AN OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR EHUD OLMERT
FROM PRESIDENT DAVID ELLENSON
Dear Mayor Olmert,
In 1930, Hebrew Union College alumnus and Reform Rabbi Judah Leon Magnes, the first Chancellor of Hebrew University, wrote: "The Jew will not abandon the land of Israel."
The Reform Movement in Israel and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion today affirm the sentiments expressed first by Rabbi Magnes almost 70 years ago. Our ties to Israel are absolute.
Our HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem, a vibrant educational and cultural presence in your city since 1963 which you have visited and can view from your City Hall office, is a tangible confirmation of our dedication to a vital, Zionist engagement binding Israel and North American Reform Jewry. But it is Israel itself which is the classroom for our students, where they immerse themselves in the fabric of everyday Israeli life and establish life-long ties that inspire their leadership as the rabbis, cantors, and educators for Reform Jewry and klal Yisrael.
We are proud that during the past 30 years, over 1400 of our alumni – leaders of Reform congregations, educational institutions, and Jewish communal agencies throughout the world – have spent their mandatory first-year of study at our Jerusalem School. Starting next week, 65 North American first-year HUC-JIR students will arrive in Jerusalem for their year of study as they begin their journeys as Jewish professionals. Our commitment as an institution to these programs will brook no compromise, and we are proud that our students understand the importance this year plays in their formation as Jewish leaders.
We are absolutely committed to the central role that Medinat Yisrael plays in modern Jewish life, and we believe that no leader of the Jewish people in our time can exercise proper leadership if he or she is not exposed, for an extensive period of time, to daily life in Israel. This year is no exception.
Our North American students will join our 20 Israeli rabbinical students, international students at our Beit Midrash/A Liberal Yeshivah, participants in our Israeli teacher training programs, new immigrants studying in our ulpan and communal leadership classes, and some 100 Israeli pre-school children who are enrolled in our programs at our Jerusalem School. These North American students will participate actively in Israeli life, living off-campus among Israeli neighbors, working with Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, helping the disabled and elderly, and counseling victims of family violence. They will interact with the hundreds of couples choosing to be married by our rabbis each year, the thousands of Israelis coming to our synagogue for B'nai Mitzvah and other life cycle celebrations as well as our regular Shabbat and holiday services, and the hundreds more flocking to our educational and religious programs, provided by our Reform Movement throughout Israel. These students will be helping us to strengthen and advance our mission – sustaining a vital relationship with the people and State of Israel.
As the newly chosen President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, my family and I will be in Jerusalem for the summer – part of a lifelong devotion to teaching and living in Israel. I invite you to join me in welcoming our North American first-year students and visit our thriving campus with its manifold programs.
I look forward to hearing from you. With heartfelt wishes for peace and security for our beloved Israel,
Dr. David Ellenson