Friday, April 19, 2013

Happenings at the Yeshiva

I was away this week at a conference, but the learning continued unabated at the yeshiva!  Monday we had special programming and a memorial for Yom HaZikaron.  This was followed by a special day of learning and celebrating on Tuesday, Yom Ha'atzmaut.  The day was planned and run by students.  Kol HaKavod to Raif Melhado and Koby Geller for their efforts in making this such a powerful day.

We began the day with a tefillah chagigeet replete with Hallel, singing and musical instruments.  From there we moved on to an exciting morning seder on the theme of "The Significance of our Relationships with Israel."  Each of the three sessions examined visions of Israel from different angles, covering a variety of viewpoints and historical moments.

9:30 - 11:00 am: "A Provocative What-If" - During the British Mandatory period, Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Herzog and Benzion Uziel dreamed of a Jewish state that used halakhah as the basis for its legal system.  Yet in order to make it happen justly in a modern society, Jewish law would have to make some courageous adaptations to the expectation of democracy and universal civil rights in the new state.  In the first half of this session, students learned a responsum from Mishpetei Uziel that laid out a creative halakhic argument for accepting the testimony of non-Jews in Bet Din.  This formed the basis of a rich discussion in the second half of the session:  students exchanged views on what it means for Orthodoxy that Israel runs on a secular legal system, and how this affects religious life and politics in the country today.

11:00 - 11:45 am: "Memories from South Africa" - Annette Cavanagh, mother-in-law of second-year student Raif Melhado, is a South African native with a lifelong bond to the State of Israel.  She Skyped into the Bet Midrash and shared her memories of how this relationship formed and developed over many decades in a part of the Diaspora that we don't often think about in the US.   While she described aspects of her Jewish life that were different from the American experience, many of us were impressed by how much of her Jewish education and connection to Israel was familiar and accessible.  It was so beautiful to hear her narrative move from its beginnings in childhood art projects about Israel to a lifetime of teaching Jewish children "from the other side of the desk."

11:45 am - 12:30 pm:  "Fasting after the Creation of the State of Israel" - Fourth-year student Noah Leavitt led a text-based conversation about the relevance of Tisha Be'av and the minor fast days now that Eretz Yisrael is under Jewish control.  While our first session focused on politics and law, this session explored the spiritual and religious aspects of our relationship with the Jewish state, both on a personal level and when we pray and observe rituals.

The rest of the afternoon transitioned from intellectual to physical celebrations of the holiday.  Students enjoyed an Israeli-style luncheon, and participated and danced at the brit milah of the son of Becca Linder and Rabbi Ari Hart (YCT 2012), Hodiyah.  Mazal Tov to Ari and Becca, shetizku li'gadlo li'Torah li'chuppah u'li'ma'asim tovim!

This was followed by a rousing game of touch football in honor of the athletic ideals of the early Zionist movement.  After a close game, students cooled off with ice cream and dispersed to participate in more celebrations around the city.

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