Yeshiva University News » Israel

Daniel Hershkowitz, Minister of Science and Technology, Shares Insight with Students

The Yeshiva University community enjoyed the opportunity to converse with and learn from Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Daniel Hershkowitz in a jam-packed evening on April 30.

Minister Hershkowitz meets with President Joel

Minister Hershkowitz and President Joel

Throughout the afternoon and evening, Hershkowitz met with students, faculty and administrators in a variety of settings to learn about the unique educational model of YU and share some of his insights.

“It is my first time at Yeshiva University and I am very glad to be here,” said Hershkowitz. “It would be wonderful if we had a similar kind of institution in Israel.”

Upon his arrival to the Wilf Campus, Hershkowitz was greeted by President Richard M. Joel and proceeded to meet with Yeshiva College Dean Barry Eichler and a number of senior faculty members to discuss common issues of interest regarding university life and current research underway at YU.

“As the day progressed, it was clear that YU had made a new friend with whom we could cooperate in our close relationship with the State of Israel as academics devoted to our teaching and research, and in the continued quest for strengthening Jewish life here and abroad,” said Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, vice provost for undergraduate education, who took part in a number of meetings with the minister throughout the evening.

At 8 pm, Hershkowitz delivered a short address in Furst Hall introducing an event sponsored by the Neuroscience Society, Medical Ethics Society, Yeshiva College Biology Majors Board, the Yeshiva College Philosophy Club, the Honors Program and the Stern College for Women Neuroscience Club.

The minister described the fast paced rate of technological change wrought by advancements in computer technology. To illustrate this, he offered as an anecdote a common occurrence that he encountered as a graduate student: when he discovered a citation for a journal article not held by his library, he would have to send away for it, often to another country. “If I was lucky,” he said, “I would receive the article in a month. Now with computer databases, I can retrieve an article in seconds.”

Minister Hershkowitz met with Provost Lowengrub (left) and members of the YU faculty.

According to Hershkowitz, this improvement has led to an explosion of new research and journal publications, allowing people to delve deeper into sub-specialties of specific disciplines than ever before. With people so hyper-specialized, Israel now encourages more interdisciplinary collaboration in the sciences in order to maximize its scholars output and creativity. This is why Israel is currently focusing the attention of its research centers on the four interdisciplinary fields of neuroscience, marine biology, nanotechnology and computer technology. “When different fields come together, we can do amazing things,” said the minister.

In closing, the minister offered a parable from the Book of Exodus to describe the compatibility of scientific inquiry and Jewish culture that he was pleased to encounter at YU.

“We were delighted to have Minister Hershkowitz address the Neuroscience Society,” said Neuroscience Society President Daniel First. “Neuroscience is one of the hottest fields of scientific research today, and it was fascinating to hear how Israel is playing a prominent role in its advancement.”

Minister Hershkowitz earned a doctorate in mathematics from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in 1982. He has served as the rabbi for the Ahuza community near the northern Israeli city of Haifa. In early 2009, he won a seat in the Knesset as the Chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party, a national religious party, and was shortly thereafter named Minister of Science and Technology.

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Ambassador Yehuda Avner to Speak at May 24 Commencement; Honorees Include Alan Willner, Eleazer Hirmes and Ethel Orlian

Former Israeli diplomat, Ambassador Yehuda Avner, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary doctorate at Yeshiva University’s 81st Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, May 24, at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ.

Ambassador Yehuda Avner

Avner, an author of two books, served as speechwriter and secretary to Israeli Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and as an adviser to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.

Visit the commencement page for dates, locations, directions and information on ceremonies for all Yeshiva University schools and affiliates.

President Richard M. Joel will also confer an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters upon Dr. Alan Willner and Eleazer Hirmes. Willner, a 1982 graduate of Yeshiva College, is a highly decorated physicist, who has published more than 950 papers on his research in optical technologies. Currently a chaired professor of engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, he holds 24 patents. His research has been supported by institutions such as Cisco, the Department of Defense, Google, Hewlett Packard, Intel, the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency.

