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From Tape Cassettes to Mobile Apps: How YUTorah Grew Into The Leading Site For Online Torah Study

It started with one semicha [rabbinic] student.

yutorah-screenshot3While studying at Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Rabbi Marc Spivak was training for a career as a pulpit rabbi outside the tri-state area—but he didn’t want to miss out on the advanced learning and shiurim [Torah lectures] he loved at YU. He began taping shiur after shiur at the University, building a collection of Torah lectures he’d be able to listen to anywhere, any time. When his apartment could no longer hold the sheer volume of tapes he’d created, he tried digital storage, learning how to encode the shiurim and burn them to CDs. Eventually, with help from YU student Chaim Jaskoll and other Jews still exploring the internet’s fledgling potential, Spivak turned to the emerging world of online media, uploading all the shiurim he had recorded to a single website where they would remain accessible, for free, to any Jew, anywhere in the world, who wanted to broaden their Torah horizons.

That turned out to be just the beginning. The site was an instant hit. Spivak joined what would eventually become known as YU’s Center for the Jewish Future to embark on an even more ambitious project: recording and uploading shiurim Yeshiva-wide. Excited donors contributed recording equipment and initial server space, while students and YU faculty added a growing number of shiurim to the site daily. Before long, the site had expanded beyond YU’s borders, receiving submissions and listenership from Torah figures and institutions around the world.

Today, that website is known as YUTorah, and with over 90,000 shiurim—and counting—it’s the leading site for online Torah study. Read the rest of this entry…

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Center for the Jewish Future’s #EmpoweredLearning Program Aims to Engage and Inspire Torah Learners

What gets people excited about learning Torah? How can we harness technology to engage a worldwide audience of learners and inspire them to want to learn more?

Those are some of the questions Rabbi Ari Sytner, director of Community Initiatives at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), set out to answer when he created a new online program that aims to bring an interactive Torah-learning experience to a wide group of users within the YU community and beyond.

“We wanted to come up with a revolutionary idea to engage people in learning,” said Rabbi Sytner. “We found that the most exciting part of learning is the question.” Read the rest of this entry…

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From World-Class Faculty to Unique Opportunities, Seniors Reflect on Yeshiva University Experience

On May 22, some 600 new graduates will march across the stage at the Izod Center to receive their diplomas during Yeshiva University’s 83rd Commencement Exercises, completing a foundational chapter in their educational journeys and moving on to exciting new opportunities. Before they toss their caps in the air, members of the Class of 2014 shared some of their favorite moments and the profound experiences that shaped their undergraduate careers, as well as dreams that started here but which they will carry with them all their lives.

“Yeshiva University created opportunities that I never dreamed of,” said Yosefa Schoor, of Monsey, New York, who hopes to attend medical school. Read the rest of this entry…

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Rabbi David Baruch Lau Meets with Roshei Yeshiva, Center for the Jewish Future Staff

20140508_chief_rabbi_53On May 8, Rabbi David Baruch Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, visited Yeshiva University. The chief rabbi met with Roshei Yeshiva at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and YU President Richard M. Joel. He also spoke with YU’s Center for the Jewish Future senior staff about their work around the world with rabbis, communities and students, and toured the Wilf Campus and the Jacob and Dreizel Glueck Center for Jewish Studies with students.

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Center for the Jewish Future Hosts Conference for Rabbis on Addressing and Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Jewish Communities

On February 25, Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future hosted an educational and training session for rabbinic leadership focusing on the unique challenges of addressing and preventing child sexual abuse in religious communities.

Victor Vieth, executive director emeritus

Victor Vieth, director emeritus of the Gundersen Health System’s National Child Protection Training Center

The conference was one of several programs and efforts by YU to promote child sexual abuse prevention and awareness and provided an overview of the latest research about abuse in faith-based communities as well as guidelines to help synagogues institute policies and procedure aimed at preventing and addressing allegations of child sexual abuse. The program included addresses from Andrew (Avi) Lauer, Esq., vice president for legal affairs and secretary and general counsel at YU; Dr. Shira Berkovits, a postdoctoral psychology fellow at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine‘s Early Childhood Center, part of the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center /Rose F. Kennedy Center, and a student at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School; and national child sexual abuse expert Victor Vieth, director emeritus of the Gundersen Health System’s National Child Protection Training Center.

