Monday, December 19, 2011

Chanukah: The Last-Minute Chag

A Facebook friend posted this week: "OK, have to get Chanukah gifts TOMORROW. This is just way too last-minute." This prompted an extensive shopping-related discussion that didn't much interest me (apparently, you can't order gifts online at the last minute and expect them to arrive on time) – but it got me thinking two things: (1) I too must get my kids something for Chanukah and (2) The whole holiday seems very last minute. I'll explain.
We all know the story well. The Jews beat the Greeks. They arrived in the Beit Hamikdash to find only one small cruse of oil untarnished by their idol-worshiping tormentors. So, with no other option, they lit the Menorah which miraculously lasted a full eight days. It's a great story. But it's got some holes.
First of all, did they really have no idea that they'd soon conquer the Greeks? Was the victory really that sudden? Perhaps it was, but it stands to reason that at some point – perhaps a week or two before their final victory – the Jews got a sense that the war was turning in their direction, and that they'd have to rededicate the Beit Hamikdash. Did no one think to prepare some oil in advance so that they'd be ready to rededicate the Temple?
Let's ask another famous question about the story: Why didn't they wait for enough oil? Why did the Chashmonaim consider it so essential to light the Menorah that they needed to light right away, without having the proper amount of oil in advance? Couldn't they wait just another week?
The answer, of course, is that they could not – and that's precisely the point. The Chashmonaim predicated the entire Chanukah war on a faith that not only drove them to rebel against the Greeks, but also compelled them to specifically not worry about the oil, and light the Menorah with what they had as soon as they possibly could.
In the very first section of his monumental work on Jewish thought called Kad HaKemach, Rabbeinu Bachya, explaining the fundamental nature of Emunah writes,
וכן מצינו אליהו שהיו כל דבריו חכמה מקובלת מאנשי החכמה והאמונה שבאר ואמר (איוב לד) כי עיניו על דרכי איש וכל צעדיו יראה. (שם) אין חשך ואין צלמות להסתר שם פועלי און. ומתוך אמונת ההשגחה יגיע אדם לאמונת הנבואה והתורה שיאמין כי יצא מאת הבורא יתעלה שפע ההשגחה אל האדם עד שיתנבא ותנתן תורה על ידו, והתורה הזאת הצלחת נפשו של אדם, בה יושע תשועת עולמים בה ילמד ליישר מעשיו ועמה ידע דרכי החיים בכל פרטי פעולותיו...
We find that Elihu – whose words were all wise, received from men of wisdom and faith explained and said, "For God's eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He sees all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves." (Iyyov 34:21-22) And, from faith in divine oversight a person will arrive at faith in prophecy and the Torah; that he will believe that from the exalted Creator emanates the flow of oversight to man, until he prophesizes and Torah is given through him. And this Torah is the salvation of man; through it he will be eternally saved; through it he will learn to straighten his deed, and with it he will know the paths of life in all details of his actions…
Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bachya compares one with a lack of faith to a person in darkness, and a person who has a sense of Emunah to a person who basks in the light of God.
Intuitively, we know this to be true. Have you ever taken a walk, at night, in the complete darkness? A couple years back on vacation in the Golan, the hotel took us for a night tour of a local ruin. While some found it fun to feel their way through the pitch black, I hated it. I found trying to find my way through the woods in the darkness a dangerous and off-putting. Each step brings a possible hazard, and you're never sure of your footing. But, as soon as someone shone a light ahead, enough to see just a little, I could walk with a degree of confidence.
Life is very much like that. How are we to know where the next step will lead us? Who's to say that we're walking in the right direction, taking the proper steps in life? That's where Emunah plays such a critical role. It's the candle of light that gives us the strength to take any steps at all. With confidence of the light of our faith, we do what we are commanded in the knowledge that when we do what God asks of us, He will, in His wisdom, light the way forward.
When we recite the Al Hanisim on Chanukah, we must marvel at the sheer insanity of the Chashmonaim: רבים ביד מעטים is an understatement. In reality it was the armed in the hands of the unarmed; the trained in the hands of the untrained; they literally had no chance. But they attacked nonetheless, from frustration and desperation, but also from a deep sense of faith which carried them to victory. Had they worried about the future – about military battle lines, and arms strength, not only would they have lost. They would never have fought in the first place.
That's precisely why they didn’t worry about provisions for lighting the Menorah before they conquered the Beit Hamikdash, and also why they wouldn't wait to kindle the lights for enough oil. They lit – and if God wanted it to last a day, it would. And if He wanted it to last longer, that could happen as well.
Chanukah represents a holiday of faith over logic; of placing our fate in God's capable hands, especially when the outcome is far from clear. Perhaps then, Chanukah might very well be the most important, relevant holiday for a Jewish people struggling to rebuild the State of Israel. Today, the drumbeat that we hear constantly from well-meaning Jews (both Israeli and American) who favor returning land to the Palestinians rests on a patently logical argument: Israel wants to be democratic, but it controls the lives of over a million Arabs. It can't annex the land because then Israel might not remain a Jewish State, but it won't withdraw from the land either. What then, is the endgame?
It's a great question to which there's no visible solution. And that's what troubles people, so they insist on solutions (like giving away parts of Eretz Yisrael) that the Torah forbids. "Well," they ask, "if you don't like my solution, what's yours? How do you solve the problem?"
To tell you the truth, I don't have an answer that will satisfy them, because we're approaching the problem from very different places. They think that they have to have the problem solved on their own. I, on the other hand, know what I must do, and trust that He who solved our problems in the past, will properly solve our complicated problems in the future.
This is the light of Emunah that we must kindle in our homes each night on Chanukah. (What Oleh moves to Israel because it makes sense? We did it because it was what we were supposed to do.) We must rededicate ourselves to not only living lives of greater faith, but worrying less about how it will all end up. No, I'm not advocating not buying presents for the kids in advance. God's not going to do that for you. But we must continue to do that which we know is right, with the faith and confidence that the light of our Emunah will shine down upon us, showing us that we did indeed walk along the true and proper path.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Halachic, Philosophical, and Educational Approaches to Social Justice

Rav Yaakov Margalit – Continuing Education Department,
Orot Israel College, Rechovot Campus

Every year, Orot Israel College organizes assorted conferences devoted to the intersection of Torah, private and public life, and the educational system.
In Tishrei, Orot held one such symposium at our Rechovot campus, entitled “Halachic, Philosophical, and Educational Approaches to Social Justice.”

The first speaker was Rav Yaakov Ariel shlit”a, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, who described the ideal State of Israel, which must be based on the values of justice and tzedakah (charity). He explained that he was not referring to tzedakah as a voluntary matter but rather as a public responsibility. Indeed, this form of tzedakah was practiced in Jewish communities throughout the generations and has clear manifestations in Jewish law - including the matanot kehunah (the tithes and other gifts given to the kohanim), the matanot aniyim (the various gifts given to the poor), the communal tzedakah funds, and more.
Rav Ariel encouraged the audience to join the social protests and insisted that they need not be concerned about the foreign motives which may perhaps be behind some of the protests. Furthermore, he declared that we must allow our well-defined, ideological, and Torah-based voices to be heard and that we must demonstrate a willingness to improve society and not merely make demands on the State.

After Rav Ariel completed his talk, Rav Shlomo Ishon shlit”a, head of the Keter Institute for Economy According to Torah, discussed the State’s social justice obligations, such as regulating the prices of essential goods, combatting profiteering, and so on. Rav Ishon contrasted the poverty line, as defined by the Western world and Israel’s bituach leumi (literally, national insurance – i.e. social security), with the Jewish alternative, which requires society to ensure that every person’s basic needs are met in a dignified and respectful manner.

