Yeshiva University News » Counterpoint

President Richard M. Joel Addresses Thousands at Community-Wide Rally in Support of Israel  

More than 10,000 people gathered to show their support for Israel and its right to self-defense at a rally Monday afternoon, July 28, in Manhattan at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza outside the United Nations. The rally attracted throngs of passionate Israel supporters of all ages and backgrounds from across the region, including hundreds of children who traveled several hours by bus from their summer camps in Pennsylvania and upstate New York to be there.

Amid a sea of blue and white, participants waved Israeli and American flags and brandished signs proclaiming solidarity with Israel and condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization. Several dignitaries, politicians and religious leaders addressed the crowd, including Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ninth Annual Service Learning Program to Empower 300 Israeli Youth, Receive Support From Local Municipalities

The Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future’s (CJF) Counterpoint Israel Program, an immersive service-learning initiative that aims to empower the next generation of Israeli youth via an exciting, Jewish values-driven summer camp experience, has been retooled to maximize manpower efficiency and its impact on the Israeli communities it serves.


YU students will help empower some 300 underprivileged youth throughout Israel this summer as part of the Counterpoint program.

Over the last several years, undergraduate students from Yeshiva University ran four separate summer camps in the cities of Arad, Dimona, Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi concurrently. Basing itself on the North American Jewish camping system, this year’s program will offer two separate camp sessions, making it possible for YU students to focus their undivided attention and complete creativity on two cities at a time.

The YU students, natives of North America, Colombia and Chile, will run camps in Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi from June 29 – July 10 before relocating to Dimona and Arad for the second session, scheduled for July 13 – 24. Read the rest of this entry…

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Second Annual CJF Winter Break Service Learning Initiative to Empower 850 Underprivileged Teens

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future announced today that its “Counterpoint Israel” winter break program, a 10-day mission that aims to empower Israeli teens from low socio-economic backgrounds, has doubled in size with the addition of four new “Winter Camps” in Kiryat Gat and the expansion of the existing program in Kiryat Malachi.


YU students will impact hundreds of underprivileged Israeli youth this winter break as part of Counterpoint.

With the program returning to the community of Dimona as well, Counterpoint Israel will serve 850 teens in seven student-run camps January 9–19.

Throughout the mission, 42 YU students from North America, Panama and Colombia will guide the Israeli teens through a curriculum focused on English enrichment and self-exploration through art.

“Counterpoint continues to grow in size and expand its influence, impacting entire communities and changing countless lives along the way,” said Kiva Rabinsky, programs director of the CJF’s Department of Service Learning and Experiential Education. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Jewish Press Interviews Rabbi Kenneth Brander

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future seems to expand with each passing year.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander

Founded in 2005, the CJF– among other activities–now educates hundreds of ordained rabbis through its Rabbinic Training Placement and Continuing Education program; sends 1,000 students every year to help communities around the world through its Experiential Education and Service Learning program; makes 60,000 shiurim of YU rabbis and others available online through; helps YU students and alumni find their intended through; and sets up kollelim around the country through its Community Initiatives program.

This summer, the CJF ran day camps in five Israeli development towns: Dimona, Arad, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, and Beersheba. Staffed by 60 YU students, the camps serviced over 350 Israeli children.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF, about the summer camps. Read the rest of this entry…


YU Israeli Summer Camp Service Learning Initiative to Serve 300 Underprivileged Campers

The Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) announced today that its Counterpoint Israel Program, a month-long service-learning initiative that aims to empower the next generation of Israeli youth via an exciting, Jewish values-driven summer camp experience, has tripled in size with the addition of three new camps in Beer Sheva, Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi.

With the program returning to the communities of Arad and Dimona as well, Counterpoint Israel will serve 300 Israeli campers from varied socio-economic backgrounds in five student-run camps from July 3 – August 5.

Read the rest of this entry…


Students Explore Social Justice on CJF Missions to Ukraine, Central America, Israel and the West Coast

Whether building libraries in the Nicaraguan heat or renovating a youth center in the cold of Kharkov, Ukraine, Yeshiva University students were hard at work during the winter intersession participating in Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) programs around the world.

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“As future religious and lay leaders of the Jewish people, it is important for our students to be exposed to and engaged with issues of social justice and global welfare as well as the unique and varied challenges and opportunities facing Jewish communities around the world, from small towns on the West Coast to Beit Shemesh,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “It is critical that YU students have both a broad world-view and a deep appreciation of how these issues are dealt with through the prism of Jewish thought so they can become effective agents of change in their communities and the world-at-large. The most important journey that students take on these missions is the one of self-discovery.”

