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Keeping Communities Safe

February 28th, 2014 by shur

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

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

Victor Vieth, executive director emeritus

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

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

Vieth presented an extensive overview of recent studies about abuse in faith-based communities, followed by a session by Berkovitz and Lauer focusing on the development and implementation of policies and procedures pertaining to the prevention of child sexual abuse within synagogues. Vieth also discussed the common misconception that abusers are usually “strangers” or adhere to a common prototype, noting that 90 percent of abused children were abused by someone they knew or even other children.

“Child sexual abuse is 75 times more common than pediatric cancer, 167 times more common than autism and infinitely more common than a terrorist attack, yet we invest heavily in efforts to treat these diseases and disorders and security to prevent terrorist attacks in our yeshivas and our schools,” said Berkovitz. “But we have done little to actually prevent child sexual abuse in our communities. As rabbis, the most vulnerable of the Jewish community are in your hands—I hope you will join me today as we seek to change this.”

Andrew (Avi) Lauer, Esq., vice president

Andrew (Avi) Lauer, Esq., vice president for legal affairs and secretary and general counsel at YU

The event also featured a panel discussion reflecting on the specific implications for rabbis and community leaders with Lauer; Dr. Chaim Nissel, YU dean of students; and Rabbi Kenneth Hain, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom. Rabbi Hain stressed the complex role that rabbis play and encouraged his colleagues to act responsibly and proactively to protect the children and those most vulnerable within our communities.“Community rabbis must take a leadership role in promoting child sexual abuse prevention and awareness, as well as developing and implementing policies and procedures to deal with the issue within their communities,” said Lauer.

“Child sex abuse is unfortunately a very real and serious issue and it is critical that we give our rabbis and community leaders the tools they need to both prevent abuse and to recognize it and respond appropriately to it when it unfortunately occurs,” said Nissel. “Considering the long-term damaging effects of abuse, I believe this program and similar ones to it will save lives.”

Dozens of rabbis from shuls, schools and youth organization participated in the session in person and via a web-based national simulcast.

“It’s especially vital for us as rabbis to have this training because of our ability to impact change in shuls and schools within our community,” said Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz of the West Side Synagogue, an alumnus of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, who ran a similar program in conjunction with YU at his shul last year. “Who else are our congregants hearing from on a weekly basis, from the pulpit or in other communications? It’s our responsibility to educate and spread awareness within our communities about what’s safe, what’s appropriate, and what to look out for, and to be proactive in protecting our most vulnerable children.”

“A conference like this is so important because we know from studies that many abused children have spiritual questions that need to be addressed to help them heal, and if there is no one to answer their questions, they don’t cope as well physically or emotionally,” said Vieth. “’It’s critical that we educate and train our religious leadership to be able to support this community. These are the shadow children of our country—boys and girls, young and younger, who from the corners of their rooms ask us, ‘Is it safe to come out now?’ By your presence here today, you have dedicated yourselves and your communities to the proposition that we should answer this question: ‘Yes, it is.’ ”

Yeshiva University Presented Kollel Yom Rishon Dedicated to Torah Leader’s Legacy on November 24

February 5th, 2014 by shur

P1000543-X32Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) and Abraham Arbesfeld Kollel Yom Rishon and Millie Arbesfeld Midreshet Yom Rishon presented a tribute event dedicated to the legacy of HaRav Ovadia Yosef zt”l on Sunday November 24. The event featured special remarks by Rav Yosef’s daughter, Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom, founder, chief executive officer and chair of the board of directors of the Haredi College of Jerusalem. Other speakers at the event included Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, Joel and Maria Finkle Visiting Israeli Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS, who received ordination from Rav Yosef. “It’s an honor to host Rabbanit Bar Shalom at Yeshiva University to discuss her father’s legacy,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, YU vice president for University and Community Life and the David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “We were privileged to have Rav Yosef visit our yeshiva several times to give Talmudic and halachik lectures. Maran was one of the transformational figures of this generation and we will always remember his warm friendship with our institution, which he respected for its commitment to Torah scholarship and the preservation of the Sephardic heritage.”

