Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Does Elkana’s Senior Citizen Center Have to Do with Orot Israel College?

by Mrs. Tzvia Mintzer 
Head, Gil HaZahav Association, Elkana
Shalom lachem.
My name is Tzvia Mintzer, and I am the founding chairwoman of Elkana’s Gil HaZahav Association.
About five years ago, recognizing that the number of senior citizens here in Elkana continues to increase every year, we - the community’s older members - decided to establish a non-profit organization that would provide services for us in our old age. Our goal was to offer recreational and cultural activities in order to improve local senior citizens’ quality of life and to transform Elkana into a wonderful place to live – even for the elderly.
You’re probably wondering what Elkana’s senior citizen center has to do with Orot Israel College, which trains a generation of young teachers and educators in various subjects?!
Here’s my answer:
1. Elkana’s veteran residents have a longstanding, warm relationship with Orot Israel College. We value and appreciate Orot’s positive impact on the community and its older and younger residents.
2. We all wish to continue to maintain this rich bond, to continue to give and receive, and to continue to grow and develop together.
Elkana’s veteran residents have a deep emotional bond with Orot. They have been working together with Orot from its establishment and founding by its first president – a longtime resident of Elkana – our friend, Rav Dr. Yehuda Felix, and through its further physical and spiritual development by Rav Professor Neria Guttel.
Many of our friends in Elkana worked and still work for Orot in various positions. The community and its residents feel very close to Orot. We share many values with Orot, its administration, and its faculty, and we admire its academic achievements. Indeed, many of us – especially the veteran residents – consider Orot to be our home. A number of older Elkana residents studied at Orot and taught there, and now their grandchildren are following in their footsteps.
Meanwhile, Elkana serves as a warm home for the Orot students who live in the dormitories. Often, they meet their future husbands in Elkana, make their homes in the community, and accept teaching positions at one of Elkana’s various educational institutions.
Thus, when we decided to open our senior citizen center but lacked both a permanent location and technological resources, we did not hesitate to turn to Orot Israel College for help. And in fact, to our delight, Orot responded willingly and graciously to our request. Over the past four and a half years, leading members of Orot’s faculty delivered lectures at our center; we launched an intergenerational program with Orot’s students; communication students interview the seniors, who share their life stories; a Daf Yomi class is broadcast to the seniors on the local radio station; students give lectures at the center; and we attended computer courses at Orot and learned how to join the digital world. We are also extremely grateful for the use of Orot’s auditorium as a venue for many of our experiential and joyful events.
In the future, we hope to open a regional educational center on campus for the senior citizens of Elkana and the Shomron. This initiative will not only strengthen Orot’s ties with the area’s veteran residents but will also strengthen Orot’s regional and national stature. Orot Israel College’s administration has already approved the plan in principle, but due to a number of factors, we are not yet ready to begin this project.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank Orot Israel College and Rav Professor Neria Guttel for all their help and cooperation, and I look forward to watching our relationship grow ever stronger.

Israel’s Chief Rabbi Visits Orot Israel College

Several days before Rosh Hashanah 5775, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav David Lau shlit”a, visited Orot Israel College. Rav Professor Neria Guttel, Orot’s president, and Rabbanit Dr. Lea Vizel, Orot’s dean of students and dean of extramural studies, welcomed the honored guest, and hundreds of Orot students crammed into the packed auditorium to hear him speak. Rav Lau’s talk was divided into two parts: an inspiring shiur about Rosh Hashanah and a question and answer session.

Rachmana Liba Ba’i
Rav Lau began with a focus on prayer. He noted that the Torah readings for the two days of Rosh Hashanah are the story of Yishmael’s banishment and Akeidat Yitzchak respectively. The latter selection makes sense, but the former is hard to understand. Moreover, the episode appears to convey two contradictory messages: On one hand, we learn that “one who prays for his fellow is answered first.” (Sarah’s prayers are answered after Avraham prays for the people of Grar.) But on the other hand, we see that highest precedence is given to a sick person’s own prayers, as manifested by Yishmael’s prayers:
"וישמע אלוקים את קול הנער."
“And God listened to the voice of the youth.” (Breishit 21:17)
(Similarly, Yeshaya informs Chizkiyahu that he will die, but after Chizkiyahu prays for himself, he is granted an additional fifteen years. See Melachim II 20:1.)
In order to clarify this seeming contradiction, Rav Lau explained that it depends on the specific person, the specific prayer, and the specific circumstances. In certain situations, it is best for a person to pray for himself, but in other situations, the prayer is more effective when someone else prays. The key is that the prayer must be heartfelt, because one who prays from the depths of his heart finds that his prayers are answered. Yet, Rav Lau continued, in order for one’s prayers to be answered, one must cry out to Hashem “with sincerity,” as suggested by the pasuk:
"קרוב ה' לכל קוראיו לכל אשר יקראוהו באמת."
“Hashem is near to all who call Him; to all who call Him with sincerity.” (Tehilim 145:18)