Dr. Alan Willner

Hirmes’ family relationship with Yeshiva University dates back to the early years of the 20th century, when his father, Rabbi Abraham P. Hirmes, left the Slobatka Yeshiva in Lithuania to pursue his rabbinical ordination at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Eleazer attended YU High School and graduated from Yeshiva College in 1944. He received an MBA from New York University and spent 60 years practicing as a CPA, becoming a noted philanthropist in the Five Towns of New York. Hirmes and his wife Greta have set up a scholarship fund in honor of his parents.

Eleazer Hirmes

Eleazer Hirmes

Ethel Orlian, the associate dean of Stern College for Women, will be awarded the Presidential Medallion. Orlian has spent more than 50 years as a student, teacher and administrator at Yeshiva University. A graduate of YU High School and Stern College, she began her YU career as a researcher, but left to live in Israel before returning to Stern in 1979 as the assistant to Karen Bacon, dean of Stern College for Women. Known to generations of Stern College women, she has remained at the college since—serving as assistant dean and academic counselor and teaching chemistry prior to her appointment as associate dean.

Ethel Orlian

“Each of our honorees embodies a different piece of the principles of Yeshiva University, their commitment to the Jewish people, the State of Israel, their hometowns and to the University itself,” said President Joel. “We hope they inspire our graduates to leave our school for success now, but know they always have a home at YU.”

In all, more than 1,400 undergraduate students from Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women and Syms School of Business, as well as graduate students in the fields of law, medicine, social work, education, Jewish studies and psychology, will be awarded degrees from YU during its commencement season.

Learn more about the honorees here.

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Students Commemorate Israel with Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut Programs

Hundreds of students filled the Wilf Campus’ Lamport Auditorium on April 25 for Yeshiva University’s Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day) ceremony honoring the memories of Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

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The student-organized event featured readings by the Yeshiva College and Stern College Dramatics Societies, an a capella performance by the Y-Studs, a video presentation and a memorial candle lighting service. President Richard M. Joel delivered an emotional El Male Rachamim [memorial prayer] and was followed by keynote speaker Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer ’71YC and Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, Joel and Maria Finkle Visiting Israeli Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS. The ceremony concluded with a Yizkor prayer led by Rabbi Yosef Blau, senior mashgiach ruchani [spiritual advisor], and closing words from Avital Chizhik ’12S, president of the YU Israel Club.

The moving program was followed by song and dance at the annual Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) Chagigah in the Max Stern Athletic Center, celebrating Israel’s 64th birthday. Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities continued on April 26 with more dancing, a barbecue and carnival on the Wilf Campus.

Download YU Torah’s Yom Ha’atzmaut To-Go, featuring articles from Roshei Yeshiva, faculty and prominent Torah personalities.

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Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Delivers Shiur to Students, Meets with Roshei Yeshiva

Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, paid a visit to Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) on March 28. Upon arrival he was greeted by Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Haim, Maxwell R. Maybaum Memorial Chair in Talmud and Sephardic Codes; Rabbi Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, vice president for university affairs and Rabbi Moshe Tessone, director of YU’s Sephardic Community Program.

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The chief rabbi, also known as the Rishon LeZion, delivered a shiur [lecture] to hundreds of students in the Glueck Beit Midrash, after which he participated in a luncheon with various roshei yeshiva and members of the YU faculty and administration including Rabbi Yona Reiss, Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS; Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Rosh HaYeshiva; Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, dean emeritus of RIETS; Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud; and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Chair in Talmud and Contemporary Halacha, among others. This was Rabbi Amar’s third visit to the YU campus in recent years.

“Hakham [rabbi] Amar’s visit to Yeshiva strengthens the relationship between our roshei yeshiva, the RIETS administration and the office of the chief rabbinate of the State of Israel,” said Tessone. “His visit is also significant to the Sephardic population on campus which benefitted from hearing his words and participating in the mitzvah of kabbalat pnei hakhamim [receiving great Torah luminaries].”

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YU Student Returns to Israel on One-Year Anniversary of the Jerusalem Bombing She Survived to Run in Marathon

Pia Levine, a student at Yeshiva University in New York, was riding with a friend on an Egged bus in Jerusalem, carefree after an excursion to the swanky new Mamilla shopping center, when she suddenly heard what sounded like a large clap of thunder. It was a few minutes after 3 p.m. at a bus stop near the Jerusalem International Convention Center and the boom came from a detonated pipe bomb. It killed one person and injured some 40 others that Wednesday, March 23, 2011. Of the bus passengers, only Levine and her friend were able to walk away from the scene.

