Winter Missions 'Occupy' Israel

Innovative CJF Programs Will Explore Social Justice and Empowerment-Through-Art

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) will run two innovative winter break Israel missions for 40 select undergraduate students beginning January 15, 2012.

“Tzedek and Tzedaka,” an 8-day experiential education program, will explore the concepts of justice and social justice and consider the responsibility of creating a just society in a modern democratic Jewish State. A service-learning program called “Art at ORT” will run concurrently and will focus on social activism and the empowerment of Israeli teens through art. Both programs are sponsored in part by the Jim Joseph Foundation.

“Following the social justice movements in the U.S. and Israel this past summer, we felt it was necessary to work with these students to clarify the issues and reframe the dialogue with help from Torah sources and experts in the field,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “It is important to us that these future leaders 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 “Tzedek and Tzedaka” participants—two separate groups of 15 men and 15 women accompanied by YU scholars in residence Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh respectively—will study relevant religious texts and meet with top Israeli rabbinic figures, government officials, prison inmates and administrators, founders of Israeli non-profit organizations and social activists. The groups will learn about society’s responsibility for the rehabilitation of criminals, the challenges of enforcing justice in a society heavily influenced by both Jewish law and democratic Western values, the notion of economic justice, corporate social responsibility, the balance of governmental provision and volunteerism.

The groups will also investigate several hot-buttons issues, including the status of women in Israeli government and law, and the challenge of building a just society when faced with opposition from extremist constituents (both non-Jewish and Jewish) who eschew the founding principals of the State.

An outgrowth of the highly successful Counterpoint Israel summer program, “Art at ORT” will help its participants gain a deeper understanding of the power and social importance of art. The group, comprised of 10 men and women with extensive graphic design, filmmaking and musical skills and experience, will spend most of its time running special workshops designed by renowned American art educator Andrea Rabinovitch for 160 middle school students—teens from low-income neighborhoods in Jerusalem—that will help the students discover their inner talents through creative art.

The program participants will also create original NU Campaign t-shirts to raise awareness of social causes in Israel and learn about social activism through film from award-winning filmmakers at the Ma’aleh film school in Jerusalem.

“Once the participants return to campus, we will spend time helping them understand how to translate their experiences into teaching opportunities at Jewish educational institutions throughout North America. As young Jewish leaders, they must begin to see every experience as an opportunity to teach others and strengthen their local Jewish communities,” added Brander.

In addition to its Israel missions, the CJF will be running four 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 San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle and Vancouver; “Project Kharkov,” a two-week program aimed at gaining a firsthand understanding of the welfare challenges and identity crises facing Ukrainian Jewry; and humanitarian missions to Mexico and Nicaragua.

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