Recent YUConnects Events

February 5th, 2014 by shur

teaneck-shabbaton-flyerYUConnects Shabbaton in Teaneck, Nov 1-2

Nearly 70 young men and women participated in the Shabbaton at Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck with terrific results! With an interactive Friday night symposium “A Jew in the the Workplace,” a relaxed Shalosh Seudot at the home of the Orlinsky family and an exciting dairy melava Malka with six stations of game challenges, the attendees had opportunities to meet and network. Many dates have resulted already from this beautiful weekend which was a direct result of the sponsorship of our lead supporters, Lois Blumenfeld, Dr. Norman Sohn and other generous community donors (click here to see donor list). Rav Hershel Schachter, Dr. David Pelcovitz & Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt gave community wide shiurim which were of course excellent and very well attended.


tachlis flyerTalking Tachlis For Women, November 4 

The Shenk Shul was packed with over 100 women on this autumn evening as Rav Mordechai Willig offered Torah insight into their ongoing search for a match. Mrs. Deena Schoonmaker then provided practical advice for facing issues that often come up in dating, such as opening-up in relationships, deal breakers and red flags in dating.  Click here to listen Rav Willig’s and Mrs. Deena Schoonmaker’s shiurim. This event was co-sponored with Shenk addressing the numerous requests for educational forums coming from our graduates and other residents in the Washington Heights community.



normal-flyer2Is This Normal? November 11

An educational event for the undergraduate men at Yeshiva University’s Wilf campus that featured 3 fascinating video clips on relationship traps and family clashes. Rav Moshe Weinberger, Mashpia at Yeshiva University introduced the evening. Professional facilitators from the Counseling Center and YUConnects led dynamic discussions about the films produced by Project SARAH with YU’s Drama Society. Engaging and eye-opening activities like this were appreciated by the 80 students that attended. More educational panels are being held in the spring. Stay tuned!



zahtz_112113bShiur & Sushi by Rabbi Ari Zahtz, Nov 20

Another “Shiur & Sushi” was held at the Koenigsberg home in Washington Heights. Rabbi Zahtz gave a wonderful shiur with over 40 people in attendance. This event was sponsored by the Wiesen family. If you would like to sponsor this or any other YUConnects event, please email yuconnects@yu.edu.

YUConnects Makes a Splash in Los Angeles

February 5th, 2014 by shur

yuconnectslogo1On Wednesday, January 22. Mrs. Mindy Eisenman, YUConnects’ Staff Connector, spent less than 24 hours in LA, and ran two educational sessions, held numerous private meetings and led a hugely successful singles event. Under the leadership of Sarah Emerson Helfand, YU’s West Coast Regional Director, with the help of a dedicated group of singles and community leaders, Mindy’s day was filled with many and varied opportunities to work with the LA Jewish community on helping create more connections for singles. Ariella Teichman (SCW ‘11), who spearheaded the planning for the day of events and connected many community members and singles to educate them about YUConnects, explained her motivation: “I’ve seen all the good work YUConnects does in the New York tri-state area and I thought that we should bring some of that excellent programming to the LA community.” Mindy’s first stop was a presentation to parents at the home of Dorit and Alan Teichman called  “Enter the Mentor: The Role that Family and Friends play in Relationships,” where she spoke about how parents can best utilize the resources of a matchmaker, how to best network for a child or friend and ways to support their child or friend during the dating period. The afternoon session for community matchmakers was hosted by Cheryl and Ron Nagel. Mindy presented “Tales from the Trenches: One Matchmaker’s tips from 5 years at YUConnects.”  Throughout the day, Mindy had many individual and productive meetings with singles and parents from the LA area. The highlight of the visit was a wonderful evening Panoply trivia program for over 50 men and women, ages 22-30. This beautiful event, graciously hosted by Diana and Sam Hirt, in memory of Diana’s mother, allowed singles to connect and mingle in a relaxed atmosphere, with about 20 community matchmakers in attendance as well. YUConnects coordinated the crucial event follow-up with the help of local matchmakers and we are happy to report that numerous dates have already been arranged! Overall, the L.A. visit was a prime example of excellent community partnership with YUConnects that yielded tremendous benefits.

