Thursday, February 9, 2012

Saying "NO" to the European Union

Representatives from an international academic organization offered Orot Israel College, hundreds of thousands of Euro on condition that the college offered its students a course on "tolerance towards Arabs and Christians". When the college discovered that the financial backing for the organization came from none other than the European Union, Orot unilaterally rejected the offer saying, "We will not be used as a pawn for anti-Israel activity."

Click here to learn more.

The Rabbis’ Secret Discussions

This past Chanukah, Orot Israel College hosted the Online Rabbinical Forum’s first conference. Although this one-of-a-kind forum is less than a year old, over two hundred prominent rabbis have joined its ranks.

What makes this forum particularly unique is that not only is it web-based, but not just anyone can become a member. Each prospective candidate must serve – or have served in the past – as a community rabbi, a dayan, a rosh yeshiva, a ra”m in a yeshiva gevoha/yeshivat hesder, or the head of an equivalent institution. In addition, every member is required to sign a terms-of-use pledge, which states that members may not leak specific details of the forum’s online discussions. Furthermore, the members must commit to ensuring that the level of discourse is both topical and decorous. And astonishingly, although nine months have elapsed since the forum’s inception – a period which aptly corresponds to the yarchei leidah (months of pregnancy) – these terms have been rigidly upheld.

To date, the discussions have encompassed a wide range of halachic, philosophical, and practical topics – including questions about kashrut and the Mikdash, about daily life and financial issues, about personal concerns and public matters, about Israel and the Diaspora, and much more. Admittedly, several exchanges were somewhat heated, and at least once, a member apologized because he felt that his colleague may have been insulted. And yet, at no time did the tone veer from that which is considered to be acceptable in a beit midrash. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the forum’s greatest wonders: Namely, that it enables the members - who are geographically dispersed and are all busy with their own private affairs - to return to the beit midrash and share Torah ideas with their peers.

Most of the members had never met in person before the conference. In fact, it is safe to say that no one knew more than 10% of the membership. Thus, the conference served as an excellent opportunity for the members to meet each other in “the real world.” Fortunately, the conference’s organizers had prepared name tags, because otherwise, the attendees would have had difficulty recognizing their friends.

The conference program included four fascinating lectures. First, Professor Rav Neriah Gutel, President of Orot Israel College, spoke about the forum’s online discussions, their limitations, and their boundaries. Next, Rav Yaakov Ariel explored the fundamental ideals which must serve as the rabbis’ guiding principles, and Rav David Zenou, Rav of Moshav Shalva in the Negev, outlined the various roles and functions of a rabbi in a “peripheral” community. Finally, in a timely nod to Chanukah, Rav Shlomo Hecht used Google Earth to depict the Hasmonean wars.

Yet, the highlights of the conference – which was chaired by Rav Yoel Katan, one of the forum’s administrators - were the open discussions, which allowed the attendees to examine and debate assorted topics in both ideological-philosophical as well as technical-administrative terms. In addition, the members welcomed the chance to meet their erstwhile “virtual” friends in person. Thus, Rav Azariah Ariel appropriately chose to open the conference with a recitation of the Shehechiyanu blessing, which is said upon meeting a friend whom one has not seen in a very long time.

In short, the conference demonstrated that the most amazing thing about this lively, active, and semi-underground forum is that it has remained a secret - even in the media age. This – in and of itself - is both noteworthy and extremely refreshing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Orot Welcomes National Service Women

by Dr. Avia Guttman – Head, Department of Special Education, Orot Israel College

Every year, Orot Israel College hosts many Sherut Leumi (National Service) volunteers. The young women participate in assorted experiential workshops and are introduced to a number of Orot’s exciting activities.
About two months ago, as part of our efforts to upgrade our programming, we added a new element: an academic course geared specifically for the Sherut Leumi volunteers. Many of these young women eventually go on to work in the special education field, and thus, it is only natural that they would be interested in an introductory course in special education.
To this end, Rav Reuven Spolter, Orot’s Director of Student Recruitment, approached me - as head of the Special Education Department - and together, we decided that a basic course in “Normal Sensory-Motor Development” would prove to be particularly beneficial. Like any academic course, this course includes requirements, such as readings, assignments, and a paper. The course comprises seven four-hour sessions as well as an experiential workshop in a related field – such as psychodrama, art therapy, occupational therapy, play therapy, and more. Three of the sessions will be taught by Dr. Avia Guttman, and the remaining four will be led by Mrs. Sarit Schwartz, an occupational therapist. Students who participate in the course earn academic credits, and if they later choose to study special education at Orot Israel College after completing their Sherut Leumi, the course will then be recognized as a first-year academic course.
The course will enable Sherut Leumi women who work with special-needs children to identify normal developmental milestones for newborns, infants (by month), and children up to age six. Emphasis will also be placed on the different skills which develop during these stages and which allow the child to function in preschool and elementary school. In addition, the students will learn about the nervous system – which includes the brain, the spinal cord, and the sensory system – and the other biological systems which are connected to the sensory-motor system. Finally, the curriculum touches upon abnormal development which can cause various impairments and weaknesses.
The first session, which focused on the anatomy of the sensory-motor system, took place on 23 MarCheshvan 5772 (November 20, 2011). Although the material was challenging and rather difficult, the students – who had never before studied the nervous system on an academic level – demonstrated considerable interest in the subject matter, asked intelligent and pertinent questions, and discussed specific cases of deficits caused by neurological impairments.
During the second half of the course, which will be given by an occupational therapist, the students will learn to identify developmental difficulties and impaired sensory-motor skills – such as eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, manipulation, pre-writing skills, and others.
Here at Orot, we believe that this academic course will significantly enhance the students’ Sherut Leumi experience. They will be able to use the knowledge they will acquire to better assist and help the children they will encounter throughout the year.
We extend our best wishes to these dedicated young women for much success in all their future endeavors.