David Benjamin was born in 1966 in East London, South Africa, the son of Rabbi Myer (Sonny), z"l, and Nina Benjamin. Growing up in South Africa and the UK, he was involved in synagogue and Jewish activities from a young age. At Temple Israel, Cape Town, he taught in the Hebrew School, sang in the choir, and coached B'nai Mitzvah. He was also active as a youth leader in the NETZER (“Maginim”) Reform Zionist Youth Movement in South Africa, serving as director of the movement in Cape Town and of the national summer camp. While at university, he was co-editor of the Jewish student newspaper and led and took part in several student trips to Israel. After completing law school, David followed his parents and siblings to Israel in 1989, and in the same year enlisted in the IDF. In a military career spanning twenty years, with a two-year break during which he backpacked and worked in a Tel Aviv law firm, David served in a number of senior positions in the IDF Military Advocate General’s Corps. These included Chief Legal Advisor for the Gaza Strip, Head of the Strategic-International Branch in the International Law Division, and Military Judge. He retired from the IDF in 2009 with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and continues to serve as a reservist to this day. Today, David is a practicing independent international consultant on international law, the law of armed conflict, and counter-terrorism. He also lectures widely and has given numerous media interviews. He serves as a Rabbi for Kehilat Brit Olam, Kiryat Ono, Israel, after having served as a volunteer lay-leader and cantorial soloist in Kehilat YOZMA, Modi’in, and other congregations. David is a member of the Israel Bar Association and holds a B.A. in Political Studies and LLB (Law) from the University of Cape Town and an LLM (Law) from Tel Aviv University. He is also a graduate of the IDF Command and Staff College. A keen singer, David has studied music and voice and is the bass soloist for the Tel Aviv Vocal Quintet as well as a singer in the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir. He completed the HUC-JIR/IMPJ Shlichei Tzibur Program in 2012. David was an HUC-JIR Golden Family Hanassi Fellow at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA. He volunteers widely in Jewish and Israel advocacy work and is a member of the Board of Governors of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. David lives in Modi’in, Israel. He is married to Nancy with three children: Naor, Danit, and Ron.
Rachel Honey Fishbein Druck, an American in Israel and a Modern Orthodox-raised Reform rabbi, has devoted her life and rabbinical work to forging connections between her worlds. Rachel discovered the joys of the Reform Movement when she started working as Rabbi Rachel the Camp Educator at Camp Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, VA. Rachel worked at the camp for six glorious summers and maintains close ties with Temple Rodef Shalom and Rabbi Amy Schwartzman. Rachel earned her B.A. in Yiddish Language and Literature from Barnard College, and will be pursuing an M.A. in Yiddish Literature through a joint program between Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University run by the Goldreich Family Institute. During her studies at HUC-JIR, Rachel served as a Golden Family Hanassi Fellow at Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, NY. Rachel is starting a new Reform community in Givatayim in partnership with the Reform Movement in Israel and the City of Givatayim. Additionally, Rachel has always been an avid reader, and her career in recent years has focused on spreading Jewish knowledge and values through the written word. Rachel is the editor of the Communities Database at Beit Hatfutsot-The Museum of the Jewish People, where she is responsible for collecting, writing about, researching, and editing information about Jewish communities around the world, past and present. Articles she has written for the museum’s blog have appeared on Haaretz’s print and online editions, including “The Lynching of Leo Frank” and “Just Like the Ones I Used to Know? Christmas Music and its Jewish Songwriters.” She is also the content editor at the Israel Religious Action Center. Rachel is originally from Englewood, NJ, and currently lives in Givatayim with her spouse, Shay. She is grateful for all of the love and support that she has received throughout this process from her family.
