Six New Israeli Reform Rabbis, including First Israeli Rabbi-Cantor, Ordained at HUC-JIR 2021 Ordination and Academic Convocation at the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem

Groups Ordination photo

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., President; Rabbi Andrea Weiss ’93, Ph.D., Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost; Rabbi Naomi Efrat ‘21; Rabbi Amnon Ribak ‘21; Rabbi Rodrigo Baumworcel ‘21; Rabbi Dana Sharon ‘21; Rabbi Cantor Shani Ben-Or ‘21; Rabbi Orly Moss ‘21; Rabbi Naamah Kelman ’92, Dean, Taube Family Campus; Rabbi Talia Avnon-Benveniste ’08, Director, Israel Rabbinical Program

Six new Israeli Reform rabbis, including the first Israeli Rabbi-Cantor, were ordained at the Ordination and Academic Convocation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem. The Convocation took place on Thursday, November 11, 2021 at 6:00 pm Israel (11:00 am ET | 8:00 am PT) at Blaustein Hall at Merkaz Shimshon in Jerusalem. Watch the recording.

Shani Ben-Or made history as the first Israeli woman Rabbi-Cantor, and was ordained with her rabbinical classmates Naomi Efrat, Rodrigo Baumworcel, Orli Moss, Amnon Ribak, and Dana Sharon. They bring the total number of Israeli rabbinical alumni to 121, joining their rabbinical colleagues in building the Reform Movement’s synagogues, institutions, and communities throughout Israel.

Eleven certificate recipients of the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Care’s Sugiyot Chayim Program will provide meaningful support throughout Israeli society: Yonatan Arnon, Bat El Meshasha Ashkenazi, Hadar Ben-Yehuda, Galit Bitan, Dr. Leah Eckstein, Yaki Hertz, Dganit Timor Jenshil, Leora Londy-Barash, Nurit Nof, Vered Paz-Tsuk, and Liat Zichron-Yaffe.

Professor Raphael WaldenProfessor Raphael Walden received the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from HUC-JIR in recognition of his important humanitarian work as physician and surgeon, Deputy Director of the Sheba Medical Center, in charge of Risk Management, Quality Assurance and Medical Education, member of the Tel Aviv University medical faculty, and as a member of the board of Physicians for Human Rights who also works with the Red Star of David (Israel’s Red Cross) providing medical care and medical training for paramedics and others. Professor Walden and his parents survived the Holocaust in the Dordogne in France, hiding under false papers, and he was granted the title of “officier de la legion d’Honneur” by the President of France. Read Professor Walden’s Ordination address here.

HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem campus is the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism in the State of Israel. It prepares Israeli rabbis, educators, and pastoral counselors who are building religious pluralism in the Jewish State; welcomes HUC-JIR’s North American rabbinical, cantorial, and education students for one year of study; offers Israel Seminars for its nonprofit management and graduate studies students; and invites the larger Israeli community to educational and cultural programs.

President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., states, “Our commitment to Israel and its future is an abiding pillar of our institution’s mission, since Rabbi Stephen S. Wise founded the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR) almost a century ago with a commitment to a strong and vibrant Jewish State. Dr. Nelson Glueck established our School of Archaeology and dedicated this campus in Jerusalem in 1963. For the past fifty years, our Year-In-Israel Program has required all first-year rabbinical students in our North American programs to spend their first year here, because HUC-JIR recognizes the vital importance of the State of Israel to the Jewish People today. And in 1980, we created a distinctive Israeli Rabbinical program to prepare remarkable rabbis to serve and transform Israelis and Israeli society, and subsequently developed our Rikma education program and Blaustein Center pastoral program to develop innovative Israeli leaders. We are committed to strengthening a pluralistic and democratic Jewish society in Israel and strengthening the bonds linking Israeli, North American, and world Jewry.”

Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of the Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem, shares, “Our six new rabbis hail from a wide variety of experiences, ages, and backgrounds. They include native-born Israelis as well as an Oleh from South America, a former Shlicha, second- and third-career professionals, and the very first Israeli to train for the Cantorate and Rabbinate. All are passionate about forging communities, fighting for social justice, touching lives during different life-stages, and leading joyful and meaningful worship. They will serve mostly IMPJ congregations throughout Israel. They join the ranks of our Israel Rabbinical Program graduates who are slowly but surely reshaping Israeli society to ensure a Jewish and democratic state. In addition, the graduates of our Sugiyot Chayim program of the Blaustein Center for Spiritual Counseling will enhance and enrich their professions as rabbis, educators, social workers, and others to offer solace, support, and hope to their students and clients. They too have been deeply impacted in this pandemic year, yet are ready to tend to the fears and hopes of many.”

