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.