Jan 27, 2004 — While some students escaped the cold weather during winter break or went home to visit family, another group chose to spend their vacation in Israel, visiting Hebron and organizing a concert that raised $20,000 for families of terror attack victims, and travelling to sunny Florida – not to hit the beach but to create a Modern Orthodox community.
Organized by Hindy Poupko, president of the Israel Club; Yummy Schachter, president of the YC Student Union; and Jona Rechnitz, a junior at Sy Syms School of Business, the Jan. 13 day trip to Hebron included visits to several landmarks and a meeting with President Richard M. Joel, who was in Jerusalem.
“I have never in my life felt more proud to be a part of YU,” Ms. Poupko said. “I think YU is the only institution that can make a trip like this possible. We all felt like we were on a mission.”
The Hebron trip started at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, where students boarded two armed, bullet-proof buses to Hebron. Their first stop was to the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Mr. Schachter led a morning shacharit service.
The group of about 100 YC and Stern College students visited the ancient synagogue, Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, and a kollel (institute for advanced Talmudic study) in Hebron.
That evening, they were taken to Tel HaShomer, a hospital that provides rehabilitation for survivors of terror attacks, and then to the Sheraton Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, where President Joel met with them in a small and informal setting.
Mr. Schachter, who has visited Hebron several times, said this trip allowed him to really understand the people who live there.
“The last time I was there, I just visited the Cave of the Patriarchs and left,” he said. “But this time, it strengthened me to meet the people who live there and see their courage.”
A Night of Music
Co-sponsored by YU and The Jerusalem Post, the concert held in Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue on Jan. 17 raised money for One Family Fund, an organization that provides financial and psychological assistance to families of terror attack victims. Mr. Schachter spotted Marc Belzberg, chairman of One Family Fund, and suggested to him they hold a concert as a fundraiser.
About 1,600 people attended the “All Together Now Concert,” created by YU student leaders and Marc Belzberg, chairman of One Family Fund, to hear bands Blue Fringe and Oyf Simches, and singer Yehuda Glantz.
Also during winter break, President Richard M. Joel; Dr. Karen Bacon, the Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women; Dr. Norman Adler, dean of Yeshiva College; and Dr. Charles Snow, dean of Sy Syms School of Business, visited Israel to meet with various officials and YU students studying there.
While there, they were joined by a group of Distinguished Scholars for a visit to a laboratory that produces tekhelet (Biblical blue dye) for coloring tzizit (fringes on a four-cornered garment worn by men as a Biblical commandment to recall the exodus from Egypt).
The laboratory, started by YC alums Ari Greenspan ‘82Y and Baruch Sterman ‘80Y, produces the blue dye from Murex snails. Their foundation, Ptil Tekhelet, is a non-profit organization that gives lectures to shuls, community centers, and kollels, and provides multimedia presentations on tekhelet to Hebrew day schools.
Some scholars dispute the new science of producing tekhelet and others question the need to resurrect a “lost” tradition. In Tekhelet: The Renaissance of a Mitzvah (Yeshiva University Press, 1996), Chancellor Norman Lamm and Rabbis Moshe D. Tendler and Hershel Schachter support the new science in a series of addresses.
OJEP: YU in Florida
The Marder home is the only kosher one in Orlando, Fla., a city with a Jewish population of 30,000.
So Josh Marder, ‘02YC, a second-year student at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, brought a group of fellow classmates to Orlando in 2002 to imbue the Orlando Jewish community with spirituality and learning.
And with the help of the Max Stern Division of Communal Services (MSDCS), the Orlando Jewish Enrichment Program (OJEP) was born.
“The Orlando Jewish community has no higher learning or adult education programs,” Mr. Marder said. “It lacks a certain amount of inspiration, and a lot of people are not affiliated with any shuls, especially college-aged kids.”
This year’s program, held Jan. 9-18, featured various programs and lectures, including talks by “scholars-in-residence” Rabbis Daniel Feldman and Tzvi Sobolofsky. The group, which comprised eight RIETS and Mazer Yeshiva Program students, held classes in synagogues and at the Hebrew Day School. Lectures were also given at University of Central Florida and Rollins College and OJEP even sponsored “Israel Activism Night” to drum-up support and discuss ways of helping Israel.
Robert Shur, ‘01YC, a fourth-year RIETS student who worked with Mr. Marder in developing OJEP, said the response has been so great that a group of residents are looking for ways to obtain additional funding for more OJEP programs.
“We bring a lot of soul,” Mr. Shur said. “We provide a vibrant Judaism, it’s very emotional, and it’s a good feeling to know that you’re creating a Jewish community where there isn’t one.”
OJEP’s ultimate goal is to create a vibrant Modern Orthodox community in Orlando, one where the only kosher home isn’t Randa and Jay Marder’s, the parents of Mr. Marder.
“OJEP has given Orlando a chance to be a part of something, to experience shabbat, and it’s why they have embraced it,” Rabbi Ari Rockoff of MSDCS said. “YU’s best resource is our students. Other programs just provide money and materials, but we provide the full package.”