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MK Tzipi Hotovely Emphasizes the Need for Unified Vision at Israel Club Event

tzipi hotovelyOn December 19, Deputy Minister of Transportation and Road Safety Knesset Member Tzipi Hotovely joined Yeshiva University students on the Wilf Campus for a frank discussion about one of the most challenging issues facing Israel today: Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.

“People are saying, ‘We want to have a Jewish state,’ but they can’t tell you what that means,” Hotovely said. “What we need today more than ever is to have our own vision as a Jewish state, with a clear message.”

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Knesset Member Rabbi Dov Lipman Shares Personal and Political Journey with YU Students

On April 10, Member of the Knesset Rabbi Dov Lipman gave Yeshiva University students an inside perspective on his transformation from Orthodox American rabbi and educator to revolutionary Israeli policymaker at a YU Israel Club event on the Wilf Campus.

Dov Lipman

American-born Knesset member Dov Lipman shares his story at YU.

“When my family and I boarded our Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in 2004, the farthest thing from my mind was entering Israeli politics, and becoming a Knesset member was even further,” Lipman told the crowd. Read the rest of this entry…

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Stern College’s Avital Chizhik on the Diaspora Jew’s Constant Quest for Jerusalem

We’re standing in a hall in downtown Manhattan, overlooking a dusky Liberty Harbor.

The girl standing next to me points to the river view and says, “Doesn’t it almost look like Jerusalem? That terrace over there and that tree? The way the sun is setting?”

I gaze for a minute at the view. We’re overlooking a dark Hudson River, a boat passing by, the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

No, it doesn’t look like Jerusalem in the least. Not here. This is most certainly New York. I muster a smile, trying to think of an agreeable response, until I finally sigh and admit, “No, it doesn’t look like Jerusalem. Not at all.” Read the rest of this entry…

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Responding to Beit Shemesh Turmoil, Panel Discusses Role of Women in Israeli Society

In response to the recent turmoil in Beit Shemesh over issues of modesty and the role of women in Israeli society, Yeshiva University students flooded a lecture hall on January 30 to learn about the challenges and history of the conflict and to debate possible solutions.

The event, titled “Faceless: Confronting Hadarat Nashim in Israel Today,” was held in Belfer Hall and organized by Kol Hamevaser, the undergraduate student body’s Jewish thought magazine, and the YU Israel Club. Panelists included Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Talmud; Dr. Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, dean of students and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School, who has also spoken extensively on women’s issues; and Rav Yonatan Rosensweig, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Torat Yosef Hamivtar in Efrat and a Beit Shemesh resident.

“Faceless,” which was sponsored by the World Zionist Organization, focused on escalating media buzz over the story of Naama Margolese, an 8-year-old Israeli schoolgirl who was spit on by a group of charedi [ultra-Orthodox] men who called her dress “immodest.” Facilitated by Kol Hamevaser Editor-in-Chief Chesky Kopel, the panel addressed questions about media coverage of the issue, fault lines between charedi and modern Orthodox communities, and the changing dynamic of gender relations in communities across North America and Israel.

The three speakers also presented on individual facets of “Hadarat Nashim,” or the exclusion of women, and concepts of charedi extremism in general, including a discussion of sources in the Talmud relating to modesty, the history of women’s legal rights and gender roles in Israel, and personal experience with the conflict.

“It is in part an attempt to turn back the clock across the religious world,” said Wieder. “It’s a reaction against the excesses of secular society. It may not be acceptable to us, but we need to understand where it’s coming from.”

For Greenberg-Kobrin, the emotional confusion in the modern Orthodox sphere stemmed from a sense of alienation from a community it reveres. “When you see violence or bullying towards women and children, you question what shared values you have with a community where that exists,” she said. “I think that is frightening and difficult for us.”

She added: “The more we have this question about when and how to include women in our society—while the halachic [Jewish legal] lines are extremely important and are to be respected—where there is room to be inclusive of men and women and have them interact in a public sphere, we as a community need to speak up and make that happen.”

Gabrielle Hiller, a junior majoring in Jewish education at Stern College for Women, agreed. “This issue bothered me deeply because these are our people and it’s disturbing to talk about our own community in this way,” she said. “However, hearing these different perspectives gave me a deeper understanding of what’s going on. Dialogue about this is key.”

“It’s very important for students at YU to deal with what is current, what needs to be resolved now,” said Kopel. “When issues are being spoken about or argued about this much, you know they are important for our community.”

“The turnout alone speaks to the burning relevance of this problem,” said Avital Chizhik, president of the Israel club. “Hopefully it will lead to more events, more articles and more responses that can further this discussion.”

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YU Students Learn About Israel’s Film Industry at Private Screening

A range of emotions swept through the audience of more than 70 undergraduate students as they laughed, cried and thoroughly enjoyed a private screening of three short films from Jerusalem’s Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts.

