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Extraordinary times produce extraordinary leaders
September 13th, 2002
Cincinnati When I left last June for a year of study in Israel, I wrote an article here expressing my feeling that future Jewish leaders needed to spend a sustained period of time in Israel. I said that despite my familys and friends anxieties, I knew I would board my plane when the time came, and join my classmates in our required year of study in Jerusalem.
This year my situation is different. I am comfortably settled in Cincinnati, enjoying our beautiful campus and planning for the holiday season. But my future colleagues, those entering their first year of rabbinic school, face tough choices.
The situation in Israel is far worse than what it was when I arrived there. The July 31 bombing at Hebrew University, which left seven students dead, devastated any hopes that certain sites were safe. That attack on an oasis of learning and Arab/Israeli co-existence made many of my future colleagues reconsider their decisions.
The community of American students studying in Israel is a close-knit one, and one of the students killed in the bombing was a close friend of several classmates. In fact, I discovered recently that I had met that student, Marla Bennett, on several occasions, as she was the girlfriend of a friend of one of my close friends.
Remarkably, however, 40 first-year rabbinic and cantorial students left together last month on a plane bound for Tel Aviv. They were met there by their 30 counterparts in Hebrew Union Colleges Israeli Rabbinic Program. Without diminishing or trying to hide the danger of studying in Jerusalem, the leadership of the Hebrew Union College decided to continue its first-year program in Israel.
I can only partially identify with those whove embarked on this journey. They face a situation far graver than my classmates and I did. I also find it difficult to encourage them to go, as I know that its far easier to talk about the incredible experience of studying in Jerusalem than to wrestle with the current circumstances and make the decision oneself.
My hope for and confidence in the programs success is strengthened, however, by the quality of its leadership. The president of Hebrew Union College, Rabbi David Ellenson, has traveled to Israel seven times since his presidency began last June. When he visited during my year there, he met individually with students and spoke candidly about the conflicting feelings with which he was wrestling. During his extensive summer visit, he also lectured at universities across the country and taught a course for visiting rabbis.
I do not envy his situation. Overseeing a large university, especially one that includes a program with 40 foreign students studying in the heart of Jerusalem, generates deep concern and anxiety. This year his son is also studying in Jerusalem, at the Conservative movements seminary.
It has been said, however, that extraordinary times tend to produce extraordinary leaders. Leaders become a living embodiment of a groups values. Ellensons courage, commitment and honesty make my classmates and me, along with American Jewry, fortunate to have him in our ranks.
Fox Point-native Evan Moffic is a second-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, which serves the Reform movement.