Jun 9, 2005 — Tzelem, a nonprofit organization addressing issues of sexuality in the Orthodox community, is the inaugural undertaking of the Incubator Project, created by Yeshiva University’s (YU) 2004-2005 Presidential Fellows.
Tzelem –– which means “image” in Hebrew –– was created by YU alumni Jennie Rosenfeld and Koby Frances, who identified a need for an honest examination of sexuality and gender relationships in the Orthodox community.
“I noticed a lot of my single peers struggling with issues around their sexuality,” explained Mr. Frances, a Yeshiva College graduate and a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at City University of New York. “Many felt like their feelings and experiences were out of sync with their religious identity.”
Ms. Rosenfeld, who has degrees from YU’s Stern College for Women, Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and completed the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies for Women at Stern, is currently a PhD candidate at the CUNY graduate center.
“Tzelem’s mission is to promote a healthy outlook on sexuality by developing educational programming for Orthodox Jews in all stages of life,” Ms. Rosenfeld said.
The Presidential Fellows created the Incubator Project to encourage YU students and alumni to devote themselves to humanitarian projects that might not be possible without the resources of a larger organization.
YU President Richard M. Joel instituted the Presidential Fellows program in 2004 to foster closer ties between promising graduates and the university.
“This is a critical area we need to focus on to help young people develop,” said Dr. Hillel Davis, vice president for university life. “Everyone is created b’Tzelem Elokim –– in the image of God –– and this program will help people continue to explore aspects of holiness in themselves and in others. Supporting this type of values-based education is part of the university’s mission.”
The Presidential Fellows put out a call for applications in March. Fifteen projects were considered, and Tzelem was chosen in May.
While Tzelem will be responsible for managing day-to-day business concerns, and organizing fundraising and promotional events, the organizers will have an advisory committee chosen by YU. University resources such as legal counsel, fiscal advice, and development training will be available to help the organization become self-sufficient after three years.
Ms. Rosenfeld and Mr. Frances will spend the summer fundraising and developing on-campus seminars to help students navigate the complexities of relationships with the opposite sex. Future plans include a premarital counseling curriculum focusing on gender and interpersonal relationships that could be used by synagogues or individual rabbis.