Seven Israeli Reform Rabbis Ordained at HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem Campus

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), ordained seven new Israeli Reform Rabbis at an Academic Convocation on HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem campus on Wednesday, November 14, 2012. 

“These new rabbis represent the future of religious pluralism in the Jewish State, as they advance the synagogues, institutions, and schools of the Progressive Movement in Israel,” stated Rabbi Ellenson. “While reflecting a diversity of life experience representative of the Jewish people worldwide, these seven ordinees share a sacred mission to assure a vital Jewish future.”

The graduates of the Israel Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR of the class of 2012:

Esteban Gottfried

Born in Buenos Aires in 1965, Esteban Gottfried grew up in a traditional and Zionist home, and was educated in Jewish schools and in the youth movement of the Masorti Movement, where he experienced a rich and meaningful community life. He was deeply affected by Jewish summer camp, creative prayer, and Rabbi Marshall Meyer, a congregational rabbi and founder of the Latin American Seminary, who became a model and a powerful influence in his life. From a young age, Esteban was involved in rabbinical activities – as a prayer leader and musician throughout Latin America, including the creation of a children’s High Holy Day prayer book. Esteban immigrated to Israel in 1983 and studied in the humanities preparatory program at Tel Aviv University, at Beit Zvi and Nissan Nativ acting schools, and at the Royal Court Theater 16 playwriting school in London. His plays and films have been presented in leading theaters in Israel, as well as on television, and been awarded many prizes, including seven Ophir prizes for his film “The Revenge of Itzik Finklestein” and prizes as screenwriter and actor. In 2004 he established, with partners, Beit Tefila Yisraeli, the first independent liberal Jewish community in Tel Aviv, and continues to serve as rabbinical leader and executive director. The community has evolved over the years into an organization for Jewish renewal, maintaining communal life, educational activities, and experiential Jewish-Israeli activity in the Tel Aviv public space, in schools, and in the army. The community also is active in musical and liturgical innovation, and serves as a model and a resource for other new prayer communities. Esteban’s rabbinical thesis, “Heschel at the Corner of Bialik,” is a proposal for building a spiritual-cultural basis for Jewish life in Israel, by integrating the thought of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Haim Nachman Bialik. Esteban lives in Tel Aviv with his wife Ruth and children Maya and Tovi.

Na'ama Dafni-Kellen

Naama Dafni-Keln was born in Haifa. As a member of an Israeli secular family, Na’ama absorbed a commitment to peace, justice, and equality as part of a Zionist world-view. In adolescence, she was exposed to the world of Judaism through the Leo Baeck School, where she was a student. After a short time, she became active on the Board of Congregation Ohel Avraham.  After her army service in the Intelligence Corps, Na’amah moved to Jerusalem, studied community social work and Jewish thought for her BA at the Hebrew University, and continued for an MA in non-profit management. In her studies, she always sought to integrate between community practice and Jewish theology and thought. During her studies, Na’ama filled a number of roles in the Israel Reform Movement: counseling coordinator – and later national coordinator - of the Young Forum; director of Kehilat Tzedek a multi-denominational center for social and communal responsibility; and content coordinator for the Movement. In the course of her work, Na’ama encountered many congregations throughout the country, and was involved in editing booklets and websites for the Jewish holidays. Throughout her studies, Na’ama was a member of Kehilat Kol Haneshama, where she was privileged to have an empowering and formative experience of community. For the past two years, she has worked at Kamatz, the Reform congregation in Mevaseret Zion. She found in this congregation a home, a space for growth, and an example of a strong, vibrant, and developing Israeli congregation.

Yehudit (Judith) Werchow

Yehudit Werchow was born in Argentina, and made aliyah as a child, with her family. During her years in the Israeli youth movement of Hanoar Haoved ve Halomed she was inspired by the impact of experiential education, youth leadership and kehillah, especially when complemented with social activism. After completing her service in the IDF, she began working in Jewish and Zionist educational initiatives with youth and students from Jewish communities around the world. Together with her chanichim she discovered her and their paths to Jewish living. Yehudit graduated from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a BA in political science and Latin American literature. During her studies she combined the two fields that later became central in her professional life: philosophy and literature and the two languages of her life: Hebrew and Spanish. The positive and enriching Reform experience she had had during her first shlichut, on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Israel, working for the Reform Movement in the United Kingdom paved the way towards participating in the Israel Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem. Yehudit is driven by the belief that there is a pressing need to expand and deepen the presence of Liberal Jewish life in Israel and for Israelis. Since the beginning of her rabbinical studies, she believed in the need to combine Torah study with activism, first by joining the team of Merkaz Maaseh, a social organization that works with Israeli young adults from all walks of life and religious and cultural backgrounds who devote their gap year to social service and learning in the Israeli periphery. Yehudit spent the last three years of her rabbinical training at the New York Campus, where she also completed her Master of Arts in Religious Education and served as the Jewish Agency’s shlicha for the Union for Reform Judaism. She sees her role as building living bridges between and with individuals and communities in the US and Israel.