Tamar Gur-Krause grew up in Haifa in a secular family strongly connected to its roots. In her youth she was very involved in creative fields – art, poetry, and theater. At the end of high school (Leo Baeck High School) and after participating in a visit to the U.S. with the national council of students, of which she was a member, Tamar discovered the Jewish world for the first time. She discovered that she is drawn towards prayers at synagogue, towards the zmirot and hymns and towards spirituality. After discovering this new-old world, Tamar joined the Masorti (Conservative) Movement's youth movement, Noam, as a youth counselor and a central participant at the Conservative synagogue in Haifa. Tamar did her service year at the Beit Yisrael urban kibbutz at a pre-army academy that has both religious and secular participants, and worked with children and youth at risk. Since then, Tamar has worked in many frameworks that address the connections between Jewish identity, Israeli identity, and social action. Tamar has worked at different organizations such as Gesher, Tzav Pius, Elul, Kolech, the AVI CHAI foundation, the Masorti Movement, and more. In addition, she has led programs for youth and adults on identity, Judaism and gender and has run empowerment workshops for girls and young women. Her roles included working as a counselor, coordinator, and content developer. In addition, she has assisted in establishing schools that integrate religious and secular students throughout Israel. Over the years, Tamar has continued to serve as a cantor and prayer leader at various synagogues, to give lectures throughout Israel, and to engage in activism on religion and state. Tamar has a bachelor's degree in Education, History, and Biblical Studies and a master's degree from the Ruderman honors program in American Jewry at Haifa University, and served as an HUC-JIR Golden Family Hanassi Fellow at Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Tamar served as a fellow with different social-political leadership groups such as Kriat Kivun - Preparatory Program for Public Leadership, the late President Shimon Peres's Young Leaders' Forum, and more. Tamar is a social activist in various fields and believes in the importance of different parts of Israeli society meeting one another and in the ability of interpersonal connections to enable healing and tikkun on a personal and societal level. Tamar has guided and married hundreds of couples and today she is one of the leading women in the field. Tamar sees her work with couples as a special calling, both as pluralist and feminist tikkun olam and in advancing the status of female rabbis in public ceremonies, as well as the opportunity to put meaning into this moment in life and through it to help couples find the connection to Judaism and to meaningful content. Tamar is dreaming and planning to expand this field and to create a center for guiding couples at various stages of life and for using textual and Jewish tools to create deep and conscious relationships. She wrote her thesis on the center for couplehood and its various possibilities. Tamar believes in the power of pluralist Jewish discourse that is down to earth and is tailored to meet the life needs of the public, to be a tool for promoting social, personal and spiritual change – and she acts accordingly. She believes in the great importance of women within this world and its tikkun. Tamar lives in Bat Shlomo, is married to Ariel, and is the mother of Avigail and Naomi.
Inbar Bluzer Shalem grew up in the mountains of the Galilee in a 1980s pioneering village in a secular Zionist family. From the Gesher seminar in high school with religious youth, to four years of military service with the diverse faces of Israeli society, Inbar began a personal identity journey to her family roots. In Kathmandu she learned Rashi script in chavruta with a Chabad Rabbi, an experience that opened the gates to studying Torah and Jewish culture. These gates became a journey, as a student and facilitator at the pluralist batei midrash, including: Elul, Beit Hillel, Memizrach Shemesh, Leo Baeck, HaMidrasha at Oranim, Alma and Kolot. After two shlichuyot, the first as a campus shlicha in the United States and the second with the Conservative movement in London, Inbar founded Beit Hillel in Haifa with a unique community model, and created a conversion program at the Technion. Believing that the future of Israel depends on its shared values as a society, and understanding that spiritual and strategic leadership are the tools to make this happen, Inbar decided to move to Jerusalem and join the benches of HUC-JIR's rabbinical school, while also joining the strategic leadership of Jewish renewal. In Jerusalem, Inbar became a founding partner and director of Rashut Ha'Rabim, a partnership of over 30 Jewish renewal organizations working together to create a Jewish and democratic city that is more open and moderate. By empowering the organizations, partnerships inside and outside of civil society and strategic work with the Jerusalem Municipality, the organizations in Rashut Ha'Rabim are succeeding in turning the mosaic of organizations and communities in Jerusalem into a critical mass, into a stream that is sweeping the city. Inbar has a bachelor's degree in Economics and Management from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a certificate in social sciences and humanitarian work in an Israeli-Palestinian program, and an additional master's degree in pluralistic Jewish education from HUC-JIR and Hebrew University. Inbar is in the midst of setting up a center for Jewish pluralism, a shared work space for organizations in the field that will serve as a magnet for building a future for Jewish renewal through new partnerships, a professional development center and creating collective impact models. Inbar is married to Rachel, mothers to three Jerusalemites: Uriah, Aluma-Esther, and Yahel-Menachem.
