Monday, March 26, 2012

Orot Students Visit Programs Geared For At-Risk Teens

By Meirav Gur Aryeh and Nurit Seri
In Orot Israel College’s Department of Informal and Communal Education, the curriculum takes the students beyond the classroom and out to the real world. First-year students whose concentration is youth advancement recently visited four different programs for at-risk youth: a “therapeutic” coffee shop and three youth advancement units. The tours were designed to enable the students to gain a better understanding and appreciation for Israel’s various youth advancement frameworks.
Located in Be’er Sheva, the Kapit Coffee Shop is run by the ELEM (Youth in Distress in Israel) organization and serves as a voluntary social and recreation center for teenagers. The staff is comprised of professionals and volunteers who deliver workshops and other activities and are available to speak to the kids “on their own terms.”
Set up by the Education Ministry, the youth advancement units are geared for at-risk teens who were unable to adjust or to find a place within the formal educational frameworks. These units allow the youth to complete their education through assorted educational social activities as well as employment training and counseling. Many Orot students work at these youth advancement units as part of their practical fieldwork.
As noted above, the first-year students visited three such units. At the Ramle unit – which caters to Jews, Christians, and Arabs - assimilation and its prevention are primary concerns. The students observed how the staff tries to respect the different populations while keeping them apart.
In Ashdod, the unit offers a wide range of individualized programming for teenagers from the city’s various population sectors – including native Israelis, new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and charedim. Orot students were introduced to the local youth employment initiative, which trains the kids and helps them develop important business skills.
Finally, in Beitar, the students learned how the unit’s programs and activities are tailored to meet the charedi community’s specific concerns and values. However, at the same time, the staff works hard to avoid stigmatizing the charedi at-risk youth.
The first-year Orot Israel College students enjoyed the four trips and agreed that they were very valuable.
“In general, the tours were outstanding, Baruch Hashem,” one student enthused. “We learned a lot, and we met amazing people.”
A second student concurred. “I was glad that we went to different units, in order to see the programs operating in real time, and not just in a theoretical manner in a classroom setting. The units are diverse and show us the unique features that each unit develops for itself, according to its own particular needs.”

A Tribute to Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Felix

On Wednesday, the 27th of Adar (21/3/2012) Orot celebrated the publication of the book "Meorot Le'Yehuda" written in honor of Rabbi Dr. Felix, the founder of Orot Israel College and its first Rosh Michlala. A light buffet supper enabled the many attendees to reminisce and enjoy Orot's beautiful campus.
The formal program commenced with greetings from Orot President, Rabbi Prof. Guttel, followed by warm words by the Chairman of Mercaz Yeshivot Bnei Akiva and recent winner of the distinguished Israel Prize, Rabbi Chaim Druckman. Rabbi Tzvi Neugershal, who was instrumental in helping Rav Felix establish the College and Mrs. Orly Weitzman, the principal of Ulpanat Tzvia in Kochav Yaakov and a member of the first Orot graduating class, both spoke about Orot's early days and the deep impact that Orot has made on religious education in the country. Guest lecturer, Prof. Y. Yeshurun from Bar Ilan University, formerly the Chairman of the Academic Council of Orot and an instrumental figure in helping Orot receive academic recognition, spoke on the topic of "Scientific Disputes and their Ramifications".
Rabbi Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Dean of Students at Orot, presented a leather-bound copy of the book published by Orot to Rabbi Felix. Mrs. Hadassa Feder, formerly the head of the Department of Special Education presented to Rabbi Felix a framed photograph of the campus.
Rabbi Felix in his words of summation thanked Orot for the generous gesture as well as the many people who came to this special tribute, who included Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Fogel, former MK's Nissan Smilansky and Shaul Yahalom, heads of Michlalaot, members of the Ministry of Education and Orot staff. Special mention was given to Devorah Felix by her husband and all the speakers, for without her ongoing support Rabbi Felix would have not been able to make the amazing contribution to Jewish education that he has made.
Without any doubt this was an evening to remember.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Shades of Grey in the Purim Story

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Recruiting and Jewish Studies Instructor

