Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Richard Joel

 

YU aims for ‘cross-pollination’ between its students and Israel

image
Students from YU’s Operation Healthcare service learning initiative play with special- needs children at a park. Avi Rosenbaum of Teaneck is on the right. Photo courtesy Yeshiva University

Never in its 80-year history has Yeshiva University — America’s flagship centrist Orthodox academic institution — expended more resources forging bonds between its students and their Israeli counterparts.

North Jersey natives consistently participate in an ever-expanding array of exchange, advocacy, and service programs in Israel. This winter alone, select students from YU high schools (see accompanying story) and undergrads from the university’s Yeshiva and Stern colleges traveled to Israel on four different programs.

The trend began not just because more than 3,000 YU alumni now live in Israel, or because 800 post-high-school North Americans are studying in independent Israeli yeshivas earning credit as YU undergraduates.

University President Richard M. Joel set the stage for the current emphasis in his 2003 installation address: “The land of Israel and the state of Israel are central to the future of the Jewish people, and have always been central to the reality of the Yeshiva University community,” he said. “Let’s make YU the address in New York for Israel events and Israel conversations.”

To help realize this goal, Joel initiated the founding of the university’s Center for the Jewish Future in 2005 and its Center for Israel Studies in 2007. “I am especially pleased with the large number of students who have decided to take advantage of the innovative Israel missions run by the Center for the Jewish Future,” he said last week.

Bergen County residents were among 35 college students in the CJF’s Project Connect last January, where they interacted with Ethiopian and Russian immigrants to understand the challenges of their absorption. And they were among nearly two dozen volunteer counselors in CJF’s Counterpoint Israel summer camps for low-income children.

This winter, 71 undergraduates — including nine from Teaneck, Fair Lawn, and Passaic — are taking part in CJF winter-break missions in Israel.

Shabbat 2010 explores the complex relationship between Sabbath observance and technology at Israeli hospitals and army bases, as well as the societal tensions the official day of rest causes in a multicultural democracy. Through Operation Healthcare, pre-medical and political science majors are comparing and contrasting the health-care systems of the United States and Israel. Each program includes service components.

image
YU students from the Shabbat 2010 men’s group teach Hilchot Shabbat to sixth- and seventh- graders from Gush Etzion. Among them are Ari Selevan, top and Yaakov Taubes, both of Teaneck.

Additionally, 12 undergraduate fellows from the university’s QUEST student leadership program spent a week in the schools and hothouses of former Gush Katif (Gaza) residents now living in the new Negev desert community of Halutza. Sponsored in partnership with the Jewish National Fund, this mission required the group to raise $20,000 toward the construction of houses and public buildings there.

“The primary goal of these and all CJF programs is to inspire our students to become agents of change in their communities and the world at large,” said CJF Dean Rabbi Kenneth Brander. The center’s mandate is to “renew and refresh, strengthen and support, and inspire and energize” Jewish communities in North America and around the world.

Comparing specific elements of American and Israeli culture — both religious and secular — is one of the tools CJF uses to raise participants’ awareness of the differences between the two societies, reexamine their values, and ponder their potential to make a positive impact.

The Shabbat 2010 mission, for example, was planned to include Sabbath experiences in Yemenite and chasidic settings, as well as dialogues with Israelis who do not observe the laws of Shabbat.

“Shabbos in the diaspora is a bifurcated experience, not a societal experience as it is in Israel,” said Brander, a Teaneck resident. “But it is also a societal challenge.”

As a result of the mission, he said, “maybe some of the students will make aliyah and create a Shabbos experience for those not yet connected.”

However, the overall aim of such programs is “cross-pollination” rather than aliyah. “We hope the students will internalize these experiences and begin shaping the communal landscape immediately upon their return by educating others about their newfound understandings,” said Brander. “There is a healthy spiritual viral effect to the whole endeavor — for the college students and the high school students as well.”

JNF Campus Programs Manager Rebecca Kahn, a Teaneck native, said the QUEST mission connected rising American Orthodox leaders with JNF’s work in Israel. Last January, she coordinated a similar mission for 120 mostly Conservative college students and young professionals — including six North Jersey residents — who tackled beautification projects in southern development towns.

“Our partnership with Yeshiva University has presented a unique opportunity to work with an exceptional group of students who are already committed to becoming leaders in the Jewish community,” Kahn said. This year’s group included Michelle Grundman of Fair Lawn and Sarit Ben-David of Teaneck.

Grundman said the trip opened her eyes to the possibility of assisting communities far from home, and specifically those in Israel that are outside the better-known Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas. “You see how leaders can bring so much change and growth,” she said.