Meet the six new rabbis for Israel’s Reform Movement:

Naomi EfratNAOMI EFRAT was born in Haifa to a family affiliated with the Conservative (Masorti) Movement, with roots in Turkey, Romania, Syria, and America. As a child, Efrat’s father took her to a liberal synagogue where she remembers reading the prayer book with limited success while longing to go out and play in the yard. These childhood memories motivated her to found Ramot Shalom Reform Congregation in Be’er Sheva, a Reform community that spans every age and relates to life’s joys and sorrows. The congregation includes a parent-child center that is active and vibrant with thousands of participants to this day. For the past four years, Efrat has served as the spiritual leader of Kehillat Ha’Lev in Tel Aviv, a Reform congregation that belongs to the Daniel Centers. It has become a warm home for young and old, the LGBTQ community, young people who have been expelled from ultra-Orthodox society, and women in their conversion process. Efrat devotes considerable time to working with couples in building a process towards their weddings. She accompanies and guides couples to build a mutually beneficial relationship, as well as accompanying couples towards a respectful, flexible, and inclusive separation process. Her growing expertise promotes understanding that even when a couple separates, the family stays a family that deserves to be strengthened, based on cooperation and respect. Efrat completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Ben-Gurion University, further studies in psychotherapy at Tel Aviv University, and a Master’s degree in literature and creative writing at Ben-Gurion University. It was her passion for modern Hebrew poetry and a radical reading of the sources that led to the writing of her rabbinical thesis on the LGBTQ poetry of formerly Orthodox people. Her research focused on the creators’ revolutionary interpretation of the original ideas of the Classical texts. As a rabbi, Efrat will focus on developing and deepening work with couples in preparation for marriage and the separation processes, offering spiritual guidance through work with Jewish texts, finding community, and personal meaning.

Rodrigo BaumworcelRODRIGO BAUMWORCEL was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and joined the youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair, at the age of seven. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology from the National University of Rio de Janeiro and began teaching at the school where he grew up. During his five years at the school, Baumworcel participated and led every possible project that led to Israel. Between Israel and Brazil, Baumworcel realized it was time to live his Zionism and immigrate to Israel. After six months in Israel, and certificates from two different Ulpanim, Baumworcel was accepted at the Hebrew University for a Master’s degree in Jewish Education. At that time, he also began studying at HUC, and the Taube Family Campus became his second home in the country. He worked at the World Union for Reform Movement and spent his days between classes, work, and the library. Baumworcel currently works for META, an Israeli startup implementing a teaching system for teams of math teachers.

Shani BenOrSHANI BEN-OR is from Jerusalem and will become the first person ordained simultaneously as a cantor and a rabbi in the progressive community of modern Israel, and the first cantor whose HUC ordination will take place on the Jerusalem campus. Her home congregation is Kehilat Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem. She is an HUC Golden Family Hanassi Fellow and has served in cantorial roles in Israel and around the world: as the cantorial soloist of the United Jewish Congregation in Hong Kong and student cantor of Central Synagogue in New York. She is completing a dual ordination program for rabbinical and cantorial studies at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and New York. Ben-Or earned her M.A. in Jewish pluralistic studies from Ono Academic College, and has taught in various batei midrash in Israel. She is an active member of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, both as a professional and lay leader. In 2013, she established T’lamim, a community of young Reform Jewish adults in Israel, and led their minyan in Jerusalem. Together with Boaz Dorot, she is the co-founder of the Nigunim Ensemble, a pioneering ensemble that creates, arranges, and performs sacred music to accompany religious services throughout Israel. Ben-Or aspires to establish a thriving liberal cantorate in Israel: one that is authentic and relevant to the multi-cultural climate of Israeli society, fluent in the musical treasures of Ashkenaz and Mizrachi Jewish traditions, and creates music for a variety of sacred spaces and occasions that are unique to Eretz Yisrael.

Orli MossORLI MOSS was born in South Africa. When she was five, her family made Aliya and settled in Ra’anana, where her parents joined a group of friends who founded Hod VeHadar congregation, affiliated with the Conservative Movement. The search for an egalitarian, open, and pluralistic approach to Judaism led them to join the founders of TALI Hod Hasharon School, where Orli studied until high school. Moss is proud to be the fifth TALI graduate to be ordained at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Moss was an active member of Noam, the Conservative Movement’s Youth Movement, until joining the IDF. She served 28 months in the IDF and was a JAG investigator, working with units in the area of Jerusalem, Judaea, and Samaria towards the end of the First Intifada. Moss received her Bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University in sociology and anthropology and her Master’s in Jewish pluralistic education in a joint program from Hebrew University and Hebrew Union College. Moss held positions of leadership in a variety of informal education organizations, including Director of the Netzer Shnat program, Young Judaea, Missions & Communication for the UJIA, and Director of the Raphael Recanati International School at IDC-Herzliya. In 2012, Moss and her family moved to New York City on Shlichut. As an emissary for the Jewish Agency, Moss opened the department for Israeli engagement at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. Moss is an HUC Golden Family Hanassi Fellow and, through working at B’nai Jeshurun and living in New York, developed a deeper understanding of what it means to be Jewish outside of Israel, and the complexity of Israelis living there addressing their Jewish identity. Returning to Israel, Moss worked with teachers in the Meitarim network of schools for students from a variety of religious affiliations and TALI schools around the country. Currently, Moss works as a pedagogical consultant for the Global School Twinning Network and at Kehilat Ra’anan in Ra’anana, where she will be replacing Rabbi Chen Ben Or Tsfoni who is leaving for a short sabbatical.