Yael Vurgan was born and grew up in Rishon LeZion in a secular family, the middle of three children. Her mother was born in Turkey, thus endowing her with Sephardic heritage, and her father was born in Israel to parents from Eastern Europe who were farmers and public figures in Rishon LeZion. From her parents Yael received large doses of love of Israel, love of the Hebrew language and the written word, love of music and great respect for knowledge and learning. Yael attended the renowned Reali School and in her youth was active and a leader in the local Tzofim (Scouts) chapter. From a young age she was involved in leading and running social action and value-based activities and ceremonies. This continued during her army service in the Education Corps, in which she served as an Education Officer at an academy for commanders in Har Gilo. During this time she met and got to know religious people, learned about Jewish rituals and content that she was unfamiliar with, and was drawn to learn more about them. Upon completing her service, she studied Judaism at Midreshet Ein Hanatziv, and began working as a facilitator at Gesher at meetings between secular and religious youth. She has a B.A. in Jewish Thought and Hebrew Literature and an M.A. in Contemporary Judaism, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the beginning she lived a religious-Orthodox way of life for a few years. Afterwards she sought a meaningful Jewish way of life that combines spirituality and tradition with humanist values, a commitment to social activism, and a high degree of personal freedom and choice. During a two-year stay in New York during which she worked as a teacher at Jewish schools, she for the first time got to know Jews who belong to the liberal streams of Judaism in the United States. Upon returning to Israel, Yael worked as a project and program director and coordinator for a number of educational-social institutions: the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, the Mandel Leadership Institute, the Adva Center for social research, as well as in the framework of the Reform Movement managing the Kehilat Tzedek (Community of Justice) project, when she got to know Reform Judaism in Israel and "fell in love." In addition, for many years Yael has been active in peace, coexistence and human rights organizations and initiatives. In 2007 she moved with her partner and son to Modi'in, and the family joined the Achva Congregation – an independent traditional egalitarian congregation. There she first felt a sense of belonging to a Jewish community of prayer, and took her first steps as a prayer leader. During her rabbinical studies, Yael worked at Rabbis for Human Rights, took part in rabbinical work with bar and bat mitzvah students at the YOZMA Congregation in Modi'in, served as a Golden Family Hanassi Fellow at Woodlands Community Temple in Ardsley, NY, and in the last year served as a student rabbi at Kehilat Hashachar in Even Yehuda. Yael has two sons: Shachar and Michael.
Remarks from IMPJ President & CEO Rabbi Gilad Kariv:
Good evening, my teachers and friends,
“I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet were standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” As we speak, the Sigd festival is coming to a close. This festival is celebrated by almost 150,000 Israelis of Ethiopian origin who are trying to preserve their unique tradition as part of the Israeli-Jewish mosaic. From here we send them greeting for the festival, and greetings of partnership. Our longstanding demand to recognize all streams and circles of the Jewish people relates both to ourselves and to them, as it does to Karaite Jews and many other communities. Whether these are groups of just a few tens of thousands, or the millions of Jews who belong to Reform and Conservative Judaism – the State of Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, must treat them and all of us with respect, out of a profound sense of covenant. This covenant is not only one of fate, but also one of destiny. It is not only a covenant of blood, revealed in moments of horror and trouble, but also – and primarily – a covenant of life.
This evening, we congratulate the graduates of the spiritual counseling program and graduates of “Vedibarta Bam,” the master’s program in pluralistic Jewish education. “The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of God and deeds of kindness.” The world of renewed, creative, and reforming Israeli Judaism stands on many things, of which educational action and spiritual action are two of the most important.