CJF projects on the drawing board include placing rabbinical interns with local Israeli rabbis to gauge the potential for careers in Israel and further expansion of the Counterpoint Israel summer camps for disadvantaged children. These programs are costly, Brander acknowledged.

“YU is willing to invest in a partnership with Israel, because we want it to be strong and continue to grow,” said Brander. “We are blessed with wonderful visionary partners, Repair the World and the Jim Joseph Foundation, who understand that the greatest incubator to inspire our students is Israel, where people are leading holistic leadership lives affecting Jewish society around the world.”

 
 

Ahavath Torah begins new chapter,  celebrates its past

image
The main sanctuary. Photos by Jerry Szubin

Unity is the underlying theme for the formal dedication of Cong. Ahavath Torah’s two-story, 60,000-square-foot synagogue complex, planned for the first weekend in March and culminating in the shul’s annual dinner honoring Rabbi Shmuel and Barbara Goldin.

Yeshiva University President Richard Joel is scheduled to join the Englewood congregation that Shabbat as scholar in residence during services as well as at a Friday night Oneg Shabbat and Saturday afternoon seudah shlishit. A festive Shabbat morning service is to be led by Cantor Chaim Muhlbauer, with Joel delivering remarks to the community.

“President Joel has been instrumental in all our efforts in the last year,” said Drew Parker, Ahavath Torah’s co-president. “He was supportive of our fund-raising efforts and of our community’s unique approach to unity through welcoming many different minyanim and cultures under one roof.”

Parker was referring to Ahavath Torah’s embrace of diverse Orthodox prayer groupings to accommodate Sephardim and Ashkenazim, youth and adults, even early-risers and later-risers. This was one reason the new complex was designed with elements including four sanctuaries in the main building, a two-story wing for a 250-seat sanctuary, beit midrash, and social hall for the 75 families of the congregation’s Sephardic community; a ballroom; multipurpose rooms for Shabbat children’s groups, adult education, and small events; and two kitchens in order to handle more than one affair at the same time.

Goldin stressed that there is much “cross-pollination” among the various worshippers, who mingle in the shul’s great hallway after services. The new synagogue is large enough to include additional minyanim, too. “We’re entertaining the possibility of a family minyan, where young children might be more welcome,” said Goldin.

The “unity” theme is apt, as well, for an event capping the sometimes contentious five-year process that preceded the completion of the multimillion-dollar edifice.

Last summer, congregants learned that while the “hard cost” of construction was first estimated at $15.5 million, the actual price tag was $22 million, excluding “soft costs” for architect fees and rental of the climate-controlled tent that housed the congregation since the 2006 demolition of the old, sprawling mansion on the former Broad Avenue estate of Baroness Cassel Van Dorn in which the congregation had been based since 1960.

The project’s higher expense was partly due to the later inclusion of a mikvah with a private entrance. Expected to be completed in the next few months, as is the Sephardic center, the mikvah will house seven dressing rooms, two mikvah pools, and a separate pool for immersing cooking and eating utensils. Englewood has never before had sufficient ritual bath facilities for its Jewish population; the independent Englewood Mikva Association runs a small mikvah on the grounds of Cong. Shomrei Emunah on Huguenot Street.

Though the Ahavath Torah membership ultimately approved a 75 percent rise in dues and assumption of a permanent mortgage (the amount of which synagogue officers declined to specify), the lay and rabbinic leadership pledged to address any lingering resentments. Before the new building’s opening last Labor Day, Goldin commented to The Jewish Standard, “We have a lot of work to do, as we always have in a community like ours with disparate points of view.”

This week, Goldin reported that “there’s been a tremendous amount of positive energy generated upon moving into the new building. Our various minyanim are working out very nicely, and the general feel is that we’re home, that we’re in.”

Parker said he views the dedication festivities as an appropriate time to acknowledge the Goldins’ contributions to the immediate and greater community. The rabbi, an instructor of Bible and philosophy at Yeshiva University’s college for men, is also active in the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, SINAI Special Needs Institute, the Rabbinical Council of America; Israel Bonds; the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey; and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Bergen County.

Former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, an Ahavath Torah member, and the city council have all been invited to participate, along with rabbinic colleagues of Goldin. The dinner highlight is to be a video presentation featuring tributes to the rabbinic couple from participants in the shul’s various minyanim, as well as interviews with their children.

 
 

Grant pushes historic partnership of seminaries

image
Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, left, Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College

NEW YORK – Spurred by a major grant from one of the largest Jewish foundations, the rabbinical seminaries of three major synagogue movements are forging a groundbreaking partnership to train Jewish educators.