Shmitah Challenges: A Gardening “Scoop”!
At Rav Professor Guttel’s request, Rav Lau graciously agreed to respond to several of the students’ questions. Unsurprisingly, since Rav Lau’s visit to Orot occurred just a few days before the onset of the Shmitah year, one of the students asked about the Chief Rabbinate’s policies and approaches to the various halachic mechanisms for observing shmitah. Rav Lau treated the audience to an exhaustive discussion of the topic. He began by explaining the differences between the various options: heter mechirah, otzar beit din, matza menutak (i.e. produce grown on platforms and in hothouses), produce grown in the sixth year, and produce grown by non-Jews in Israel and abroad. The Chief Rabbinate’s policy is to supply each population sector with the solution that best meets its worldview – as long as everything is done in accordance with Jewish law.
For instance, the heter mechirah (a complex halachic mechanism whereby the land is sold to a non-Jew) continues to be a vital necessity. With all due respect to those who refrain from working the land – and considerable credit goes to the farmers who follow the beit din’s directives (i.e. otzar beit din) – we cannot ignore the fact that the majority of the country’s farmers, like the majority of the country’s citizens/consumers, are what are euphemistically known as “wearers of transparent kippot.” Thus, from the State’s point of view, the heter mechirah is not only necessary for this year but all the more so for the years to come – in terms of holding on to agricultural fields; retaining control of export markets, both during this year and the following years; and even as a source of income. We cannot turn these farmers into lawbreakers; the State needs these crops too. And clearly, after leading Torah giants throughout the generations (albeit not all of them) endorsed and supported the heter mechirah, its validity is certainly not in question.
Rav Lau half-jokingly – yet correctly – pointed out that while the mitzvah of ahavat chinam (gratuitous love) and the sin of sinat chinam (gratuitous hatred) are both d’orayta (from the Torah), shmitah is only d’rabbanan (rabbinic) in our time… It is very easy for us to criticize others and to point out their shortcomings and the flaws inherent in their solutions, but we tend to avoid doing the same for ourselves. Every individual and every community should focus on their own worldviews and solutions and live their lives accordingly – while acknowledging that other people’s approaches are also legitimate and halachically valid.
During the course of his talk, Rav Lau revealed a fascinating “scoop” about the current shmitah year. As a rule, the heter mechirah does not apply to ginot no’i (“ornamental” gardens) – whether private or public. One is only permitted to do that which is strictly necessary to maintain the garden, and nothing else. This has always been the case – even for those who support the heter mechirah. However, lo and behold, in 5775, for the first and only time since the heter mechirah was instituted, the Chief Rabbinate ruled that there is a specific situation where landscaping is permitted – on an exclusive, one-time basis.
The case in question is Bahadim City, the new IDF Training Campus currently under construction in the Negev. Many military bases will be relocating to the massive site, and as such, it is considered to be a top national priority and an extremely costly one at that. Now it turns out that as part of the tender, the contractor who won the bid is obligated – inter alia – to handle the extensive landscaping. As the shmitah year – and the prohibition against working the land – approached, the contractor said to the army, “No problem. I’m willing to halt the landscaping work and not do the job, but you will owe me. If you breach the contract, you will have to pay me.” Just to be clear: We are talking about millions and millions of shekels, which would be wasted instead of spent on definite security needs.
Rav Lau described how the question was brought before the Chief Rabbinate’s “Shmitah Committee,” which was divided on the issue. Rav Yaakov Ariel was opposed, but the other committee members – Rav Avraham Yosef and Rav David Lau himself – were in favor of permitting the landscaping. Their decision was partially based on the fact that Bahadim City is part of kibush olei Mitzrayim (within the boundaries of the land conquered by Yehoshua after the Exodus from Egypt) but not part of kibush olei Bavel (within the boundaries of the land reconquered by the Jews who returned from Babylonia with Ezra), and thus less complicated from a halachic perspective. In any event, as noted above, the innovative and groundbreaking ruling was a one-time exception – a literal hora’at sha’ah (“an emergency measure”) – and this is the first time it was made public.

The Orot students also asked about other issues – including a significant number of questions about kashrut: What is the difference between the various Badatz hechsherim and the Chief Rabbinate’s hechsher? Can one use powdered milk that is chalav nochri? What should one do when visiting one’s parents who are less stringent about various kashrut issues? In addition, Rav Lau was asked about traveling abroad in general and to Uman in particular and many other questions.

In conclusion, the Chief Rabbi’s visit was memorable and extremely interesting. As he left Orot Israel College, Rav Lau said that he had derived considerable pleasure from the event and from the caliber of the Orot students, and he indicated that he would be very happy to come again.