Dganit Timor Jenshil
Chief Operating Officer and Director of Outreach
Israeli Rabbinical Program Student
Please tell us about your Jewish journey and your journey to HUC-JIR.
I grew up in a small modern-Orthodox community in the South of Israel. Both of my parents were born in Israel before 1948. I am the youngest of four siblings. I was born on Shavuot, and my parents had to drive in the middle of the holiday to the hospital. They named me Dganit (“cornflower” in Hebrew). I was a few months old when my father was called from the synagogue on Yom Kippur in 1973 to go to war. Everybody in my neighborhood was religious, and I also went to a religious school. But as I grew up I became less and less comfortable in my religious surroundings, especially as a woman. When I went to the Army, I decided to present myself as secular. I didn’t really know that there were other options. Only after my army service, through working with Jewish teens from the diaspora, did I discover progressive Judaism. It felt right. For the first time I found myself enjoying praying, being a part of the community, and being Jewish. And I found that I could be with God again.
Adam, my better half, came from a similar religious background though he grew up in London. We both shared the same passion for Jewish informal education and we both pursued advanced degrees and careers in this field. We have 21 year-old twins (girl and boy) who are serving in the IDF, an 11 year-old son, and a 14 year-old Cocker Spaniel. I have been working at HUC-JIR since 2015. Over the years, I started taking courses at the college and enjoyed them tremendously. I joined the college’s Healing Hatred program which was a transformative experience. Last year, I participated in Sugiyot Chaim, which was such a privilege. It opened me to a whole new level of spirituality and text. I believe it also opened the idea of rabbinical studies for me although it was Rabbi Talia Avnon who gave me the last pull.
Please tell me about your role as Chief Operating Officer and Director of Outreach at the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem.
First, I was in charge of outreach. I came to HUC-JIR thanks to a generous gift from Michele and Martin Cohen, which was given to enhance the Jerusalem Campus’s visibility with URJ communities who are visiting the country, and to increase revenue from events and rentals. Within two years, we quadrupled the amount of visitors and revenue that came to the campus. We then received another incredible gift from the Taube Family. I remember the phone call when we discussed the amazing possibilities that this gift would provide. We talked about creating a beautiful new entrance to the campus. At some point, President Rabbi Aaron Panken, of blessed memory, said, “Dganit is going to lead this project.” I immediately texted my colleague: “Did he just say what I think he said? I hope he knows I have no experience in the field of buildings and construction.” Of course, he saw in me abilities that I didn’t know I had. I miss him. I often think about how he would have reacted to some of the changes and additions that we’ve made to the campus. Two years ago, I became Chief Operating Officer of the Jerusalem campus. I kept the Director of Outreach role and added operations. COVID brought a lot of the outreach initiatives to a halt. But it also gave us the opportunity to progress with a lot of building and renovation projects.
Why did you decide to pursue the Blaustein Center’s Spiritual Counseling Program and the Israeli Rabbinical Program? What was the most rewarding part of your experience?
I wanted to participate in Sugiyot Chaim (Talmudic Bibliotherapy Program) for three years before I actually did. I knew it was going to be special but also challenging emotionally. Professor Ruhama Weiss told me, “You will know when you are ready.” And last year I felt ready. It was in the middle of COVID, and the program moved quickly to Zoom, which made it even more challenging, but it was also incredibly special. In a time when spiritual counseling is not a luxury but a necessity, the program gave me tools of mindfulness, bibliotherapy, and so much more. By the end of the year, I felt ready to embark on a new learning journey, this time to become a rabbi.
Please describe HUC-JIR in one word.
Maayan. Working at the Taube Family Campus of HUC-JIR in Jerusalem for me is like living next to a water spring. Instead of water, for me it is a spring — a Maayan (מעיין) of learning.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy traveling, reading, walking, and being with my family.