Or Zohar

Or Zohar, born in Jerusalem,  in 1977, is a spiritual-community entrepreneur.  He founded and presently leads Kehilat Halev, affiliated with Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv. He conducts life cycle and holiday ceremonies throughout Israel, and teaches Judaism, Kabbalah, and Jewish spirituality; he is a musician, creating and conducting Jewish liturgy with a “now” style; and a radio personality. In the past, Or served as a facilitator, developer, and project leader for the Organization of Community Centers. He holds an MA degree with honors in Jewish thought and Indian studies from the Hebrew University, and is currently a student in HUC-JIR’s Mezorim program in pastoral care. Five years since the release of their first disc, Lev Tahor – Shira Mekudeshet, Or and his wife Felisa are about to release a new disc, bringing together a decade of spiritual and communal musical creativity at Kehilat Halev and throughout Israel.

 Uri Lam

Uri holds a BA in psychology from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and a Masters degree in philosophy from Pontifical Catholic Universityof Campinaswith a thesis on "The Guide of the Perplexed" by Maimonides. He has translated many Jewish books from Hebrew and English into Portuguese, especially the only extant Portugese version of “The Guide for the Perplexed.” Uri was a member of the choir and shaliach tzibur at Congregacao Israelita Paulista (CIP) in Sao Paulo during 1991-93. During 1996-2002, he served as cantor at Congregation Beit Yaakov in Campinas, Brazil, where he also fulfilled rabbinical duties. During 2002-2005, he led many Jewish communities and ceremonies around Brazil, and also served as Jewish books translator for “Sefer” Publisher, in Sao Paulo. From 2005 to 2012, Uri worked as assistant to the rabbis of CIP, where he returns now as a rabbi. In 2007 he prepared the new CIP weekday siddur, Shavua Tov, which is the first egalitarian prayer book for this congregation. In 2007 he started his rabbinical studies at the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary “Marshall T. Meyer” in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2008, he made aliyah and began his studies in the Israel Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR, where he also studied Talmudic Bibliotherapy, in 2010. Uri is a member of the ICCJ (The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel) and a member of the Brazilian Forum for Jewish-Catholic Dialogue.

Gadi Raviv

Gadi Raviv was born on Kibbutz Yagur near Haifa, where he still lives. He received his BA in English literature and English teaching, and his double Masters in school administration (2003),and Judaism (2012) from Haifa University. Gadi studied in the Israel Rabbinical Program at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem while serving as an assistant rabbi in the Reform communities of Haifa and Tivon. Gadi has served the Reform community in Karmiel since 2009. His career as a Jewish professional was shaped by his experience as a shaliach on behalf of the Jewish Agency to Jewish communities in Britain and North America and his rabbinical and academic background has been enriched by several years of intense studies at the Secular Beit Midrash at Hamidrasha at Oranim. During that time Gadi focused on developing and leading Jewish educational programs and Jewish peoplehood-building projects in Israel and abroad while working for Project Oren and the Shdemot Center for Community-Building at Oranim College. He specializes in creating new ceremonies for bar/bat mitzvah, Shabbat, and Jewish festivals meaningful and inspiring for secular Israelis. His work is based on mixing traditional and modern Judaism with Israeli popular culture, kibbutz heritage, and humanistic psychology.

Tlalit Shavit

Tlalit Shavit grew up and was educated on Kibbutz Sdot Yam. She performed a year of volunteer service in the Machanot Olim youth movement in Karmiel and then served as a soldiers’ welfare coordinator in the Intelligence Corps. She earned her BA in general and Jewish philosophy, and her MA in Jewish philosophy at Tel Aviv University, and went on to obtain certification in group facilitation and organizational consulting at the University of Haifa. For many years Tlalit was active in the development of the Midrasha at Oranim College, an organization dedicated to Jewish education for the general public; in this context she taught and facilitated various workshops for deepening Jewish identity and for the study of ancient and modern sources from the “Jewish bookshelf.” Together with partners, she initiated, created, and coordinated, for seven years, the bet midrash Nigun shel Nashim, in which women from all the denominations of Judaism study and research together issues in feminism and women’s identity as addressed by Jewish sources from throughout the generations. Later, she focused on the facilitation of workshops for economic and vocational empowerment of women in various frameworks. As an organizational consultant Tlalit has worked on partnerships between various populations (Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, etc.), and on activities promoting social justice. As a teacher and facilitator in batei midrash for Torah study, Tlalit works to make the Torah into a “Torah of Life,” by integrating study with the life of the individual and with action. She also facilitates groups of mothers and bat mizvah-age daughters, and conducts various life cycle and year cycle ceremonies.

 Established in 1975, the Israel Rabbinical Program prepares Israeli men and women:

  • To serve as leaders of the Reform Movement in Israel, known as the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), its congregations, institutions, and schools, and other bodies within Israeli society
  • To support the growing search for meaning, Jewish identity, and spiritual direction among Israelis of all backgrounds; and
  • To advance the cause of religious pluralism in the Jewish State and around the Jewish world

The diverse student community is comprised of Israeli-born students and immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and North and South America. The graduates of the program, reflecting their social and religious values and their spiritual charge and capabilities, have profoundly influenced the character of Progressive Judaism in Israel, and offer a broad spectrum of Israeli society with modern, up-to-date and progressive ways to express Jewish identity. The program attracts men and women of the highest caliber, from many different sectors of Israeli society.

The curriculum, in tandem with the completion of the M.A. degree in a field of Jewish studies at one of Israel's premier universities, seeks to expose students to the roots of Judaism's ancient heritage, while providing tools for coping with the challenges of the present and the dilemmas of the future. Intensive studies include a wide range of subjects in the fields of Jewish studies and human relations studies, professional training, academic specialization, and exploration of the fundamental questions of Jewish and Israeli existence.


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. www.huc.edu