In the coming weeks, some undergraduate students and rabbinical students at Yeshiva University will be studying the works of political thinkers like Thomas Paine and John Locke, and the words of such scholars as Maimonides and Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, focusing on the intersection of Jewish philosophy and Western society.
Later in this academic year, a score of graduate-level students will take part in a weeklong seminar, under the auspices of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, focusing on “experiential Jewish education,” which is often known as informal Jewish education.
The classes and seminars are part of an ongoing program at the school that focuses on strengthening the Orthodox community’s encounter with the outside world and broadening the type of education offered within Jewish circles.
A Center for Torah and Western Thought, named for philanthropists Zahava and Moshael Straus, both YU graduates, will be launched next month. Led by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, associate spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, it will feature an interdisciplinary course on “Biblical Ideas and American Democracy” for selected Yeshiva College and Stern College students, and a more-advanced course for YU’s rabbinical students.
The Center will also sponsor a series of public forums in New York, and one-day learning events around the U.S., Europe and Israel.
The courses, Rabbi Soloveichik says, are designed to prepare the school’s graduates to play a more prominent role in the public debate in this country on a wide variety of social and political issues — from an informed, Orthodox perspective, serving as authors and advocates of various causes.
Think George Will with a kipa.
“Ideas change the world,” the rabbi says. “In Modern Orthodoxy, we talk about how the world impacts on our Orthodoxy. We don’t always talk about how our Torah impacts on the modern world. This Center will create a two-way street.
“There aren’t enough people who are coming from the Jewish tradition who are sharing Judaism’s [spiritual riches] with the world,” says Rabbi Soloveichik, calling the Center “a further refinement of YU’s mission.”
“We have to be people of influence,” says YU President Richard Joel, referring to the Modern Orthodox community.
A new Certificate Program in Experiential Jewish Education, under the auspices of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, offered its first training seminar last spring, with more to follow in early 2012.
Supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation and billed as the first graduate-level program of its kind, it is bringing a formal structure to the informal Jewish education that often proves more effective in building participants’ Jewish identity than standard classes.
The program is helping people who already have experience in such settings as summer camps, Jewish community centers and Hillels, to improve the work they do.
“There’s no official training for it” now, says Shuki Taylor, who is developing the initiative. “It’s not seen as a valued profession.”
A certification program can help increase the prestige of men and women in informal Jewish education, Taylor says. “An incredibly large amount of young Jews want to turn their interest into a profession.”
The initial one-year program, open to 20 people on a non-denominational basis, will consist of four five-day seminars during breaks in the academic calendar.
“Our goal is to professionalize the passion of individuals who are committed to Jewish faith, practice, identity and peoplehood,” says Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future. Participants, he says, “will be privy to cutting-edge seminars and retreats, ongoing networking and mentorship opportunities, and exposure to world-renowned educators.”
New York Medical College Joins Touro
After an unsuccessful attempt to open a medical school in New Jersey a few years back, the Touro College and University System announced recently that New York Medical College was joining the Touro family. Touro will now educate approximately 5,300 students in medicine, health, and the biological sciences, making it one of the largest affiliations of medical and health education programs under a single institutional banner.
In addition to New York Medical College, Touro operates three osteopathic medical schools in California, Nevada, and in Harlem. Each school educates between 500 and 600 students. Touro also operates a health sciences school in Long Island, where it trains physical therapists, physician’s assistants, and speech therapists. The system includes two pharmacy schools, as well as graduate-level health science programs in California, Nevada and Manhattan.
“We believe that the association will be tremendous benefit both to Touro and to New York Medical College,” Dr. Alan Kadish, president and CEO of Touro, told The Jewish Week.
As part of its efforts to promote education in a Jewish-friendly way, the calendar at New York Medical College (which will retain its name in the short-term) has already been adjusted to reflect the Jewish holidays. The medical school’s cafeteria will offer kosher food.
Touro hopes to “restructure the way primary care is taught and practiced in the U.S.,” Kadish said. The school plans to create teams of physicians, pharmacists, nurses, physician assistants, and, when appropriate, physical therapists, speech therapists, and therapists, to promote joint care. “We want to teach students in each of the disciplines to deliver primary care in a group setting,” he said. “This will help address the primary care physician shortage.”
Before his death in 2010, Touro founder and longtime president Dr. Bernard Lander had begun negotiations with New York Medical School. The process, however, took more than a year. “Medical schools aren’t sold very often,” Dr. Kadish said, adding that there were a number of regulatory issues that needed to be resolved.
When asked about the failed attempt to open a medical school in New Jersey, Kadish said that “the barriers to acquiring New York Medical College were less than opening a brand new medical school and so Dr. Lander made the decision to go that route.”
Muss H.S. Expanding To ‘Green’ Campus
A few years after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, Morris Kipper, a congregational rabbi from Miami, took a group of high school students from his area on a tour of the country. Upon his return, he decided that an academic institution would be a better way than a standard tour to teach about the Jewish state.
The result was the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (amhsi.org), a non-denominational program on a campus in Had Hasharon, near Tel Aviv that was established in conjunction with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and named for Alexander Muss, a real estate developer and philanthropist with roots here and in Miami. Over the years the school broadened its student base from the Miami area to the United Stated and Canada.
This year the school — its 20,000 alumni include chasidic reggae superstar Matisyahu, Hillel President Wayne Firestone, and Michael Levin, the Philadelphia native who was the only American-born Israeli soldier to die in the war in Lebanon five years ago this month — is planning its first major expansion.
A new ecologically “green” branch of the school is to open next year at the Eshel Hanassi Youth Village near Beersheva in the Negev desert, and a dormitory in Jerusalem is being planned.
“We want to be able to offer [the high school’s unique program] to more students,” says Dana Gerbie Klein, the school’s New England director of admissions.
Incorporating tours around Israel, the “living classroom” study abroad program, for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, features a chronological view of the country’s history, geography and literature. All classes and tours are conducted in English.
The school offers an eight-week program five times a year, summer programs, “custom” programs for day schools, and a community service component.
The new Negev site will be based on a campus that is “already green,” consistent with the vision of a verdant desert that was advocated by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who spent his post-retirement years on Kibbutz Sde Boker and is buried there, Klein says. The new school will incorporate such features as solar panels, heat screens and an advanced water filtration system, she says.
Registration for the high school’s upcoming sessions that start in December and January is open now; for information: email@example.com, (617) 438-8775. Alexander Muss students are eligible for high school credits, and for up to nine college credits.