When we were young, we viewed the events surrounding us in black and white. Looking to categorize the confusion surrounding us, we searched for some level of simplicity in order to make some sense of the world. Our children are no different.
And yet, as we grow older we recognize that life is not always (actually almost never) black and white. We are often forced to decide between two competing values, both of which are good, or bad.
To my mind, Megillat Esther represents a perfect example of this phenomenon. At first glance, when we read the story of the Megillah, everything seems straightforward. There are heroes (Mordechai and Esther) and a villain (Haman). The "good" people do the right things, while the evil ones come dangerously close to genocide. Yet, when we take a deeper look at the Purim story with the assistance of the Midrash, we find that often the choices our heroes made were not at all clear at the time, and that they were forced to make difficult and agonizing decisions. I'd like to one example from the Megillah that I believe represents a good springboard for a broader discussion with our children about the choices that Mordechai and Esther face, and how not everything is as black and white as it seems.
When Mordechai learns of Haman's plot to destroy the Jewish people, he rushes to the palace instructing Esther to approach the king and beg him to save the Jewish people. Esther demurs, suggesting that she wait until Achashverosh calls her himself. After all, everyone knows that anyone who appears before the king uninvited is subject to immediate execution. Mordechai insists that she not delay at all, telling her,
אַל-תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ, לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים. כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.
Think not that you shall escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish; and who knows whether you did not come to royal estate for such a time as this?
In other words, "Go now. Don't delay, even for a moment."
And yet, was Esther's request so strange? Why indeed should she risk her life if the king was scheduled to call her soon? After all, Haman's plan was scheduled for almost a year later (it was Nissan, and the slaughter was scheduled for the following Adar). What's the rush? Moreover, the question grows even more complicated when we consider the relationship between Mordechai and Esther. Megillat Esther describes the relationship between Mordechai and Esther as אשר לקח לו לבת – "whom he took as a daughter". In essence, he adopted her. Yet, the Gemara (Megillah 13a) famously notes that, אל תקרי "לבת" אלא "לבית" – "Don't read it [that he took her as] 'a daughter'; rather [he took her as] 'a home'". According to the Gemara, Mordechai didn't just adopt Esther; he married her.
Until this point, every interaction that she had with the king was involuntary. Halachically, she was not responsible for the events that were beyond her control. If so, to approach the king on her own meant that she was voluntarily breaking the strictest laws of Judaism against immorality and adultery.
Considered from this angle, what indeed was the rush? Would it be so bad for her to wait a few more days? Even if we agreed that it was proper and appropriate to commit the worst types of sinful behavior to save the entire Jewish people, would that still be true if it was just a question of scheduling? After all, Esther would have eventually met with the king. Was it so important that she do so immediately?
Mordechai certainly thought so, and pressured her to act without delay, despite the halachic ramifications. I wonder whether a modern-day Esther, had she sent a quick hidden text message to a Gadol today, would have gotten the same message.
The issue isn't that foreign to us, even today. The State of Israel faces adversaries and enemies who harbor the same desires as Haman to end the existence of the Jewish people. While we don't often think about it, our country asks young men and women to hide their true identities and commit sinful acts to protect and defend the Jewish people. Would we agree with Mordechai's psak today if it meant preventing a terrorist attack?
And, on a far more personal level, what if the Mossad knocked on our door, claiming that our daughter was the perfect candidate for a dangerous covert operation. Would we, as Mordechai did, agree to allow our beloved children – or even our wives – to engage in such behavior?
Things really are not as black and white as they often seem.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Orot Israel College Students Earn Award for Excellence

In a break with tradition, not one but two Orot Israel College students were recently awarded the annual and highly prestigious Rav David Ochs Prize for Excellence in Education. Generally, the supervisory committee selects no more than one student per college, but this year, two exceptional Orot students – Sharon Peretz and Vered Raskin - made the cut.
Peretz, a newlywed who is studying Tanach education and educational counseling, was very surprised to hear that she had won the award. Unbeknownst to her, Orot’s administration had nominated her, based on her academic achievements and extracurricular activities.
Raskin, 23, a Tanach and informal education student, notes the importance of social involvement. She says that she hopes to continue contributing to society and education in the future.

The judges were extremely impressed by the two young women’s accomplishments in the field of education. Thus, the committee decided to award the prize to both students – rather than choosing one over the other.
Interestingly, neither student is on Orot Israel College’s honors track. As Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Dean of Students, explains, “Students on the honor track earn many scholarships. This time, we wanted students who have demonstrated success in their academic studies to have a chance to earn a scholarship because of their achievements, and we are proud of their achievements.”
Orot Israel College boasts one of the country’s leading graduate programs in education. Among Israel’s religious colleges, Orot’s M.Ed. program is the largest, with hundreds of students.
The Rav David Ochs Prize is awarded annually and was established to promote education in Israel.