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Yeshiva University Announces Micro-Grants for Student Social Entrepreneurs

Yeshiva University recently announced a new fund that will provide micro-grants to student social entrepreneurs founding startups that will benefit the broader Jewish and global communities.

Called “Neal’s Fund,” the initiative was created by the family of Neal Dublinsky. Dublinsky grew up in Queens, NY, and graduated as valedictorian with top honors from Yeshiva College before attending the New York University School of Law. He was diagnosed with the most advanced stage of lymphoma in 1987 at the age of 24, just as he was beginning his career as a corporate attorney in Los Angeles, CA. Despite medical setbacks, he fought his illness and went on to live a full life for another 23 years. Neal’s Fund was established by family, friends and colleagues of Dublinsky and commemorates his entrepreneurial spirit and sense of social responsibility.

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Yeshiva University Hosts February 27 Job Fair for Communal and Educational Careers

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) and Institute for University-School Partnership (YU School Partnership) will host their annual Jewish Job Fair on Thursday, February 27, 2014 in Furst Hall on YU’s Wilf Campus, 500 West 185th Street in New York City. The event is free and open to the public from 7-9 p.m., with priority admission for YU students and alumni beginning at 6 p.m.

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On Four CJF Winter Missions Around the World, YU Students Get Closer Look at Jewish Leadership

More than 90 Yeshiva University students spent this winter break engaged in the hands-on study of—and contribution to—vastly different Jewish communities around the world.

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A student on the CJF’s “Counterpoint Israel: Winter Camp” mission teaches English at an educational camp in Kiryat Gat.

As participants on winter missions organized by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, students traveled to Kharkov and Sumy in the Ukraine; Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Gat and Dimona in Negev region of Israel; areas of New York that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy; and cities across the Midwestern United States to make an impact and hone their leadership skills.

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Presidential Fellowship in University and Community Leadership Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

With more than 150 alumni in an array of professional and communal careers and 15 stellar new graduates taking the reins this fall, Yeshiva University’s Presidential Fellowship in University and Community Leadership is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Presidential Fellows 2013 Group

The highly competitive program was established by President Richard M. Joel in 2004, shortly after his arrival at YU, with the goal of transforming the University into a leadership incubator for the Jewish people. Under the supervision of YU Senior Vice President Rabbi Josh Joseph, the Fellowship places accomplished top-level YU graduates in key departments and schools throughout the institution, where they develop and oversee thoughtful and innovative projects to improve the University. They also receive close mentorship from senior University staff and cultivate a broad knowledge base and skill set to engage with the larger Jewish community.

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Aug 2, 2010 — Hundreds of leaders representing more than 80 Jewish communities descended upon Disney World’s Magic Kingdom by the busload. However, they weren’t at the legendary theme park to meet its famous characters or experience the rides, but for a rare opportunity to take a peek “behind the curtain” and learn from one of the most successful global business operations. The group—in Orlando for the Fifth Annual ChampionsGate National Leadership Conference presented by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF)—explored best practices and methods utilized by Disney on a private tour provided by the Disney Institute, an authority in leadership training.

The theme of the conference, which ran from July 29 – Aug. 1, was “Tomorrow Begins Today: From ‘Best Practices’ to ‘Next Practices.’” It aimed to inspire participants to collectively adapt innovative and creative approaches to how they address challenges and growth opportunities in their respective communities and organizations.

“At ChampionsGate, we convene as a community of community leaders,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, The David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “It is a celebration of the synergy between the Yeshiva and Jewish communities around the world. Together we have come to the recognition that it is time to no longer focus on the best practices, but rather on the next practices in dealing with these challenges.”

