Grant pushes historic partnership of seminaries


Spurred by a major grant from one of the largest Jewish foundations, the rabbinical seminaries of three major synagogue movements are forging a groundbreaking partnership to train Jewish educators.

The Jim Joseph Foundation announced Monday that it was giving a combined $33 million to the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion, the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University and the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The grant is aimed at helping the three seminaries attract more teachers to the field of Jewish education and offer them better training.

As a stipulation for receiving the money, each school will be required to use $1 million of the roughly $11 million it receives over the next four years to work with the other schools on figuring out how to market the field of Jewish education to prospective teachers and incorporating modern technology into Jewish pedagogy.

“The presidents of the three institutions, thanks to the Jim Joseph grant process, have spent more time together in the past two years than our predecessors did in the previous decade,” said JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen. “I think it is historic that you have these three institutions and their leaders working together in this fashion. I think it is good for the Jews and it is a moment.”

Partnerships have become a driver for JTS, which announced in early May that part of its new strategic vision included finding new allies in the education sector.

Hebrew Union College has become a natural ally for the Conservative movement’s seminary. The schools are in the third year of offering a combined fellowship funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation that brings together rabbinical students from both seminaries for a joint seminar, and they also are now offering some joint classes as part of their respective cantorial programs.

But Yeshiva University historically has been a tougher match for both HUC and JTS because of intense theological differences between the Orthodox institution and its non-Orthodox counterparts.

Under the new initiative, each school will continue to teach its own brand of Judaism, but they will cooperate on elements of the educational process that impact all of the institutions.

It’s a message that YU’s president, Richard Joel, is very careful to make: that the schools are working together on practice and not content.

“There was a time a couple of generations ago where liberal Judaism was viewed as a threat because most people were at least nominally Orthodox,” and liberal Judaism was seen as giving Jews a reason to leave Orthodoxy, Joel said. “But I don’t think that is the reality today. The issue isn’t that liberal Judaism will steal people from Orthodoxy. Now it is viewed as something that continues to urge Jews to know something about their story.”

According Jim Joseph’s executive director, Charles Edelsberg, the three schools were scheduled to meet Thursday with representatives from the tech giant Cisco to learn about “telepresence” technology. And they are talking with the MacArthur Foundation about digital media and learning.

In recent years, even before the Jim Joseph grant, the leaders of the three schools—Eisen, Joel and HUC’s Rabbi David Ellenson—had begun to appear on panel discussions together—something that would have been unheard of for much of the last century.

Still, sources at the schools said, even though the collegiality among Eisen, Ellenson and Joel has helped the partnership evolve, the institutions probably would not have come together without the recession and the significant financial carrot offered by Jim Joseph.

When the economy hit a low last year, Jim Joseph stepped up with $12 million to help the struggling schools provide scholarships to students and launch their working relationship. YU will use about $700,000 per year to help defray the cost of education for students at its Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and the education program at Stern College, its women’s college, according to Joel. JTS will use approximately $1 million per year to provide scholarships to its nondenominational William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. And HUC will use about one-third of its grant on financial aid for students seeking master’s degrees at its New York and Los Angeles campuses, according to Ellenson.
Outside of the interschool partnerships, each institution will use the bulk of its grant money on training better teachers.

For YU, that means continuing to beef up its Azrieli school, which has gone from one faculty member to 11 since Joel’s arrival in 2003. The school now has more than 160 students seeking master’s degrees in education. YU also is working on creating a certificate in informal Jewish education and a job placement program for the students it churns out over the next four years.

JTS will use a significant portion of its money to better its early childhood education, including forming a partnership with the Bank Street College of Education, a non-Jewish teachers’ college renowned for its early childhood education, Eisen said. It also will try to set up informal Jewish education programs at congregational and day schools modeled after successful efforts at the Conservative movement’s Ramah camp system. And JTS will create an Israel immersion program for students at the Davidson school.