The November 15 event held in Furst Hall on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus was sponsored by student organizations YCSA, SOY, YSU, SYMS (Wilf), SCWSC and TAC, in conjunction with the MTV and Israel Clubs, and provided students with a much-needed break from their midterm studies.

Ma’aleh, the only film school in the world devoted to exploring the intersection of Judaism and modern life, has produced award-winning films and television programs, including the popular drama Srugim, a television series that deals with the lives of five Modern Orthodox Jewish single men and women in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“The school was started 20 years ago when Orthodox people felt that there needed to be a place where they could do film while still being able to maintain their religiosity,” said Neta Ariel, director of Ma’aleh, during a question and answer session after the screening. “There was also a desire to create films that would address religious issues.”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6YRPvqm5rc

The three films screened covered multiple genres: A Shabbos Mother, a drama about three adult sisters who come home to visit their mother for Shabbat as they each deal with their personal struggles; House 103, a documentary that follows the evacuation of a particular family from Gush Katif during the summer of 2005; and Orthodox Way, a comedy that follows an Orthodox man who picks up the wrong woman on a date.

“Coming to this event made me realize that there is a place for religious people in the film industry and Israel is where it’s at,” said Tamar Schwarzbard, of Brooklyn, New York.

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Panel on College Anti-Semitism Discusses Israel Advocacy on Campus

Speaking before a capacity crowd, Yeshiva College senior Chanan Reitblat reflected on a semester of anguish and humiliation spent abroad.

Chanan Reitblat

Yeshiva College senior Chanan Reitblat shared his personal experience with anti-Semitism while studying abroad.

“When I went to St. Andrews University last semester to study chemistry, I never expected to learn a lesson in anti-Semitism and Israel advocacy,” said Reitblat, who was part of a panel discussion on anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses titled “Confronting Campus Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in America” held at Yeshiva University’s Weisberg Commons on November 8.

Recounting the defamation of an Israeli flag in his dorm room and the court proceedings that followed, Reitblat emphasized the need for Jewish students, especially at YU, to show solidarity and support for students on other campuses.

“We have to be proactive, think strategically, and promote the many positive aspects of Israel,” he said. “Had I not had the support of like-minded and caring friends at YU and other institutions, I’m not sure I’d have been able to go through with my case and stand up to my attacker.”

Israel Advocacy - Panel

(L-R) Panelists: Matthew Ackerman, Chanan Reitblat, Eric Schorr, President Richard Joel and Rabbi Elliot Mathias.

The panel discussion featured personal testimony from students who had been subjected to hate acts or aggression and explored guidelines for Israel advocacy in universities, as well as insight from YU President Richard M. Joel, Matthew Ackerman of the David Project, and Rabbi Elliot Mathias of Hasbara Fellowships.

Eric Schorr, a senior in Middle East studies at Columbia University and modern Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, spoke about the connection being drawn on college campuses between movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and anti-Israel or anti-Semitic groups. “These students think Israel is an issue of left versus right and that opposing it makes them a part of something great,” Schorr said. “We need to show them that it isn’t about partisanship—it’s about right versus wrong.”

Schorr also shared his experience as founder and president of LionPac, the largest Israel advocacy group at Columbia; struggling to engage anti-Israel groups in dialogue and respond to acts such as mock checkpoints or “Israel Apartheid Week” on campus. Schorr encouraged students to reach out to other advocacy groups as well. “Every campus is nuanced and different and has their own model for activism at their school,” he said. “If you want to get involved, contact those leaders and find out how they are talking about Israel on campus.”

During a question and answer session, President Joel and Ackerman drew on their years of experience at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (where President Joel formerly served as president and international director) and the David Project, respectively, to frame the night’s conversation.

“It’s important to give this conversation the texture it needs,” said President Joel. “Universities are an attractive setting for people looking to spread anti-Semitism. There are a lot of people and scholars with strong opinions and it’s also cheap to advertise in campus newspapers which attract larger media and put Jews on the defensive.”

Ackerman agreed, adding that he had noticed an evolution in anti-Semitism over the years. “It’s now more of an ‘anti-Israelism,’ a denial of Jewish collective identity which therefore denies us the right to our own state,” Ackerman said. “We must make this kind of bigotry socially unacceptable.”

Follow-up programming to the event, which was sponsored by YAKUM and the YU Israel Club, included Israel advocacy training on the Beren Campus on November 13. To get involved or more information on advocacy training, contact Berel Bronshteyn, co-president of the Israel Club, at bronshte@yu.edu.

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Students Explore Israel’s Culture and Cuisine at YU Israel Club Event

More than 40 students gathered on Wednesday, October 26, to celebrate one of the most beloved aspects of Israeli culture—hummus, the popular Middle Eastern chickpea-based cuisine.

