Saturday, August 4, 2012

YU Conference Travel Blog #2

Shabbat at the Yeshiva University Championsgate leadership conference was amazing!!!

Kabbalat Shabbat was an experience from another world!!!  It was lead by the great Chazan Shimon Kramer who was accompanied by the YU Macabeats!!

Then I met my new friend Rabbi Sharon Shalom.

Rabbi Shalom is originally form Ethiopia.  Almost 30 years ago, at the age of 10, he walked hundreds of miles from Ethiopia to finally achieve his freedom and a new life for him and his family in the Jewish State.

When he grew up he learned in the distinguished Har Etzion Yeshiva and went on to become the first ever Ethiopian immigrant to receive Rabbinic Ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbi.

In his short tenure so far accomplished a monumental achievement!  Rabbi Shalom wrote the first ever Shulchan Aruch, code of Jewish law, for the customs of the Ethiopian community.  The Ethiopians have a rich heritage of unique Jewish customs that was in danger of being lost for ever.  Through diligent research, Rabbi Shalom recorded these customs into a single compendium that is considered by the chief Rabbinate of Israel to be the authoritative book of Jewish practice for Ethiopians.

Today he is the Rabbi in Kiryat Gat, an inner-city neighborhood in Israel that is challenged with extreme poverty.  Rabbi Shalom is working hard to develop the community and break the cycle of poverty so the kids in the community will have a future.

Over the summer, he partnered with Yeshiva University to run a camp for the students in Kiryat Gat.  20 students from Yeshiva came to run a camp for hundreds of kids.  Rabbi Shalom told us that Kiryat Gat is very segregated.  The immigrants from different countries tend to stick to themselves, and the secular and religious Jews do not mingle.  He said that somehow the YU students were able to break these barriers for the first time and somehow all of the kids in the community felt comfortable participating in their programs and it brought the children and parents of the community together in a way that had never happened before.

I was honored to be able to spend some time getting to know Rabbi Shalom.  When I told him I was form Omaha he said, "Omaha? that sounds like an African name!"

Rabbi Shalom has already agreed to visit Omaha on his next trip to the U.S.  I am already writing the grant to fund his visit.  I cannot wait to introduce him to the Jewish community in Omaha.

After dinner there was an oneg shabbat with more singing and divrei Torah.  Then lights out.

Shabbat morning began again with daf yomi (2 for 2!  Only 2,709 to go!) followed by a beautiful davening with chazan kramer.

After davening there was a kiddush and lunch.  I wished mazal tov to my cousin (my father's sister's husband's father's father's brother) Joel Shreiber for be appointed as chairman of the board of RIETS (Rabbi Issac Elchonon Theological Seminary).  Most people do not understand how incredible Yeshiva Universities Rabbinic Seminary is.  Most people are aware that RIETS features some of the greatest Torah scholars on the faculty.  What people do not know is that the tuition at RIETS is completely subsidized.  My rabbinic degree did not cost me a dime.  This allows for the best and brightest students to pursue a Rabbinic career without having to think about how they will pay off their loans.  This is why YU is producing Jewish leaders in great quality and quantity.  It is a gift to the jewish people and the communities and organizations that YU Rabbis serve.

Most of the day was choices of lectures by YU faculty.  I attended a lecture about Jewish historical responses to changing technology form the printing press to the internet, and then a fascinating lecture on the cultural distinctions of the Yiddish language.
 Shabbat ended with a great shalosh seudot and a speech by YU president Richard Joel.
He spoke about the recent visit of a group of Catholic Arch Bishops to YU.  The Catholic Church is very interested in YU.  They have observed how YU students are passionate about learning and they want to know how they can impart that passion on their own youth.
Some time later the arch bishop from Philidelphia gave a speech in his Church and he mentioned YU.  
A few weeks ago, I visited Yeshiva University in New York for a dialogue between Jewish scholars and a group of Catholic bishops. Yeshiva is an Orthodox Jewish university that includes a focus on the study of traditional Jewish religious texts -- mainly the Torah and the Talmud. The study is done through daily lectures. But it's combined with a unique way of immersing oneself in the Word of God called "chavrutas," the Aramaic word for "friendship" or "companionship."
In the chavruta style of learning the young men sit together in groups of two and debate and challenge one another to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. They're guided by senior rabbinical scholars, but the scholars themselves -- as they walk around the study hall -- become part of the learning dialogue and expand their own understanding of the sacred text.
I came away from my time at Yeshiva with three main impressions.
What struck me first was the passion the students had for the Torah. They didn't merely study it; they consumed it. Or maybe it would be better to say that God's Word consumed them. When a man and woman fall in love, a kind of electricity runs not just between them, but also in the air around them. The story of every true encounter with God is the same. Scripture is a romance. It's the story of God's love for humanity. When we give our hearts entirely to seeking God in the richness of God's Word, we begin to discover and experience that same kind of electricity. I saw it in the students at Yeshiva.The second thing I noticed was the power of Scripture to create new life. God's Word is a living dialogue between God and humanity. That divine dialogue mirrored itself in the "learning dialogue" among the Yeshiva students. The students began as strangers, but their work in reflecting on Scripture and in sharing what they discovered with each other, then created something more than themselves -- a friendship between themselves and with God.
Third and finally, I saw in the lives of those Jewish students the incredible durability of God's promises and God's Word. Despite centuries of persecution, exile, dispersion and even apostasy, the Jewish people continue to exist because their covenant with God is alive and permanent. God's Word is the organizing principle of their identity. It's the foundation and glue of their relationship with one another, with their past and with their future. And the more faithful they are to God's Word, the more certain they can be of their survival.
The weekend was absolutely inspiring.  I met some great people and I have plans to follow up and hope to partner with them on some programs in Omaha.
I hope that next year I can bring some representatives from Omaha to share the experience with me.