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Updates from Jerusalem
View from Jerusalem #1
A message from Michael Marmur, Dean, HUC-JIR Jerusalem and Naamah Kelman, Director of Year in Israel Program
As we prepare to celebrate Shabbat with our incoming class, we are taking a moment to let you know the View from Jerusalem. We have succesfully completed our three-day orientation program, including political and security briefings, a review of safety measures around the city and the security systems in place on campus, an exploration of some Jerusalem neighborhoods, and a chance to meet some senior members of the College administration and Board of Governors who are visiting us here at this time. Our students were particularly excited to meet David Ellenson. Rabbi Ellenson addressed them as a group and spent considerable time getting to know individual students. All of these activities help our incoming students feel oriented and prepared to participate in all aspects of our program.
As all of us well know, the situation on two of Israel's borders is very tense. So far, life in Jerusalem continues as normal: tourists throng the streets, cool summer nights follow hot summer days, the Jerusalem Film Festival is just coming to its close. Life continues - although of course Israelis are following the reports from North and South with keen concern.
We have been working intensively with the student body through these difficult days, leaning on experience we have acquired over these last years. We place a great emphasis on access to precise information: students receive expert briefings, and are encouraged to ask questions and express concernns. We know where to find them and they know where to find us at all times.
In a few minutes we will pray and eat together with the new students, together with visiting HUC alumni, a group of students from our Graduate School, and other special guests. In the coming days, we will continue to monitor the situation closely, and we will keep you informed.
Naamah Kelman, Director of Year in Israel Program
Michael Marmur, Dean
View from Jerusalem #2
A message from Michael Marmur, Dean, HUC-JIR Jerusalem and Naamah Kelman, Director of Year in Israel Program
We wrote our first View From Jerusalem last Friday, just as Shabbat was approaching. It proved to be a wonderful Shabbat experience for us and our students. On Friday night we were all the guests of Rabbi David Posner, who sponsors a dinner for our incoming students every year. There were generous helpings of food, prayer, song and spirit, and our students were boosted by the presence of Governors, senior administration and faculty. On Saturday morning some 300 worshippers thronged the Blaustein Hall, and services took place against the backdrop of the walls of the Old City.
Things were very different only one hundred miles away. On both sides of the border with Lebanon there was unprecedented military activity, which left parts of Beirut in flames, and many Northern towns under fire. Over the weekend Haifa was attacked, and as we write these words another attack has taken place. Down in the South in Gaza and nearby, hostilities are also continuing
This morning we gathered our students together for an update. Dr. David Mendelsson, Director of Israel Studies at the College, summarized the latest events and surveyed different expert opinions about the future course of events. Nancy Lewitt, Coordinator of Student Affairs then surveyed various procedures we have put in place to help our students navigate through the current situation. These include such measures as a Telephone Tree, designed to provide accurate information in real time to all our students; and a service providing subsidized psychological support for students and their spouses. We also mentioned the safety facilities available on campus.
During the briefing the students were highly impressive - calm, concerned, informed and positive. It is heartening to see them showing such qualities of leadership and maturity so early in their training. They asked a number of questions, both about the military situation and about the policies and procedures of the College. We told them that according to the most authoritative opinions currently available, the chances of Jerusalem being attacked by missiles is small. Nonetheless, we are taking sensible measures to promote the security and well-being of our students. This includes paying close attention to the ever-present risk of terror in Jerusalem - indeed, we sent out a further communication on this subject following the update. We are encouraging our students to be especially cautious and vigilant.
Students expressed concern about their families and loved ones, many of whom are anxious in the light of all they are reading in the Times and seeing on CNN. We have encouraged them to send us the e-mail addresses of those close to them who they would like to receive updates such as these View From Jerusalem letters. In the coming days we may also invite these family members to participate in a telephone briefing. We hope to be able to provide a Jerusalem perspective on all that is taking place, and to let families know about the steps we are taking to navigate through this sensitive and difficult time.
It may be that these days prove to be the crucial phase of the current military engagement. We continue to track developments and we plan to keep sending these notes for as long as the current situation continues.
Many have commented on the measured and determined way in which Israelis are facing these difficult days. We are privileged to report that our students are no exception to this general trend. We hope and pray that soon the normalcy of life in Jerusalem can be extended to our Northern and Southern borders.
