Ordination in Haifa Affirms Vitality of Reform Movement in Israel


New rabbis after having been ordained in Haifa

Three newly ordained rabbis, each of whom is already putting their faith in action to meet the needs of those around them, reflected on their calling at a fraught moment in history.

“Now more than ever, we all need a person who will listen, a community that will support us, and a tradition that knows how to express feelings when words run out,” said Miriam Klimova of the role of a rabbi, one into which she, alongside Lana Zilberman Soloway and Yael Katz Ben Yitzhak, was recently ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).

New rabbis after having been ordained

New rabbis after having been ordained

The three women were ordained as rabbis for Israel’s Reform Movement in a November 16 ceremony that reaffirmed the timely and essential value of rabbis applying Jewish wisdom to serve the Jewish community, even–or perhaps especially–in the midst of war.

“Ordination represents our commitment to the future.  In their communities, these newly ordained will apply Jewish wisdom to the most pressing moral, spiritual and communal challenges of our times, even of this very difficult time of war and disruption,” said HUC-JIR President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., “Precisely at this particular moment, holding ordination as scheduled represents our unyielding commitment to the values of Reform Judaism, to embracing a tradition of faith bounded by reason, to build a more just, decent, and peaceful world for all.”

The ritual, he noted, reflected the ordainees’ academic, spiritual, and moral preparation to be of service to their communities. “At a time of chaos and heartbreak, ‘ordination,’ reminds us of the steadfast strength and compassionate leadership Reform rabbis offer through turmoil and triumph.”

President Rehfeld presided over the ceremony and represented the Board of Governors in a service led by Rabbi Talia Avnon-Benveniste ’08, Director of the Israel Rabbinical Program. Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D. gave the ordination blessing to each new rabbi individually. Service participants included esteemed leaders of the Reform Movement: Anna Kislanski, CEO of the Israel Reform Movement, Rabbi Ayala Ronen Samuels, Ph.D. ’13, Chair of Maram: Council of Reform Rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Ofek Meir ’06, CEO, The Leo Baeck Education Center, and Rabbi Ariella Gertz Bartov ’11, Rabbi of Ohel Avraham Synagogue.

The three newly minted rabbis, who join the 126 Reform rabbis already serving Reform or Progressive congregations, schools, and communities across Israel, demonstrate how this compassionate leadership is applied on the ground.

Rabbi Yael Katz Ben Yitzhak serves as the head of community and educational activities in the Israel Reform Movement, a role she will continue and to which she brings an educational background in community social work and community and nonprofit management.

“Since October 7, our movement has been working to provide daily support both to communities that were evacuated and to those who are opening their homes and host families in need. I am working with our rabbis and staff to help them with everything they need in order to support others,” said Rabbi Katz Ben Yitzhak, whose work has had a particular focus on supporting older populations spiritually and socially.

Due to the Israel-Hamas war, the ordination was moved from the traditional location on Hebrew Union College’s Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem to Haifa near the ordinees and their families. Haifa, Israel’s largest mixed Jewish-Arab city, is also where Rabbi Klimova, who is from Ukraine, volunteers to help new immigrants assimilate through classes and cultural events, particularly Russian and Ukrainian speakers. She reflected on how the work of a rabbi enmeshes them in every aspect of their congregants’ lives, the good along with the bad.

“The war in Israel reminded me once again how multifaceted the rabbi’s vocation is,” she said. “A rabbi accompanies people in the happiest moments of life—the creation of a family, the birth of a child—but they also share terrible tragedies and losses. To help people in the constant search for meaning and will to live, to preserve morality in society, to realize the spark of God in life: this is our calling.”

Several dozen people attended the ordination ceremony in person, but thousands more well-wishers and Reform movement leaders joined online to watch the livestream, reflecting a moment in which care, concern, and support from around the world are focused on events in Israel.

“People are searching for meaning, for support, for compassion, and for inspiration,” said Rabbi Lana Zilberman Soloway, who has decades of experience in informal Jewish education as a guide and facilitator and has been a part of a number of interfaith dialogues and peacemaking initiatives. “It is our role as rabbis to find the right words, to be the light and hold up the torch of faith, hope, and a possibility for a better future.”

Photo credit: Karin Mendelson for HUC-JIR