Professor Rav Neriah Gutel, President of Orot Israel College, delivered the next lecture. He observed that the Torah deliberately refrained from establishing a categorical social-economic doctrine, because according to the Torah, social-economic policies must conform to each generation’s specific circumstances, location, and era. Yet, at the same time, Jewish law delineates a value system which must serve as the foundation for society’s social-economic principles. Halachah endorses neither predatory capitalism nor radical Marxist collectivism. Instead, the Torah advocates a measured, moderate approach, which accounts for a particular generation’s needs and concerns.

Finally, Rav Yaakov Margalit, the conference’s organizer, focused on the protests’ educational aspects. Are there any red lines which cannot be crossed? If so, what are they? Is the demand for social justice based on a sense that individual people are being mistreated, or does the protest stem from a feeling of social responsibility? How does this impact the type of protest involved? Must those who head the protests serve as role models?

In conclusion, the conference goers walked away with much food for thought, and all agreed that they are looking forward to our next conference, which is scheduled to take place during the month of Nissan.

Its Zionism Y'all: Bringing Israel to the South

By Jaqueline Rose (Gray)
Bogeret of BZ 5753

In the summer of 2010, myself, my husband and our four children moved from our home in Modiin to Atlanta, Georgia for שליחות. My husband is a teacher and so the decision to go on שליחות was about giving something back to a community in the diaspora. We also thought it would be an amazing experience for us as a family - the opportunity to live in a different country, met different people and visit places that we would not normally get a chance to see.

We were sent by הסוכנות היהודית as שליחים מורים and have spent the past 15 months in Atlanta working at Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Young Israel of Toco Hills shul. I have been providing Hebrew enrichment and support to 1-8th grade students, together with giving yoga and environmental education classes to gan age kids. My husband has been teaching 7th and 8th grade Kodesh and History of Israel - his area of expertise! Shabbat is no time for rest as my husband is also Youth Director in the local Young Israel shul, organizing youth tefilla in the morning and Bnei AKiva in the afternoon. Being שליחים is a 7 days a week job!! We have worked very hard devoting ourselves to the community that brought us here, and trying to ensure that our שליחות has meaning and purpose by being an example to the community of what is means to be a religious Jew with Israel as a core value.
Despite the hard work, we are having a wonderful time here. We have been welcomed into the community with open arms and have made really good friends. Most importantly our children have integrated well and made amazing friends, having none of the social challenges you worry about as a parent. We have made sure to make the most of every Sunday, vacation, and family outing. We have enjoyed all the small things that make America such a fun place to be - Starbucks and Target to name a few!
But not a day goes by when we don’t miss Israel. During my year at Orot (1992-93) my love for Israel developed into an ideology, a life path, a passion. I meet and learned with people who had a deep love and respect for Israel and the Jewish people, and the way they lived their lives inspired me to want to live by those values. I knew that there was nowhere else that I wanted to live my life and raise a family. Five years after leaving Orot, I left my home town of London for Israel. I still remember how I cried the whole 4.5 hour flight, but once I landed at Ben Gurion I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I had done what I promised myself I was going to do – I had made aliya.

Today, it is hard being away from our house that we built, our family and friends, relaxing Fridays when you DON’T come home from work and have to cook for Shabbat in two hours, and the sense of being part of a national community. Soon we will return to Israel. I do not under estimate how hard it will be to leave here, for myself and my husband, for our children. Even though we always knew this was temporary it's still hard to leave a place that you have invested time and energy, and made every effort to be part of the community. But once we touch down at Ben Gurion I know that I will have the same feelings I had when I made aliya - I am home, and as we all know “there is no place like home”!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Avraham Avinu The Friaer - Dvar Torah for Parshat Chayei Sarah

I listen to a popular American radio program (via the magic of iTunes podcast) called "This American Life", a story-based show about different aspects of, you guessed it, American Life. In March, while running in Yad Binyamin listening to the show, I heard a story that taught me pshat in Parshat Chayei Sarah.
The show's narrator interviewed an Iranian immigrant about the unusual Iranian custom of Ta'aruf, which, according to Wikipedia, "leads people to constantly offer things they may not want to give, and to refuse things they really want." Basically, even though you want something, practitioners of Ta'aruf must say exactly the opposite, in an elaborate charade meant to finally reach a nuanced conclusion. The Iranian immigrant, interviewed for the story, describes an imaginary interaction that takes place in Iranian stores every day.
You go into a story and you go and you buy dried fruit or something. You take it up to the counter to go pay, and the store owner says, "It's worthless. This is worthless. Your value is so much greater than this thing that you're trying to buy. Then you have to say, 'No, no, no, really, how much does it cost?' He tells you, 'No, no, no, just take it.' You have to argue to find out the price, until finally you get to the point where he tells you the price, and then he quotes you a price that's way more than the item is actually worth. Then it becomes a bargaining session." 
Does that sound vaguely familiar? Listening to the story, I realized that this short description precisely matches the first section of Chayei Sarah (Bereishit 23), where Avraham Avinu purchases the Me'arat Hamachpelah.

To read the rest of the piece, click here to download the formatted pdf version.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Bat Zion 5764 Reunion in Nof Tzion

By Debbie Ifield, Bogeret of BZ 5764
It was Chol Hamoed Succot and I was off to Jerusalem. I set out from South Netanya, very excited to reunite with my Orot friends. I finally made it into Jerusalem, despite heavy Chol Hamoed traffic, and asked a taxi driver to take me to Nof Tzion. 'Sof Ha'olam!!' he said, but he eventually found the area, and I ran into my friend Eddie's (Shoshana Bauer) apartment to be greeted by the greatest bunch of girls I've ever had the privilege to spend time with.

I was quite late, so everyone had already arrived, complete with husbands, children and smiles on their faces. This year the Orot Succah Party was particularly special. Not only was it 8 years since we first became a Bat Zion group, but this time we were also celebrating our fantastic madricha Debbie's 30th birthday. It was a surprise for her, and we partied in style, in the succah and the main room, with lunch and birthday cake, with recounting old Orot stories and playing with the new generation - the Orot kids. I finally saw the newly engaged Chaya and had the chance to wish her mazal tov in person, (as well as Bshaa tova to quite a few of the other Orot ladies). The Tal programme was also represented. We gathered together from all areas of Israel, from Jerusalem to Shuva to Netanya to Maale Adumim all the way to Mizpe Rimon!
Seeing my Orot friends was a definite highlight of my trip to Israel. It always is!!

2nd Annual Sukkot Orot Reunion

By Debbie (Krug) Shochat,
Madricha of Bat Zion 5764
A long time ago, when I was a madricha at Orot, “Batzi” the car was driven into the Orot parking lot, and there was room for 4 other passengers. 7 years later, Baruch Hashem there isn’t an available seat. As Oriya and I drove down the windy road to get to Nof Tzion, standing at about 5 different bus stops stood all the Orot Bogrot, with Baruch Hashem, many children in sight. Sadly, I wished that I had room for everyone in the car, but I was beyond happy looking at the continuity and growth. Though it was no simple task arriving, over 30 people attended the reunion, and from literally all over Israel, as far south as Mitzpe Ramon, to as far north as Shilo. (Though, a bogeret from Ma’a lot wished that she was able to come). There was good food, good laughs, and reminiscing over the good times. And while topics of discussion 7 years ago were about Rav Kook, filling out Shabbat lists, what’s Shula serving for lunch, and Rav Shvat’s latest new song, suddenly other realms of conversations can be heard. Whether it be careers, politics, children, communities, with occasional divrei Torah as well, it’s a true blessing to see commitment to Torah, to Israel, and to friendship, so many years later.

