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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’

Rabbi Asher Lopatin to Succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago is set to succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss next year at the helm of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the Modern Orthodox rabbinical school founded by Weiss.

Lopatin is the spiritual leader of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, a high-profile Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago that counts Mayor Rahm Emanuel among its occasional congregants. A former Rhodes Scholar, Truman Scholar and Wexner Fellow, Lopatin was ordained by the late Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik of the Brisk yeshiva in Chicago and by Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).

Rabbi Lopatin has been listed among Newsweek’s America’s 50 top rabbis.

“We at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) believe that the future of Orthodoxy depends on our becoming a movement that expands outward non-dogmatically and cooperatively to encompass the needs of the larger Jewish community and the world,” the school says on its website.

That would be an apt description of Lopatin’s approach to Jewish life, say those familiar with his 18-year tenure at Anshe Sholom.

Under Lopatin’s stewardship, the synagogue has “become really cutting-edge in progressive approaches to Orthodox tradition while remaining firmly Orthodox,” Rabbi Paul Saiger, the president of Rabbi Lopatin’s shul, told JTA. “I moved to the community because he was the rabbi and he was revitalizing the congregation. He helped build a community day school, an eruv, a mikvah.”

Reached by telephone, Rabbi Weiss said that Rabbi Lopatin’s appointment wasn’t official yet, and Lopatin told JTA that an announcement would be premature, but the succession plan already has been shared with insiders at YCT, and Lopatin told his Chicago congregation about a month ago that he’d be stepping down in June of 2013.

Reflections On A Grandson’s Enlistment In The IDF

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I have long felt the holiest Jews are members of the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces. At countless rallies I’ve called out from the heart, “Blessed is the nation that has as its army the Israel Defense Forces.”

My feelings about Israel’s army have become even more personal. For the first time a close family member, our eldest grandson, Gilad, has enlisted in the IDF. I always felt the Israeli army was part of my family, but Gilad’s entry takes it to a different level.

In our history we have lived through the periods of two sacred Temples. There were differences between these eras. The first was ushered in by force, the second was not. The first was a prophetic time, most of the second was not. The first included the ten tribes, the second did not.

Yet these periods had much in common. Specifically, they were periods of Jewish power. When the Temples were in existence, we were sovereign in our own land. We had an army. We were able to protect ourselves.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, we lost this power. We were no longer sovereign in our land and no longer had the ability to fend for ourselves. We were dispersed all over the world.

There were extraordinarily positive developments that unfolded during this two-thousand year history, including the writing of the Babylonian Talmud, the early commentators, the development of mystical and chassidic thought, the Mussar movement and much more.

But there was a big negative. During this period of powerlessness we were exiled from virtually every country we lived in. We endured horror after horror: crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and, ultimately, the Shoah.

One of Israel’s basic messages was and will always be Never Again – never again would Jews under attack have no place to go; never again would we allow our fate to be in the hands of others; never again would we be defenseless. From powerlessness we transitioned back to power.

Power, however, has its challenges, as it can be abused. For this reason, built into the very fabric of Israel’s army is the concept of tohar haneshek – purity of arms. Yes, there have been moments when individuals have veered from this ethical course. But they were few and far between.

The IDF is central to the Jewish mission of being a light to the world. Only in Israel can this mission of ohr lagoyim be carried out on a national level. And only with Tzahal can this mission be protected.

All this is the backdrop of a blessed merging of my identity as a proud Jew with the tremendous personal hadar I feel as Gilad joins the Golani unit of the IDF.

Gilad was twelve when he and his family made aliyah. During the first year he would sit in the back of his classroom, unable to speak Hebrew. By the end of that year, he was president of his class.

As Gilad entered high school, I wondered whether he and his siblings would be able to adapt to Israeli society and accept the responsibility of serving in the army. Never will I forget the Friday night I prayed with Gilad – then just fifteen – on a Jerusalem hilltop. He turned to me and said, “Look at this beautiful city; one day I will have the privilege to defend it.”

As Gilad was finishing high school, he went for his first army interview. He shared with me that one of the questions he was asked was what he wanted to do in the IDF. “I told them I wanted to be a fighter.”

He continued: “They asked me, ‘Why do you want to be a fighter?’ ”

My heart dropped. I hoped Gilad was not going to say he wanted to be a fighter in order to, God forbid, kill Arabs or show strength gratuitously. That is not what the Jewish army is about.

“I told them,” he said, “I want to be a fighter because Israel has done so much for me. I want to give back.”

I offered thanks to God that I had experienced this moment.

For two years after high school Gilad attended a program that helped prepare him emotionally, spiritually and psychologically for the army. And then, just a few weeks ago, my daughter Elana and son-in-law Michael took Gilad to the army post in Givat HaTachmoshet, Jerusalem.

