Michal Muszkat-Barkan, Ph.D.

Michal Muszkat-Barkan, Ph.D.

Please tell us about your Jewish journey.
I was born here in Israel, my mother is from Argentina, my grandparents on my father’s side made Aliyah before the Holocaust. My mother’s grandparents went from Poland to Argentina. Their families were killed in the Holocaust.

I grew up as a very active Orthodox young woman. Both Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik’s writing and later on Heschel’s writing influenced my understanding of Judaism. As a young woman, I went to camp Ramah in Wisconsin, where I met for the first time the liberal community of the United States. I studied Jewish Philosophy at the Hebrew University, and started teaching in a feminist Orthodox school for girls. This exposure to the many ways of living Jewish life shaped the way in which me and my spouse built our family. We have a very diverse extended family – both secular and Orthodox – and I feel that acceptance and care are the most dominant values in our life. I try to teach myself and my students to be active in our Jewish lives by combining intellectual criticism and commitment to our communities.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at HUC-JIR?
I enjoy the opportunity to be very creative, and I love my colleagues and my students. HUC-JIR is a community with really open minded people who are committed to Jewish life and to educating the next Jewish leadership. The journey is not only for students, but also for teachers. I love learning together with such stimulating, knowledgeable, respectful colleagues and friends.

What inspired you to start the Teacher’s Lounge? What is the most rewarding/challenging aspect of it today?
I have lived in Jerusalem for thirty years and I see that Arab and Jewish teachers and students grow without meeting each other as human beings, but only meet the threatening images represented in the media. If we are training Jerusalem’s community leaders at HUC-JIR, we must include both Arab and Jewish teachers, who will make change for the next generation. I feel that we need to take responsibility and provide teachers with an opportunity to learn about each other. In getting to know each other we create a shared professional community. These local leaders think together about what we need to do, what our responsibilities are in order to make the Israeli society strive for the common good. Our challenge is to transform multiculturalism from a problem to an inspiration, to make it inspire how we educate.

What is most rewarding and challenging about living in Jerusalem?
We are in the center of where everything happens. So many eyes are looking at us with love and worry. This is a huge responsibility. Every time we face violence here we have to think, “Can we trust each other? Can we keep building bridges? Do we have something to say to our students and kids?” I have Palestinian educators as friends and colleagues, and I respect them so much. I meet people from all over the world who want to make a change here. So many people really want to be part of the effort, and we have partners and friends that support us and share with us the tough times and the achievements as well. This is what excites me and gives me strength: everyone can join our journey even from afar. I feel privileged to be part of an excellent group of dedicated educators who lead this movement.

Can you tell me about your mission in educating pluralistic Jewish educators for Israel?
My mission is to create a professional and academic language for pluralistic Jewish education in Israel, and be able to translate this language into practice, for every kind of educational institution. I want my students to be able to envision and create Jewish life that flourishes for Jews of every background. I want pluralism to become the language for reaching a high level of commitment and being able to dream about a Jewish state that is open to all Jewish visions. I want my students to be those leaders, who can look around and map the challenges, who can offer attractive Jewish learning: Torat Hayim, Torah that you can live by and makes you alive.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I love being with my family – I have four kids and they are growing so fast! I like to bake and I also love to do pottery, both on the wheel and by hand, these are my mindfulness moments.