Practice, Practice Practice

By Rabbi Ephraim Levitz,
Student Teacher Practicum Department, Elkana Campus

Field work is proscribed in many professions. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, social workers, psychologists, etc. all require intense practical experience, guided by licensed and experienced experts in their profession. The student teacher must undergo similar training and field work to avail the opportunity for reflective practice under the supervision of a teacher trainer. This practice is highly structured and the benefits rewards are invaluable.
The practical aspects of our teacher training are considered the crown jewel of our program. After many intense months of theoretical coursework, the students go out in to the classroom to apply what they have learned. In the beginning the questions are more numerous than the answers. At this stage the students realize what they have learned well and what requires further revision.
In comes the מדריכה פדגוגית (teacher trainer). With a warm smile and an encouraging word, the Madricha escorts the student down to the playing field for a practice game. No pressure. The new rookie, knees shaking, voice trembling, enters the classroom to teach the first lesson. While stage fright takes over the Madricha pushes the student out from behind the curtain to center stage. “בקר טוב תלמידים...” she begins in a quiet voice, and her lesson plan slowly unfolds into a full blown drama. After the lesson the Madricha gathers her flock for the feedback powwow. She tries to highlight the strengths of the lesson, leaving the critical comments for another day. The student walks away exhausted and excited, “I did it”!
The first semester of teacher training has started on the right foot. Ode to the tireless efforts and assistance of Dalia Plesser, who recently retired from the position as head of department but obliged to assist with the arduous task of assignment, the placement of each of the students went smoothly. The general feeling is everyone is content in their schools and there is a sense of satisfaction and intrigue for the challenges yet to come.
I assumed the position as head of the department in July. I am still trying to get acquainted with the myriad of rules and regulations as well as to understand the needs of the students. Although flexibility is needed in many cases, especially in a college for young women, I am working hard to maintain the standards of excellence that are the college’s trademark. Hopefully the right balance will be found and the students will be able to enjoy the student teaching experience.
Goals and Aspirations:
For the short term, my efforts are focused on keeping the momentum of the system going forward, business as usual. This alone is a challenging task. I am not planning changes at this stage while I am learning the system.
I hope to survey students from the various streams to get a firsthand impression of the student’s experience in the field. This will provide food for thought for future plans and development.
At this point I am establishing working relationships with the Madrichot. In the future I aim to expand the use of technology in the running of the department, and in promoting team collaboration. The staff has been very welcoming and helpful until now and I look forward to a very productive year.
The middle range goals are in the area of opening more communication between the lecturers and the Madrichot. Through these meetings I hope to clarify the special requirements and needs of each department and prepare a coherent guide for the perplexed student teacher. In the same vein I hope to examine each of the templates and forms used routinely by the students to try to ease some of the confusion that currently exists.
Besides serving as מדריך פדגוגי in various colleges in Israel, I have specialized in cognitive training for the classroom. My long term wish is to incorporate some of the practical skills and tools of creative thinking development and metacognition in the teacher training program in אורות ישראל.
Teaching has been the passion of my life. It should never be perceived as a job, rather as a life mission. The פסוק states,
”ושננתם לבניך”. רש"י cites חז"ל, “To your children: These are your students”. The verse is not speaking about the mission of the father to teach his own children the lessons of the Torah. That is obvious. Rather, hints רש"י, the Torah is speaking to teachers. Every teaching situation should be viewed as personal as parenting. Teaching students is like raising your own children, with the same love and patience and concern for their success.
I would like to express my gratitude to Rabbi Professor Neriya Guttel, the President of Orot Israel College, and to Rabbi Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Dean of Students, for their guidance and support. I feel privileged to serve in such an esteemed institution for higher learning in Israel.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seeing Yad Hashem in the World

Remember those "Magic Eye" books?
A few years back, these books were all the rage. You've seen them – pictures of seemingly blurry blotches of nothing, but if you look at the picture in just the right way from the proper distance, you begin to see that there's a picture inside the picture, hiding in plain sight.
If you never figured out how to properly "see" the hidden image, these books are infuriating. After all, your friends stare at a page for a second and then say, "Whoa! Look at that!" And no matter how long you look, you can't see anything at all. But it's not that you can't see the picture. You're looking straight at it. You just haven't learned how to look at it in the manner which will allow you to see the picture inside the picture. With enough practice, a person can indeed learn to see the picture in the picture.
These Magic Eye books are a great metaphor for spiritual life.
We live our lives knowing that God plays an intimate, direct role in our lives, aware of the fact that God's firm grasp continues to guide klal yisrael. And yet, we cannot see what's right in front of our eyes. Like those "magic" pictures, the keys lies in learning how to look for what we see but cannot identify. How can we learn to see the Hand of God in the world? Rav Kook, commenting on a beautiful Aggadah, provides an fascinating suggestion.
The Gemara (erachot 58a) tells the story of ben Zoma, and the proper attitude towards the acts of kindness that others perform for us.
He used to say: What does a good guest say? 'How much trouble my host has taken for me! How much meat he has set before me! How much wine he has set before me! How many cakes he has set before me! And all the trouble he has taken was only for my sake!' But what does a bad guest say? 'How much after all has mine host put himself out? I have eaten one piece of bread, I have eaten one slice of meat, I have drunk one cup of wine! All the trouble which my host has taken was only for the sake of his wife and his children!' What does Scripture say of a good guest? "Remember that you magnify his works, where of men have sung." (Job 35:24)  But of a bad guest it is written: "Men do therefore fear him; [he regards not any that are wise of heart]". (37:24)
It's so easy to write off the things that other people do for us, as his "bad guest" so easily does. After all, they didn't make the effort for us - they made if for themselves. But all too often, we take this attitude not with our hosts, but with those we love the most - a spouse, a parent, a sibling or friend - we just take them for granted, which we should never allow ourselves to do. If we took the time to focus on the effort that goes into meeting our daily needs, and appreciating the good that others do on our behalf, we'd be much happier, content and more fulfilled.
It's a beautiful Gemara. But Rav Kook, in his commentary Ein Ayah on the Aggadah, sees ben Zoma's lesson as a critical key to seeing God's hand in the world.
Rav Kook begins his essay by noting that the issue of whether to believe in God's Hand in the world or not is not an intellectual question. It's not a matter than can be proved or disproved. "Rather, these two [attitudes] are dependent on the condition of the soul, whether for good or for bad…" How then do we learn to see God's goodness in the world? We do this through practice, by learning to see the good in those around us.
…the pure soul, which is ready to do good, will look upon the Divine influence with a good eye, for his soul will see that God's will is only to bring good. And where does this goodness come from, if not from the Divine light that is good and bestows good. Therefore, he will be certain that all is done for the good, and those seemingly negative events in the world have an ultimate positive end.
In essence, the way we look at the world at large is the very same way that we'll see the people who surround us. If we see God's goodness in the world, we'll also see that goodness in the actions of our fellow man. And, if we refuse to see the Hand of Hashem in the world, we won't see goodness or kindness in the things others do for us either.
Yet, the opposite rule also applies. If we can learn to see the goodness in the small things, that positive attitude will spread as well to the way we look at the world. In essence, if we can learn to not only see, but appreciate the small acts of kindness that others do for us in life, we'll train ourselves not only to see small acts of goodness in the world, but the big ones as well. In a nutshell, the more goodness we learn to see, the more we'll see it all around us.
How many kindnesses do we allow to go unnoticed? How many times has a loved one gone out of his or her way on our behalf, and we just took it for granted? How many times has a neighbor done us that small favor – one which we forgot to acknowledge? Think about the small kindnesses built into the fabric of daily life: someone cooked us dinner (and if you cooked it, odds are that someone else earned it.) Someone made sure to post the schedule of davening in shul. Someone took the time to ensure that the community tiyyul arrangements were properly addressed. The list goes on and on. And it's not their job. They weren't doing it anyway. (That's what ben Zoma's "bad guest" says, remember?) They did us a kindness, and we didn't even notice.
And then we wonder why we cannot see the larger, hidden good, when we fail to pay attention to the obvious acts of kindness happening right in front of us!
How then can we learn to see something we know is there but invisible all the same? Like those "Magic Eye" books, the answer lies in knowing how and what to look for. When we start focusing on all of the good in our lives; when we begin to see the small acts of kindness and goodness that surround us, we'll begin to train our eyes to see that which was already there: the Divine goodness of God, guiding us and bestowing goodness upon us, our families, and Klal Yisrael.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Every Direction

