Notes from Israel:
Blaustein Center -
A War Diary

By Ruhama Weiss, Associate Professor of Talmud and Spiritual Care

October 18, 2023

Ruhama Weiss headshot

We join together to cope and to build space to fear and faith in humanity. And in that spirit, I share a short summary of our Center’s activities during the week and a half of the war.

Beit Midrash ‘Mashmaut’ (meaning) – We have already held four Zoom sessions with 20-30 attendees at each. The first meetings focused on emotional-spiritual conversation only: we prayed; we shared experiences. We heard experiences of friends who were in the middle of the horror. We cried, gave space for pain and hope. In the third meeting, we decided that it is already possible to start integrating Torah study into the conversation about the war and to use our bibliotherapy tools in order to deal with fear, anger, and worry. We chose to study the scroll of Ruth, which is the scroll of compassion, and understood with its help, how a handful of people, a small family struck by fate, can march towards healing and hope.

It is important to note that I lead the guidance at the Beit Midrash ‘Mashmaut’, in partnership with Yona Erzi, a teacher of Jewish culture in our Sugiyot Chayim (Life Issues) program. Yona has guided the Beit Midrash as a volunteer for three years, and my heart is full of gratitude for her vast knowledge and generosity.

Individual and group trainings – Throughout the last twenty years, I have been practicing and guiding spiritual care, mainly with the help of two tools: bibliotherapy and mindfulness. In the last week and a half, about ten people, rabbis and students in the Israeli rabbinical program, contacted me with a request for individual spiritual care meetings. Some asked for daily accompaniment, some twice a week, some once a week, and some call when it suits them. I am thankful to be able to support these needs, especially during this trying time.

In addition, tomorrow morning I will lead a special workshop for the teachers of the Ulpan Milah who have to go back and teach their Palestinian students. We all understand that the task is very difficult, and we will use mindfulness tools to help them succeed in returning to their important and challenging work.

I am also about to conduct a workshop for rabbis of all denominations on the subject of “who will take care of the caregivers” and we will think about ways in which this group, which is dealing with particularly difficult situations, can find tools of healing for themselves.


An important and moving personal testimony

Ilanit Suisa is a creator in the fields of theater and cinema. She writes in various media and broadcasts on a radio station in Israel. Ilanit is a graduate of the Sugiyot Chayim program and lives in Kibbutz Kfar Gaza, which was at the heart of the horror of the terror attack. Many members of the kibbutz were murdered or kidnapped. Ilanit, her partner, and daughter were saved. 13-year-old Renana, Ilanit's daughter, is regularly interviewed by the Israeli and international media. Watch a CBS interview with Renana and Ilanit as they spread the story of their heroism and humanity.

As you can see, the center is loaded with critical tasks. At the moment, our budget allows only my work. If there is an additional budget for emergency, we will be able to increase the response we give to our students and professionals. To support the extraordinary spiritual, mental, and physical safety needs of the entire HUC-JIR Jerusalem family during this time of darkness, please consider contributing to the HUC-JIR Israel Emergency Fund.

— Ruhama Weiss