The Jim Joseph Foundation announced Monday that it was giving a combined $33 million to the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion, the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University, and the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The grant is aimed at helping the three seminaries attract more teachers to the field of Jewish education and offer them better training.

As a stipulation for receiving the money, each school will be required to use $1 million of the roughly $11 million it receives over the next four years to work with the other schools on figuring out how to market the field of Jewish education to prospective teachers and incorporating modern technology into Jewish pedagogy.

“The presidents of the three institutions, thanks to the Jim Joseph grant process, have spent more time together in the past two years than our predecessors did in the previous decade,” said JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen. “I think it is historic that you have these three institutions and their leaders working together in this fashion. I think it is good for the Jews and it is a moment.”

Partnerships have become a driver for JTS, which announced in early May that part of its new strategic vision included finding new allies in the education sector.

Hebrew Union College has become a natural ally for the Conservative movement’s seminary. The schools are in the third year of offering a combined fellowship funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation that brings together rabbinical students from both seminaries for a joint seminar, and they also are now offering some joint classes as part of their respective cantorial programs.

But Yeshiva University historically has been a tougher match for both HUC and JTS because of deep theological differences between the Orthodox institution and its non-Orthodox counterparts.

Under the new initiative, each school will continue to teach its own brand of Judaism, but the schools will cooperate on elements of the educational process that affect all of the institutions.

It’s a message that YU’s president, Richard Joel, is very careful to make: that the schools are working together on practice and not content.

“There was a time a couple of generations ago where liberal Judaism was viewed as a threat because most people were at least nominally Orthodox,” and liberal Judaism was seen as giving Jews a reason to leave Orthodoxy, Joel said. “But I don’t think that is the reality today. The issue isn’t that liberal Judaism will steal people from Orthodoxy. Now it is viewed as something that continues to urge Jews to know something about their story.”

According to Jim Joseph’s executive director, Charles Edelsberg, the three schools were scheduled to meet Thursday with representatives from the tech giant Cisco to learn about “telepresence” technology. And they are talking with the MacArthur Foundation about digital media and learning.

In recent years, even before the Jim Joseph grant, the leaders of the three schools — Eisen, Joel, and HUC’s Rabbi David Ellenson — had begun to appear on panel discussions together, something that would have been unheard of for much of the last century.

Still, sources at the schools said, even though the collegiality among Eisen, Ellenson, and Joel has helped the partnership evolve, the institutions probably would not have come together without the recession and the significant financial carrot offered by Jim Joseph.

When the economy hit a low last year, Jim Joseph stepped up with $12 million to help the struggling schools provide scholarships to students and launch their working relationship. YU will use about $700,000 per year to help defray the cost of education for students at its Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and the education program at Stern College, its women’s college, according to Joel. JTS will use approximately $1 million per year to provide scholarships to its nondenominational William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. And HUC will use about one-third of its grant on financial aid for students seeking master’s degrees at its New York and Los Angeles campuses, according to Ellenson.

Outside of the interschool partnerships, each institution will use the bulk of its grant money for training better teachers.

For YU, that means continuing to beef up its Azrieli school, which has gone from one faculty member to 11 since Joel’s arrival in 2003. The school now has more than 160 students seeking master’s degrees in education. YU also is working on creating a certificate in informal Jewish education and a job placement program for the students it churns out over the next four years.

JTS will use a significant portion of its money to better its early childhood education, including forming a partnership with the Bank Street College of Education, a non-Jewish teachers’ college renowned for its early childhood program, Eisen said. It also will try to set up informal Jewish education programs at congregational and day schools modeled after successful efforts at the Conservative movement’s Ramah camp system. And JTS will create an Israel immersion program for students at the Davidson school.

HUC is planning on starting an executive master’s program and three new certificate programs in Judaica for early childhood educators and teachers of children, adolescents, and emerging adults.

Jim Joseph hopes the schools will graduate 700 to 1,000 teachers during the duration of the grant.

In its first four years, the foundation has given about $220 million to Jewish formal and informal education efforts, including day schools, camps, and youth groups, as well as to Birthright Israel and the official follow-up program Birthright Israel NEXT.

In recent weeks, Jim Joseph has announced some $45 million in grants to produce more Jewish teachers, including the $33 million gift to the three seminaries and a recently announced $12 million investment to revive and ramp up a dormant doctoral program in Jewish education at Stanford University. All this is on top of the $12 million that Jim Joseph gave the three seminaries last year primarily for scholarships for advanced degree programs in Jewish education and other significant gifts it has made to a doctoral program in Jewish education at New York University.