Amnon RibakAMNON RIBAK grew up on Kibbutz Maabarot, where he gained and developed his love for culture, music, written and sung word, and knowledge, along with pious secularism, and a commitment to equality, diligence, and hard work. From a young age, Ribak was attracted to writing, and at the age of eighteen he wrote, produced, and played the lead role in the presentation of his high school graduation. He enlisted in the Nahal and was among the founding group of Kibbutz Samar in the Arava. Shortly after his military service, he moved to Kibbutz Sde Yoav, where, alongside his work in technical professions, he was also a teacher of mathematics and physics. He served for years as the kibbutz’s cultural coordinator and was part of the regional theater group, choir, and orchestra. Ribak graduated from the Interdisciplinary Program for Fostering Excellence at Tel Aviv University and, after completing his studies, began working as a Research Fellow at IBM’s Scientific Center in Haifa. For 26 years, Ribak worked at what became IBM Research Lab. At the same time he continued to play music, sing, write prose and poetry – some widely publicized, and to translate children’s books, and especially to study and gain knowledge in Judaism. What began with a weekly class at the Oranim Seminary, and a first acquaintance with a Talmud page at the age of forty, deepened over the years. He received his B.A. in Judaism from the Open University, studied at the Hartman Institute, officiated dozens of weddings at Havaya, trained as Shliach Tzibur at the Reform Movement, and had an active membership in Reform congregations in Jerusalem and in Haifa, leading to Ribak’s decision to retire early and devote time to rabbinical studies and Jewish action. Ribak is a Golden Family Hanassi Fellow at HUC. In 2017, in parallel with his studies at HUC, he began serving as the interim student-rabbi at Or Hadash in Haifa. In 2019, he moved to serve as the solo student-rabbi in Ma’alot Tivon, where he serves today. In the same year, he completed his M.A. in American Jewish Studies in the Ruderman program at the University of Haifa, and since then serves as co-chair of the Peoplehood committee of the Boston Haifa Connection.

Dana SharonDANA SHARON was born and raised on Kibbutz Nachshon in central Israel, the third generation of her family on this kibbutz, where most of her relatives live. She was raised in a secular home that had a profound bond to the Hebrew language and Hebrew and Israeli culture. Sharon studied in the elementary school on Kibbutz Tzora, alongside children from kibbutzim and moshavim in the area, and at Tzafit High School, an agricultural-settlement high school on Kibbutz Kfar Blum. Sharon was a member of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. She performed full military service, training field soldiers to respond to unconventional warfare attacks. After completing her service, she spent two years working as a counselor in a Jewish summer camp in the US. It was there that she was exposed for the first time to Reform Judaism and began her journey to rabbinical studies and a spiritual and meaningful religious Jewish life. Sharon holds a B.A. in General and Comparative Literature from the Hebrew University. She began to study toward an M.A. in Literature and Gender, but decided to take a break in her studies and look for a new direction. After working in the Mandel Foundation for three years, she registered for the M.A. program in Contemporary Judaism and Jewish Art at the Shechter Institute, with the goal of joining the Israel Rabbinical Program at Hebrew Union College. She completed her M.A. magna cum laude. In addition to her academic studies, Sharon has also been intensely involved in various forms of activism over the past decade. She served as a board member and chairperson of the Open House for Pride and Tolerance in Jerusalem; volunteered at the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center; and continues to be a board member and regular participant in Women of the Wall, which she sees as a lighthouse for Jewish feminism. She worked for six years as the social media director at the Israel Reform Action Center, the legal and public arm of the Israeli Reform movement. As part of her studies at HUC, Sharon served as a Golden Family Hanassi Fellow and undertook practical work at Har-El Congregation in Jerusalem. In addition to the enormous and invaluable importance of working in a community as part of the rabbinical training process, Sharon also developed a profound bond with the community and with its leaders, Rabbi Ada Zavidov and Cantor Even Cohen. She is now serving as rabbi of Kehilat Yuval in Gedera, and she looks forward to confronting the challenges of work as a communal rabbi.