HUC is planning on starting an executive master’s program and three new certificate programs in Judaica for early childhood educators, Jewish childhood education, and adolescence and emerging adulthood.

Jim Joseph hopes the schools will graduate 700 to 1,000 teachers during the duration of the grant.

In its first four years, the foundation has given about $220 million to Jewish formal and informal education efforts, including day schools, camps and youth groups, as well as to Birthright Israel and the official follow-up program Birthright Israel NEXT.

In recent weeks, Jim Joseph has announced some $45 million in grants to produce more Jewish teachers, including the $33 million gift to the three seminaries and a recently announced $12 million investment to revive and ramp up a dormant doctoral program in Jewish education at Stanford University. All this is on top of the $12 million that Jim Joseph gave the three seminaries last year primarily for scholarships for advance degree programs in Jewish education and other significant gifts it has made to a doctoral program in Jewish education at New York University.

“This partnership should have a significant impact on the number of future Jewish educators and the skills they will bring to their professions,” the foundation’s president, Al Levitt, said in a news release announcing the grant. “With the help of these grants, we know the institutions can reach their full potential and produce teachers who continue to positively shape the lives of Jewish youth.”

Partners With God


“For the Sake of Heaven and Earth,” by Irving Greenberg (JPS, 2004).

 

In a passage from the Talmud (Makkoth 24a), Moses' blessing in Deuteronomy is cited: “And Israel dwells in safety alone.” The Prophet Amos arose to revoke that dubious blessing: “Oh God, cease, I beseech you! How shall Israel dwell all alone.”

Then the Lord repented concerning Moses' questionable blessing and declared, “That shall not be.”

Like Amos, Irvng Greenberg, in his compelling book, “For the Sake of Heaven and Earth,” knows that it is no blessing for Judaism or any religion to be alone. Religions need each other and are called to find each other in the imitation of godliness.

Greenberg's “partnership theology” transcends the theologically correct acceptance of the legitimacy of each faith. With imaginative foresight, he calls for a covenantal coalition of faiths to help fulfill God's dream of a universe created in God's image.

After the Holocaust, Greenberg expects more from religion than a polite tolerance toward other faiths and more than a begrudging acceptance of religious pluralism. He calls all religions to jointly see themselves as “shutafim lakodosh baruch hu b'maaseh bereshit” — joining each other in sacred partnership with the Holy One in creating and sustaining the universe.

The uniqueness of each religion Greenberg holds inviolate, but our times call all religions to transcend their individual particularity and join together in the repair of this broken world.

Greenberg steps in where only prophets dare to tread. He thus finds himself in the position of the prophet, the man “between.” His position leads him to stand between his institutional home base and his call for transcendent conscience. He knows full well that Holocaustal wounds and scars make it painful to extend the hand to the “other” and difficult to look into the eyes of the “other.”

Greenberg has written extensively of the long, sad history of contempt, the theological inquisitions that mock interfaith theological conversation as betrayal and dismiss dialogue as naively utopian. But he knows that to continue the status quo ante vitiates the possibilities of Christian, Jewish and Islamic solidarity.

He fears perpetuating the precarious polarization that only immortalizes the perennial rupture between “them” and “us,” the “chosen” and the “rejected,” the “elected” and the “superseded,” the “triumphant” and the “defeated.” Such split-thinking and believing leaves in its wake anger and suspicion.

With characteristic moral courage, Greenberg confronts “the failed Messiah” with empathic respect and refuses to dismiss the sacred intuitions of non-Jewish spirituality. Attention to the family resemblance of all monotheistic faiths may help them to overcome the parochialism that destabilizes globalization.

For such an approach, the man between will be held suspect. He will have to struggle against the threats of excommunication and even the charges of heresy. But the reader will find heart in Greenberg's confessional witness to the trajectory of his theological evolution.

