This week, as the penultimate week of the year, is one that we often use for special programming prior to students' immersing themselves in chazara and test-taking during the final week. Beit Midrash, first- and second-year students wrapped up their Shabbat learning during the first half of the week. For the second half of the week, they were treated to two days of classes and chavruta-learning on the topic of Emunah and Contemporary Faith Challenges, taught be Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Rabbi of the UCLA Hillel for the last 36 years. Rabbi Seidler-Feller focused specifically on questions and challenges that young people on campus are struggling with, and students learned sources ranging from Rambam to Chassidut to think through and grapple with these issues. The learning was a great opportunity not only to prepare our students as future rabbis, but also to help them develop their own hashkafa in a nuanced and sophisticated manner.
Third- and fourth-year students devoted the week to an intensive Leadership Training Seminar, taught by Dr. Bill Kahn and Rabbi Terry Bookman of Eitzah . Eitzah trains our students to develop the personal leadership skills, leadership teams, and leadership structures necessary to create vibrant congregations in which decisions are made, healthy conflicts are resolved, and organizational transitions are dealt with effectively. Bill and Terry have been running these seminars for our students for over half-a-decade, and students have found them transformative in preparing them to take on the mantle of leadership when they become rabbis. This year's seminar was another big success, and our fourth year students - who will become rabbis in just two weeks! - were eager to get into the field and start using their newly-developed skills.
Off-site of the yeshiva, I attended the International Rabbinic Fellowship conference which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. The IRF is a body of over 100 rabbis whose mission is to bring together Orthodox Rabbis for serious study of Torah and Halakha, for open and respectful discussion, and to advocate policies and implement actions on behalf of world Jewry and humankind. One of its particularly distinctive core values is the right, responsibility and autonomy of individual rabbis to decide matters of halakha for their communities, a value that has been the mainstay of Torah Judaism for over 1,500 years, but which is unfortunately being increasingly challenged these days.
The conference was a wonderful opportunity to share learning, conversation, and challenges with other rabbis. One particularly moving session was on the topic of the imperative to screen for all Jewish genetic diseases, as we heard from a father who had been screened for the most common 9 diseases, and who had a baby girl with a terrible disease that was lower down on the need-to-screen list. The Board of Directors, in a meeting held on the following day, adopted a resolution, which will be publicized in the near future, to ensure that its rabbis would work to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. Another critical session was on the adopting of standards for gerut for our rabbis. These standards, which were a model of a balance of rigor and moderation, were presented by the Va'ad Ha'Giyur and were adopted unanimously by the membership. We believe that these will provide helpful guidance to the IRF rabbis, and will provide a healthy structure for conversion.