Comprised of seven service-learning missions across Europe, Israel, Central America and the United States, the programs ran from January 12-22 and involved 140 undergraduates.

“Tzedek and Tzedaka,” an 8-day experiential education program, explored concepts of social justice in a modern democratic Jewish state. Two separate groups of 15 men and women, accompanied by YU scholars in residence Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh, studied religious texts and met with top Israeli rabbinic figures, supreme court justices, government officials, prison inmates and administrators, non-profit organization founders and social activists. In addition to ethical questions about society’s relationship to criminals and justice, the groups investigated several hot-button issues, including the status of women in Israeli government and law and the challenges of building a just society when faced with opposition from extremist constituents on both sides.

Ten students also traveled to Israel for “Art in Ort,” an outgrowth of the highly successful Counterpoint Israel summer program. Drawing on their extensive graphic design, filmmaking and musical experience, YU students ran special workshops designed by renowned American art educator Andrea Rabinovitch for 160 middle school students—teens from low-income neighborhoods in Jerusalem—to help them discover their inner talents through art.

“Students are walking away from these missions with a newfound understanding of some of the most important yet perplexing issues that we as a people currently face,” said Gila Rockman, programs director at the CJF’s Department of Service Learning and Experiential Education. “They have a new awareness of the complexities confronting Israel as a Jewish state in a western world.”

Two humanitarian missions in Mexico and Nicaragua continued the work of previous student visits, strengthening relationships and assisting in the establishment of critical communal institutions. In Mexico, 16 students collaborated with Hombre Sobre La Tierra (HST – Humankind on Earth), a non-profit group that seeks to promote environmental sustainability, self-sufficiency and the integration of women among poor Mayan communities. Participants helped build a tilapia farm which serves as an important source of protein for the town and learned about Mayan culture as well as principles of tikkun o’lam [repairing the world] and rights-based approaches to international development. In Nicaragua, 16 participants resumed work on a library whose foundations were laid by YU students last year, in collaboration with Servicios Medicos Comunals, a non-government organization.

“These types of service projects give students the opportunity to engage and truly live the value of tikkun olam,” said Tuvia Brander, program leader of the Mexico mission. “They show our students how they can be models of change.”

Project Kharkov, a 10-day service learning mission, took 19 undergraduates to the heart of Ukraine to gain a firsthand understanding of the welfare challenges and identity crises faced by its Jewish community following the collapse of the Former Soviet Union, as well as how the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) addresses communal needs. Students cleaned the grounds of a Jewish day school and renovated parts of a youth center to make it more welcoming to Jewish teens. They also participated in a meaningful and heartbreaking memorial at Dobritsky Yar, the site of a mass grave where thousands of Jews were slaughtered during the Holocaust, and visited Kharkov’s Wohl Center, where a wide range of performing arts programs express the community’s Jewish identity.

“We all could see the vibrancy of Kharkov’s Jewish community,” wrote Ben Scheiner, a junior at Yeshiva College, in a JDC blog. “Jewish Ukrainians of all ages poured their hearts out to us in their performances. I felt honored to witness this private concert which embodied talent, personal pride and the resurgence of the Jewish community there.”

Aliza Abrams, assistant director of CJF’s Department of Service Learning and Experiential Education, noted that “The most empowering part of the volunteer experience is seeing that service doesn’t have a language barrier. A student can stand alongside a Ukrainian peer who doesn’t speak a word of English and together they can transform a youth center. A student can take part in building a library alongside a Spanish-speaking Nicaraguan. The work is being done with compassion and it is the language of care and unity that gets the work done.”

In the United States, 20 undergraduates headed to one of the world’s most technologically advanced regions for the fifth incarnation of the CJF’s Jewish Life Coast to Coast program. Joined by Rabbi Brander, they traveled to San Francisco and Los Angeles, led educational programs in schools, synagogues and college campuses, and met with Jewish entrepreneurs from organizations including Google, the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Studies Network.

A delegation of 15 students also participated in Limmud NY, a four-day convention of hundreds of Jews from all walks of life. The conference, in its eighth year, was held in Kerhonkson, NY, and featured more than 300 sessions presented by leading Jewish activists, artists, educators, innovators, public figures, and scholars. Topics included Jewish textual learning, art, music, film, literature, ethics, ecology, social justice and humor.

“Attending Limmud NY broadened students’ sense of Jewish community and gave them an opportunity to participate in the Jewish communal conversation,” said Marc Fein, the delegation’s leader. “It also strengthened their own Jewish identity and pride in our community. The conference allowed students to bring a new perspective to their studies and all the work they do.”