Naamah Kelman, Director, Year in Israel Program
Michael Marmur, Dean
View from Jerusalem #3
Friday, July 21, 2006
Dear HUC Community,
This time last week we composed our first View From Jerusalem. Shabbat was approaching, and we were looking forward to our first community experience with the incoming Year in Israel class. At that time we had no real sense of whether the military activity would last a few days or a few months. Now, a week later, we know that this is not a short episode. As we write these words, the city of Haifa is once again under missile attack, although so far no fatalities have been reported. Israeli infantry troops are engaged in combat over the Lebanese border. Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in the war zone, and indeed with all innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.
Meanwhile, life in Jerusalem is remarkably normal. We have just completed our first week of the Hebrew Intensive Ulpan Program. The formal curriculum of the summer is dedicated to a total immersion in Hebrew four days a week, and an extra day for getting to know Jerusalem, both Earthly and Heavenly - through formal and informal field trips and site visits.
We usually spend the summer program building group cohesion, exposing our students to the mystery and magic of Jerusalem, and helping our students settle in to the routine of paying electric bills in Hebrew, discovering the quickest route to the College or to the local great latte cafe, and spelling out security precautions.
The backdrop of the situation in the North has accelerated all the above. On Monday morning, the second day of class we felt that it was imperative to start the day with a security briefing and geo-political analysis of the current situation. Our students' questions were mature and thoughtful. Tuesday morning began with a powerful Tefillah workshop, in which we were able to reflect on our own comfort in comparison to the anguish of so many just a hundred miles from here.
That same day thirty students followed our dynamic Israeli Rabbinic student Nir Barkin (accompanied by an armed guard) on a tour of less-traveled alleyways of Jerusalem, with the story of the generations of his family unfolding at every turn. Indeed, at one point he introduced a special guest — his mother! There will be five such afternoons throughout the summer. Nir is entering his last year in our Israeli Rabbinical Pprogram and he will continue to serve as a bridge between the Year-in- Israel Program and over thirty Israeli Rabbinical students, who start their studies after the High Holidays.
On Thursday all our students went out into the field to learn Bible in the place it was originally inspired. We began with Morning Prayers led by our three interns, upperclasswomen Stacey Nolish Blank, Jen Frankel, and Shira Ginsberg, in the shade of a pine grove overlooking the Old City. From our Mountain top perch we peered out into the Judean Desert. We read passages of the Torah about Abraham's coming to Jerusalem. We walked along the Promenade, taking in some of the most inspiring views of the walls of the Old City.
Next we drove to the site of the original Biblical City of David. Here we studied texts from the Book of Samuel about David and Bathsheba and life in the city in Bible times. We walked thought the archeological excavations of the ancient alley ways where once Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah walked, thought and wrote the literature that has become a treasure of our people and the world ever since.
While all this learning and discovery was going on, we stayed ever-conscious of events elsewhere in Israel and in the Middle East. On Thursday night we asked two entering students to join us on a conference call with the Board of Governors. Jessie Gross, entering Rabbinical student, shared her experiences of this past week. She talked about her decision to be in our program knowing full well that her sense of safety and security might be challenged in Jerusalem. She described her conversations with her classmates, and with some Israeli friends. She added that she feels ready and determined to be here now. She felt that she reflected the overall sentiments of the incoming class. Phillip Bazeley, entering Rabbinical student in Israel for the first time, added rich descriptions of his first days, his being oriented and disoriented all at once. And he described how in one day he could walk in the footsteps of Abraham and then order cooking gas from the Gas Company in his newly-acquired Hebrew. He expressed, as did Jessie, their deep gratitude for being part of this program.
That gratitude is mutual. We are impressed by the way in which each individual and the group as a whole is coping with the situation. We are also very appreciative pf the e-mails expressing love and support which are pouring in from HUC-JIR students abroad, faculty and alumni. Another part of our HUC-JIR family also deserves special mention: our Israeli staff, faculty and student body, many of whom are caught up in the current situation in very intense ways. Some of our students have been displaced from their homes in the North. Some are providing Rabbinical support for communities on the frontline. Some have children in the Army, or have themselves been called up for Reserve Duty. Tonight both of us will host some of these students at our Shabbat dinner tables, alongside visiting members of the HUC-JIR family like Naomi Ellenson, our President's delightful daughter, and Profesor Rachel Adler from our Los Angeles School. This is a time to be together.