Dr. Ayal Davidson – Head, Land of Israel Studies Department, Orot Israel College
Pirkei Avot serves as an excellent guidebook for this unique time of year, which is dedicated to self-scrutiny and self-examination. The Mishnah teaches us to look in every direction in order to draw the strength needed to make the required changes. On one hand, we must look backward. We must delve into the deep recesses of the past and discard the waste while collecting the nitzotzot (literally, sparks):
“Know from where you came.” (Avot 3:1)
But on the other hand, we must look forward and prepare for the future:
“And before Whom you are destined to give a judgment and a reckoning.” (Ibid)
Yet, that is not all. We must also look upward:
“Know what is above you,” (Avot 2:1)
And downward:
“And where you are going - to a place of dust, maggots and worms.” (Avot 3:1)
Interestingly, each direction has a deeper meaning. Although modern maps point north, ancient cartographers and explorers turned eastward – hence, the term “orient.” Indeed, in Biblical Hebrew, east is called “kedem” (literally, in front or in advance), and the Dead Sea is referred to as “yam hakadmoni” (Zechariah 14:8 – i.e. the “eastern sea”). Meanwhile, the Mediterranean is called “yam ha’acharon” (Ibid – literally, the “final sea”), because it is located behind (mei’achorei) one facing east. Similarly, southward is referred to as “teiman” (literally, Yemen), because it is located to the right. And the left? Even today, the Arabic name for Syria is “A-Sham” (literally, the left).
Moreover, the future is known as “acharit hayamim” (Devarim 4:30 - i.e. the end of days), while the past is called “yemei kedem” (literally, “primeval days” – i.e. antiquity). But wait! Should it not have been the opposite? After all, the future is before us, and the past is behind us! However, this is only correct in modern, Western terms. According to our traditional, Jewish approach, one must face the past and learn from it, and thus, the future is behind one’s back.
Moshe presents an educational problem to Bnei Yisrael:
“If your son asks you tomorrow, saying: What are the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances, which Hashem, our God, has commanded you?” (Devarim 6:20)
What will you say to him? My dear son, look to the future; work on yourself; consider how you will look tomorrow? No, just the opposite:
“You shall say to your son: We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt; and Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand… in order to bring us, to give us the Land which He swore to our fathers.” (Devarim 6:21-23)
In other words, the past is what holds the secret of our spiritual existence and gives us the strength we need to confront the future.
And there is another lesson for us: The curriculum in Orot Israel College’s Land of Israel Studies Department includes a study of geography. When one knows how to examine the layers above and below the rocks and the trees, one discovers a wonderful inner world, imbued with a deep spiritual, Torah, and – in our example – even moral significance. All that remains is to invest some thought and reflection and to discover it.
May Hashem grant us a year of fruitful and productive learning which will uncover our world’s inner and spiritual layers. And as a result, may our students feel that they are not only ready to discover their own inner worlds but that they are also prepared to bequeath them to their students.

Stop For a Minute

Rabbi Dr. Amir Mashiach – Head, Jewish Philosophy Department, Orot Israel College, and Rav, Beit Knesset L’Tzeirim, Petach Tikva

In India, they tell the following story:
One evening, a sage walked along the beach. In due course, he came to a small fishing village, where a man began chasing after him.
“Stop! Stop, please,” the man cried. “Give me your precious pearl!”
“What pearl are you talking about?” the sage asked and continued on his way.
“The pearl that is in your sack,” the man replied. “Last night, I dreamed that I would meet a great scholar and that he would give me an exquisite pearl, which would make me rich beyond my wildest dreams.”
The sage stopped walking. He opened his sack and took out a giant, beautiful pearl, which glowed like a thousand flames.
“Just a few minutes ago, when I was on the beach, I noticed this large, sparkling pearl,” the sage said and presented the gem to the astonished man. “It appealed to me, and I put it in my bag. Apparently, it is the pearl you dreamed about. Take it. It is yours.”
The man was ecstatic. He took the pearl from the sage and skipped away happily. After the man had left, the sage stretched out on the sand and prepared to spend the night.
Meanwhile, when the man got home, he could not fall asleep. Afraid that someone would steal his treasure, he spent a restless night, tossing and turning in his bed. Finally, at the crack of dawn, he picked up the pearl and returned to the beach in search of the sage.
“Please take back the pearl,” the man said when he found the sage. “It is a source of worry for me – not wealth or happiness. I would prefer that you give me some of the wisdom which enabled you to give up a pearl so easily. That is the true meaning of wealth.”
We live in a world exemplified by a frantic pursuit of wealth and prosperity. To a certain extent, this is a good thing. After all, this race led mankind to great achievements in the fields of science and technology. Man conquered the ocean and outer space. Man harnessed the sun’s rays, water, and the air in order to produce energy. Man built traffic arteries which significantly decreased the time it takes to get from one place to another. With the help of computers and the Internet, man transformed the world into a small global village, and now, with the click of a button, one can reach the four corners of the earth within seconds. The list goes on and on… Yet, in spite of their considerable importance, these accomplishments are incomplete. The Torah teaches us that man is comprised of two parts: a body and a soul. Unquestionably, man has developed the body at an astounding rate. However, in our modern - and postmodern - world, where “time is money,” a major element is missing.
Regardless of his impressive achievements, man must understand that the picture is incomplete when the focus in one-dimensional – entirely material. Wealth does not only mean physical wealth. True wealth is spiritual perfection. Hence, Ben Zoma tells us:
“Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot.” (Avot 4:1)
Because of man’s pursuit of “an exquisite pearl, which would make me rich beyond my wildest dreams,” the Torah comes and gives us time to stop and think. The Yamim HaNora’im, which begin on Rosh Hashanah and peak on Yom Kippur, are a time to focus on the spirit. Indeed, on Yom Kippur, we are fully detached from the material. We neither eat nor drink; we neither bathe nor anoint ourselves with lotion. We resemble angels – completely spiritual… No! The Torah does not want to transform man into an angel. HaKadosh Baruch Hu has plenty of angels in the heavens. Instead, we, as humans, must serve as a unique balance and combination of these two elements – the spiritual and the material, the body and the soul. This task is not easy, and therefore, it is primarily given to Am Yisrael. And by meeting this challenge, Am Yisrael will reach completion and will illuminate the entire world with the precious light which emanates from a true understanding of “tzelem Elokim.”
Not by chance, Rosh Hashanah’s only mitzvah is hearing the sound of the shofar. It is a simple, uncomplicated sound; a sound which goes beyond words or notes; a sound which causes us to stop and think about the neglected yet precious part of us: our ability to think. Thinking enables us to give up “the pearl” and achieve true completion – the sacred balance between the material and the spiritual.
In Orot Israel College’s Jewish Philosophy Department, we study the teachings of Gedolei Yisrael throughout the generations. Yet, besides analyzing their writings, we mainly learn how to internalize the wisdom of their lives. By doing so, we will learn how to apply the insights of these incredible role models from those days to our lives, as individuals and as a society, in our time. This is not an easy task, but b’ezrat Hashem, we will learn, accomplish, and succeed.
Shanah tovah and b’hatzlachah!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

