Jewish communities in Israel and suggests a model for assimilating the traditional tools regarding death and illness in these non-traditional communities. In 2004, she began working on educational projects in the TALI schools in the greater Haifa area, in an attempt to bring the topic of prayer into the schools' staff rooms, classrooms and community.
Benjie (Jehiel Benjamin) Gruber was raised in Beersheva, after his family made Aliyah from Chicago. He attended the Netiv Meir Yeshiva in and later combined military service in the Israeli Defense Forces with advanced college level courses at the Hesder Yeshiva in Yerucham, of which he was a founding member. Under the auspices of the Jewish Agency, Benjie taught Jewish Studies in the Former Soviet Union. Thereafter, he spent two years in Portland, Oregon, teaching Judaism to all ages and denominations. It was in Portland that Benjie's spirit was captured by liberal Judaism. After volunteering in Malawi, Benjie understood that the path to combine Jewish content and his belief in improving the world would be studying for the rabbinate. He earned an M.A. in Jewish Philosophy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During his rabbinical studies he was active in Congregations Mevakshei Derekh and Mevasseret Tzion, Rabbis for Human Rights, Israel Religious Action Center, The Mekhinah in Yaffo, and the Nativ conversion program. In 2008 he was awarded the Rabbi Moshe Zemer Prize for a responsum he wrote. With his ordination, he becomes the eighth generation of rabbis of different denominations in his family, following his grandfather, a Reform rabbi, and his father, a Conservative rabbi. During the last year Benjie became the student rabbi of Kibbutz Yahel, and hopes to move with his family to the Aravah region during the next year. Benjie’s rabbinic thesis, written under the supervision of Rabbi Shlomo Fox, is an attempt to establish a basis for Reform Jews, to relate to the framework of the commandments, both those that already exist and those which we must develop. The category of ‘reshut’ presupposes that at the basis of the commandments is a divine imperative while at the same time the individual is obligated to choices and decisions which are made anew and sanctified each day.
Tzipora (Feiga) Livneh came to Israel from Poland with her family in 1950. Her mother, Brandil, and father, Moshe, were born in Chelm, southern Poland. Most of her family, together with Chelm's Jewish community, perished in the Sobibor concentration camp. Their suffering, as it became known to her during her childhood in Gav-Yam, and the faith instilled in her by her parents, led her to see education as her calling in life. She believed that in this field she could realize her desire to make this world a happier, better place in which to live. She earned a Master's degree from the Hebrew University in Modern Jewish History and Educational Counseling. For 33 years, Tzipora was an educator, teaching history and citizenship in Jerusalem in Ort College, Ort Minkoff, the Gymnasia, and Tali Beit Hinuch. The theme of her rabbinical thesis, supervised by Dr. Bit'ha Har Shefi, is "The Learning Methods of our sages, and the Values of Joy and Humor in their Process of Leaning." In Tzipora's vision, a life in which there is correlation between the knowledge one acquires, and the way of life one leads, is a life that brings happiness and fulfillment. It enhances one's self-esteem, the ability to understand the wonders of creation, and the ability to achieve the best of one's self by choosing a virtuous path in life.
Oded Mazor, born in 1978 in Kfar Sava, grew up in a family deeply involved with the Progressive Movement in Israel. His parents met in one of the Movements' conferences, but the family ties with Liberal Judaism started much earlier. Oded's paternal great-grand father was an active member of the Liberal synagogue in his home town in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. His maternal grandfather, Zoltan Schalk, was one of the first members of "Emet V’Shalom" congregation in Nahariyak, where he volunteered for years as the shamash of the congregation. Oded's spiritual and personal growth were affected not only by his family – his parents Edna and Rabbi Yehoram Mazor (one of the first graduates of the Israeli Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem) – but also by a number of communities he was affiliated with: Darchey-Noam in Ramat Hasharon, where his father served as rabbi for 28 years, Hod Ve'Hadar in Kfar Sava where his family are members, the Tali school in Hod HaSharon, which he attended, the Noam Youth Movement in which he was active, and his army Nahal service (an army branch that combines military service with agricultural work and community service ) in Kibbutz Keturah. Oded completed his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University. During this time he was involved with Kol Haneshama congregation, teaching cantillation of the Bible to b’nai mitzvah children, and serving as the B’nai Mitzvah Program Coordinator. For the past two years he has been serving as the educational coordinator and rabbinical assistant at Kol HaNeshama, and as the rabbi of the Tali School.