While reading Greenberg's book, I was reminded of a passage from Rabbi Abraham Kook in his “Orot HaKodesh.” Kook had a profound influence on the spiritual life of Greenberg. The passage from Kook reads: “It is forbidden for religious behavior to compromise a person's natural moral sensibility. If it does, our fear of heaven is no longer ours. An indication of this purity is that our natural moral sense becomes more exalted as a consequence of religious inspiration. If the opposite occurs, and the moral character of the individual or group is diminished by a religious observance, than we are certainly mistaken in our faith.”

Throughout his essays, Greenberg is sustained by his natural moral sensibility and his fear of heaven.

The author makes a significant contribution to authentic inter-religious dialogue. His vision is rooted in the awareness that Judaism is a world religion that must engage other world religions in a quest for global unity.

Theological conscience cannot accept the segregation of God from His world and from His children.

This book I place on the shelf in my library that is most easily accessible. I know it will be consulted often, for God's sake and my own.

Harold M. Schulweis is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino

Tend the Fire


“Israel is not a people of definers but a people of
witnesses.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel, “God in Search of Man”
Among the several stunning memorials at Buchenwald
concentration camp, designer Horst Hoheisel created a simple, flat steel
square placed on the cold, hard ground and inscribed in the
center with an alphabetical list of the 50 nations of origin of the people who
died there.

The temperature of the metal is kept at 98.6 F, the
temperature of the human body. When one touches the plaque, it feels not cold —
as one expects from steel — but warm, familiar, almost soft, as though touching
the hand of a new acquaintance or the cheek of a dear friend. Snow falling on
it quickly melts, raindrops and tears dry as they land upon the heated steel.

I recently returned, along with 17 of my congregants, from
our first visit to Germany. We were guests of the German government-sponsored
program Bridge of Understanding, which invites American Jews to make their own
direct contacts with modern Germany, including contemporary Jewish life, and to
witness firsthand a country deeply engaged in a unification process. Like most
participants in the Bridge program, all 18 of us admitted to prejudices — but
were we ready to extinguish them?

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, God tells Moses to
command (tzav) Aaron and his sons regarding the fire upon the altar.Â

“Fire always shall be kept burning on the altar,” God says,
“it shall not go out” (Leviticus 6:6). Isn’t this redundant, ask the commentators.
If it’s always kept burning, of course it won’t go out. And they answer, as
always, that there is no redundancy, but rather a contrast to the burning bush,
which was a miracle entirely of God’s doing. To keep the fire ever burning on
the altar, human beings must work alongside God. Mishnah Pirke Avot speaks of
10 miracles performed in the Temple, one being that rain never extinguished the
fire of the wood arranged (on the altar) (5:5). Like the heated steel at
Buchenwald, if humans devotedly tend the fire of the altar, to keep it burning,
then no rain or snow will cool it off or snuff it out.

As it turns out, no one in Germany demanded that we dissolve
our prejudices, they only invited us to examine them while we witnessed people
honestly confronting their past, thoughtfully living in the present, and
working toward a different future.

On our last morning there, we attended a Shabbat service,
led by people our age, attended by children and adults. At least three
generations were in that sanctuary, regular attendees at one of seven
synagogues in today’s Berlin. As we reached the verse l’dor v’dor (“from
generation to generation we shall tell of Your greatness, and proclaim Your
holiness”) my eyes unexpectedly filled with tears. Unlike the tears I shed
reciting “Kaddish” at Buchenwald, these tears fell warm and gentle — welcomed —
down my cheeks.

If we tend the altars of our memories, letting the warm
steel touch our hearts and our hands, allowing us to humanize the many people
once dehumanized in that place — in Buchenwald, in Germany — then nothing will
obscure their memory. And if we release our own propensity to dehumanize the
ones still living in Germany, then we’ll be able to hear the voices, and see
the faces, of the ones there right now singing and living l’dor v’dor. On this
Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Passover, this z’man cheiruteinu (season of
our freedom), I am reminded that this is what Jews do — working in partnership
with God and with other human beings, we liberate ourselves, each generation,
and we tell the stories of our liberations, one generation to the next. Â


Lisa Edwards is rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim — House of New Life — in Los Angeles.