If You Could Ask for Only One Thing

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Director of Recruiting

If you could only ask for one thing from God, what would you ask for? Health? Prosperity? Success? It's an important question, because when we boil down our hopes and yearnings to one specific request, it says a lot about who we are.
Throughout the Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu asks God for many things: for guidance, assistance, forgiveness, support. It's a long list. Yet, when we examine his requests carefully we notice that Moshe never really asks for anything for himself. Throughout the Torah, Moshe never makes a personal request for anything – except once. And then when he asks, he doesn't just ask. He begs. He pleads.
וָאֶתְחַנַּן, אֶל-ה', בָּעֵת הַהִוא, לֵאמֹר.... אֶעְבְּרָה-נָּא, וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן:  הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה, וְהַלְּבָנֹן. (דברים ג:כג-כה)
And I pleaded with God at that time saying…Let me go over, I pray to You, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.' (Devarim 3:23-25)
Moshe pleaded with God for one thing: Please allow me to enter into the Land of Israel.
I've recently become reacquainted with the Me'am Loez, and find myself taken both by its simplicity, but also by its powerful honesty. What is Me'am Loez? According to Wikipedia,
Me'am Lo'ez, initiated by Rabbi Yaakov Culi in 1730, is a widely studied commentary on the Tanakh written in Ladino - it is perhaps the best known publication in that language. In Rabbi Culi's time, many individuals in Turkey were not sufficiently fluent in the Hebrew language to study the Torah and its commentaries in the original. Rabbi Culi thus undertook the "colossal task" of writing a compendium of the major fields of Torah study. The commentary was to be user-friendly and was thus written in Ladino, the Jewish language spoken by the Jews in Turkey. The book was divided according to the weekly Torah portion (Parashat hashevua); Rabbi Culi explains each chapter in detail according to the Midrash and Talmud. In his introduction Rabbi Culi personally guarantees that "everyone who reads the Me'am Loez every day will be able to answer in Heaven that he has learned the whole Torah, because all aspects of the Torah are covered on it".
I guess you could say that Meam Lo'ez was the world's first Artscroll – an attempt to adapt Torah to everyday people in an easy, readable way. And it power and simplicity offer timeless messages that resonate, especially today.
In answering why Moshe so badly wanted to enter into Eretz Yisrael, Me'am Loez gives ten answers. Here's number six (from Rabbi Kaplan's translation of the Me'am Loez):
As long as the Israelites are in the land of Israel they are called God's children, as it is written, "You are children to God your Lord" (Deut. 14:1). Just as a son can find all his father's hidden treasures and can enter any place he wishes, similarly the Israelites can discover all the mysteries of the Torah when they are in the Holy Land.
However, when the Israelites are outside the land of Israel they are called slaves, and a slave may not know all the hidden secrets that his master has.
We thus find that when Moses pleaded before God he called himself a servant, as it is written, "You have begun to show Your servant" (Deut. 3:23). Moses pleaded with God in order to reach the level of a son. God said to him, "You already reached this level when I told you to make the Tabernacle. At that time I called you and revealed to you all My secrets."
It's worthwhile to take some time to study the words of the Me'am Loez. I've copied the relevant sections from Parshat Va'atchanan, both in Hebrew and in English.
Reading these powerful words today, one might get the feeling that they were written by someone from the Religious Zionist movement trying to convince Jews in America to move to Israel. But in truth, they were actually written in the mid-1700's before there even was a Religious Zionist movement. Or, to be more accurate, they were written when all of Orthodox Judaism was a religious Zionist movement. Somehow, we've lost that collective sense of the unique special nature of the Land of Israel and the close connection that it brings between God and His people.
Each year, when Tisha B'av comes around, I find myself struggling for a reason to mourn. Of course, I know that we're mourning the past and the tremendous suffering that the Jewish people have endured. I also know that we yearn for the Beit Hamikdash. But it sometimes seems so abstract. What does that really mean for the Jewish people? Me'am Loez writes,
When the Temple existed and we were in our own land, all blessing and bounty came from God's hand, while the other nations only had what was left over, like a slave dependent on his master. However, now, due to our sins, this has changed. God gives all good to the nations and we can only hope for what they leave over. However, even now when the Temple is destroyed and the land is desolate, through the merit of the land of Israel all the world is fed.
Today these words continue to ring true. Israel depends on the generosity and assistance of the nations of the world for financial and military assistance as well as for its national and political security. We haven't reached true independence, and certainly don't serve as a source of sustenance for others yet. We mourn the fact that as much as we have achieved, we have not come close to reaching our true national potential.
As much as Tisha B'av is about focusing on what happened in the past, we must also utilize the day to consider just how great we can be – and how far we must go to finally reach that great goal.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Psychological Testing Using Art-Based Assessments

Yehuda Lubin
Guidance Department

Analyzing a child’s artwork is an important tool for understanding the child. Thus, as part of their training to become school counselors, the students of Orot Israel College’s guidance department were recently introduced to this key component of psychological testing.

One of a therapist’s functions is to enable the patient to open his heart and talk about his thoughts and deep feelings. Generally, this is achieved via a conversation with an empathetic interlocutor in an intimate and safe environment. However, in some cases, the therapist is unable to motivate the patient to speak freely. Various emotional barriers impede the patient’s progress, and hence, the patient continues to suffer. In these situations, therapists often encourage the patients to express themselves via an alternate medium – such as drawing.

Dr. Moshe Raz, a leading psychologist who specializes in this complex field, delivered a fascinating lecture on the subject to the students. Using pictures and specific examples from his therapeutic practice, Dr. Raz demonstrated how analyzing his patients’ artwork enabled them to understand the underlying causes and conflicts behind their conditions. Consequently, the patients were able to express themselves and work towards a solution.

The Orot students were very impressed by the dramatic changes which resulted from this treatment, and a number of the young women indicated that they were inspired to pursue a career in this area after completing their undergraduate degrees. The students were provided with valuable tools, which will certainly help them when they become school counselors.

Academic Conference on the Rashbam in Memory of Professor Elazar Touitou z”l

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Rachimi
Dean of Students, Elkana Campus

Orot Israel College and Bar Ilan University’s Tanach Department recently cohosted an international academic conference devoted to the Rashbam’s commentary on the Tanach - in memory of distinguished educator and researcher Professor Elazar Touitou z”l, who was affiliated with both institutions. One of the world’s foremost experts on the Rashbam, Professor Touitou, who passed away last year, was renowned for his textual and historical analyses of the Rashbam’s exegetical philosophy.

Held at Bar Ilan, the highly-anticipated and widely-acclaimed conference attracted an overflow crowd - including Professor Touitou’s family, friends, and admirers, as well as leading Tanach scholars and researchers from Israel and around the world. Professor Rav Neriah Gutel, President of Orot Israel College, and Professor Moshe Kaveh, President of Bar Ilan University, greeted the attendees and spoke warmly about Professor Touitou. They alluded to his dignified graciousness and discussed his significant contributions to the State of Israel’s development and defense.

Each of the conference’s four sessions shed light on a different aspect of the Rashbam’s teachings. The first session pertained to the Rashbam’s commentary on the Torah; the second session dealt with the Rashbam’s commentary on Tehilim, Kohelet, and Shir HaShirim; the third session focused on the reciprocal nature of the relationship between Rashi, the Ibn Ezra and the Rashbam; and the final session examined the Rashbam’s influence on subsequent generations.

All of the lectures were recorded and are available on Orot’s website. In addition, the talks are set to be compiled into an academic journal, which will be published jointly by Orot Israel College and Bar Ilan University.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Yerushalayim Comes To Rosh HaAyin

Meital Chori, Naamah Kusten, and Tamar Cohen
Third-Year Students, Social-Communal Education Department
In honor of Yom Yerushalayim, the junior high school students at Ulpanat Zevulun in Rosh HaAyin went on a magical “journey” to Yerushalayim. This very special program was organized by second- and third-year students from Orot Israel College’s social-communal education department.