Dalia Tibon Lagziel was born in Haifa in 1970 to a socialist home of German heritage, where she absorbed secular humanistic social values. As a youngster, she joined and became a leader in the Shomer Hatzair leftist youth movement. She chose to complete her high school education independently, and took the matriculation exams externally. This experience shaped her wish to change the system, and affected the professional choices she made later. After her military service, Dalia took part in creating a performance on the Holocaust, on behalf of the Hedva Eishevitz Holocaust Memorial Institute. This one-person show involved music, dance, theatre, and film. She toured high-schools across the country for two years, performing at study days on the Holocaust. Dalia spent two years traveling in Europe, including Germany, where she dealt daily with issues of the Holocaust and what it means to be Jewish. Upon her return she completed her B.A. at Haifa University's Jewish Studies faculty. She then encountered Liberal Judaism for the first time at the Leo Baeck Beit Midrash for Educational Leadership. After some hesitation, she finally decided to join the program, moderated by Ofek Meir and Gili Tzidkiyahu, both Reform rabbis today. She joined the Progressive Movement as the coordinator of the youth forum in Haifa and the north, under the leadership of Gilad Kariv, another rabbinical alumnus today. In that role, Dalia formed a core group of students, conducting workshops, lessons and ceremonies, and cooperating with other social activist organizations. For the past eight years, Dalia has worked at Leo Baeck Center, directing the communal Jewish Education Program. Three years into this role, she realized she needed to take a meaningful step forward, and chose rabbinical studies. She is now completing her M.A. studies in Jewish Thought at Haifa University. For the past two years, Dalia has served as a student rabbi at the Sulam Yaakov community in Zichron Yaacov, where she and her husband make their home.
About the honorary and doctoral degree recipients:
Rabbi Michael Melchior comes from Denmark where for seven generations his family members have served as Chief Rabbis. He received rabbinical ordination at Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem in 1980 and returned to Scandinavia to serve as Rabbi of the Norwegian Jewish Community. He made Aliyah in 1986. In 1999, he was elected to the Knesset as the Meimad Party's representative and appointed to Ehud Barak’s Cabinet as Minister for Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community. He served in successive governments as Deputy Foreign Minister, Deputy Minister of Education, and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's office. From 2006 to 2009, he served as Chairman of the Knesset committee for Education, Culture and Sports and the Knesset Caucus on the Environment. Rabbi Melchior became one of Israel’s leading legislators, initiating and completing major legislative reforms in the areas of education, children’s rights, environment, and social justice. Today, Rabbi Melchior has turned his focus to leading the civil society movements that he helped build over the last decade. Rabbi Melchior launched Moe'tzet Yachad, a forum which promotes dialogue and understanding between different strands in Israeli society; Meitarim, a network of pluralistic Jewish schools whose open, democratic ethos enables religious and secular students to study their heritage together; the Citizen's Accord Forum, which campaigns for coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Israel and the correction of injustices against Israel's Arab minority; and the Mosaica Center for Interreligious Cooperation, which is devoted to expanding and deepening inter-religious dialogue in the Middle East on a grassroots basis. Rabbi Melchior was the founding chairman of the Birthright/Taglit steering committee, and he has brought his religious leadership and political influence to bear on many other issues, including activity on behalf of Agunot and efforts to resolve the problems of conversion which effect Jewish communities around the world. He also serves as the Rabbi of a dynamic Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem and is actively involved in the Norwegian Jewish Community, where he still holds the honorary position of Chief Rabbi.