L.A. Embarks on a Baltic Journey


There is a country whose Jewish community involves nearly all its young people, elects its leaders by democratic vote on the basis of character rather than wealth and is not driven by political and religious divisions.

The country is Lithuania, once a vibrant center for 250,000 Jews, where today some 6,000 Jews are rebuilding their institutions and community on the ashes of the Holocaust and Soviet rule.

The upbeat report comes from a small and youthful delegation of activists from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, who arrived in mid-February to celebrate the official inauguration of the Los Angeles-Baltics Partnership.

Not that the three Baltic nations are a Jewish utopia on Earth. The demographics are askew, with elderly retirees making up some 40 percent of the community, while many of those who would now be the middle-aged pillars of the community immigrated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to Israel, Germany and the United States.

Economic conditions are hard, particularly for the elderly, whose meager pensions are being eroded by the rising cost of living.

Andreas Spokoiny, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) director for the Baltic states, recalled that recently regular patrons at a Jewish senior citizens center stopped coming. When Spokoiny investigated, he found that the pensioners couldn’t afford the trolley fare to the center.

The most hopeful sign is that the young are taking over the responsibility for their community. When four of the five delegates were interviewed and asked their ages, two were 22, one was 25 and Spokoiny, the group leader, is 35.

One of the 22-year-olds was Inna Lapidus from Estonia, coordinator of the Jewish youth movement in the Baltics and a student at the Tallin Pedagogical University.

Her country’s pre-war community of 5,000 has recovered the most demographically with 4,000 current members, thanks to an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

“It’s haimish in our community, you feel like part of a small family,” she said.

Latvia has a Jewish population of 15,000, compared to 90,000 before the Holocaust. Simon Gurevichius, also 22, who gave the upbeat picture of the Lithuanian community, said that Jewish life revolved mainly around community centers, rather than synagogues. He was optimistic about the community’s future, saying, “I hope to create a Jewish family in Vilnius [formerly Vilna].”

Asked what impressed the group most about their visit here, Spokoiny answered, “It was discovering the richness of options for Jewish living available here.”

The Los Angeles-Baltics Partnership had its beginning some two years ago when the World Jewish Communities Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, headed by Nathan Sandler, embarked on a fact-finding mission to the three countries.

Working in conjunction with the JDC, the local Federation now funnels about $200,000 a year to the Baltics, said project director Lesley Plachta of The Federation’s Valley Alliance.

Beneficiaries include a hospital, schools, summer and winter camps, sports programs, leadership training and a research center.

A highlight of the delegation’s five-day visit to Los Angeles was “An Evening of Inspiration and Celebration” at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Sandler told the 500 guests that the partnership “is changing lives and rebuilding the foundations for Jewish life. It is strengthening Jewish identity. It is strengthening the bonds of Jewish solidarity.”

A new Federation partnership mission to the Baltics is planned for June, aimed especially at families and children.

Shortly afterward, the second World Litvak Congress will be held in Vilnius, Aug. 23-30, “to remember the great men and women of the Land of Litvaks, who became the pride of the entire humanity,” according to the words of invitation by chief organizer Dr. Simon Alperovitch.

For details on the congress, e-mail Litvaks@Litjews.org or visit www.Litjews.org . For more information about the projects the partnership is funding, including information about the June 2004 family mission to the Baltics, contact (818) 464-3211.

Coping on Two Continents


Since being diagnosed with diabetes in 1997, two developments have brought 14-year-old Cesar Chavira closer to leading a life like that of his Hollywood High peers: an insulin pump, which provides a continual dosage that lasts all day, and the Sponsorship for Adolescents with Diabetes, which has paired him up with a diabetic mentor.

The good news for other local diabetic teens is that now the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership — an agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — will help Dr. Beverly Daley, creator of Sponsorship, extend her crusade. Co-sponsored by the Federation, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the Bob Shapell School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University and the Ministry of Social Welfare of Tel Aviv, the Partnership’s new exchange program provides Daley an avenue to consult with Israeli researchers, who already operate a mentorship program patterned after her brainchild.

