A group of Yeshiva University (YU) undergraduates spent a week last month traveling throughout Morocco, visiting Jewish heritage sites, building cultural bridges with Muslim university students, and expanding their leadership horizons.
The 31 YU “Global Citizenship 2023” participants — half Sephardic and half Ashkenazic — learned about the storied Moroccan Jewish community. They met the last Jewish woman who lives in Rabat, the country’s capital; rabbis who teach and lead congregations in Casablanca, which today has the largest Jewish community in Morocco; and a Jewish merchant who renovated the synagogue in the souk of Marrakesh and spends part of each morning restoring its cemetery.
The study theme for the week was “Community and Responsibility.” Students learned about the ways in which Muslim leaders in Morocco have consistently protected Jews and Jewish culture from antisemitism.
“The streets, culture, and heritage of my ancestors not only strengthened my Moroccan identity but it reinvigorated a connection to my roots I never thought possible,” YU student Avior Hazan said. “Being the first Hazan to visit Morocco since my grandparents, Morocco was more than an experience for me — it was a true homecoming.”
Yeshiva University’s Office of Values and Leadership organized the trip in conjunction with the Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership, which is dedicated to disseminating the scholarship of the late Rabbi Sacks and YU’s core values through academic courses, conferences, leadership seminars, literary initiatives and executive education opportunities.
On Jan. 23, at LAX, more than 20 Los Angeles students hugged their parents and loved ones goodbye and flew to Israel to start the adventure of a lifetime at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, Jewish National Fund-USA’s premier college-prep/semester abroad program in Israel.
At the airport, in between the happy tears and warm embraces, Orange County resident and Muss Board Member Michael Feldman wished the students well and thanked everyone for taking this journey.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors of Alexander Muss High School in Israel and Jewish National Fund-USA, I want to first thank you, the students for going on this adventure and to thank you, the parents, for entrusting your children to us,” Feldman said.
Alexander Muss High School in Israel — informally known as “Muss” — has connected Jewish students from around the world with Israel since 1972.
When people attended Temple Aliyah’s Friday night service on Jan. 20, they took part in a community event, “Voices of Freedom,” that has been going on for 24 years.
Aliyah Rabbi Stewart Vogel and Hazzan Mike Stein, who officiated the service, have built a culture of dialogue and action by creating interfaith groups at Temple Aliyah involving local churches, mosques, and an ashram.
The evening started with a song Stein composed called “Of One Breath.” Sung by two neurodiverse choirs, it “was a genuinely inclusive moment,” Stein said. They were joined by gospel music greats Deborah Sharpe-Taylor, Charlotte Crossley, H.B. Barnum, and Toni Malone. The de Toledo High School Tefillah Team, directed by Jared Stein, also performed and joined the choirs on the bimah.
Imam Mahomed Akbhar Khan and Hazzan Stein performed an unprecedented chant from the Koran in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Rev Dr. Najuma Smith Pollard and others spoke about what happened to King’s dream in the 60 years since his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Also speaking were Aliasager Najam of the Dawoodi Bohra branch of Islam and Shomrei Torah Synagogue Rabbi Richard Camras. Rev. Michael Fisher of Greater Zion Church Family delivered keynote remarks.
Actor Ben Youcef sang an original piece, and local elected officials, including Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), turned out to show support.
“It was moving, inspiring and uplifting,” Stein said. “An amazing evening!”