Larry Tishkoff was born in the United States, completed his B.A. in Jewish Studies with Honors at the University of California and earned his M.A. in Jewish Education at HUC-JIR/Los Angeles. As an Assistant Director of NFTY Youth Programs in New York and later, in Israel, he contributed to its growth and vitality. He made Aliyah in 1977 and was a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel. As co-founder and the first director of Yahel Sinai Tours (1977-80), he introduced thousands of Reform Jewish youths to the ideals and practices of Reform Judaism in Israel. He served as the Jewish Agency Aliyah Emissary to the Reform Movement in New York (1981-1983), as Aliyah Emissary to the Western Coast, and director of the Aliyah center in Los Angeles (1998-2000). He served in the Jewish National Fund in various capacities (1990-98). Today he is Missions Manager at the UJC Missions Department in Jerusalem, designing and implementing itineraries for federation delegations on missions to Israel. He produced the film "Israelis by Choice," highlighting American Jews who chose to live in Israel.
Rabbi Edward Rettig is the Acting Director of The American Jewish Committee in Israel. Born in the United Stated, he made Aliyah in 1972. Following military service in the IDF, he received a law degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1981) and served as an attorney in the Israel Ministry of Police. For a number of years, he and his wife were members of Kibbutz Yahel, the first Kibbutz of the Reform Movement. Rabbi Rettig earned his rabbinical ordination from HUC-JIR in 1993. He served in the congregational rabbinate and in Jewish education, including as a lecturer in Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was a Wexner Graduate Fellow (1993) and completed his doctorate at HUC-JIR in the field of Jewish History.
About the recipients of certificates for the M.A. in Pluralistic Jewish Education:
Michal Burstein-Azrieli teaches history and is a twelfth-grade home-room teacher at the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa. She earned her teaching certificate in History from Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva and her B.A. in History and Education from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She believes that the values inherent in Judaism must be brought into the Israeli school system, opening the students to diversity and multi-culturalism.
Nitza Harel-Attias is the director of the kindergartens at Reform congregation Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem. She has a B.A. in Bible and Jewish history and an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from the Schwartz Program at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "The challenge in my work," she says, "is to create an environment of openness to the varied streams of Judaism, making coexistence possible."
Maital Cohen-Sabag has a B.A. in Philosophy and Israel Studies from Haifa University and a teaching certificate in History. She teaches history and is a home-room teacher at the Leo Baeck High School. Her personal vision is to train and empower educators in secular Israeli schools, helping them to connect with their Jewish roots and bring their insights and knowledge into their classrooms.
Oded Mazor, newly ordained by the Israeli Rabbinical Program at HUC in Jerusalem, has just completed a Master's degree in Jewish Thought at The Hebrew University. Oded is currently the educational coordinator and assistant rabbi at the Kol Haneshama congregation in Jerusalem and served as student rabbi in the Tali Bayit Vegan elementary school in Jerusalem for the past four years.
Lior Nevo was raised in the various educational frameworks of the Israeli Progressive Movement, from kindergarten and elementary school, to the youth movement, where she subsequently became an educational coordinator after her military service. She has a B.A. and a teaching certificate in Bible and Jewish Studies and is a graduate of the Revivim Program of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which trains teachers in the field of Jewish Studies. Lior is an educator and teacher of Bible and Jewish thought at the Ziv School in Jerusalem, where she seeks to create an open and pluralistic atmosphere in her classrooms.
Rinat Safania is an educational advisor at the Dov Hoz School in Tel Aviv and is a group facilitator to diverse audiences and on various topics. She completed her B.A. degree in Behavioral Sciences at Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva and has a Master's degree in Educational Counseling and Group Facilitation. "I'd like to give back to people in Israel the personal ownership of their Jewishness, rather than having it dictated to them," she says, " and let them make the Jewish tradition, language, literature and creations theirs to touch, feel and own, knowing that it is their true 'home'."
Israela Ravid has been the director of the kindergarten of the Center for Reform Judaism in Tel Aviv for over a decade. She has integrated the hearing impaired and the special needs children in her kindergarten throughout the years, implementing values of equality and social justice as an integral part of the daily life of the kindergarten. She has written curricula on Jewish values and heritage, and was awarded the Rothschild Prize of Education for her outstanding contribution to Israeli education. Israela says that her Master's studies were an opportunity for her to explore theoretically her practical work in the field of pluralistic Jewish education.