A survivor of a terror attack, Stern College student Pia Levine now raises money for victims of terror.

Levine, although physically unhurt, was no longer carefree.

Set to leave Israel a few days later, Levine attempted to proceed with her plan: to run in the Jerusalem half-marathon that Friday and go home to the US.

All too soon, however, Levine realized that she was far from unscathed. The One Family Fund organization, which provides financial, legal, and emotional assistance to victims of terror in Israel, found Levine and aided in her medical care the day after the bombing in Jerusalem—essentially getting her back on her feet and running in time for the marathon—and then later after her return to New York.

Now, the 20-year-old is running for charity as a member of Team OneFamily. In that capacity she’s already participated in the New York Triathlon last summer (see NY television coverage here) and is currently back in Jerusalem to again run in the half-marathon, with a two-fold mission: to close an emotional circle and raise money for the organization that helped her so much.

Read full article in The Times of Israel

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From the Land of Purim, Jews with Complex Identities

For many American Persian Jews, self-identification can be complicated. Whether they were born in Iran or they are first-generation Americans, the culture and patriotism of their parents’ homeland can clash with their lives in America. This inner conflict has been exacerbated by the ongoing political tensions between Iran and the United States. Mix in some public musings on the possibility of war with Iran from Israel, and Persian American Jews (or are they Jewish Persian Americans? American Persian Jews?) are effectively being pulled in three directions.

The Persian Jewish community in American remains quite insular, concentrated in a few close-knit enclaves, including one on Long Island. And while the western label Orthodox doesn’t quite apply, Persian Jewish religious practice certainly has more in common with contemporary Orthodox Judaism than it does with any of the liberal streams. Because of all of these factors, Yeshiva University, the Modern Orthodox university with its various schools scattered around the city of New York, has a particularly high concentration of Persian Jews.

“I feel an internal conflict,” admitted Sarit Bassal, a student at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University. Bassal’s family is the paradigm of this cultural potpourri: Her father is from Iran, and her mother from Israel, but she and her siblings were born in New York. The possibility of a war involving two or all three of these homelands has left Bassal feeling a bit lost.

“It’s really sad when we hear that the country our parents grew up in wants to destroy the country I identify with, the Jewish homeland,” explained Bassal.

At the time of the interview, Bassal was holding down a booth in a lobby at Stern advocating for women’s rights in Iran. Another Persian student, Sarah Mansher, sat next to her. Mansher said she feels less conflicted about the situation, although both feel strongly enough about their parents’ homeland to fight on behalf of citizens there whom they’ve never met, Jewish or not. Read full article in New Voices

The author, Simi Lampert, is a senior at Stern College for Women.

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Yeshiva Faculty Lead Alumni on Private Tour of Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit

On February 15, more than 60 Yeshiva University alumni traveled back in time to the shores of the Dead Sea, circa second century BCE.

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The group gathered at Discovery Times Square’s “Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times,” a traveling exhibit featuring artifacts from Second Temple-era Jerusalem and the Dead Sea Scrolls sect, for a guided tour led by world Scroll authority and YU Vice Provost Dr. Lawrence Schiffman and noted scholars Dr. Moshe Bernstein and Dr. Joseph Angel, professor of Jewish history and bible and assistant professor of bible, respectively. As alumni peered at reconstructions of ancient Israelite homes and studied royal seals from the Davidic dynasty on jar handles, Schiffman, Bernstein and Angel answered individual questions about the artifacts and shared insight from their own research into the origins and impact of the exhibit’s findings.

Bedouins first discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 inside caves near the Dead Sea bordering what are now Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the tens of thousands of broken pieces of parchment make up some 900 scrolls dating as far back as the third century BCE. YU boasts several of the world’s leading scholars in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, including Schiffman, who has authored nine books and some 150 scholarly articles on the topic.

For Anne Senter ’58S and her daughter-in-law Jodi ’89S, the night offered a unique insider perspective on a critical period of Jewish history. “I like to take my children and my grandchildren out to events like this to learn things together,” said Anne. “Being led by experts who are so close to the sources on this tour was important to us because the Scrolls are so important to our history as a people.”