“This partnership should have a significant impact on the number of future Jewish educators and the skills they will bring to their professions,” the foundation’s president, Al Levitt, said in a news release announcing the grant. “With the help of these grants, we know the institutions can reach their full potential and produce teachers who continue to positively shape the lives of Jewish youth.”

JTA

 
 

YU aims to help singles connect

Singles in search of a mate should take advantage of multiple avenues and media, advises Efrat Sobolofsky, who spearheads a social networking group for Jewish singles.

“You can sign up on several Websites, go to a variety of singles events, and try more than one matchmaker,” said the rebbetzin. (Her husband, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, is rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University and religious leader of Cong. Ohr HaTorah in Bergenfield.) “One never knows where you will meet someone.”

Sobolofsky, who holds a doctorate in social work, is the director of YUConnects, a Center for the Jewish Future initiative devoted to creating matchmaking opportunities for Orthodox Jewish singles.

The group aims to help YU singles and alumni meet through its Website and events such as barbecues, bowling, chesed projects, and lectures.

image
Game-playing is a way to break the ice at a YUConnects event.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF, said the program is creating healthy social interactions and appropriate places where young men and women can meet. “When we send 1,000 students a year on chesed and service-learning programs, while its goal is to enable them to actualize their capacity as change agents within the world, often such like-minded students find their soul-mates on these programs,” he said.

Brander added that YUConnects has succeeded in helping to launch a network around the world of informal “connectors,” trained volunteers who function like matchmakers, “and changing the paradigm of how dating happens.”

Brander said he hopes the program will eventually help arm singles with the tools for creating stronger relationships. “We want to set a new prototype for how people should date,” he said. “Dating shouldn’t come with a forensic checklist. People are not hiring a spouse, they are looking for a soul-mate. What is wrong if someone you trust suggests going out with a young lady or young man to just try it? This is not like ordering a latte at Starbucks, or picking music for your iPod; people cannot be customized. I can understand the need to be on the same page, but too often, people are looking to be on the same line.”

As for whether the initiative reinforces negative stereotypes about YU students being overly concerned with dating, Brander said YUConnects offers relief from dating pressure. “It leaves them free to focus on their academics, and when they are ready, they know they can turn to YUConnects,” he said.

The program was launched after Sobolofsky and other communal leaders approached YU President Richard Joel several years ago suggesting that the university help generate more healthy opportunities for young men and women to meet.

YUConnects filled an important need, said Sobolofsky. “As people leave structured environments or places where they can meet other suitable people, it’s essential to help them network with other Jewish singles,” she pointed out.

The YUConnects Website is powered by SawYouAtSinai (SYAS), the Jewish matchmaking online service. To protect participants’ confidentiality, members are not permitted to surf through all the profiles. Instead, members select their connectors to conduct searches and propose matches for them, which follows the model of SYAS, said Sobolofsky.

Many of the connectors attend YUConnects events and become acquainted with participants so they can comfortably introduce them to the most appropriate participants. Connectors also helps people at events sort through the information and meet others who share common values, she said.

But the program doesn’t stop there: It also offers workshops on dating and relationship-building, and can even refer individuals or couples to relationship-building specialists, she said.

In the past three years since the inception of YUConnects, 42 couples have become engaged through the program, she said.

One success story was Yeshiva College’s own student council president, Shloimie Zeffren, a business major, who credits YUConnects in part for his recent engagement. “One of the connectors at YUConnects was very helpful in making it happen,” he said, declining to divulge more details. He added that he’s not the only one who has enjoyed the fruits of YUConnect’s labors. One of his friends also is getting married to someone he met through the organization.

The events are not for everyone. Some students appreciate the opportunity to meet others and consider it a part of their educational experience, others may not be comfortable attending co-ed events, and others may not be ready to date altogether during college, Sobolofsky said.

The YUConnects model is ideal, she continued, because it meets the needs of a broad range of groups within the YU community. “If people want to go out and meet people, we have events to help people meet,” she said. But if students are too busy studying to attend events, or if a young man is busy learning in the beis medrash or a young woman doesn’t feel comfortable putting herself out there, they can be set up through the Website, she said.

Despite all the successes, challenges remain. Among them, said Sobolofsky, is that a stigma is associated with what are considered “singles events.” The other obstacle is the male-female ratio. Of the nearly 900 members in YUConnects, the majority are women.

Sobolofsky notes that such statistics are common among many dating venues because of a hesitation among men to participate. “We’re working on changing that,” she said.

“As the program and the multiple venues demonstrate success, the numbers of participants has been increasing. Success breeds success.”

 
 
 
Page 1 of 1 pages
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31