Several days before Yom Yerushalayim, the second-year students delivered a shiur – which was prepared by the third-year students – entitled, “The Importance of Yerushalayim.” The shiur focused on questions, such as: Why do we have Yom Yerushalayim but not Yom Tel Aviv? What are the sources of Yerushalayim’s sanctity for the Jewish people? What does Yerushalayim mean to me?

Then, on Yom Yerushalayim itself, the seventh, eighth, and ninth graders took part in an entertaining treasure hunt, run by the Orot students. Each of the Ulpanat Zevulun girls had to stop at six different stations, where they solved secret codes; learned about Yerushalayim’s many names; studied psukim from the Tanach which pertain to Yerushalayim; watched a slide show; identified Yerushalayim’s neighborhoods and gates; “visited” the Machaneh Yehudah shuk; and heard stories about many of Yerushalayim’s famous residents.

The girls had a wonderful time uncovering many of Yerushalayim’s fascinating secrets.

“To Lie In Your Shadow, Carmel”

Na'ama Bindiger,
Land of Israel studies department

“The mountain is green throughout the year.
I still dream and ask
To breathe your winds as at first,
To lie in your shadow, Carmel.”

With songwriter Yoram Taharlev’s beautiful words on our lips, Orot Israel College headed out on a tiyul of Nachal Rakefet in the Carmel on 14 Iyar (May 18). As we hiked the lovely trail, we discussed geography, history, and current events. And a surprise awaited us…

Our tiyul to Nachal Rakefet was part of Orot’s series of trips - each one to a different location and with a different theme. The ultimate goal is to show the students – the teachers of the future – how tiyulim can be a valuable tool for forging an unbreakable bond with Eretz Yisrael.

We were privileged to have students from Orot’s Land of Israel studies department as our guides, and they taught us about the Carmel’s unique topography, geology, and botany – including the lush Mediterranean vegetation, which covers its slopes and keeps the mountain “green throughout the year.”

Our excellent guides also focused on the human element. They told us about Jewish settlement in the region, and as we overlooked Daliat-El-Carmel, a Druze village, we heard about the Druze, their religion, and their warm ties with the State of Israel. In addition, we spoke at length about this past Chanukah’s devastating forest fire – its deadly course and the slow rehabilitation process. And lastly, we concentrated on Eliyahu HaNavi’s famous clash with the nevi’ei haBaal on the Carmel, which apparently took place at Muchrakah – our final stop.

During our hike, we also had an unexpected encounter with the animal kingdom: an “attack” of pine processionary caterpillars! Apparently, we had arrived just before the pupation period, and the caterpillars were everywhere – climbing on our skirts, and falling from the trees onto our knapsacks. An unforgettable experience… and thanks to the caterpillars, we all walked much faster than usual…

But without a doubt, the highlight of our trip was the gorgeous scenery and the delightfully-pastoral trail.

News from Orot Israel College’s Computing Center

Rachel Evers,
Chief Information Officer
To our great delight, there have been a number of exciting new developments here at Orot Israel College. The administration recently devoted considerable resources to improving and upgrading the computing equipment, and as a result, Orot’s students and faculty – on both the Elkana and Rechovot campuses – now have access to the cutting-edge technology necessary for tomorrow’s teachers.

Rechovot Campus
Computer lab
Computer Lab A, which was completely overhauled, serves the continuing education students as well as the Masters’ degree candidates. New workstations and advanced software were installed:
• A graphics software package, including Photoshop, Flash, Acrobat 9 and more
• Video editing software
• Music editing software
• Visual Studio – for the computer science department
• Control software for teachers, with an option to broadcast video files

Wireless environment
Throughout the campus, newly installed high-speed endpoints allow students and faculty members to connect their laptops to the Internet via our secure wireless network.

Elkana Campus

Language lab
A new language lab, with state-of-the-art computers and a high-speed communications network, lets students practice their English with special software, such as:
• Babylon online dictionary
• Text-to-speech software
• A pronunciation program, which allows users to record themselves
• Control software for teachers, with an option to broadcast video files
In addition, this lab contains special choreography and practice software for the dance department.

Projection rooms
Three new projection rooms were added, and new software – which controls all the audio-visual equipment for the user’s convenience - was installed.

Two new laptops were purchased to be used with our portable projectors.

Dance studio
A professional sound system, a projection system, a video/DVD player, a state-of-the-art computer, and sound editing software were all installed in Dance Studio B.

The auditorium now contains a sophisticated sound system, a network of speakers, two mixers, and a powerful new projector. In addition, the podium was upgraded, and a new control station – including two computers, a touch screen, and a control panel for the digital mixer – was installed in the upper control room. This control station manages the auditorium’s three computers, lights, electronic screen, projector, and sound system.

Computers and monitors
The student computers on the first floor of the library were upgraded, and all of the library’s computer monitors were replaced with thin LCD monitors. Also, new student computers were installed in the pedagogic center.

Windows 7
We have begun migrating all of our newer computers over to the Windows 7 operating system.

The optical fiber network - which connects every building on campus to the servers in the computing center – was upgraded and expanded, in order to allow for increased traffic, in terms of both speed and volume, on our computer network. In addition, we purchased new switches for further upgrades.

An integrated college
As part of our continued efforts to connect Orot Israel College’s two campuses, the accounting software used by the Elkana and Rechovot campuses has been fully integrated. Also, the mail server, which is located on the Elkana campus, now serves both campuses.

Upcoming developments
Our future plans include launching a new website for the two campuses and installing a wireless network on the Elkana campus.

We hope to keep you updated as we continue to meet our students’ technological needs.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Article: The Omer Imbalance

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Over the course of history, the Jewish people have endured unspeakable suffering. From Churban to pogrom to exile to Inquisition, all leading up to the unimaginable losses during the Holocaust, we have plenty to mourn for. Yet, when we look at the Jewish calendar, while Chazal set aside Tisha B'av (and the Three Weeks) as a mourning period for basically everything else, we devote almost five full weeks to remember the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students.

How can we devote so little of our calendar to the Holocaust, and so much of it to a seemingly smaller tragedy in the course of Jewish history? The answer to this question lies in a deeper understanding of why we mourn during Sefirat Ha'omer.

Click here to download the article in pdf format.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Western Culture Yom Iyun

Rav Ami Danino
Rosh Yeshivat Orot Yaakov, Rechovot Campus
On Monday, 17 Adar I 5771, Rechovot’s Yeshivat Hesder Orot Yaakov hosted a thought-provoking yom iyun about “Western Culture”. Open to the public, the yom iyun attracted an overflow crowd, who flocked to the yeshiva’s beit midrash to hear the fascinating talks by several prominent rabbis and educators.

After Rav Chaim Saban, Orot Yisrael College’s Vice President and Dean of the Rechovot Campus, greeted the attendees and gave a brief introduction, Rav Chagai Londin, Ra”M in Yeshivat Hesder Haifa and Yerushalayim’s Machon Meir, delivered a captivating lecture on the topic of “Confronting Western Culture” – based on Rav Kook’s writings. Using a slide show and specific examples, Rav Londin demonstrated that Rav Kook’s teachings continue to be relevant today and stressed that we must recognize Western culture’s pervasive nature.

Next, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan HaRav HaGaon Yaakov Ariel discussed “Recreational Culture”. He began by defining culture and then noted that contemporary Western culture does not necessarily have to clash with Judaism – as long as the focus is on modern communication tools and media. The important thing, Rav Ariel observed, is to ensure that these tools are not utilized to transmit inappropriate or problematic content. Rav Ariel detailed the inherent dangers in being exposed to Western cultural content during one’s leisure time - with particular emphasis on visual media, such as television and unfiltered Internet access.