For Jodi, the faculty was a big part of the night’s drBack aw: “I had Dr. Bernstein for a Tehillim class in Stern and absolutely loved it,” she said.

The tour concluded with a dessert reception, remarks by Schiffman and question-and-answer session with Bernstein and Angel.  As the night wound down, Schiffman contextualized the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the larger frame of Jewish and Israeli history.

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“The finding of these scrolls stimulated an awakening to the wealth and breadth of Jewish thought during the Second Temple period,” said Schiffman. “There is an unbelievable variety in the development of thought at that time, yet we also see the continuity in things like tefillin and sifrei Torah [Torah scrolls], which are still part of our tradition today. We can show these discoveries to our children and to school groups and it really hits home that the Israel we talk about in this period is real.”

For Dr. Bernstein, that continuity is an easily missed but critical lesson of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the differences between Qumran Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism,” said Bernstein. “What we don’t always spend enough time talking about—this is something Schiffman has stressed in a lot of his writing—is the pan-Jewish aspect of so much that we find at Qumran. We spend a lot of time talking about the differences, but if we think about what is the same, such as the notion of saying kedushah with the angels or the interpreting of the bible in certain ways, we really get a much better picture of the things that unified Judaism in the late Second Temple and pre-rabbinic period.”

To learn about upcoming alumni events including the monthly lecture series—featuring a March 20 lecture with Dr. Ari Mirmelstein on “The Pesach Seder and Rabbinic Responses to the Destruction of the Second Temple” —visit www.yu.edu/alumnievents.

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Award-Winning Director Discusses His Oscar-Nominated “Footnote”; Will Take Part in YU Film Festival

As part of the Ring Family Film Festival, Yeshiva University will host a special screening of “Footnote” on February 16, followed by a question and answer session with American-born Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar. The film has been nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film” at this year’s Academy Awards and has won the Ophir Award in Israel for “Best Picture” and “Best Director” as well as “Best Screenplay” at the Cannes Film Festival.

Director Joseph Cedar (Photo by Ren Mendelson / Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Director Joseph Cedar (Photo by Ren Mendelson/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“Footnote” tells the tale of a great rivalry between a father and son. Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik are both eccentric professors, who have dedicated their lives to their work in Talmudic Studies. The father, Eliezer, is a stubborn purist who fears the establishment and has never been recognized for his work. Meanwhile his son, Uriel, is an up-and-coming star in the field, who appears to feed on accolades, endlessly seeking recognition. One day, the tables turn when Eliezer learns that he is to be awarded the Israel Prize, the most valuable honor for scholarship in the country, and his vanity and desperate need for validation are exposed. His son, Uriel, is thrilled to see his father’s achievements finally recognized but, in a darkly funny twist, is forced to choose between the advancement of his own career and his father’s.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Cedar and Dr. Eric Goldman, adjunct associate professor of cinema at Yeshiva University and artistic director and moderator of the festival, which will be published in The New Jersey Jewish Standard later this month.

Eric Goldman: We are seeing films from Israel that deal with Jewish issues. You are the innovator in this area!

Joseph Cedar: It’s very hard to define a film with that kind of categorizing. The films that I make are not Jewish because I wanted them to be. I made my films because they are part of my life. If they touch something, it’s because it’s relevant to me. Any film, made anywhere by a Jew is a Jewish film, because of his [or her] identity somehow coming out.

Lior Ashkenazi as Uriel Shkolnik and Shlomo Bar Aba as Eliezer Shkolnik (Ren Mendelson/Sony Pictures Classics)

Lior Ashkenazi as Uriel Shkolnik and Shlomo Bar Aba as Eliezer Shkolnik (Ren Mendelson/Sony Pictures Classics)

EG: You bring something very different into it because you are the American Israeli. Is there an American Israeli Jewish stylistic?

JC: I don’t know how relevant that is or at least I’m not aware of its relevance. I can say that it has given me an outsider’s point-of-view on my Israeli life. It’s a good place for any story-teller to be… my point-of-view has always been from the outside, as that of a story-teller who is looking at someone else and not himself. In fact, this last film is as close a story that I’ve told about my own world.

EG: Where did it come from?

