Where do you live? Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel, Israel, with my wife Natalie and our five children, bli ayn hara.
What is your current profession and where do you work? How did youcome to work in this field? I am director of The Israel Experience at Bar Ilan University. I was hired to be the Av Bayit of this program and made aliyah with my family to do so in 2011. In 2015 I became the director of the program.
The Israel Experience at Bar Ilan University is a unique gap year program that combines stimulating university courses, inspirational Jewish learning and growth at your own pace, amazing trips across the Land of Israel, uplifting Shabbatons in breathtaking locations, and a vibrant group of unforgettable rabbis, teachers and friends.
What educational path did you follow?
Originally from North Miami Beach, I attended Scheck Hillel from PK4 through Grade 12 and studied political science at the University of Florida. I learned at Midrash Sephardi in the Old City of Jerusalem, and received rabbinical ordination from Hacham Gidon Ben-Moshe. I also received an advanced rabbinic degree from Yeshivat Mikdash Melech in Brooklyn. I was Rabbi of Congregation Beth-El of Flatbush in the Syrian community of Brooklyn before making aliyah.
What is most rewarding about the work you do? What are the challenges? The most rewarding aspect of my job is the opportunity to inspire 18-year-olds about Torah, Israel, and how Judaism is relevant for each of them in today's world. This is the first year that students are out of their homes, making their own decisions about what kind of Jews they want to be, and what values are important to them as adults. It is a privilege to play a small part in a pivotal year of their lives. Also the trips across the country are awesome.
The biggest challenge is convincing young adults - or more often their parents - about the value of a “growth year” in Israel. However, it is encouraging to see that more Scheck Hillel graduates are choosing to come to Israel each year and I hope that trend will continue. What is one essential academic or life skill you honed at Scheck Hillel? Critical thinking. Across the board, both Judaic and general studies teachers encouraged us to think critically, to question what we learn, and to ultimately reach our own conclusions.
What is your advice for future Scheck Hillel students who might consider acareer in your field? A few years ago, I was visiting Miami to recruit for our program, and I stayed in the home of my good friends, Roy and Orli (Ben-Horin) Sasson, both also graduates of Scheck Hillel. I described how meaningful it was to live in Israel and to work in Jewish education. When a position opened up shortly after at The Israel Experience, the Sassons made the incredibly inspiring choice to move their young family to Israel and join The Israel Experience. It's never too late to follow your dreams about aliyah, teaching Torah, spreading love of Judaism, and showing the beauty of a Jewish home.
What is the last book you read/podcast you heard that taught yousomething you didn’t know before? “Like Dreamers,” by Yossi Klein Halevy, the story of the Israeli paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem, and went on to found various religious, social and economic movements within Israel. The book encapsulates the heroism and miraculous nature of the Six-Day War victory, but it also really underscores how short a time modern Israel has been in existence and how quickly its citizens have had to evolve and act creatively to build the modern, successful country we have today.