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The conference—made possible with the support of Mindy and Ira Mitzner ’81Y, University Trustee and chair of the CJF advisory council who provided his ChampionsGate resort as the conference venue—has grown from a gathering of 40 in 2006 into a highly anticipated annual event drawing 360 rabbis, lay leaders and Jewish community professionals this year.

“At ChampionsGate, we gather the leaders of our community to take our communal pulse, celebrate our accomplishments, confront our challenges, advance our values, nourish our spirits and rededicate ourselves to the sacred task of building community,” said Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel. “This was Mindy and Ira’s vision, and they have willed it into reality with their leadership and generosity.”

The program addressed key issues facing the Jewish community and featured University deans, faculty and administrators including Rabbi David Hirsch, rosh yeshiva at RIETS; Suzanne Last Stone, professor of law at the Cardozo School of Law and director of Cardozo’s Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization; Rabbi Edward Reichman, MD, associate professor at the Einstein; and Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, director of YUConnects.

“Yeshiva University’s desire to be marbitz [spread] Torah U’Madda is not merely theoretical,” said Dr. Rachel Rabinovich, president of Denver Academy of Torah. “Under the leadership of President Joel, YU and the CJF continue to provide their deep resources to further the mission and strengthen the infrastructure of innumerable communities like ours.”

Building on the conference theme of next practices, four leadership forums—Funds, Family, Faith and Future—were designed utilizing new and innovative methodologies to engage and encourage interaction among participants. Each track employed a unique facilitation technique known as “scenario planning”—a process introduced by Royal Dutch Shell and a best practice currently used by multiple Fortune 500 companies.

Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of University-School Partnership at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School, facilitated a forum on “Faith: Infusing Jewish Life and Rituals with Greater Passion and Spirituality” and encouraged participants to interact through Twitter during his forum, demonstrating how technology can be used as an inspirational tool.

Josh Joseph, YU vice president and chief of staff, led a track on “Future: Training and Inspiring the Next Generation of Jewish Community Leaders,” and asked participants for their suggestions on what issues the Orthodox community will face in 2020. The lively forum also featured a video presentation, filmed and edited during the session by Uri Westrich, a former YU presidential fellow.



“Throughout the year, we are involved in ongoing conversations with community leaders,” explained Rabbi Ari Rockoff, director of community partnership at the CJF and conference organizer. “These programs were designed using their feedback.”

Josh Kahane ’01Y, an attorney from Memphis, was excited to have the opportunity “to discuss challenges and strengths” with both professional and lay leadership from across the country. “Living and working in a community on the cusp of real Jewish growth, it is important to strengthen my understanding of the YU philosophical model as we continue to create an identity for our young Modern Orthodox community,” said Kahane.

A highlight for many participants was a thought-provoking and open panel discussion on Shabbat entitled, “Orthodoxy’s Big Tent: Where Do We Put the Stakes?” The diverse panel—moderated by Ira Mitzner—featured President Joel; Rabbi Yona Reiss, The Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS; Dr. Karen Bacon, The Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women; Rabbi David Stav, chair of the Tzohar organization in Israel; Gary Rosenblatt; editor and publisher of The Jewish Week of New York; Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founder of Project Y.E.S.; C.B. Neugroschl, newly appointed head of school at Yeshiva University High School for Girls; and Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston.

“Rabbi Brander and President Joel eloquently articulated the challenges facing our generation and the inspired leadership it will take to squarely address them,” said Rabbi Horowitz. “As a member of the Charedi community, I feel that we all face similar challenges and we need to work together to find solutions. I was very proud to be part of this uplifting weekend.”

On the final day of the conference, Rabbi Heshy Glass, head of school at Los Angeles’ YULA High School, reflected on his ChampionsGate experience. “It was great meeting and networking with my counterparts from around the country,” he said, motioning to his peers seated around the breakfast table. “We will definitely be following up with each other throughout the year.”

See Rabbi Brander’s op-ed in The Jewish Week on the future of Jewish leadership.

Read the CJF Dean’s Report.

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