This evening, we recite the “Shehecheyanu” prayer for the beginning of new ways and for the new members who join us in our long and arduous journey. First, though, this evening we recite the “good and beneficial” God for the wisdom and melody, the building and the action of our friends who are receiving honorary degrees. From Rabbi Maya Leibovic, the first Israeli-born woman rabbi, we take the virtue of pioneering and the ability to sow seeds in this land and to find in it, as Isaac did, one hundred gates – gates of Torah, community, and lovingkindness. From our teacher Rabbi Reuven, who has left and returned to the land like Jacob, we take the sense of mutual liability with our brothers and sisters across the Jewish world who work on their Torah while also rejoicing in the Torah that comes forth from Zion. From our teacher Professor Hannah Porat (whom, as the song says, we would be happy simply to call Rabbi Hannah), we take the virtue of courage and leadership – the virtue of Rebecca who does not confine herself to Isaac’s plea on her behalf, but seeks God by herself and with her own powers. We are truly fortunate to have you all as our leaders and guides.
The actions of the parents are an omen for the children. God acquired five acquisitions in this world, and we today gain five new acquisitions – acquisitions of the rabbinate. Like the recipients of the honorary degrees, each of them is a world in themselves. Together, they tell the rich and diverse story of our movement.
This morning we held a large and impressive gathering at the Knesset under the title “Time for Equality.” In my remarks, I chose to set aside statistics and evidence of growth and to tell our public representatives about you: Yael, David, Tamar, Rachel, and Inbar. This is what I said:
Today we are celebrating the ordination of five Israeli Reform rabbis. Four women and one man are joining the 100 rabbis already ordained here in Israel. David and Rachel made Aliyah and are Israelis by choice. Yael, Inbar, and Tamar are native-born Sabras. David is the only one of the five who was born to a Reform family – the son of a rabbi, he embarked on rabbinical studies after leaving the IDF at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Our four new women rabbis were born into secular and Orthodox families, of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi origin. They serve as golden bridges between diverse Israeli worlds and circles. Two of the newly-ordinated rabbis head communities, while three are active in a wide range of spiritual, educational, and public activities.
Many groups of graduates of our rabbinical school have been ordained on this stage. But you – Yael, David, Inbar, Tamar, and Rachel – are the most diverse group of all. Your resumes and the histories of your spiritual journeys underscore the way that our movement has become a home for those seeking God and holy community. No less importantly, they show us how rich our world can become when we leave wide openings to our tent and when we make sure to visit the other tents of Israeli society and to learn from those who dwell in them.
Our dear Inbar: continue to gather amber from the crevices of the captivating and challenging city in which we gather today, and continue to transform it into a shining jewel displayed in public. Our dear Yael: in the spirit of “let my soul bless,” Psalm 104, which we recite on the new month – continue to climb the high and steep mountains of gathering communities in Israel and to pursue justice, like an ibex skipping over the hills of the Negev and entering its gates. David – in the spirit of the name Rachel gave to her son Benjamin (Ben Oni – “son of my strength”) – continue to bring the strength of your teaching and wisdom to Kiryat Ono and to the fields of Israeli law. Our dead Rachel – continue to captivate students with the beauty of the Torah, just as our Mother Rachel captivated Jacob; and may the years of your spiritual and Israeli journey be as a handful of days to you. And Tamar, in the spirit of this week’s Torah portion, continue to bring forth this vital red – the love of dozens of couples you marry across Israel every year with wisdom, sensitivity, and profundity. We are truly happy to ordain today our first ginger Israeli woman rabbi!
“Sustain me with sweetmeats, refresh me with apples, for I am lovesick.” It is not easy not to feel sick sometimes at what happens on the streets of this land. It is not easy to recover from the headlines that land on us morning and nights. Your ordainment reinforces our movement life and offers us more apples from the Tree of Knowledge. It revives our strength, for we are sick with love and admiration for you! How good it is that you five take our first step toward the ordaining of the second hundred graduates of the Israeli Rabbinical Program.
On behalf of my senior partner Reuven, the chairperson of the IMPJ Board; on behalf of all the Board members; on behalf of all the staff members; and on behalf of all the members of our movement, I would like first and foremost to thank this dignified and wonderful college, its teachers and administrative staff. How wonderful is the basket you wave today over the altar of our Reform and Israeli lives. And together with you, our holy congregation, I would like to recite in full the blessing “who gave wisdom to those who fear God” as we see these five rabbinical students who in a few moments will put on their splendid laurels:
Blessed are You, God, ruler of the universe, who gives of Your wisdom to those who fear You!