News from the Year-In-Israel Program

New Year-In-Israel Program Leadership

Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of the Taube Family Campus, writes: “We are thrilled to welcome our new Year-In-Israel leadership team – Rabbi Reuven Greenvald, Cantor Sarah Grabiner, and Rachel Singer – and look forward to exciting new directions while maintaining the success of the past, thanks to our dedicated faculty, teachers, and staff who have served this program with love and commitment over many years. During the past year-and-a-half, they demonstrated their gifts as they pivoted to remote teaching, late afternoons, and into the night from Jerusalem, thereby sustaining much of our program. Together, we will rebuild and restore the Year-In-Israel Program. We eagerly await the return of our stateside students, who will be arriving soon, and anticipate the arrival of the second-year students who will join us for a summer semester intensive Israel Studies Program.”

Renewing the Vision for the Year-In-Israel

Rabbi Reuven Greenvald, Director, Year-In-Israel Program

If you walk north up the storied King David Street in Jerusalem, to the right you pass the famous hotel and to the left YMCA – both being architectural landmarks from the late 1920s/early 1930s.  Continuing north towards Jerusalem Center, you will encounter another architectural achievement – HUC-JIR’s Taube Family Campus comprised of modernist buildings that pay homage to Jerusalem’s ancient past.

As we reopen the Year-In-Israel Program (YII) for entering cantorial, rabbinical, and Master of Arts in Jewish Learning students, we can draw renewed inspiration for our present-day work from the history and location of the campus. Considering its 1963 origins on the then border between the State of  Israel and Jordanian Palestine and its panoramic views of Jerusalem’s 3,000 year history and contemporary diversity, the first-year program for Reform Judaism’s future Jewish leaders, like its academic home, is all about being al ha-tefer – on the seamline — as our students learn to redefine classical Jewish texts for modern application, and cross over and between social and linguistic boundaries to experience pluralistic interaction.

After the Covid-19 pandemic put a temporary hold on the YII last year, the Jerusalem staff and faculty are excited to welcome 34 incoming students to an immersive year of learning, which will conclude with a month overlap with the second-year cohort slated to come for a summer semester to make up for the first-year Israel experience they missed.

The “Covid year” gave the College-Institute a reprieve to take stock of where YII has been and think anew about where it needs to go to meet today’s societal and communal challenges.  When I started as the new YII director in February (working from my then Manhattan apartment), I immediately engaged in deep conversation with our educational and program leadership, faculty, and students about the YII. The result of that process is a renewed YII plan that works with the calendar limitations of 2021-22, which is shorter than the past due to the late reopening of international travel.

Now that I am sitting in my new office in Jerusalem, having moved here on June 21, the picture of the updated YII is coming into clearer focus as the beautiful Jerusalem-stoned interior courtyard outside my window awaits to be filled by students.  Building on strong foundations of immersive Hebrew learning, deep study of contemporary Israel, and foundational Jewish studies, YII 2021-22 is proceeding with reorganization designed to put our program at the forefront of progressive seminary education.

These two conceptual framings will guide this year’s experience:

  • Ownership: To encourage and foster greater engagement with what’s outside of the campus, the revised schedule gives students more time to explore and to chart their own intimate and authentic relationship with the history and present realities of this place. Students will design a project that develops their desire to engage in meaningful interactions in Hebrew, and to gather their own evidence to see their formal Israel studies in real life.
  • Inner Growth: To ensure that future clergy and educators see their own spiritual development as inspiration for their eventual interaction with Jewish-seekers of all kinds, YII 2021-22 will be centered around a dynamic and inclusive beit midrash (study house) – a new space (physical and metaphoric) for cultivating students’ creative thinking about Jewish tradition and their personal religious development and practice.

Joining the dedicated and veteran teaching staff and Jerusalem administration, including Helen Linden (YII administrator) and Rabbi Naamah Kelman (Taube Family Campus Dean), is the new YII leadership team. In addition to myself (bio below), the new YII leadership team is composed of Cantor Sarah Grabiner (DFSSM ’19) as Coordinator of the Cantorial Studies and worship, and Rachel Singer as the new Coordinator for Communal Life.

For Cantor Grabiner (see brief bio below), her return to the Jerusalem campus in this new leadership role is about being “excited to join the YII team to help create a spiritually nourishing, musically vibrant experience for our first-year students. It is an honor to be able to share my love for the Hebrew language; cantorial studies; liturgy, prayer, and text; and Israeli music with those on the path to cantorial, education, and rabbinical professional life.”

Rachel Singer (see brief bio below), who grew up in Jerusalem, will bring academic training in geography and design along with professional training in Jewish education to collaborate with students and teachers towards deepening the immersive Israel experience of YII. When asked about what she’s looking forward to, Rachel said: “I’m looking forward to getting to know the HUC community and partnering to design a rich and meaningful experience linking students with the diverse human tapestry found in Israel.  I’m excited to get to know each student on a personal level and hope to make Jerusalem accessible and have it feel like home.”

Rabbi Reuven Greenvald (he/him), director of the Year-in-Israel, came to HUC-JIR from the URJ where he served as the Director of Israel Engagement.  After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and receiving ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Greenvald was a Jewish Day School leader until moving into the then new field of Israel engagement in 2004. In the course of the years of Israel work, he helped HUC-JIR/NY and JTS launch a joint effort in Israel engagement funded by the UJA-Federation of NY. Through that work, he became inspired by the students, staff, and mission of HUC-JIR, and this is why he jumped at the chance to become the new YII Director.

Cantor Sarah Grabiner (she/her), Coordinator of Cantorial Studies and Worship for YII, comes to us most immediately from serving us cantor at the Radlett Reform Synagogue in the UK.  In addition to her distinguished cantorial and Hebrew studies at Oxford University and HUC-JIR, Cantor Grabiner is bringing a wealth of Israel and informal education experience from her lifetime involvement in the British Reform Movement.

Rachel Singer (she/her), Coordinator of Communal Life for YII, holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hebrew University, Haifa University, and Bezalel Academy and certificates from training programs in Jewish education.  Most recently, Rachel served as the associate director of the distinguished Park Avenue Synagogue (NYC) congregational school. Upon returning to her home in Israel, Rachel was looking for a place to apply her deep experience of Israel and American Jewish life to being able to build stronger bridges between the two communities. When she heard about the opening of this new position for YII, she knew this was a platform for doing this critical work.