The local team here is dedicated to keep our students informed, aware, and accessible to us and each other. Everyone is accounted for tonight as they have plans to welcome Shabbat together in different settings. The rest of July and August is chock full of activities on and off campus. We are keeping everyone busy.
So we go on, with caution and hope, realistic and optimistic.
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Director of the Year in Israel Program
Rabbi Dr Michael Marmur, Dean
View from Jerusalem #4
From Rabbi Michael Marmur, Dean, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem
Another week has passed, and the hostilities in the North and South show little sign of abating. The Israeli press and media are awash with speculation and expert opinion. Some are emphasizing military strategy and the state of our Army, others look on at the destruction being wrought in Lebanon with anger or despair. Some deal mainly with the social, economic and psychological costs being borne by the residents of Northern Israel, while others see the current events in broader geo-political terms.
Our Year In Israel students continue to respond magnificently to the situation, and are now moving beyond coping, to helping. Here is how Nancy Lewitt, our Coordinator of Student Affairs, puts it in a letter this week to HUC-JIR staff and faculty and to staff members in other institutions of Reform Judaism in Israel:
Our 60 cantorial, rabbinical, and Jewish education students, who began their studies less than two weeks ago, have organized a number of activities to support the effort to assist those who have been affected by the war in the north of the country. They have prepared care packages for soldiers, are entertaining children from the north who are temporarily being housed with their families by members of the Reform congregation in Tzur Hadassah, and are beginning a fundraising campaign for food and supplies for residents of the north. They have also turned to Magen David Adom to ask how they can assist. As a result a Blood Drive will be held on Tuesday, August 1st from 14:30 - 16:30 in the HUC student Moadon.
Alongside other individual and collective initiatives, our Movement has mobilized in an impressive way to translate the slogan of solidarity into reality. Hundreds of individuals (Jews and Arabs) displaced by the events on the Northern border are being housed in institutions and private homes, some of them with special needs requiring special arrangements. People are opening their wallets, their hearts, and their homes.
However strange or unlikely it may sound, life for us in Jerusalem continues to be remarkably normal. Like all of us, our students are conscious of what is taking place around us, and concerned about all of the military, political, moral and existential dimensions of the current situation. Much of the time, though, they're trying to prepare for their next Hebrew test, or touring Old and New Jerusalem.
It can be a challenge, living life in these two very different dimensions, but our students seem to be equal to the task. We are also following with great concern our graduates, students and colleagues who are more directly implicated in the current situation. Yesterday I had the privilege of joining our Israeli Rabbinical student Yishai Ron, a resident of the North of Israel. Together with Prof. Yoki Amir, Director of our Israeli Rabbinical Program, and Rabbi Tamar Duvdevani, a graduate of our program who now teaches in it, we traveled from the peace of Jerusalem to the constant booms heard across our Northern border. Joining Yishai on his Rabbinical "house calls," we sat in bomb shelters and taught Jewish texts in Ein Baruch (adjacent to Kiryat Shemona) and Kfar Hanassi.
For me, the most moving moment of the visit came when Yoki, whose son Ro'i is serving as an officer in a combat unit on the Northern border, addressed the group. He noted that this coming Shabbat falls within the first days of the month of Av, and that next week the national day of mourning, the Ninth of Av, would be observed. Yoki went on to point out that the Jewish calendar does not end there. With the sounds of our artillery and the Hezbollah rockets in the background, he reminded all of us that after these dark days another Shabbat will come, one in which we will read the words of Isaiah:
Comfort, oh, comfort my people,
Says your God.
A few hours later we were back in Jerusalem, in the heart of a bustling and lively city.
With days of sadness still before us, we look ahead to the promise of consolation, and we give thanks for Jerusalem, her beauty and her normalcy.
View from Jerusalem #5
AUGUST 4, 2006
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Director of the Year-in-Israel Program
and Educational Initiatives
This week the Jewish calendar reached its nadir, the lowest point of our
Scriptural and liturgical cycle. The 9th of Av represents the saddest and
most mournful day of our holy day cycle. The hot dry summer weather
corresponds with the associations of despair and desolation. Indeed
the difficult events of this past week mirror these associations as well.
