Nov 19, 2008 — Yeshiva University sent a delegation of 30 rabbinical students from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) who are studying at YU’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem – and their wives – to the UJC’s 2008 General Assembly (GA) to expose the young leaders to the “larger Jewish community,” through interactions with Jews from different streams.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), and Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani [spiritual guidance counselor] at YU, headed the delegation, introducing them to leaders from across the Jewish world and encouraging attendance at sessions aimed at helping them understand concepts and ideas that they may revisit as teachers and spiritual leaders of North American Jewish communities.
“We, as teachers of Torah, have a responsibility not only to expose our students to text, but to help them understand the meaning between the lines as well,” said Rabbi Brander. “Bringing these students and their spouses to the GA is not just about meeting and interacting with other Jews, but rather helping our students understand, appreciate and respect the perspectives of all Jews.”
Student Tani Prero, a Chicago native now living in Jerusalem, felt that his experiences at the GA, including special programming and valuable face-to-face interactions, amounted to an intense “re-education” about North American Jewish life.
“I had always wondered what Judaism meant to someone who was not connected to Orthodox Jewish observance,” he said. “This experience allowed me to meet Jews from varied backgrounds and engage them in open and honest discussions, helping me understand what Jewish life means to them and appreciate where our views differ without being critical.”
Rabbi Blau contends that it is this understanding that breeds stronger, better prepared Jewish leaders.
“While Orthodox rabbinical seminaries could simply lecture about the viewpoints of other streams of Judaism, first-hand discussions with those who actually subscribe to these views are an invaluable learning experience that will help these young rabbis relate to their students and congregations in the future,” said Rabbi Blau.
The rabbinical students took part in tours to different areas organized by the GA, including a trip to a local absorption center for newly arrived immigrants. They met with a group of Ethiopian Jews and sang Hebrew songs with Ethiopian children.
Of the students selected for the initiative, approximately two-thirds plan on returning to North America after the completion of their rabbinical training, while the remaining third intend on making Israel their permanent home. Still, the goal for all of the students remains the same: to secure positions as congregational rabbis and Jewish educators in communities where they can make a difference.