Saturday, June 16, 2001

Local Jews going to Israel while others cancel trips

HUC head: 'Proper leadership' best learned there

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Days after being chosen to head Cincinnati-based Hebrew Union College, Rabbi David Ellenson jumped into a spat between North American Jews and Israelis.

        On Monday, he refused to follow the Reform movement's decision to cancel summer youth programs in Israel because of Arab-Jewish violence.

        Instead, Rabbi Ellenson confirmed that all 64 men and women preparing to be Reform rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators will spend the traditional first year in Israel.

        “No leader of the Jewish people in our time can exercise proper leadership if he or she is not exposed, for an extensive period of time, to daily life in Israel,” Rabbi Ellenson wrote in an open letter to Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. ""This year is no exception.”

        The first-year students will return to campuses in Cincinnati, New York and Los Angeles to complete their programs next year.

        Mostly Americans and Canadians, they are en route or in Jerusalem. Their programs begin June 28.

        On Friday, diverse Jewish groups bought a full-page ad in the New York Times, announcing their intention to maintain summer programs and Israel visits.

        Rabbi Roxanne Schneider, who heads HUC's admissions and recruiting, said Tuesday that no student had deferred entry into the programs for safety reasons. Although the Jerusalem campus has guarded and limited access, students and faculty live off campus.

        Rabbi Ellenson's open letter responded to Israelis who had belittled North American Jews as “fair-weather” Zionists unwilling to share the daily risks of living in Israel.

        The brouhaha erupted in the past two weeks when HUC's parent organization, New York-based Union of American Hebrew Congregations, canceled summer youth programs in Israel.

        Registration fell from 1,500 last year to 350, and some of those were wavering, especially since a deadly attack on a Tel Aviv club popular with young adults.

        Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said, “I simply do not have the degree of confidence that I normally have, and that I must have, in order to be able to tell our congregations and parents that they can trust us to keep their children secure.”

        Ephraim Sneh, the transportation minister, criticized Jews abroad “who for all these years have talked to us about the unity of the Jewish people over mounds of bagel and lox” but whose cancellations offer a “a victory for terrorism.”

        It didn't help when officials of the international Maccabiah Games in Israel — this summer's Jewish Olympics — began considering canceling because so many foreign teams had pulled out or, like the large U.S. delegation, threatened to do so.

        That provoked sports minister Matan Vilnai to label reluctant Jewish athletes as “people who are not Zionist enough.”

        Announcing the cancellations, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, UAHC president in New York, said, “Our religious and Zionist commitments run deep and are known to all, but this movement never uses other people's children to make a political or ideological point.”


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