The death of the innocent victims at Kfar Kana, the continuing devastation
of our cities: Kiryat Shemonah, Carmiel, Tzat, Acco, Maalot-Tarshicha and
the lose of life in the North, civilians and soldiers weighs heavily on
every Israeli everywhere.
We may hit "rock bottom" on the evening of the 9th of Av, but even our
Rabbis would not allow us to stay there. By Mincha time on the day itself,
we begin to move away from many of the symbols of mourning and turn towards
hope. This dynamic tension captures so much of our daily reality. We find
ourselves, three and a half weeks into this war, swinging back and forth
from mourning to healing, despair to hope. Isaiah was the first to rally
us, shake us out of our sadness and sense of helplessness. Haifa writer,
"secular" prophet A.B. Yehoshua said in the midst of the toughest days of
Haifa, where he remains: "Pessimism is a luxury!"
We in Jerusalem find ourselves in the place where we remain calm and unwavering;
not pessimistic, but not quite optimistic; steadfastly between the Earthly
Jerusalem and the Heavenly Jerusalem. We forge ahead. Joint Masters Rhea Hirsh
School of Education and School of Jewish Communal Service student Laura Siegel
and Rabbinic student Matt Cohen expressed their feelings so eloquently on an
International web-based broadcast sponsored by the Jewish Agency-Israel Government
program MASA. Go to the link at www.masaisrael.org for the full broadcast,
including Nancy Lewitt (Coordinator of Student Life and Community building)
Our students are deeply ensconsced in their Hebrew studies. This week we began
to focus on the many aspects of Tzedakah and Tzedek that they can choose to be
involved with. Author and well-known Tzedakah activist, Danny Siegel, opened
the programming by sharing his rich experiences with our students. In the
coming weeks they will commit to their ongoing Community Service projects
that will give them the opportunity to help those in need or offer support
to many community-based and educational organizations. Some may become
Song leaders at our Progressive Congregation or volunteers for IRAC and
Rabbis for Human Rights while others will tutor children who struggle
with English, work with children in families who are
victims of terror, and help Ethiopian families in Absorption Centers.
"Charity begins at home;" we began to form the volunteer committees that build
community and foster student involvement with different aspects of the program.
The Caring Committee does "in-reach" by reaching out to students who need
attention if they are at home with a virus or a birthday is coming up,
the Israel Committee is planning a series of encounters with their
Israeli peers, the Liaison Committee to the Administration makes sure
that student concerns get voiced and are responded to, the "Kef" Social
and Cultural Committee is planning many "fun" activities, the
Sports Committee will make sure our students use their bodies as well
as their minds, and an ad hoc committee is planning a Talent
Night-Fundraiser, to name a few.
Lastly, students looked to each other for support when they devoted an evening
activity to discussing their lives with and without their Significant Others at
their side this year. Those partners that are in Jerusalem for the year sat
with Wendy Bocarsky, RN, wife of Rabbi Shelley Donnell, while she shared
her over 20 years experience as life partner to a Jewish professional. We
thank her for her time, but we are deeply grateful to our students'
spouses, life partners, and significant others, both near and far, for
supporting our students. In a wonderful act of counter-cultural
creativity, our other SOs (singles only) sponsored a text "study"
evening (off campus) filled with humor and song and mutual support.
The student-initiated Blood Drive was held this week. This was a spontaneous
reaction to the Magen David call for blood so desperately needed in
the North. On Shabbat day, another group will be visiting a local
Jerusalem hotel where Ethiopian families from the North have been moved
to for some rest and relief. They will take the children for some
recreational activities, giving their parents the much-needed break.
Student interns and HUC faculty and staff led Tefillah and Study sessions
on the 9th of Av. They examined the significance of this day in an era
when Jerusalem is restored and we Reform Jews do not pray for a rebuilt
3rd Temple. We do, however, pray for a redeemed Jerusalem. A Jerusalem
that Isaiah prophesized is to be rebuilt in Justice and Compassion.