“The reason the Jewish Federation selected the program to be part of the Partnership is because of its potential for building Jewish identity,” says Daley. “There are many young adults who have become so assimilated that they’re participation in Jewish life is marginal.”

Ever since pursuing her doctorate at USC, Daley has led a tireless campaign to understand and combat diabetes.

“Diabetes is an insidious disease,” says Daley. “It’s a leading cause of death and disability here and in Israel, often leading to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, blindness.”

Daley adds that teens are especially vulnerable to the disease’s psychologically traumatic aspects, as they must undergo a complex daily routine of insulin shots, blood-sugar-level monitoring and special diet and exercise patterns.

In 1986, with Children’s Hospital, Daley launched Sponsorship for Adolescents with Diabetes, using Alcoholics Anonymous and Big Brothers/Big Sisters as templates. Daley enlisted “young professionals with diabetes in their 20s or 30s … to serve as role models and educate and inspire the teen-agers. What we’re hoping to achieve with the kids is the self-esteem and the optimism that comes from realizing that diabetes does not stand in the way of their goals.”

Three months ago, Daley paired Chavira with Andy Leisner, an advertising manager at Cycle World magazine.

“We get along very, very well,” Chavira says of his mentor, whom he views as a big brother. “I don’t have very many friends, so to have a friend like Andy is totally cool.”

Chavira especially appreciates Leisner’s perspective on living with diabetes.

“There should definitely be more programs like this,” says the teen. “It would definitely benefit many people.”

Maria Traferro agrees. At age 13, she spent a year in Daley’s program, going to Magic Mountain and the movies with mentor Kristina Keefe. Five years later, Traferro still gets together with Keefe, and, despite their age difference, the 18-year-old considers her adult patron “a very good friend. I look up to her and admire her…. [She’s] helped me realize that I’m capable of taking care of myself.”

And while Keefe, a graphics business entrepreneur, originally participated with the intention of inspiring a teen, the experience has inspired her as well.

“I was always hesitant in public with my diabetes,” says Keefe. “Being with Maria, we sit down at a table, shooting up with our insulin, testing our blood sugar. So that was a big help for me.”

One person who values Daley’s program is Jerry Rogoway, the Partnership’s project committee chair. As a youth, he watched his grandfather die from diabetes. And now that medical advances help keep the devastating effects of diabetes at bay, Rogoway knows that teens must find the key to living with the disease.

“When juveniles are diagnosed,” says Rogoway, “they feel that their life is over. A program such as this one lets them know that, even though there are restrictions, they can live a generally normal life.”

Keefe says: “The neat thing about the program is that the kids and the adults can see that it’s not just about diabetes. It’s about developing friendships. Sometimes diabetes doesn’t even come up in conversation. It’s more about the kids seeing that you’re out there, living your life, and that diabetes doesn’t have to be all consuming.”

In 1988, Daley officially established the Sponsorship with grants from the Diabetes Research and Education Foundation and the American Diabetes Association. Surprisingly, since that time (Tel Aviv University notwithstanding), a diabetic mentorship, to Daley’s knowledge, has never been implemented elsewhere.

“I’m disappointed because we really would like to be a model for other centers,” says Daley. “But I’m just ecstatic that it’s finally happening in Israel … One of the most prominent features of society in Israel is community support. This program complements that cultural value.”

So far, there has been no shortage of volunteers in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, it’s been a different story locally. Daley has found plenty of interested Jewish teen-agers around Los Angeles but few Jewish professionals willing to befriend them.

“I cannot say it enough,” says Daley, urging prospective mentors to apply. “We need a strong response.”

For more information on the Sponsorship for Adolescents with Diabetes, contact Dr. Beverly Daley at (323) 669-2490 or bdaley@chla.usc.edu.