Rabbi Naamah Kelman serves as the Dean of the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is a former NFTY-EIE teacher, and her niece is currently a student on the Spring 2015 semester.
My first job as a rabbi was working for EIE. In addition to my time with EIE, teaching Jewish History and enriching the students’ Jewish experience in Israel, I was also working for the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism in their emerging school system in Jerusalem. This was the best of both worlds. There were days when I was running down Masada or hiking in the Galil teaching Jewish history and other days when I was in the Teachers’ Room in our Israeli elementary school supporting and modeling the Reform Jewish experience. These were formative years for me as a rabbi and educator. I left EIE when the offer to work with Israelis at somewhat more normal hours for my young family came along. Yet, I never stopped promoting and supporting what is the Reform Movement’s premier leadership program for our high schoolers and high school students beyond our Reform Movement.
The intensity of spending four months living and breathing the Jewish calendar, while being steeped in Jewish history from the time of Abraham and Sarah until today, and all this with your peers is a fantastic opportunity for growth. Not to mention fun! Over the years, particularly, since I have been at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, first as Director of the Year in Israel program and now as Dean, I have welcomed many EIE graduates to our Rabbinic, Cantorial, and Educational programs. They are among our finest students and indeed our Reform leadership today.
More than ever, we need to bring our next generation to have a serious and positive experience of the modern State of Israel, while at the same time deepening Jewish knowledge and enriching their Hebrew. They leave as young ambassadors able to handle increasing hostility to Zionism and confident young Jews. They tour the country from North to South, and they are exposed to the blossoming of Israeli Reform Judaism. They are able to complete their high school requirements as well.
At HUC in Jerusalem, we welcome them in a variety of programs. This includes our student interns who spend Shabbat with them, hosting the parents’ visit, and in the Spring semester, we wait for them for our Annual Debbie Freidman Memorial “Melave Malka”, to sing and rejoice with us in Debbie’s legacy. So many have grown up with her music and we ask them to join us with their guitars and dancing feet.
I will not hide the fact that we are eager to recruit them for our programs in the future. We believe that service to Jewish people as educators, rabbis, cantors and communal leaders is a fine option and some of them are poised to join our ranks. Whether they do so or not , parents and families can be sure that sending your children to Israel on EIE is one of the most worthwhile investments in our Jewish future. Thank you for your faith in us…in EIE, in Israel, and the Jewish People.