The CJF is grateful to the programming and institutional partners that made these missions possible for YU students. They include the Jim Joseph Foundation, the American Jewish World Service, the Eckstein Family, Repair the World and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.


Innovative CJF Programs Will Explore Social Justice and Empowerment-Through-Art

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) will run two innovative winter break Israel missions for 40 select undergraduate students beginning January 15, 2012.

“Tzedek and Tzedaka,” an 8-day experiential education program, will explore the concepts of justice and social justice and consider the responsibility of creating a just society in a modern democratic Jewish State. A service-learning program called “Art at ORT” will run concurrently and will focus on social activism and the empowerment of Israeli teens through art. Both programs are sponsored in part by the Jim Joseph Foundation.

“Following the social justice movements in the U.S. and Israel this past summer, we felt it was necessary to work with these students to clarify the issues and reframe the dialogue with help from Torah sources and experts in the field,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “It is important to us that these future leaders have both a broad world-view and a deep appreciation of how these issues are dealt with through the prism of Jewish thought so they can become effective agents of change in their communities and the world-at-large.”

The “Tzedek and Tzedaka” participants—two separate groups of 15 men and 15 women accompanied by YU scholars in residence Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh respectively—will study relevant religious texts and meet with top Israeli rabbinic figures, government officials, prison inmates and administrators, founders of Israeli non-profit organizations and social activists. The groups will learn about society’s responsibility for the rehabilitation of criminals, the challenges of enforcing justice in a society heavily influenced by both Jewish law and democratic Western values, the notion of economic justice, corporate social responsibility, the balance of governmental provision and volunteerism.

The groups will also investigate several hot-buttons issues, including the status of women in Israeli government and law, and the challenge of building a just society when faced with opposition from extremist constituents (both non-Jewish and Jewish) who eschew the founding principals of the State.

An outgrowth of the highly successful Counterpoint Israel summer program, “Art at ORT” will help its participants gain a deeper understanding of the power and social importance of art. The group, comprised of 10 men and women with extensive graphic design, filmmaking and musical skills and experience, will spend most of its time running special workshops designed by renowned American art educator Andrea Rabinovitch for 160 middle school students—teens from low-income neighborhoods in Jerusalem—that will help the students discover their inner talents through creative art.

The program participants will also create original NU Campaign t-shirts to raise awareness of social causes in Israel and learn about social activism through film from award-winning filmmakers at the Ma’aleh film school in Jerusalem.

“Once the participants return to campus, we will spend time helping them understand how to translate their experiences into teaching opportunities at Jewish educational institutions throughout North America. As young Jewish leaders, they must begin to see every experience as an opportunity to teach others and strengthen their local Jewish communities,” added Brander.

In addition to its Israel missions, the CJF will be running four other winter missions concurrently: “Jewish Life Coast to Coast,” an initiative that will analyze how individuals can become active and make a difference in North America’s diverse Jewish communities, operating this year in San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle and Vancouver; “Project Kharkov,” a two-week program aimed at gaining a firsthand understanding of the welfare challenges and identity crises facing Ukrainian Jewry; and humanitarian missions to Mexico and Nicaragua.


CJF Service Learning Missions Take Students Across the Globe to Educate and Inspire

With a double course load, internships in science, finance and fashion design, and extracurricular activities that range from organizing a medical ethics conference to acting in a dramatics society production, you would probably expect to find Yeshiva University students at home over their summer vacation, seizing a much-needed opportunity to sit back and relax.

34 YU students participated in the sixth annual Counterpoint Israel program.

Instead, 34 YU students participated in the Center for the Jewish Future’s (CJF) sixth annual Counterpoint Israel program, in places like Dimona, Arad and Yemin Orde. From July 12 to August 18, students served as counselor-teachers in summer camps for impoverished Israeli youth, organizing classes that would enhance campers’ English skills and their connection to core Jewish values as well as boost their self esteem. They also created workshops in arts, fashion, music, dance and sports to foster a fun experience and a positive self-image among the children.

The Yemin Orde program, which was run as an overnight camp, had an additional focus: addressing the needs of Israeli teens affected firsthand by the devastation of December’s forest fires in Carmel.

“The teens in this town are tough, proud and remarkably open to learning more and creating new relationships,” said Chesky Kopel, who is double-majoring in history and English literature at Yeshiva College and worked in the Dimona camp. “Part of the intention of the program is to help us better understand the history and challenges of the Negev and what still needs to be done here, in terms of the communities and resources in this region. I feel that my friends and I are gaining so much from these children and hopefully they’re getting something from us as well.”