A short recess and refreshments followed Rav Ariel’s intriguing talk, and afterwards, the attendees returned to hear Rosh Yeshivat Orot Yaakov Rav Ami Danino examine the question of “Western Culture: Is It More Than Just a Tool?” Rav Danino distributed a well-organized source sheet and highlighted the complex relationship between life’s inner, sanctified matters, which must originate with Am Yisrael, and life’s external, worldly matters, which Am Yisrael can accept from the nations of the world. In addition, Rav Danino touched upon the fundamental differences between Western culture and Jewish culture – including significant issues, such as the individual versus society; the end versus the means; the present versus eternity; privileges versus obligations; the relative versus the absolute; and externalization versus internalization.

Finally, in honor of the month of Adar, Beit Midrash Mahut’s Rav Elisha Vishlitzky spoke movingly about “Western Culture and Happiness”. He distinguished between Jewish happiness – which revolves around giving – and Western culture’s version of happiness, which centers on the “I” and the ego.

In short, Rav Vishlitzky’s inspiring talk was the perfect conclusion to what proved to be a stimulating and very well-received event. Thank you to all the speakers and to the many participants!

Special Education Yom Iyun 5771

Dr. Avia Guttman
Head of the Department of Special Education, Elkana Campus

“Olam chessed yibaneh.” (Literally, “a world of loving kindness will be built.” - Tehillim 89:3) This idea is what motivates anyone working with special needs children: whether it is the close, supportive circle of parents, siblings, and other family members - the people who are in contact with the child on a daily basis, during the day and at night, on weekdays and holidays - or the team of professionals, who regularly treat and help the child. Clearly, each of these roles requires considerable physical and emotional strengths.
With these hardworking and dedicated individuals in mind, Orot Israel College’s Department of Special Education hosted a yom iyun about “The Special Needs Child, the Parent, and the Therapist,” on Sunday, 23 Adar I 5771.
The first speaker was Mr. Eli Kellerman, Executive-Director of Simcha LaYeled, who lauded his organization’s volunteers – including many Orot Israel College students - for their valuable contributions. He also screened a movie about Simcha LaYeled’s assorted programs – including summer camps, programs for hospitalized children, Shabbat activities, and much more – and concluded his talk with a call for widening the circle of volunteers. Citing the organization’s motto, he observed that volunteers can help special needs children “replace the pain with happiness.”
Next, Mrs. Orli Azouriel delivered an extremely moving talk entitled “Al Tikri Banayich Ela Bonayich” (“Do Not Read ‘Your Sons’ But ‘Your Builders’” – Based on BT Brachot 64a). She presented the touching story of her son, who suffers from ataxia telangiectasia (AT) – an incurable genetic disorder, which affects the central nervous system in the cerebellum. During the course of her lecture, she shared some of her experiences as the mother of an AT patient. Mrs. Azouriel said that she feels that she herself has changed and developed as a result of her son’s birth.
“Silent Angels: The Time Is Now!” was the topic of the third lecture, delivered by Dr. Meir Lotan. Dr. Lotan, author of “Silent Angels”, is a physiotherapist, lecturer and researcher at Ariel University Center, and a leading expert on Rett syndrome. He discussed the syndrome’s causes, clinical manifestations, and treatments. Intriguingly, Dr. Lotan noted that the Rett syndrome gene has been identified and that he is optimistic that a cure will be discovered within the next decade.
Dr. Lotan’s fascinating lecture was followed by a session about ACI, the Autistic Community of Israel – a community-based independent forum comprised of people who help and support each other. Indeed, ACI is a living manifestation of the pasuk: “Each man shall help his fellow; and to his brother he shall say: be strong.” (Yeshaya 41:6) Mr. Ronen Gil, ACI’s Executive-Director, captivated the audience with his personal story and his descriptions of how he handles social interactions.
Finally, the audience enjoyed “There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Child”, a play directed and produced by Oshi Gross. The play, which is based on Mr. Gross’s own childhood, uses humor to portray some of the challenges faced by a child with learning disabilities and demonstrates how the educational environment can be adapted to meet the child’s needs. Afterwards, the students participated in a lively discussion about learning disabilities.
Thus, the thought-provoking event touched upon many of the issues confronting those working with special needs children. The students walked away with a newfound appreciation for this multifaceted field and were able to expand their knowledge in an interesting and experiential fashion.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Educational Savings at Orot

Orot students can now receive up to a full year scholarship for their college studies in Elkana.

Among the many factors that a potential student must take into account when choosing a school, finances play an increasingly important role. Orot is pleased to share two new important developments which will lighten the financial burden of students studying at Orot.

Tuition Subsidy of up to a Year
This year, the Knesset passed a new law authorizing a scholarship through the Ministry of Defense for all veterans of the IDF and National Service, should they choose to study in preferred institutions of higher learning in the south, north and Judea and Samaria - including the Orot Israel College of Education in Elkana. Any student who served in Sherut L'eumi will now receive a scholarship for up to an entire year of study at no cost. To download the flyer, click here.

Psychometry Course Subsidy
In addition, many applicants have not yet taken the psychometry exam required for college admission. Orot recently entered into a partnership with "Hakima", offering Orot applicants a special price on their preparatory course, as well as a subsidy for a percentage of the course tuition for students who enroll at Orot. For more information about these developments, contact Rabbi Reuven Spolter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Pendulum Swings of Redemption

A Thought from the Hagaddah shel Pesach
by Rabbi Reuven Spolter

As we contemplate Pesach as the Chag Hageulah - the holiday of redemption, each year the same questions creep into my mind: If we're moving towards the coming of Moshiach and the State represents a critical step in that process, why do things seem so challenging? Why do some people seem to be moving not closer to, but farther away from religious Judaism? How long will the process take? What stage exactly are we in right now?
While these questions prove difficult to answer, Rav Yitzchak Dadon, in his newly released Hagaddah called "Ayelet Hashachar" uses a well-known theme of Rav Kook to both explain a passage in הא לחמא עניא and also give us a sense of where we are and where we're going.

Click here to download the dvar Torah in pdf format.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dance Track Hosts Honored Guests

Dr. Talia Perlshtein,
Head of the Dance and Movement Track,
Orot Israel College, Elkana Campus
Orot Israel College proudly boasts that it houses the only college for advanced dance education under Orthodox auspices in the world. Over the past few years, Orot's dance program has been attracting attention across Israel for combining dance and movement education with firm adherence the values and principles of Torah.
Orot Israel College Elkana Campus recently hosted Prof. Janis Ross, the president of the History of Dance Research Association in the U.S., and head of the Dance Department at Stanford University. She was accompanied by Dr. Michal Golan, head of the Mofet Institute, and Prof. Rami Yogev, head of the Mofet Institute Intercollegiate Research Authority.

The guests met with Orot Israel College President, Harav Prof. Neriya Gutel, who reviewed the college's academic activities, the successful merger with the Moreshet Yaakov College in Rehovot, and the many "products" of the college – including its graduates, publications, academic conventions, etc.

Prof. Ross had come to the campus to learn about Orot College's Dance Track – the only Torah observant framework in Israel to provide a B.A. degree and Teacher's Certificate for preparing dance teachers for school children from kindergarten to twelfth grade; as well as the "Noga" Dance Company – a unique professional framework for Torah observant choreographers and dancers.

The tour began at the library where Mrs. Maggie Moran, pointed out the extensive databases and academic resources available at the college. Afterwards Prof. Ross met the Noga Dance Company's choreographers, Ziona Yehezkel, Efrat Nachman, and Avital Ben-Gad. Prof. Ross watched videos of the company's performances and discussed the works with the choreographers. Prof. Ross expressed that the original dance creations moved her deeply.