Building Jewish Leaders

February 5th, 2014 by shur

P1000656-XLCommunity Leadership Initiative Launches 2nd Cohort in the Midwest:

The Center for the Jewish Future recently launched the newest cohort of CLI (The Community Leadership Initiative). Sixteen emerging lay leaders gathered at YU to kickoff a six-month program designed to strengthen and inspire community leadership. Participants came from multiple Midwestern communities, including, Kansas City, Detroit, Columbus, Denver, Des Moines, Omaha, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The program, run by Rabbi Ari Sytner, Director of Community Initiatives, introduced participants to many of YU’s renowned figures, which included Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President Richard Joel, Rabbi Josh Joseph, Dr. Rona Novick, and Rabbi Dr. JJ Schacter, among others. Over the next several months, the cohort will continue their training through an online collaborative where they will analyze case-studies and learn to navigate the complex terrain of Jewish communal leadership, governance, politics, fundraising and personal balance. The program will culminate with another two-day seminar and completion ceremony at Yeshiva University in May.

EJE reflections from Gaby Schoenfeld, Assistant Director of Experiential Education

February 4th, 2014 by shur

ejeDear Colleagues,

I am writing to you from the Shalom Institute in Malibu, California, where Shuki and I have been for the last week with our EJE cohort. As you may know, the EJE curriculum is centered on four foundations of Experiential Jewish Education, and each seminar is based on one of the four foundations. This week, at our second seminar with this cohort, we have explored with them what actually goes into Creating Experiences; experiences being the central component of EJE.

Throughout the week, we have given the group tools, resources, methodologies, texts, space for creative brainstorming, and a truly immersive setting in incredible nature (mountains, trees, a farm, etc). They have built an eruv, dived deep into Jewish text with our Shabbat scholar, spent time exploring the Museum of Tolerance through the lens of experiential education, and created dynamic, engaging, thoughtful, moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking experiences on the topic of Shmita.

This group is so incredibly talented, passionate, and committed to Judaism, Jewish education and Jewish Peoplehood. I have been moved to tears by their bravery and courage, by their passion and compassion, and by the heart and soul that each one of them pours into their work. They are collectively inspiring and impacting the Jewish identities of thousands of Jews of all ages each year.

I am so blessed to be a staff member and alumna of our Certificate Program and I would like to suggest that as we move towards the end of the week and Shabbat, that each of us take a moment to think back on the Jewish experiences and educators who at some point in our lives, gave us their heart and soul, and helped us to develop into the people and Jews we are today.

I also want to take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude to Yoni Cohen and Tamar Novick, who worked tirelessly in advance of the seminar to take care of every logistic and detail to make this experience so incredibly smooth and well-run (we miss you, Yoni!).

I looking forward to sharing more with you about our seminar when I am back in the office next week.

Until then–b’vracha,


2013 A Record Year for YUTorah.org

January 8th, 2014 by shur

More people than ever before used the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah.org website site in 2013, which marked a new high in traffic as well as new content added. The site has been gaining new contributors from various locations, including yeshivot and seminaries in Israel, high schools across North America, shul rabbis, as well as many prominent rabbinic alumni of RIETS. Notable new additions included shiurim from Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, the new mashpia of Yeshiva University, whose opening shiur in YU ranks as the most visited shiur of 2013. For a complete list of stats and figures from 2013, please visit www.yutorah.org/2013

Counterpoint Israel Doubles in Size

January 8th, 2014 by shur

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.gergq

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. ”In both its summer and winter camp formats, Counterpoint fosters an environment in which young, underprivileged Israeli teens feel loved, accomplished and comfortable enough to open up to new people and experiences, and gives our YU students an opportunity to hone their leadership skills while taking on the roles of Jewish agents of change.”

With “Israel-Diaspora Relations” as the theme for the art projects and workshops, students at the Counterpoint camps will be encouraged to examine their Diaspora roots and develop a personal narrative based on their findings.

“Every student in Israel has roots in the Diaspora, but most of them have never had a chance to learn about where they come from. By taking this important introspective journey with counselors who are themselves from the Diaspora, the students will realize how much they have in common with Jews around the world,” said Aliza Abrams, director of YU’s CJF Department of Jewish Service Learning. ”This exercise is sure to open the eyes of the counselors as well, helping them understand just how much teachers can learn from both their students and the education process itself.”

When outside the classrooms, the YU students will become active in their respective host communities, working with youth at risk and running workshops for the parents of high school dropouts. The students will also broaden their knowledge of the Ethiopian community in Israel by interacting with Ethiopians involved in a special farming project that promotes self-sufficiency.

The Counterpoint Israel Winter Camps will be run with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation and Repair the World.