Israel wasn’t the only country where YU students made an impact. Following the success of last year’s inaugural Counterpoint Program to Brazil, a group of eight YU students returned to Sao Paulo from August 3 through August 18. They conducted two weeks of interactive Jewish identity seminars and workshops, including a memorable Tisha B’av program and a Shabbaton for local high school students. Students also met with local rabbis, lay leaders and members of the Sao Paulo community during their stay.

Eight YU students took part in the second Counterpoint Brazil program.

Adam Berman, a recent graduate and valedictorian of Yeshiva College, found the Shabbaton especially powerful. “By being with our students for a meaningful four-day Shabbaton, we were able to show them that religious university students also know how to have fun in addition to teaching Torah and running educational programs,” said Berman. “By showing them a way to be both religiously committed and part of modern society, we provided these students with a model by which they can also live their lives.”

Back home in the United States, 27 undergraduates participated on a service mission to New Orleans, Louisiana and Birmingham, Alabama, which gave students an opportunity to witness and aid in the rebuilding of communities ravaged by natural disasters. Conversations with communal leaders in New Orleans, including Arnie Finkelow, former executive vice president of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, provided students with a framework to think about the tragedies. In Birmingham, they assisted with necessary clean up and repairs to damaged homes.

For Faygel Beren, a senior majoring in biology at Stern College for Women, the mission built a deeper understanding of the critical role teamwork plays in all aspects of life. “We were carrying heavy things all day long and working really hard, but everyone encouraged each other and helped each other out,” said Beren. “What’s really amazing is that none of us could do any of it alone—it had to be a group effort. It reinvigorated me with the idea of achdus [unity], and I felt that as students at YU, we were doing exactly what we were meant to do.”

Students on the YU Kansas City Summer Experience volunteered for disaster relief clean-up after a tornado hit Joplin, MO.

In addition to the Counterpoint programs and service missions, the CJF and YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) hosted an assortment of learning and internship programs in cities across the United States, including Kansas City, Missouri; Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; Teaneck, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois; Stamford, Connecticut; and Atlanta, Georgia. Ranging in length from two to six weeks, these summer internships and kollels [Torah Study programs] offered students the chance to develop their own Torah learning through rigorous daily study and shiurim [lectures], while enriching their host communities by sharing that knowledge.

Various supporters made these missions possible, including the Zusman Family, Sharon and Avram Blumenthal, the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel of Newton, Massachusetts, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Repair the World.

Check out pictures from all the CJF Summer Missions here.


Yeshiva University Students Travel to Sao Paulo as Part of the Center for the Jewish Future’s Counterpoint Brazil Program

A group of eight Yeshiva University students traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil from Aug. 3 through Aug. 18 as part of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) Counterpoint Brazil program—a service-learning initiative aimed at empowering the next generation of Jewish youth.

“Counterpoint empowers teens to discover their heritage, own their identity and kindle their passion for Judaism,” explained Aliza Abrams, assistant director of CJF’s department of service learning and experiential education. “The result is a joyous mixture of lasting friendships and Jewish pride.”

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Following the success of last year’s inaugural mission to Brazil over the Sukkot holdiay, the local Jewish community and Colegio Iavne—a Jewish day school in Sao Paulo—asked YU to return. Over the course of two weeks the Counterpoint team conducted several interactive Jewish identity seminars, workshops and a Shabbaton for local high school students, as well as a memorable Tisha B’ Av program. The group also met with local rabbis, lay leaders and members of the community.

“It is very important to show our students that it is possible to study in the university and in the Yeshiva at the same time,” said Carmia Kotler, Hebrew coordinator at Colegio Iavne. “This kind of experience can increase the possibility of our students returning to the community after university and adding a lot to Jewish community life.”

The Counterpoint program has existed for more than 35 years, affecting the lives of tens of thousands of Jewish teens worldwide in countries such as Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Israel. Undergraduates with experience in informal education serve as guides who create and run all the programming.

Led by Abrams, the Counterpoint Brazil team included YU students Adam Berman, Ezra Blaustein, Benjamin Blumenthal, Adina Borg-Blaustein, Nora Ellison, Rebekah Friedman, Zach Mammon and Elianna Pollak.

“The CJF runs programs in which a student has the opportunity to truly experience the methodology of experiential learning and see the results firsthand,” said Ellison, of San Diego, CA.

“My experience has been very positive and I am now considering a career in teaching,” said Pollak, a native of New York City who took part in a CJF program to Germany last year. “Informal education had not been my area of focus but I wanted to take this chance to experience a different and dynamic approach to education. After participating, my desire to go into the education world has only been strengthened.”