At noon College President Rabbi Prof. Neriya Gutel joined the guests for a special dance performance by the local Elkana elementary school students, which were taught by student teachers from the Dance Track as part of their training as dance teachers. The young girls demonstrated understanding and internalization of what they had learned, and danced with real joy and connection to creative movement. Later, the Dance Track students themselves presented selections from their classical ballet repertoire, and some original compositions as part of their choreography studies. The performance was warmly received by the visitors.
Professor Ross expressed her deep appreciation for the work of Talia Perlshtein, head of the Dance and Movement Track, noting how moved she was to see how the Dance Track is setting the new benchmark for the renaissance of Jewish-Israeli culture. She praised the program's openness in creating a connection to art in general and to modern dance in particular.

Dr. Golan and Professor Yogev concluded the day by meeting with Harav Prof. Gutel. Their attached letter speaks for itself.

Neighborhood Renewal in Rehovot

By Ofir Abikasis,
Director of the Torani Teachers Garin,
Orot Israel College Rehovot Campus

A few years ago, the Rehovot neighborhood of Oshiot was on a downward spiral. Residents were afraid to go out at night. No one wanted to come to the neighborhood and everyone there wanted to leave. But if you were to ask one of the residents now, you would hear that there's no longer any reason to leave – Oshiot is blossoming again! Police statistics show the crime in the neighborhood has dropped by 50% since 2005, the year the Torani Teachers Garin came to the neighborhood.
Since the Torani Teachers Garin began around ten years ago, it has succeeded in effecting social change in the targeted neighborhoods and populations in Rehovot. The Oshiot neighborhood, which was known for its high density of new immigrants from the FSU, Yemen and especially Ethiopia, has seen a renaissance due to the Torani Teachers Garin members who came to live in the neighborhood.
The garin started as a small group of students and graduates of Orot College's "Moreshet Yaakov" campus in Rehovot and the Yeshivat Hesder "Orot Yaakov", with almost no resources. However, they saw the need for social change in Israeli society as a national mission, and they set for themselves the goal to impact every needy household in the Oshiot neighborhood through a number of social initiatives.
One such program concentrated on Ethiopian olim, helping to close social gaps and advance their integration into mainstream Israeli society. The garin members received training to run leadership development seminars, pre-enlistment preparatory courses, cultural and social events for the Ethiopian youth at the local community center. Before that the local Ethiopian youth had no place to meet except the street. Now they flock to the center where they are occupied with positive activities.
Another garin project is the "Advocacy Initiative" in which each volunteer advocate from the garin agrees to adopt one or more families in distress and to become personally involved in securing solutions for their day-to-day, as well as long-term needs. Each advocate must have prior experience in social activism and community work and is supervised by social workers from the municipal Welfare Department. The advocates make a long-term commitment to the family, assisting them in seeking whatever support the family members need to overcome obstacles and give them the tools they need to realize their full potential and become productive members of Israeli society.
The garin members have earned the respect and gratitude of the Rehovot Municipality and the Oshiot neighborhood residents for their concern for the community, and for their activities promoting the integration of diverse groups into Israeli society. The presence of the garin has not only raised the quality of life in the area, but the property values too. The light of hope kindled by the garin in the Oshiot neighborhood continues to burn brightly today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Orot at the Movies: Orot Proudly Releases a New Educational Film

"On Both Sides of the River" examines the challenges surrounding a young woman from a religious family who decides to marry a non-religious man.

Last year, Rav Reuven Kruger, director of a rabbinic training program called Likrat Shlichut, turned to Rav Professor Neria Gutel for his advice and assistance. Likrat Shlichut trains young rabbis looking to enter the professional rabbinate in Israel, and Rav Kruger had written a series of scenarios to challenge the young rabbis. Would Rav Gutel be willing to offer his thoughts on the scenarios?
Rav Gutel did more than that.
Instead of presenting dry ideas on paper, perhaps Rav Kruger would be willing to work with Orot to create a movie that would accomplish the same goal, but with the power, drama and effectiveness that modern films bring to the screen.
This past month, Orot's Department of Communication Studies proudly introduced the film that resulted from this partnership. The twenty-three minute feature film, "B'trei Avrei D'nahara" – "On Both Sides of the River," depicts the gut-wrenching decision of a young woman from a religious family to marry a non-religious man. This decision carries great weight not only spiritually and halachically, but also socially and personally. As her family grapples with her decision, the young woman's interactions with her parents, her community and her new husband raise a myriad of difficult questions that the modern rabbi – and every Jew – must confront.
The premiere of the film, which took place in early March, featured opening remarks from Rav Gutel, Rav Krieger, as well as Talya Fish, the film's director. A fascinating discussion followed the screening surrounding the halachic, educational and professional aspects of the film. Rav Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, addressed halachic issues in the film, which ranged from whether one could accept flowers from a guest who visits on Shabbat, to the challenging issue of inviting guests for Shabbat at all. Rav Yona Goodman, Director of Spiritual Education at Orot addressed some of the educational and spiritual challenges raised by the film including some of the challenges "mixed" (religious and non-religious ) couples face, and some recommendations for how to address these types of situations, both within the family and in a community structure. Finally, Moli Kimmel, an instructor in Orot's Department of Communication Education, discussed the challenge of how religious people are depicted in the media in Israel today, and suggested that we must harness the power of the media to create the images we want to portray, and not wait for others to portray us as they see fit.
The film was recently featured on Israel's Educational Television, (in Hebrew). To watch the clip, click on this link. (The program ran on March 9th. Click on the link to March 9th and fast forward to 45 minutes into the program).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Halacha and the Media

By Rav Eliav Vizel
Lecturer, Elkana Campus

"The basis of Hassidut, and the root of worshiping Hashem with a pure heart, is so that it should become clear and confirmed to every man what his obligations are in His world." – So the Ramchal begins his seminal work "Mesilat Yesharim."

As part of the ongoing discourse in the framework of the "Halacha and the Media" course, a group of Communications Department students traveled to Ramat Gan before Chanukah to participate in a meeting of the minds between the city's chief rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel shlit"a, and the department's teaching staff. The course deals with the Halachic aspects of the communications professions, including print, electronic and broadcast media.

The nature of the course demands that the students examine a number of complex questions that require the Halachic insight of a recognized posek. To my delight as the course instructor, Rabbi Ariel shlit"a agreed to meet with the students in his home to discuss the difficulties that arise when dealing with the creative world of journalism, television and film making. The president of Orot Israel College, Rabbi Prof. Neriya Gutel, and Dr. Dvori Handler, the department's fieldwork coordinator, accompanied the students and myself on the visit.

Rabbi Ariel explained what needs to be the starting point from where the students, as future teachers in the communications field, should draw their orientation. He emphasized that as with anything innovative, one can choose whether to treat it with caution and disconnect from it, or whether to accept it and use it for positive purposes, imbuing it with worthy values.

Rabbi Ariel pointed to the problematic side of the electronic and broadcast media, which could be a factor in encouraging laziness, voyeurism, short-sightedness and lowering intellectual and cultural standards. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the hidden potential in these media, and the role that Torah-observant individuals can play in establishing alternative codes of ethics in these fields, which as of today do more harm than good.

The students asked the rabbi to comment on ethical dilemmas they already encounter as students in the field of communications, and particularly in the profession of film making. For example, should they set limits regarding the screening of films by mainstream film makers? Rabbi Ariel advised that while the halachot of viewing immodest materials are less stringent upon women than men, still, constant intensive and unlimited exposure to films of an immodest nature is not desirable because it can have a negative effect on the purity of the viewer's heart.

Rabbi Ariel appealed to the students to be aware of the heavy responsibility they are taking upon themselves. As future teachers of these important professions they will need to educate the next generation towards creative thinking, ethical values and critical analysis that are different from the norms in these professions. He wished the students much success in their studies and agreed to be available for consultation again in the future as needed. The students found the discussion most helpful in "charging their batteries" so that they can contend with the challenges they face in their chosen fields.