In addition to its Israel programming, the CJF will be running two 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 Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Detroit; and a week-long service mission to the Ukraine.

  • Counterpoint Winter Camp (January ’14): 36 students will spend their winter break running English and art programming in development towns in the Negev. Having just completed its 9th year, CPI has grown to 4 schools and works in conjunction with local Israeli municipalities and the Israeli Ministry of Education to increase self-esteem and teach English language lessons to 850 underprivileged youth


  • Service Learning Mission to Ukraine (January ‘14) (With JDC) 20 Students will gain a firsthand understanding of the welfare challenges and identity struggles facing the Jewish community of Kharkov Ukraine following the collapse of the Soviet Union.


  • Sandy Relief with NECHAMA (January ’14) 25 Students from YU will partner with NECHAMA, a disaster relief organization, to volunteer on a four-day mission to Long Island where students will work to rebuild damaged homes. A year after Hurricane Sandy struck the greater New York region some areas are still rebuilding after suffering the storm’s ravaging effects.


  • Jewish Life Coast to Coast (January ’14): 24 undergraduates will travel to Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Detroit for 10 days, to learn about Jewish communal work, Rabbinic leadership and education.  They will run educational programs in the local day schools and interact with community klei and lay kodesh.  The experience is transformative and informative as many of these students plan careers in avodat hakodeh.


  • Limmud NY (February ’14) 10 YU undergraduates and RIETS students will join Rabbi Brander as YU’s delegation to the Limmud NY conference where they will engage in conversations about Judaism with Jews from all different communities.

Quieting the Noise in our Lives to Find what Really Matters: My Reflections from the Rebbitzen’s Yarchei Kallah

November 26th, 2013 by shur

Guest Post: Rebbetzin Yocheved Goldberg

“Quieting the Noise in our Lives to Find what Really Matters: My Reflections from the Rebbitzen’s Yarchei Kallah”yocheved goldberg

This past week I attended the annual Yeshiva University Yarchei Kallah conference for Rebbetzins.  Each year, I cherish the opportunity to gather with women from around the United States and beyond, and work together to grow in our roles in the community as Rebbetzins. As I interact with the other women and hear about their challenges and frustrations, I am reminded of how fortunate and truly blessed I am to be part of our wonderful BRS community, one that I am extremely proud to represent each year at the conference.

The theme of this year’s two-day gathering was, “Nurturing the Private ‘I’ to Better Serve in the Public Eye.”  Sessions ranged from “Instilling positive self-esteem in our teenage girls,” to “Making decisions efficiently, effectively, and peacefully.”  There were lively discussions on the challenges of the Rebbetzin’s role and the difficulty in balancing communal leadership with private responsibility.

Two sessions in particular really resonated with me and inspired me in a way that I hope will be meaningful to you as well.  It is clear that we live in a world filled with much noise and commotion.  We are bombarded by the sounds of the phone ringing, email alerts beeping, music blaring, our children interacting, or simply the internal humming of the to do list that never seems to end.  The combination of the outer noise and inner noise, the total lack of silence in our lives, has the serious consequence of preventing us from knowing and being comfortable with ourselves.  We are too occupied with absorbing the sounds from all around us that we fail to discover and cultivate our true selves.

When Yaakov goes back to retrieve the vessels he had forgotten in this week’s parsha, he encounters the angel with whom he wrestles.  According to many, the angel was none other than himself, his alter ego. Yaakov struggles and emerges triumphant.  What allowed for Yaakov’s growth at that particular moment?  Vayivaser Yaakov levado – it was the fact that Yaakov was alone, in the quiet of his own mind, truly by himself, that allowed him to wrestle with himself.

At the conference, Dr. David Pelcovitz gave a powerful lecture on “The Elusive Search for Spirituality: Practical Tips to Use and to Share.”  In it he explained that in a survey he conducted on the greatest impediments to spirituality, he found that number one on the list was our lack of stillness.  We are always rushing and we never have time to reflect and to think about our priorities, our values, and what’s important in our lives.  In essence, in today’s world even when we’re alone, we’re really not alone because we are still connected to our technology and surrounded by noise.