Israel Club

Zoe Jick's presentation featured the history of Hummus, as well as the best places in Israel to enjoy the popular cuisine.

The event, organized by Yeshiva University’s Israel Club, featured a discussion with Zoe Jick, the New York-area director of student activities for the World Zionist Organization on “What Hummus Can Teach You about Israel.” Jick’s presentation included the best locations in Israel to eat hummus, all of which were mixed Israeli-Arab cities, making hummus a “beacon of co-existence,” according to Jick.

The event then shifted to a culinary experience with students creating their own dishes of hummus.

“This year, we’d like to create Israel-related events that highlight and celebrate a pride in our culture,” said Avital Chizhik, co-president of the Israel Club and organizer of the event. “We want to evoke all of the aspects that we love about Israel—the cities and the countryside, the vibrant culture and lifestyle, the language and society—to keep our passion fresh and invigorated.”

Upcoming Israel Club events include a hasbara [public diplomacy] training session with David Olesker of the Jerusalem Center for Communications and Advocacy Training in early November and a lecture on the psychology behind terrorism November 21 by a Bar Ilan professor. At the end of the semester, there will be an event about the wave of social protests that swept Israel this past summer, as well as an Israel-themed comedy night and dinner.

“Being in YU has provided, above all, an opportunity to connect with Israel that I don’t think I’d get in any other American university,” said Chizhik. “Between spending this past summer on the CJF’s Counterpoint Israel program in Arad and getting to spend a month with Israeli teenagers in the Negev, taking advanced Israeli literature and media classes, and having a plethora of Israel-related events to choose from, I am deeply grateful for my experience here.”

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Ariella Gottesman, Co-President of YU’s Israel Club, on the Checkered Past of Israel’s National Anthem and its Relevance Today

Many years ago, I heard a speaker – a self-proclaimed Zionist – taking HaTikvah to task. In her opinion, it didn’t speak to the Zionist dream, the true feeling of the Jewish heart aching to return home, or the mission of Zionism. She suggested that The Impossible Dream from the hit Broadway musical “The Man of La Mancha” take its place as the Israeli national anthem. The very words, she thought, encapsulated everything Zionism and Israel stands for:

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go…

I was quite taken with this idea as a child, with the notion that this stirring song about reaching “the unreachable star” could serve as a more fitting national anthem for our homeland. I took out the CD from the library and listened to the song countless times, smiling as I internalized the lyrics. It struck a chord within me, far deeper than HaTikvah ever had.

So, why shouldn’t this song represent the Zionist dream? What does HaTikvah really have over The Impossible Dream?

Recently, I hit the books (and the Internet) to figure it all out.  What I discovered was fascinating.

Similar to The Star Spangled Banner, which is actually a four paragraph poem with only the first verse known, HaTikvah has seven other stanzas, which nobody knows.

HaTikvah was originally a nine stanza poem written by Naphtali Herz Imber, a relatively unsuccessful poet, loafer, alcoholic and womanizer who lived in the late 19th century. The original title was actually Tikvateinu – Our Hope – and it was the anthem of several settlements in the 1880s. Imber later died of alcohol induced liver disease, not a very glorious way for the writer of Israel’s national anthem to pass.

Samuel Cohen later put these rhymes to a Romanian folk song, Carul cu Boi. Though he slowed down the rhythm and refined the sound, when one listens to Carul cu Boi, it is clear that the two songs are related. The tune that makes Jews worldwide rise and put their hands to their hearts means, in Romanian, “Cart and Oxen,” and the original is a dancing tune.

The more I uncovered in my research, the more the case was made for The Impossible Dream to take center stage.

Yet, HaTikvah, with its interesting, and perhaps scandalous, past, still has a unique quality that The Impossible Dream cannot and never will have. This quality fills the heart of the Jew. It makes us smile, it makes us cry, it defines us, and it makes HaTikvah our national anthem.

On May 12, 1948, before David Ben-Gurion read the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the audience spontaneously sang HaTikvah in unison. After the Declaration was signed, the crowd once again rose and sang:

To be a free people in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

No one in that room, or anywhere in that newly born country, would have envisioned owning all of Jerusalem. Not under the White Paper, nor under the UNSCOP Partition Plan, nor by any other conceivable course of events. At best, they thought, it would wind up under UN jurisdiction. At worst, it would fall into the hands of the Arabs, who would in all likelihood deny Jews access. Indeed, by the end of the 1948 war, when the smoke had cleared, Jerusalem was still not under Israeli control.

Yet, Jews still dreamed of Jerusalem. Their eyes still looked towards Zion. The city where David camped was still in their hearts. And, in 1967, against all odds, we claimed our birthright.