JC: It’s from a few different things. The plot is something that almost happened to me. Awards and recognition have become a part of my life. It has always been a part of my father’s life. My father is biochemist. He’s done great work. He’s at the Hebrew University. He has received the Israel Prize. He’s received every prize imaginable and he’s very, very well recognized—in that sense, he’s not like the father character at all. All these elements exist in my life and these characters exist in my social circle. And I’m somewhere between the father and the son. It’s not someone else’s story. It’s my story.

Shlomo Bar Aba as Eliezer Shkolnik (Ren Mendelson/Sony Pictures Classics)

Shlomo Bar Aba as Eliezer Shkolnik (Ren Mendelson/Sony Pictures Classics)

EG: How is this different from your previous films?

JC: There are a lot of connections for me between the cinematic language that I found myself using in this film and some of the themes of this film. It’s the first time that I’ve had that!

EG: And the way you shot scenes?

JC: Every scene has very distinctive choices. That’s also relatively new for me. Usually, you come to see that there are a few options on how to shoot. Each option represents a different understanding of what’s happening. Sometimes, you check a few options and see what happens in the editing. Here, every scene required a choice that negated all the other options. We had to find a way to shoot the film that services a specific idea in each scene… Each scene has only one way to shoot it. In that sense, we were really working like the father character, not the son. There was very little compromise.

EG: Is there a central conflict?

JC: There are two sides to the conflict in this story. These are two sides we are trying to walk in between. One is someone who will never compromise, who will never leave written, strict, inflexible tradition. We could just call him the father or the written text—the text that doesn’t become relevant with time. The other side holds that anything written is threatening, because it’s not flexible. So he’s gone to the extreme of the oral… something that works very hard to stay relevant.

This is not a new tension. In the Talmud, that’s the tension that fuels every argument. If you look at the five students of Yohanan ben Zakkai, there’s Rabbi Eliezer, who never said anything that he didn’t hear from his rabbis. That’s an amazing mantra. There’s Rabbi Yehoshua, who says that if it’s not new, it has no content. ‘We’re not studying if we are not innovating!’ That’s Uriel and Eliezer [in the film]. It’s clear that without Uriel, we are not relevant. We are not productive. We are not communicating. But without Eliezer, nothing really has worth. There has to be some connection to a truth. You need both. You try and take the viewers’ sensibilities from one side to other, not really ever settling in one place. For me, it’s about how close I can come to Eliezer without losing touch with what’s important to me as a modern human being.

Learn more about the YU Ring Family Film Festival at www.yu.edu/film-festival.

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The Jerusalem Post Reviews Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff’s Memoir

There are many reasons one could find From Washington Avenue to Washington Street, by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, professor of rabbinic literature at Yeshiva University’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, a captivating work. Not only is it an engaging autobiography, but the historical information surrounding the author’s life experiences alone merit the 447-page read.

Aaron Rakeffet- Rothkoff

Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff

Rabbi Rakeffet, who was born in the Bronx in 1937 and lived on Washington Avenue, had been known as Arnold Rothkoff. Upon making aliya three decades later and moving to the center of Jerusalem – not far from George Washington Street – he adopted the Hebrew surname Rakeffet.

A scholarly work with stimulating philosophical content, From Washington Avenue to Washington Street can be enjoyed by both the academic and the layperson. A popular teacher for more than 50 years, Rakeffet manages to include folksy anecdotes as well as profound teachings in his book.

Modern Jewish history comes alive in this memoir. Rakeffet goes beyond his own surroundings and provides details of world events that profoundly influenced the evolution of Jewish life in the New World. His reminiscences of the World War II and postwar era would surely cause those from a similar background to wax nostalgic.

The later chapters describe his riveting experiences in the 1980s in the effort to help Jews in the former Soviet Union.

Included are little-known tales of profound self-sacrifice involving saintly leaders within the campaign to free their brethren and intensely moving accounts of the refuseniks’ tenacity.

During his youth, Rakeffet’s love of learning led him to experience diverse streams within the umbrella of Orthodoxy.

The book abounds with fascinating recollections of major Torah personalities, in particular those in the Yeshiva University world, where the author studied and was ordained. Read the full review at The Jerusalem Post…

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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.

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