Tomorrow, on Shabbat "Nachamu," Isaiah will be a source of comfort. We
can look back on our little community in-the-making in Jerusalem -- our
future educational, cantorial, and rabbinic leaders -- and can be
View from Jerusalem #6
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Director of the Year-In-Israel Program and Educational Initiatives
The war in the North grinds into the 4th week. Ground operations have expanded and with that more soldiers killed and wounded. Staff and students at the College have relatives and loved ones enlisted or recently called into service. In this country there are maybe "2 degrees of separation." So our greater community finds itself visiting the wounded and attending military funerals. The North remains a combination of ghost towns and cities struggling to function. As my colleague at the Leo Baeck Centre in Haifa told me: "we are operating at 50%." These are hard and heavy times. At this writing, there is serious talk about a Cease Fire, so let us hope...
Something remarkable happened this week in Jerusalem. In the midst of this difficult and painful war, hundreds gathered in the Forscheimer Courtyard at the College for the opening of the first ever Inter-faith gathering, as part of World Pride 2006, an affirmation of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) Community. Under the full moon of Tu B'av (the 15th of Av) an impromptu student choir of cantorial and rabbinic students, led by upperclassman SSM Student David Berger, set the evening with a magnificent rendering of Psalm 122 and they continued to sing throughout the evening. What a heavenly choir they were, with them we could really soar to a place of transcendence we so needed to get to.
I welcomed the hundreds including many of our students, who joined together to hear the inspired four Keynote Speakers. Representative Jerry Nadler of New York was on hand to greet the assembly. Then one after another each religious activist transformed us. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the largest GLBT Synagogue in North America spoke of the historic significance of this gathering. Who could imagine that representatives of the three monotheistic faiths could gather in Jerusalem at a time and place of religious extremism and call for openness, tolerance, and co-existence. Rabbi Kleinbaum has been unwavering in her fight to keep the events going this week and sustain the courage to voice the needs and concerns of the GLBT community at this time. This too is "Tikkun Olam", she said; Bishop Zachary Jones of the Unity Fellowship Church shared this first time journey to Jerusalem. He listened for voices telling him not to come, but God did not cooperate and in the thunderous silence he heard the cry for justice and he boarded the plane. In Jerusalem, he found God in the faces of everyone he encountered, and he told the assembled, that he so artfully turned into a "Baptist Congregation", to go out and spread this loving and inclusive Grace of God, Amen! Rev Pat Bumgardner, Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, with unprecedented passion and fire reminded us that Queer people are not abominations, as the fundamentalists would have it; rather, the hate and violence directed against the GLBT community is the abomination. God is love. It is that simple and that powerful; the rest, as we Jews would say, is commentary. And Irshad Manji, perhaps one of the bravest and outspoken Muslim women in the world today, taught us that human rights means reaching out of your comfort zone and worrying about the other, doing something for the other. She represents an Islam that embraces pluralism and indeed, self-questioning. She was the dazzling coda for this extraordinary gathering; which was followed the next day with plenary sessions, workshops, and a closing ecumenical prayer service.
Dr Joel Kushner, Director of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at our Los Angeles campus was here this week meet our students and be an active participant in the Interfaith Conference and other World Pride events. He was able to announce the opening of the Jeff Herman Virtual Resource Center to the general public, coinciding with World Pride 2006. This web-based center is a crucial and vital resource and for clergy and lay people in our ongoing work for inclusion and empowerment of the LGBT community.
This week we concluded our 4 week Thursday program dedicated to Jerusalem. Three remarkable teachers served as our students' guides and educators. Rabbi Moshe Silberschein , master teacher of Rabbinics at the College for many years, turns tour guide- educator in our summer program. Rabbi David Wilfond aka "Gingi" Director of Outreach Projects, working intensively with our program in the FSU (sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schuterman Family Foundation) took some time to orient our students to his newly chosen beloved city of Jerusalem. He has now completed his second year as "Oleh Chadash", new immigrant. Ofir Yarden, professional tour guide and educator, born and bred Reform Jew, adds his expertise to this intense seminar. Week after week, our students studied texts, walked the paths up down, scouted rooftops, wandered through the gates, explored the underground layers and tunnels, peeling off historic layer after historic layer of this city. It ended overlooking the Old City, at the intersection of the three monotheistic faiths. From the highpoint it can look hopeful, even peaceful. On the ground, we know that the challenge is much tougher. And yet, we can put these events together this week and pray that the rainbow shining over Jerusalem, from our courtyard toward the church spires, Mosque domes, and synagogue walls, that rainbow will be remembered for generations to come.