The religious Zionists suggested two alternatives to Hatikvah as Israel’s national anthem, The first was Shir Hamaalot Beshuv Hashem et Shivat Zion, Psalm 126, whose theme is the  return to Zion and which says this return would seem like an impossible dream come true. It had been set to music by the famed Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, and the song as he rendered it became popular in recent years when “Shir Hamaalot” was sung by popular Israeli singer Chanan Yovel.

The other was first Chief Rabbi Avraham Kook’s poem about the return to our land and the city where David camped. Both were rejected by the secular Zionists who made up the majority of those who founded the state.

The Impossible Dream is a wonderful song. I smile and cry every time I listen to it. But it does not focus on Jerusalem.  As such, it cannot possibly represent the Zionist dream because it is impossible to fulfill the Zionist dream without our Golden Jerusalem.

Ariella Gottesman is an undergraduate student at Stern College for Women and co-president of the Yeshiva University Israel Club.

Read the op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, Arutz Sheva and Ynet.

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Former WBA Champion, Yuri Foreman, Shares Religious and Professional Journey with Students

To a rapt audience on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus, former World Boxing Association champion Yuri Foreman described his earliest memory of Israel as a ten-year-old oleh [immigrant to Israel]: “The door opened on the plane and this fascinating scent of Israel came in, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is delicious.’ When we came to the Ben Gurion terminal for New Immigrants, they offered us trays of cut oranges. I was convinced we had just arrived in paradise.”

Yuri Foreman

Yuri Foreman, former WBA champion, is studying to become a rabbi.

Foreman, who became the first Israeli World Boxing Association (WBA) champion when he defeated Daniel Santos for the super welterweight world title in 2009, is not your average professional boxer. A Belarusian-born Israeli immigrant who earned his title in New York, he is also currently undertaking rabbinical studies with Rabbi Dovid Ber Pinson. At an event organized by YU’s Russian and Israel Clubs, Foreman offered insight into the challenges he faced as a young Russian oleh with no Jewish background, his journey to reconnect to his heritage, and his complex identity as an Orthodox boxer in the professional realm.

Foreman initially took up boxing so he’d be able to hold his own during a rough childhood in Gomel, Belarus. Recalling his instant fascination with the sport, he said, “I stepped into the gym and there was a big pile of black leather gloves. It was beautiful.” He was intrigued by the thinking behind the movements. “Many people see it as two guys trying to kill each other, but there’s a lot of thought and strategy that goes into it,” Foreman said. “Boxing is like a really fast-paced game of chess in some ways.”

As he improved, he began to see boxing as a possible career path and a ticket to a better life. “In the Former Soviet Union, to be a Jew was a curse,” he said. However, even after his family’s emigration to Haifa, he had no connection to religion.

“Judaism scared me,” Foreman said. It was only after he’d made the decision to leave Israel and pursue a boxing career in New York that Foreman visited Jerusalem and the Kotel [Western Wall] for the first time. The experience was transformative. “The only thing I can relate it to is that Gomel is the closest city to Cherenobyl, so whether you want it or not, if you live there you get radiated,” he joked.

Foreman took his first class in Judaism with Rabbi Pinson years later in the United States. “The first thing he said was how life was like boxing and Judaism helped you take those punches,” Foreman recalled. Hooked, he began learning with Pinson on a regular basis. He still finds striking parallels between boxing and Judaism. “People tell me sometimes they’re not motivated,” he said. “This is not how things work in Judaism or in boxing. It’s great to feel motivated because then it’s like something’s pushing you along, but when you’re not motivated you still have to come to the gym and put in your 120 percent, just like you still have to put on tefillin in the morning and pray.”

For Jeffrey Gurock, Libby M. Klapperman professor of Jewish History at YU and author of the book Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports, Foreman’s story fits into a larger narrative of Jewish immigrants. “In a way, he’s a throwback to an early era of American Jewish history where there were hundreds of Jewish boxers,” Gurock said. “You have to see Foreman as an immigrant Jew finding his way economically through this rough-and-tumble sport called boxing. He can maintain his Jewish traditions because boxing is one of the few sports where the participants can control the clock and calendar of the events.”

“He’s an illustration of the difficulties facing Jewish Russian immigrants in America and the ways they overcome them,” said Beryl Bronshteyn, a Yeshiva College junior and vice president of the Russian club. “His story also shows the importance of growing kiruv [outreach] movements in the Russian Jewish community.”

At the event, private boxing lessons with Foreman were raffled off to raise money for Machanaim, an organization which seeks to help Russian olim build their identities as Jews and Israeli citizens. Three students won a lesson, including Yeshiva College senior Moshe Broder.

“I’m really excited to get a lesson from the best Jewish boxer alive,” he said. “I think he is a Kiddush Hashem.”

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