Learning from their Rabbinic Peers: Mentoring and Residency Program with North American Congregations for Israeli Rabbis Highlighted at CCAR Convention

April 1, 2024

HUC-JIR Jerusalem Campus

Amidst ongoing concerns about fraying ties between American and Israeli Jewry, one group of Israeli Reform rabbis, uniquely poised to be bridge-builders, attended the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ annual convention in Philadelphia in March.

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This delegation of six graduates of the College-Institute’s Rabbinical program in Jerusalem are all alumni of the Golden Family Hanassi Fellows Program, an innovative initiative that places HUC-JIR Israeli rabbinical students and recently ordained Israeli rabbis in North American Reform congregations for a residency that is mentored by leading North American Reform rabbis.

Established by Suzanne and John Golden and the Golden Family Foundation, this program exposes Fellows to vibrant expressions of Reform Judaism, provides lifelong connections and support to Israeli rabbinical students and clergy, and simultaneously strengthens both a pluralistic and democratic Jewish society in Israel as well as the bonds that link Israeli, North American, and world Jewry. Since 2012, there have been 28 Golden Family Hanassi Fellows who have spent 110 weeks at 28 U.S. Reform congregations, guided by 81 American rabbinical, cantorial, and education alumni mentors.

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By leading services, teaching in congregational education programs across all generations, participating in pastoral care, and serving as ambassadors of Israeli life, culture, and politics, the Hanassi Fellows develop a deeper understanding of the ongoing process of Jewish identity formation and affiliation within the North American Reform Movement. Upon their return to Israel, the Fellows are better able to engage Israelis who are seeking spiritual meaning in a society polarized between ultra-orthodox and secular approaches to religious life. Following their residencies, the Fellows continue to be mentored by their North American clergy hosts through on-line meetings.

“In these unprecedented and challenging times, when some question the importance of Israel to American Jewry, we need to strengthen our bond between Israelis and American Jews and ensure strong Jewish leadership for the future. After ten years, Suzanne and I are proud of the Hanassi Fellows’ impact in Israel and North America and remain committed to the continued efforts and success of this important program,” said John Golden.

“The Golden Hanassi Fellowship strengthens ties between HUC-JIR’s American and Israeli students and alumni, provides a unique opportunity for cross-cultural learning and understanding, and ultimately strengthens the Jewish People and Reform Jewish life in both North America and in Israel,” said Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The Hanassi delegation attending the CCAR gathering—and prominently featured at the annual HUC-JIR Alumni CCAR Breakfast—include rabbi Rinat Safania Shwartz, R’17, a Hanassi Fellow at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ. She currently serves at the Reform community in Shoham, Israel, V’ahavta  – HaKehila Hashivionit, where she is the founding rabbi.

“The Hanassi Fellows program is one of the programs that influenced me the most in my rabbinate,” said Shwartz. “I learned about American Jewry; the difference between living a Jewish lifestyle in Israel and outside of Israel, the commitment of people in the United States to their Jewish identity and to Israel and Zionism. I recognized the commitment to Jewish education, spiritual guidance, and targeted outreach; the importance of empowering community members and strengthening relationships with them.”

Another member of the delegation to the CCAR Convention, Rabbi David Benjamin, R’18, served as a Hanassi Fellow at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA. He currently serves at Kehilat Brit Olam, Kiryat On, Israel.

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“For a Reform Rabbi in Israel, the knowledge that one is associated with the large and vibrant Reform Movement in the United States is very empowering,” said Rabbi Benjamin. “The Hanassi Fellowship program reinforces this association and gives Israeli Reform Rabbis, who deal with considerable adversity, the assurance that the large and successful North American Movement is right behind them.”

Members of the Hanassi delegation include:

Rabbi Binyamin Daniel Minich headshotRabbi Binyamin Daniel Minich, R’19
Hanassi Fellow at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua, NY, hosted by Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe ’07

Currently leads Kehillat Daniel in Jaffa and works at the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv.

David Azoulay headshotRabbi David Azoulay, R’22
Hanassi Fellow at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, FL, hosted by Rabbi Dan Levin ’96

Currently serves at Kehillah YOZMA Modiin in Modiin.

Rabbi Cantor Shani Ben-Or headshotRabbi Shani Ben-Or, R’21 and C’21
Hanassi Fellow at Central Synagogue in New York, NY, hosted by Rabbi Cantor Angela Buchdahl ’01, ’99

Currently serves at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the division of social involvement and diversity and as an independent Rabbi Cantor in a variety of organizations.

Rabbi Tamar Gur Krause headshotRabbi Tamar Gur Krause R’18,
Hanassi Fellow at Temple Judea in Palm Beach, FL, hosted by Rabbi Yaron Kapitulnik ’10

Currently serves as a self-employed rabbi, conducting life-cycle ceremonies, lecturing on religion and the State, facilitating workshops, working with couples, and teaching.

Rabbi David Benjamin headshotRabbi David Benjamin ’18
Hanassi Fellow at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA, hosted by Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles ’98

Currently serves at Kehilat Brit Olam, Kiryat Ono in Israel.


Rabbi Rinat Safania Scwartz headshotRabbi Rinat Safania Shwartz ’17
Hanassi Fellow at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ, hosted by Rabbi Bennett Miller ’74

Currently serves at V’ahavta – HaKehila Hashivionit Shoham (the Reform community of Shoham), where she is the founding rabbi.