Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Greatest Jewish Generation

I'm not bashful at shiva houses. After years paying shiva calls as a shul rabbi, I no longer beat around the bush. I'm not there to talk about politics or neighborhood issues. So I sit myself down as close as I can to the aveil and simply say, "Tell me about your mother."
And they always want to do exactly that. And sometimes I find myself in awe of what I learn. Take yesterday.
Last week, I received an email from Orot about the passing of Mrs. Sarah Lev, the mother of Mrs. Shoshana Feuer, who works in the office of the President of the College, and I paid a Shiva call yesterday afternoon. Nowadays, when an older Israeli passes away my first question is always, "Was she born in Israel?" (After all, so many were not, which leads to fascinating aliyah stories). So, when Shoshana told me that her mother was born in Europe, I wasn't surprised. But what Shoshana told me next moved me greatly. (I didn't write everything down, so I'm sharing from memory.)
Mrs. Lev grew up in Lodz, Poland. As a child, she studied in a Mizrachi school where she learned Hebrew, and even traveled to the United States as a Mizrachi representative to promote the values of Zionism. (I didn't even know that they sent such missions before the War!) When the Holocaust broke out, her entire family moved east – and continued to move east, until they found themselves in a Russian work camp in Siberia, where they remained until the war ended. After the war, she returned with her family westward, and eventually ended up in a camp in Germany, where she met her future husband.
In Germany, she and her husband began to care for a group of some sixty children who were orphaned during the war, many of whom knew nothing about their families. (Later in life, one refused to marry an Ashkenazi girl, for fear that she might somehow be related to him.) She taught the children Hebrew, and together with her husband became their de-facto parents, accompanying them to Israel when they made Aliyah in 1948. While they didn't remain close to all of them, they did remain quite close with a group of them, and many would bring their future husbands and brides to the Levs before getting engaged. During the shiva Shoshana pointed out an elderly-looking gentleman, about seventy years old now and said, "He made aliyah with my mother." Even now, so many years later, he came to honor and remember the only real mother he had ever had.
Thinking about the stories Shoshana told about her mother, I cannot help but find myself in awe of the tremendous suffering that Mrs. Lev and her generation endured on the one hand, and their amazing fortitude and strength on the other. By and large, they didn't talk about how hard things were (and I'm sure things were no picnic when they got to Israel either). They didn't complain. They did what had to be done. And they – their entire generation, built the country that I am blessed to live in today.
In America, we refer to the generation of Americans who fought in World War II as the "greatest generation" for similar reasons. They fought and suffered and endured, and built the country that the United States is today. The same is true of the heroes that fought Israel's wars and defeated the enemies bent on our destruction.
But we don't talk often enough about a different type of greatness; that of the thousands of Sarah Levs, who gave their strength and dedication to helping others because that's what needed to be done; who accepted their lot in life – the tremendous loss and terrible pain – often with tremendous fortitude, and literally built the country and rebuilt the Jewish people on their backs.
That generation is, inevitably, moving from this world to the World to Come. We must remember them, honor them, and cherish them – and commit ourselves to pass on their shlichut and mesirut nefesh for Klal Yisrael to the next generation who did not have the zechut to know them.

Orot Israel College Hosts Storytelling Workshop

Nati Fried 
Dean of Students, Orot Israel College, Rechovot Campus

Throughout the ages, educators have recognized the power of a story. Indeed, storytelling can serve as an ideal solution to a litany of educational and pedagogical challenges, and talented teachers can transform even the most mundane tale into an exciting, suspenseful narrative, which keeps an entire classroom of students riveted to their seats.
However, many teachers are reluctant to try their hands at storytelling. They are afraid they will “ruin” the story because they feel that they do not have adequate acting skills. Thus, on Chanukah, Orot Israel College invited Rav Naftali Fuchs, director of the religious Nedudim Theater Company and a popular educator, to our Rechovot campus.
A graduate of Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim and Orot Israel College, Rav Naftali believes that stories have great educational value and can be used to achieve numerous classroom objectives, such as understanding the material, generating interest in the lesson, handling disciplinary problems, fostering a love of Torah and the mitzvot, and more. In recent years, he has been leading workshops to train teachers in the art of storytelling.
During the course of the fascinating workshop – fittingly entitled “Storytelling and the Power of the Story” - Rav Naftali demonstrated how to tell a story, where to get stories, and how to tailor a story for a young audience. The workshop proved to be a resounding success, and the audience – which largely consisted of teaching interns - walked away with a new appreciation for this classic educational tool.

Orot Israel College Grants Benefits to Wives of IDF Soldiers

By all accounts, “sharing the military burden” will likely be a hot topic in the new Knesset. Meanwhile, some institutions have been working to protect the IDF’s reserve soldiers and their families.
Following a recent meeting held between Orot Israel College’s administration and the student union, Orot students whose spouses are serving in the IDF reserves will now receive the same benefits and accomodations accorded to students in the reserves or on maternity leave. Thus, Orot is set to become one of the few higher education institutions in the country to grant benefits not only to reserve soldiers but also to their wives, who truly “share the burden.”
The list of benefits will include unlimited absences, academic leniencies, extensions on papers and assignments, additional examination dates, assistance with the course material, printing privileges, free photocopying, and more.
“The decision reflects Orot’s educational outlook, which emphasizes the necessity of balancing academics with societal needs,” observes Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College. “As a college which serves as a second – and even a primary – home for those who study here, we are constantly working to create a warm, nurturing, and supportive environment, especially for students who are the wives of our elite soldiers, who go out to serve the country imbued with a fear of Heaven and a love of Israel.”
Dean of students Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi added, “Our guiding rationale as a college is that we were not only charged with focusing on academics, knowledge, and pedagogical training. As part of the college’s policy, we insist that the faculty treat the students with great sensitivity, in accordance with our conviction and desire to set a personal example. We want our students to feel that they are studying in a home which promotes openness and faith alongside a rigorous academic program. I believe that we have to provide a platform that is conducive for success, together with an open, flexible approach – obviously, while correctly adhering to the rules.”

Orot Israel College Student Receives Prestigious Award

At a moving ceremony held recently at the Begin Heritage Center, Yifat Hajbi, an Orot Israel College student and a high school cinema teacher, was awarded the prestigious “Morei HaMei’ah” (literally, “Teachers of the Century”) Exemplary Educators Prize by the Education Ministry’s Religious Education Department. Yifat received the prize in recognition of her work establishing an innovative alumni project at the ulpanah (girls’ religious high school) where she teaches.
Yifat is a third-year student at Orot, where she studies communication and Oral Law, and has been teaching at Ulpanat Zevulun for the past seven years. She founded and runs Midrashat Mekimi, a unique weekly learning program geared for the school’s alumni.
According to the judges, “Hajbi is a beloved teacher who forms a personal bond with most of her students, who see her as a teacher who is available to advise them on every subject.”
Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, noted, “Our Sages compared teachers to the stars in the heavens. Orot Israel College is proud to nurture stars. Yifat Hajbi is a little star who is destined to become a big star. It is a great honor for us that our student earned an award for excellence from the Religious Education Department.”
Yifat said, “I was very happy to hear about the award. It is a great feeling when a teacher is recognized for her efforts and empowered. This type of recognition gives me and other teachers the strength to continue to give of ourselves for the benefit of our students, who are the future generation of Am Yisrael. Particularly today, when the teacher’s stature is often being eroded, these types of initiatives are an appropriate response to continuing this important, holy work with renewed motivation.”