The Noga dance troupe. Bracha Miriam Lianado is far right, Talia Pearlstein, the director of the dance program in Orot is fourth from right and Sharona Florsheim, dance teacher in Orot, fifth from right.
New Scholarship Fund to Honor the Founder of Orot Israel College
Ground-breaking Programs in Family Studies, Youth at Risk, Dance
Toby Klein Greenwald
When our daughter, Naama, was finishing her National Service at the age of 19, she knew she wanted a college degree in Special Education, but wasn’t interested in attending a secular college. She chose Orot Israel College in Elkana, and we watched as she blossomed, intellectually and socially, in an atmosphere that was high level academically, yet religiously exactly what she was looking for. A friend who studied with her in the same department, Hamutal, says, “I remember lecturers with extensive knowledge who also knew how to teach. The atmosphere was warm and supportive, and there was a desire on the part of the staff to help the students conclude their studies successfully. I went on to build a home with content and a Torah atmosphere, and to teach for 17 years in my profession with confidence; today I am an advisor in Special Education.”
Academia and Community
In recent decades, colleges have sprung up in Israel that broke the strangle-hold of the veteran universities on the ability to award academic degrees to students seeking something different. One of these is Orot, but it has also sought ways to give back to the community.
Founded in 1979 by Rav Dr. Yehuda Felix, Orot Israel College today has 4,000 students, women and men (in separate programs) on two campuses – Elkana, in the Shomron (Samaria) and Rehovot, making it perhaps the largest religious college in Israel.
Since 2016 it also has a new forward-thinking president, Professor Yuval Sinai, an expert in Jewish law and a prolific writer, who has lectured at Bar Ilan and Hebrew Universities in Israel, and also at Yale, McGill, Princeton, UCLA, Fordham, Brown, University College London, and University of Toronto. Among the topics on which he lectures are Jewish Democracy, Biomedical Law, and Redemption of Captives in Return for the Release of Terrorists.
Long established departments in Orot include BA degrees in various areas of Education, Technology and Dance, and M.Ed. degrees in Bible and Rabbinic Literature, Educational Counseling, Educational Management and Teaching Mathematics.
Honoring the Founder
In recognition of Rav Felix’s monumental achievements, and in honor of his 80th birthday, Prof. Sinai will be in New York on November 16-17 and in Toronto on Nov. 19-23 with the goal of establishing a scholarship fund that will provide tuition and living arrangements for married students at Orot. There will be 24 apartments made available for this purpose.
Orot Israel College was not Rav Yehuda Felix’s first foray into ground-breaking Jewish education. In 1974 he founded Ulpanat Orot and Yeshivat Or Chaim in Toronto, Canada, schools whose graduates are now movers and shakers in their communities in Toronto, New York, Israel and elsewhere. Miriam Levenstein Schwab graduated the Ulpana in 1994 and made aliya in 1997. One of the experiences at the Ulpana that influenced her life, she says, was “the study of Kuzari.” Today Miriam is CEO of Strattic and Illuminea, two hi-tech companies in Jerusalem.
Educating the Family
Two of Orot Israel College’s newest study programs, created by Prof. Sinai, are the Center for Jewish Family Studies and the Promotion of Youth at Risk program. The Family Studies program recognizes that the nuclear family has been under increasing attack in recent decades, causing great instability and unhappiness. The institute will be chaired by Dr. Chana Katan, a recognized physician and expert in the area of Reproductive Medicine, and by Rabbi Elisha Aviner, the Rosh Kollel of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Ma’ale Adumim. Dr. Leah Weisel, who has a Ph.D. in law and lectures in Bar Ilan and elsewhere, will be the dean of students and director of Torah Studies in the program.
Reaching Youth on the Streets and Beaches
The new Youth at Risk program trains educators in therapeutic methods to support at-risk youth. Enough Orthodox (and non-Orthodox) families in Israel have known the heartbreak of seeing their sons or daughters fall into this category, to make the need more urgent than ever. The training includes both theoretical studies and fieldwork, in which students spend time with troubled youth on the streets and beaches of Israel. One of the basic premises of the program is that there is a significant connection between the spiritual-religious world of troubled youngsters and their self-destructive behavior.