To learn more about the CJF and its upcoming programs visit


Stern Student Avital Chizhik Speaks with Literary Icon Amos Oz During YU Counterpoint Mission

I’ve always been intrigued by the conflict of setting – where we find ourselves versus where we feel we truly belong. Perhaps it’s because I grew up at a crossroads: the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants in New Jersey, in a family of passionate Zionists who had somehow gotten off the boat at the wrong stop.

As a child and teenager, I struggled with the understanding that I belonged everywhere and nowhere. At home I heard nostalgic songs about the blossoming chestnut trees of Kiev; on the street I played in the shade of American oak trees; and in my yeshiva day schools, I was taught to dream of the cedars of Jerusalem. Three languages, three sets of literature, three codes of etiquette and humor. While my parents had supposedly left the icy depths of galuth life behind, I wondered whether I was even more of a rootless Diaspora Jew than my predecessors had been.

It was probably this inner turmoil – the tug of Diaspora and Promised Land, the ghosts of Jewish history and the hint of a different future – that drew me to the books of Amos Oz.

Born in Jerusalem a decade before the birth of the State of Israel, Oz is decidedly modern, emphatically Israeli. His narratives take place in the streets of Jerusalem, in the hills of the desert, in the fields of the kibbutz. Oz became a symbol of the new and redeemed Jew: blonde-haired, blue-eyed, penning poetry after a long day in the kibbutz field.

Yet, however “Israeli” his writing may be, his crisp Hebrew prose is inescapably haunted by the lyricism of another language and culture: that of the forests of Russia and of the European cities of his parents’ past. Oz had grown up in a home in which Europe “was a forbidden promised land.” In his memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” Oz describes his parents as yearning for a “landscape of belfries and squares paved with ancient flagstones, of trams and bridges and church spires, remote villages, spa towns, forests and snow-covered meadows.”

I was fascinated by the duality of nostalgia and belonging in Oz’s writing, both in his memoir as well as in his other novels, to the point where I realized I simply had to write my undergraduate thesis on this subject. Working under the direction of Dr. Linda Shires, who heads Stern College’s English department, I began sketching the outline for a research project on the immigrant narrative of early Israel and mapped out a work schedule.

Thank goodness, my research and summer plans melded perfectly. I was offered a position as a counselor for Counterpoint Israel – Yeshiva University’s annual summer service learning initiative that sends delegations of students from the university to the Negev to run summer camps for (and teach English to ) teenagers from low socioeconomic backgrounds – and by coincidence (or not), I found myself in the group headed for Arad, hometown of Amos Oz himself.

Perhaps, I thought hopefully, I’ll see him. Bump into him in the corner grocery as he’s picking up a carton of milk. Or I’ll wake up at dawn and walk casually by his house, where he’ll no doubt be sitting writing alongside a cup of tea.

I set off for Israel this past June, a few weeks early, so as to embark on my own personal study of Oz and his works. By the time my friends arrived, I had already read his books in both Hebrew and English, studied the analytic papers written on the myriad themes and images and allusions that appear in them, and even met with professors of modern Hebrew literature.

And while I continued to toy with the idea of speaking to the writer himself, to get authoritative answers to some of my questions, I was sure the world-renowned author wouldn’t have time for an overeager undergraduate student. I mentioned the idea to Gila Rockman, Counterpoint Israel’s director, hoping she would say just the right thing to finally dissuade me of the notion. To my surprise and delight, she agreed to take on the challenge immediately. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the hot Negev afternoon in which my camp supervisor approached me, cellphone in hand, saying, “Avital, Amos Oz is waiting for your call.”

An hour later, I was on the phone with the prolific writer, cultural ambassador of Israel and my own literary role model. The interview that then followed, and the experience of speaking to the writer whose writing I’ve emulated for years, was everything I could have hoped for, and then some.

“I think many Israeli writers are either immigrants or children of immigrants,” he explained. “And they still share this ambivalence, this love-hate relationship with the Old Country.”

We discussed history, religion, personal stories, literature, immigration and all of its painful implications. I asked him all the questions that had arisen as I read his books, the paradoxes I had wondered about, the subjects I could not find in any previously published interview with him. Mr. Oz answered each question patiently, eloquently.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t meet with you personally,” he added at the end, explaining that he was unwell at the moment. “Please give me a ring next time you are in the country. I’d love to have you for a cup of coffee.”

I happily agreed and quickly began calculating when I could make my next trip to Israel.

“Avital, I hope you make aliyah some day,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “And soon, you, too, will develop this love-hate relationship.”

This article first appeared in

Avital Chizhik is an undergraduate student in Stern College for Women’s S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program and president of the Yeshiva University Israel Club.

November 2014
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