It’s impossible for us to truly connect to Hashem and to ourselves when connected to our smartphone, a friend, a song, or the Internet.  Dr. Pelcovitz mentioned that in Shema we say, “Ve’avadtem mehaira,” literally translated as, “you will quickly be abandoned.” The Ba’al Shem Tov interpreted those words not as a threat but as a command: “get rid of the rush in our lives.” Please Hashem, take away the chaos and constant noise, and enable us to refocus and turn our attention to our relationship with you, Hashem, and with what’s truly important and matters most.

There was another speaker, Judge Danny Butler, who delivered such a moving speech that there was not a dry eye in the room.  He spoke about his son Mikey, who died a few years ago at the age of 24 from the terrible disease cystic fibrosis that he had been fighting his entire life.  Mikey and I overlapped on a Yachad Shabbaton when I was an advisor and we connected through the fact that we both play the drums.  I remember then being amazingly impressed by his courage and faith, but what I learned about from his father regarding the last few years of his life truly blew me away.

Mikey Butler did not have one normal day in his life.  Every day he struggled to breathe and both he and his family never knew if it would be his last.  His motto was to live every day to the fullest and always chase after your dreams because you never know if it will be your last day on earth.  His father ended his speech with three messages that life with Mikey taught them all.

First is to always make a Kiddush Hashem, which the Butler family did throughout the hospital stays and other difficult situations they had to deal with.  Second is to always reach out to your fellow Jews and do whatever you can to enhance their lives.  Chessed brings the Jewish community together and helps relieve the pain and suffering of a fellow Jew.

Third and most importantly, is to just be happy for simply having a normal day. If you stop to think about it, we are so busy running around and dealing with the chaos in our lives, that we never realize just how lucky we are to be alive and, moreover, to just have a day in which nothing catastrophic happens and in which we functioned normally and made it through without crisis.  An uneventful day is not something we should ever take for granted and we should appreciate each day that is in fact normal and routine.

What I took away from Dr. Pelcovitz and Judge Butler’s talks was not to get lost in the momentum and chaos of life.  Pause, reflect, be grateful, take stock, and make space to think, grow, set goals, and become a better person.

For me, attending the Rebbetzin conference was an opportunity to get off of the roller coaster ride that is my life, and reflect upon my goals and aspirations as a mother, wife, Rebbetzin, and woman. It was a welcomed time to take a step back, out of the chaos and craziness that each day brings, and reconnect with what matters most in my life and how to step it up a notch and do it even better than before.  Whenever I leave the conference, I always feel so grateful for what I have and what I can accomplish and I feel empowered and inspired to try to do more.

I hope everyone in our wonderful BRS community knows that I am here for you and I truly love and value the role I play.  It’s not a bother when you call and I’m never too busy for any of you.  You are important to me and I want to be a part of your lives.  However, I must balance my desire to be the most accessible and available Rebbetzin with my obligations and responsibilities to my children and family. Please forgive me if I have missed an important occasion in your life or did not show up at your simcha, shiva, or event.  Part of this balancing act is going to include making tough decisions and prioritizing.  As I wrote last year, there will be times that I am in a rush and don’t engage in conversation with you at the supermarket or I’m busy running around shul gathering up my children and don’t acknowledge you at the Kiddush. It’s certainly not because I don’t care about you.  I’m just “juggling” and trying to do the best I can without dropping any of the balls.

May we all be zoche to find the right balance in our lives of spirituality, chesed, gratitude, closeness to Hashem, and closeness to one another.

2013 Rebbitzin Esther Rosenblatt Yarchei Kallah for Rebbetzins discusses “Nurturing the Private “I” to Better Serve in the Public Eye”.

November 26th, 2013 by shur

As part of its continuing education and support programs for rabbis and rebbetzins, Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future is proud to present this year’s Rebbetzin Esther Rosenblatt Yarchei Kallah for Rebbetzins, “Nurturing the Private “I” to Better Serve in the Public Eye”. The program was held November 11-12, 2013 at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and hosted nearly 100 rebbetzins from across north America for two days of  exploration, study and community building.

Rebbetzin Meira Davis, from Hollywood, FL, coordinated the Yarchei Kallah, with firsthand knowledge and experience of the  unique pastoral, communal and educational role rebbetzins can play, along with the particular personal challenges the position poses to them and their families. The annual event provides rebbetzins with an opportunity to come together, and learn from one another, and from leading experts, educators and mental health professionals. Presenters included Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rabbi Kenneth Brander Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, Rabbi Mordechai Willig and Devorah Zack.