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2013 Masa iEngage Fellows Graduate

Phase One of Pilot Program Complete, as 2013 Masa iEngage Fellows to return to North America

In partnership with Masa Israel, the Shalom Hartman Institute initiated a unique fellowship for a select group of North American post-graduates spending the year in Israel. Facilitated by Dr. Shraga Bar-On and Avi Steinberg, the Masa iEnage Fellowship provided an opportunity for young Jewish leaders to confront the various challenges facing contemporary Israeli society and to better understand their role in the future of the Jewish people. Over the course of five months, the fellows gathered at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where they had the opportunity to meet with members of the Hartman Institute and iEngage faculty, which includes scholars and experts in the field, such as Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, Dr. Micah Goodman, Yossi Klein Halevi and Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi. They also heard from leading Israeli thinkers, writers and activists.

In the first session, "From Auschwitz to Sinai; From Crisis to Values," the Fellows met with Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi who introduced the theme of iEngage and the need for a more contemporary, liberal and values-based Zionism

The next session – a Shabbaton – explored the theme of "Jewish Values in the Public Sphere" through a variety of lectures and excursions in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The program began with a tour of Neve Tzedek led by architect Abraham Silver, who spoke about the history and significance of the "Hebrew City." Next, the fellows visited "Bina – the Secular Yeshiva" in South Tel Aviv where they discussed concepts like Tikkun Olam, Tzedek and treatment of "the Other" in Judaism. On Friday evening, the fellows attended Shabbat services at Shira Hadasha, the feminist Orthodox Synagogue in Jerusalem where they met one of its founders, Renana Ravitzky Pilzer. On Saturday, the fellows participated in three sessions: a Torah study with Shraga Bar-On entitled "Jewish Values in the Public Sphere;" a Talmudic study with Avital Hochstein called, "Majority, Minority and Jewish Pluralism;" and a poetry analysis with Rani Jaeger called, "Insourcing Judaism: a Jewish Renaissance in Israel." The Shabbaton concluded with a performance by comedian, Yisrael Campbell, who talked about his conversion from Catholicism to Orthodox Judaism. Each of these sessions, though varies in subject matter, presented the many ways in which Jewish values enter into public life.

The Fellows met for a third time on Erev Yom HaShoa (the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day). The seminar was divided into two sessions in order to provide a well-rounded and diverse experience. The evening began with a screening of Yossi Klein Halevi’s documentary film entitled Kaddish, which proves Yossi’s relationship with his father – a Holocaust survivor from Budapest who moved to New York after the war. The film, which was released in 1985 addresses issues that have become even more relevant today; such as, how we ought to deal with the eventual extinction of the survivor generation and what this loss of eye-witnesses means for the future of Holocaust education. Following the screening, Fellows met with Yossi to discuss the film and his views on Judaism, Zionism and activism. the second session was a unique ceremony led by Dr. David Roskies, a scholar of Yiddish literature and author of Nightwords: a Liturgy on the Holocaust. The Fellows did a reading of this text and spoke with Roskies about the controversies of Holocaust literature and commemoration. The entire seminar was incredibly moving and participants felt emotionally and intellectually stimulated. One fellow, Michael Faivush, who is currently interning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commented that "it was perhaps the realest event in both remembering and struggling with this tragedy that I’ve ever been to."

Following Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut (Memorial Day and Independence Day), the Masa iEngage Fellows met with Noam Zion who enlightened them on the significance and symbolism behind the "Israeli High Holidays." They also had the chance to share with one another their own thoughts and experiences on the commemorative days, comparing North American and Israeli customs.

The Fellows met at the Hartman Institute one last time on Thursday May 9 to discuss "Engaging Israel Back Home." During this final session, the Fellows had the opportunity to confront and parse out the major challenges and concerns associated with their returning to North America. The group talked Micah Goodman about Diaspora Zionism, and heard from Tomer Persico on the subject of Social Media Activism. They also met with a representative from Beit Tefilah Israeli who talked about community leadership and starting a congregation. The Fellows also had time for individual personal reflection group brainstorming about ways to stay connected and how they can meaningfully incorporate iEngage values and principles into their lives and careers. In the coming months, we will determine the second phase of the Masa iEngage Fellowship.

Testimonials

"To be honest, this seminar was the most intellectually, spiritually and physically stimulating of any seminar I’ve attended to date. Everything we did had a purpose and was connected to what we were focusing on."

"The iEngage Fellowship has surpassed my expectations and I’m so thankful to be participating. I very much hope to keep in touch witht he Shalom Hartman Institute after I complete my Masa program."

"The majority of my Jewish education is on a "Reform level," and yet I feel a very strong connection to the religious and cultural traditions of Orthodoxy. Torah study, therefore, is a big player in my exploration of Judaism. Using the Talmud, among other sources, to discuss pluralism was invigorating. It not only provided a case for inclusiveness within the Jewish communities, but it also provided the tools to further engage in discussion and learning about Pluralism."

"I love how so many of the sessions related biblical and spiritual texts to modern issues facing Israelis and Jews. It is really important for me personally to explore the essence of what makse me Jewish and apply it to how I tackle challenges with anti-Semitism and political issues facing Israel. These sessions have greatly enhanced my perspective and deepend my knowledge and passion for these issues."

"iEngage has been one of the most positive experiences I have had in Israel. So far, everything has been graet. I am honored to be a part of this program."

"There are so many was to be Jewish." Some of those ways take place within the sphere of the home, but many others exist in public. The ability to understand where humor, heartfelt studym, and communal worship can and should exist in the public sphere is an essential element of pluralism. We all come from different backgrounds – and it’s more important to share with one another than to wall ourseves off from those who aren’t exactly the same. This, to me, is a major Jewish value for the public sphere."

"The Shabbaton was perfectly planned with physical and itellectual events, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were so many perspectives and facets to pluralism covered, and yet it wasn’t overwhelming. The social aspect of the weekend was wonderful as well, as was the amount of personal time."

"Using a Talmudic framework to support pluralism in Judaism was as eye-opening as it was refreshing." 

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