Other new programs include Training Israeli Educators to Teach in the Diaspora and High-Tech Studies for Charedi Students.
Dancing through Life
When Bracha Miriam Liniado, born in Toronto to Judith Newman (now Berger), but raised in Jerusalem, was seeking a college where she could develop and excel in her field of choice – dance – the only academic program (to this day) available for religious women was at Orot. Bracha Miriam and two other Orot Israel College graduates were recently awarded the prestigious Uri Orbach Award by the Minister of Education of Israel, for the acclaimed women-to-women dance troupe they founded and direct – “Noga.” This award was testimony not only to the talent and perseverance of the troupe’s members, but proof that no field of study or vocation need be closed to the Orthodox public.
Bracha Miriam says, “It was Orot that enabled me to achieve a degree in dance, and it also prepared qualified religious dance teachers so that religious girls high schools all over the country could create dance matriculation programs at a high level. We saw it happening before our eyes. Our own troupe is really Jewish and really professional; we all have families as well, something that is a rarity in the world of dance. Some have six children. We have the opportunity to balance all those worlds. We performed last year at an international dance festival in Israel, where women from all over the world had the opportunity to see our work. We have the privilege of ‘taking the reins of dance’ in our own hands, to show people that it is a Jewish thing to use one’s whole body to serve Hashem.”
More Students Speak
Michal (Vogel) Mandelbaum, from Linden, New Jersey, was in Orot 1999-2001. She received a teaching degree and returned to the U.S., where she taught Hebrew at the Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore in Deal, New Jersey. Michal made aliya with her family in 2011 and today they live in Moreshet, between Haifa and Carmiel. She teaches high school online for a company called “Bonim be’Yahad.” Michal says, “Orot helped me build my Hebrew language skills, my desire for teaching, my love for the country, and it gave me an amazing group of friends with whom I’m still in contact today. The administration made sure that each of us was happy and we felt the love that our teachers had toward learning and toward the land, and they instilled that in us. There was no cookie-cutter mold, they knew that each of us had to find her own path to get to the end point.”
Rachel (Conway) Cohen was in Orot in 2002-3. Originally from Hendon, London, she made aliya in August 2017. “I really enjoyed my experience in Orot. I liked the idea of being slightly out of a city center and having time to immerse myself in a serious learning environment. I loved the selection of teachers and topics at Orot, I enjoyed the Halacha classes as I lacked a lot of basic knowledge, but the most profound classes were those that connected the history of the Jewish people and its cyclical nature to the exciting times we are living in, the footsteps of the moshiach and the establishment of the State of Israel.
“My time at Orot gave me the confidence to face the wider world whilst at university and in the work place in London with an in depth knowledge and awareness of the history of the land of Israel. It opened me up to modern day Jewish philosophy and enabled me to confidently explain my view of the Torah (how I live in the modern world but keep medieval traditions) and the current situation in Israel to everyone I encountered.”
I also spoke with Nomi Spanglet, Student Affairs Coordinator, who made aliya from Montreal, Canada in 1978. She is a graduate of the Bar Ilan School of Social Work and holds a certificate in organization and administration from Tel Aviv University. She has worked in Orot Israel College since 1990; my daughter still remembers her kindness and warm smile. Nomi says, “Working at Orot enables one to work in a Torah atmosphere as well as being actively involved in creating top quality teachers. The students that study here will make the difference in the future generations. They are bright, dedicated, excellently trained, and have a sense of values that we believe in.”
To quote one more student, Gilat: “In Orot I felt that I built foundations in the Torah and Emunah courses, alongside high level teacher training, in an atmosphere that was professional, expert and value-oriented. The time has come for me to say, ‘Thank you.’”
The author was a teacher at Ulpanat Orot in Toronto in the 1980’s, is an educational theater director and the editor of the award-winning WholeFamily.com. This article includes research by Channah Koppel.