My wife and I were almost six thousand miles away in New York. Gilad called for our blessings. Toby blessed him that he would always have heavy socks and insulated underwear to protect himself from the cold and stay hydrated in the heat. This, she told me, is how she outwardly blessed Gilad. But deep down she offered the more serious prayer, from a loving grandmother, that Gilad be safe; that he, together with all the soldiers of Israel, be protected and come home.

RCA Parley To Address Women’s Leadership Roles

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

With a high-profile discussion scheduled on women’s leadership and two proposed rules aimed at marginalizing rabbis who deviate leftward on hot-button issues, an upcoming Orthodox rabbinical conference is expected to draw its largest crowd in years.

The Rabbinical Council of America’s three-day conference set to begin Sunday in Scarsdale, N.Y., comes just months after the near ordination of a female rabbi by one of the RCA’s highest-profile members drew a sharp rebuke from the haredi Orthodox leadership of Agudath Israel of America.

“I think it will be one of the more exciting RCA conventions,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the council’s first vice president, seeking to put a positive spin on what also could prove to be a highly divisive gathering of mostly Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Two amendments to the RCA convention that have been put forward are clear reactions to the controversy sparked by Rabbi Avi Weiss’s decision in January to confer the title “rabba” – a feminized version of rabbi – on Sara Hurwitz, a member of the clerical staff of his New York synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

Following the Agudah condemnation and discussions with RCA officials, Rabbi Weiss stated that he did not intend to confer the rabba title on anyone else, saying Orthodox unity was of more pressing importance.

One amendment effectively would expel from the council any member who “attempts to ordain as a member of the rabbinate, or to denominate as ‘rabbinical’ or as ‘clergy,’ a person not eligible to serve as such as those terms are understood under the policies and positions of the RCA.”

A second amendment would bar from officer positions anyone who is a member of another national rabbinic group “whose principles or tenets of faith are antithetical or contrary to the policies and positions of the RCA.”

Rabbi Weiss is one of the founders of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a liberal Orthodox group founded, in part, to serve as an umbrella for graduates of his rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Graduates of the school have been unable to secure automatic membership in the RCA, which has never taken a public position on the fellowship.

RCA insiders say adoption of the measures, neither of which would be retroactive, is unlikely. But their existence still points to a tug within the organization between those seeking to maintain the council as a broadly inclusive group and those who want to draw firmer lines.

“The RCA leadership has always been centrist,” said one RCA official involved in planning for the conference. “The rank-and-file rabbis, those on the front lines, can’t afford to be radicals on either end. But it’s getting harder and harder to promote an RCA which is led by the center, but which includes the whole range.”

Following the Weiss controversy, the RCA announced that women’s leadership would be placed on the conference agenda. A committee is now in the late stages of crafting a policy on the issue.

The policy, which will have to be ratified by the membership, would express general support for women’s scholarship and their assumption of appropriate leadership roles while drawing the line at ordaining them as rabbis. But lately there has been resistance from those seeking stronger language marking certain functions as forbidden.

“The committee expects for there to be pushback and perhaps alternate language from both the right and the left,” said the RCA official.

Whether any formulation could quell the controversy is unclear. Weiss has never backed down from his view that Hurwitz is a member of the synagogue’s rabbinic staff, though he says the school he is launching to train women will bestow a title other than rabba.

Moreover, several women now serve important Modern Orthodox congregations in various capacities – some of which clearly overlap with traditional rabbinic functions.

The results of a survey to be presented at the convention show a clear consensus among RCA members against granting semicha, or ordination, to women, according to an official involved in the council’s strategic planning process. On other issues, the official said, there is no “strong consensus.”

The policy that the council is to enact on women’s leadership will likely remain vague on specifics as a result. Its drafters say that a policy of calculated ambiguity is necessary in part to maintain unity across a broad range of opinion.

“I believe that we can have clarity on the red lines and have a degree of inclusiveness in the areas that are not as clear,” Rabbi Goldin said. “We as an organization have to provide latitude for members within the organization to be able to follow their conscience in areas that are not black and white.”

But it is precisely that approach that has encountered some turbulence and which is leading some to push the organization toward a firmer line.

“I think there’s a need for clarity,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, an RCA regional vice president who said he supports the amendments in principle. “What we don’t want to offer the public is a blurring of the lines, that the RCA is all things to all people.” (JTA)

‘Pretty Worth It In The End’: An Interview With Dominican-American Convert Aliza Hausman

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Have you read the blog Jewminicana? If you have, you are already familiar with Aliza Hausman, a recently converted Dominican-American blogger. She blogs about her childhood, upbringing, conversion, and a wide range of other topics. She and her husband, a semichah student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, also speak about life as a religious interracial couple.

Hausman’s conversion process began five years ago. She first became interested in Judaism when she was in junior high school. A Holocaust survivor spoke to the students in her school, and the idea of survivorhood resonated with her. The Jewish Press interviewed her about her decision to convert and about her blog (www.alizahausman.net), which has allowed her to help other people of color who are looking to convert to Judaism.

The Jewish Press: What was it about the survivor’s story that piqued your interest in Judaism?

Hausman: I think by the time I was 13 years old I was pretty sure I was not going to make it to my 18th birthday. Either my mother was going to kill me or I was going to kill myself. I came to school with bruises every other day that I had to hide. And this woman came in and told us that she had survived the unimaginable – unimaginable to most of my friends.

How did you relate to her?

To me it was like this is one person who I think would understand what I’ve been going through my whole life, which is basically being tortured every day by my mother. I thought, “You know, if she can survive, I can survive.” My initial thought was Jews can survive anything, and if I became Jewish, I’d probably survive too. It gave me hope.

What do you see as the main message of Judaism?

When I was Catholic, it seemed that we were focused on striving toward heaven. Everything on earth was sinful and dirty and bad. In Judaism I’m trying to bring heaven to earth. Trying to bring spirituality and godliness to everything I do.

Why did you start blogging?

I started the conversion process; I was 25 years old. Every Shabbat meal, someone would ask me, “Why are you in the conversion process?” One of my friends, Drew Kaplan, was a rabbinical student at the time and a blogger, and he said it’d be easier if I just wrote a blog. After Shabbos I could send people to the blog, and it would explain everything . A mission of my blog is to make people more sensitive. The first thing you say is “Hi and welcome,” not “Are you Jewish?”

Do you ever worry that being so frank in a public sphere could harm your husband’s odds of getting a pulpit?

I worry about that every day. You know, it’s been interesting. My mother-in-law’s friends read my blog. My husband applied for an internship and the rabbi read the blog. I guess I’m kind of lucky they liked the blog. It’s not always the case. I get hate mail. Everything from “You’re not being Orthodox” to “You’re not being Dominican.”

What do you gain from the experience?

I keep doing it because you get these letters from all over the world, and people are like, “Thank you for sharing that little bit of yourself with me,” because people can relate – from child abuse, converts, multiple identities; that’s why I keep doing it.

What topics do you cover during your speaking engagements?

The more I come into contact with other converts of color, [I find] a lot of them have had racist experiences. Jews have been blatantly racist to them or they’ve gone to a synagogue event and people have assumed that they’re the help or the janitor. My husband and I use sources, but [also] just telling people how difficult it is, coming in from a different religion, different planet, or how converts cope. We tell one story where a convert’s mother called her to her deathbed and asked that she convert back to Christianity. I don’t think people really understand that – how hard some converts have it.

In what ways do you see your Judaism benefiting from Dominican culture?

Food! I have chulent every Shabbos, but I also have rice and beans every Shabbos, a staple of Dominican culture, and plantains. I go out of my way to meet Jewish Latinos and find people that speak Spanish, because speaking and understanding Spanish is very important to me. I’ve been told by Jews who converted, “That was important, but shouldn’t be anymore. Hebrew is.” As if a person can’t speak more than two languages! Music. We played a lot of Hebrew music at my wedding, and I asked for salsa or merengue. A kosher caterer made Dominican food for our wedding.

Do you help converts find rabbis to work with?

It’s something I got into in the last couple of months. In the last year the RCA has reformatted how they do conversions. It’s interesting, and one of the hardest things is finding a rabbi. I talk to Rabbi Zilberman at the RCA and get as much info as I can, and go to him and ask him where this person from here with this situation can find someone to sponsor them and help them.

A lot of rabbis are turning people away and no longer want to be involved with conversion. I think I have way more contacts than they do, so I try to help them find rabbis, find people in different communities that they can connect to; other converts. I actually do that a lot.

How do you advise someone who is in the process of converting but struggling with aspects of halacha or the rabbi’s expectations of her?

I’ve been asked by converts how you reconcile women’s issues and feminism with Orthodoxy, how you reconcile homosexuality with Judaism. I’m very clear. I do believe there are things that can’t be reconciled. I don’t believe that you’re not going to struggle with things. The other day a convert asked, “How did you feel about giving up Jesus?” Very easy; I never took it up. I tell people to take it slow.

I got one convert who was like, “I want to convert; I’m not quite sure which movement.” I told him to look at what each stands for and the ideology. He decides first he wants to be Conservative. He has a fianc? – not Jewish, doesn’t want to convert. The Conservative rabbi says, “You have to promise to raise the kids Jewish.” Convert comes back and says, “How can I, if they won’t be because my wife’s not Jewish?” Next time he decided he was going to be Orthodox. How will that work, exactly?

What message do you give to people who are converting?

I don’t think I have a message. It’s very different dealing with someone who is a baal teshuvah and starting to learn, and this need to bring them in. But a convert is just running toward Judaism like a speeding train. I try to explain that it’s going to be hard, not always pretty, there will be issues usually with family and friends. But I think it’s pretty worth it in the end.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/pretty-worth-it-in-the-end-an-interview-with-dominican-american-convert-aliza-hausman/2010/03/24/

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