Young Rabbinical Couple from Israel Arrives at Rutgers to Guide Students in OU’s JLIC Program
Direct from Israel, a young Orthodox rabbi and his wife have arrived at Rutgers University in New Brunswick to offer Jewish education and spiritual guidance. Rabbi Yisrael Porath and Shoshana Porath are the new Torah Educators of the Orthodox Union’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program, which is in its third year at Rutgers.
JLIC operates in coordination with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Student Life and the Torah Mitzion organization to support and tend to the spiritual needs of the students. Although targeted to the Orthodox, JLIC is open to all Jewish students, regardless of level of observance. It is based at Hillel, with the couple being part of the Hillel staff as well as the OU staff.
JLIC features intensive study of Jewish texts, Sabbath and holiday observance, daily synagogue services, as well as mentoring and good companionship. It is dedicated to the enhancement of Orthodox communities (kehilot) on campus by promoting positive growth and identity among Jewish students, therefore serving as one of the incubators of the future of Orthodoxy.
Rutgers University is among 15 campuses with JLIC, which is now in its eighth year. Other participating schools include: Yale, NYU, Brooklyn College, Cornell, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, University of Florida, University of Illinois, and UCLA.
Like other JLIC couples, the Poraths have an impressive educational background in both religious and secular studies. Rabbi Porath, who made aliyah with his family from Ohio, studied at the Karnei Shomron Hesder Yeshiva while in the Nachal infantry unit. He holds a B.Ed. in educational counseling, a teaching certificate, and received his semicha (rabbinical certification) from Yeshivat HaMivtar and Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Porath has worked for various educational organizations and institutions, including Bnei Akiva, Yavneh Olami, and Yeshivat Shaarei Mevaseret Tzion, and taught at Midreshet Moriah for the past two years.
Shoshana Porath, from Queens, NY, made aliyah after spending a year of learning at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim. Mrs. Porath has a B.A. in Tanach (Bible) from Bar-Ilan University, a teaching certificate from Michlelet Herzog, and is a Lindenbaum Educators Fellow. She has also worked for educational organizations and institutions, including Bnei Akiva and Midreshet Moriah.
“Because we are coming from Israel, we’ve had different experiences than those who attended college in the States,” said Rabbi Porath. “But students have commented to us that they appreciate the special Torat Eretz Yisrael (Torah from the Land of Israel) and Israeli perspective that we’ve brought with us.”
The Poraths have already seen great success with their holiday and learning programs at Rutgers. More than 60 students attended a recent Friday night gathering, where they sang and offered words of Torah, while approximately 75 students attended the Simchat Torah program. Students also regularly attend the Shabbat Parsha (weekly Torah portion) class at the Poraths; the women’s class; chavruta (learning partner) programs; and the daily morning Gemara class before davening.
Shoshana Porath’s Women and Tanach class has been particularly successful. The class studies textual sources and facilitates discussion about Biblical stories and their relevance to students’ everyday lives. Participants’ background in Judaic study ranges from life-long Judaic education to beginners.
The Hillel House is the base for JLIC programs. On Shabbat, the Poraths attend meals at Hillel or invite students for dinner at their home, where students can meet the Poraths’ eight-month-old daughter, Eliana. The Poraths also host students during the week for various programs and activities. “Building relationships with the students is our main focus now,” said Shoshana Porath. “We want students to feel comfortable coming to our home for a hot bowl of soup and schmoozing.”
Because of students’ overwhelming academic and extracurricular responsibilities, expecting large numbers of participants at weekday activities is unrealistic, the Poraths say. It’s also difficult to determine what subjects appeal to the students. But the Poraths understand these challenges and are testing the waters. “It’s exciting that students want to learn Torah, so we are seeing what part of the Torah interests each student,” said Shoshana Porath.
“We realize that it’s a tremendous sacrifice for students to give up their personal time to attend another class,” Rabbi Porath added.
The previously established group of JLIC-involved students at the University can be attributed to Rabbi Ori and Lea Melamed, the original JLIC couple at Rutgers. With their creativity and dedication, the Melameds formed relationships with the students, taught classes, and organized many programs, including trips to Israel.
“The Melameds created an Orthodox community on campus almost ex nihilo in the two years of their tenure,” said Rabbi Menachem Schrader, the Israel-based founder of JLIC. “Their being Israeli gave a ‘Holy Land emphasis’ on almost everything that took place.”
It’s a hard act to follow, but the Poraths are doing a pretty good job.
“The students, as well as the Hillel director, were especially interested in receiving another Israeli couple to replace them,” explained Rabbi Schrader. “Sruly and Shoshana fit the bill both in fact and attitude. They are products of The Hesder Yeshivot and Bar-Ilan, are Religious-Zionist to the core, and have the background and tolerance to understand the American Jewish student mindset.”
Once a committed student community is established, the Poraths hope to revive the Beit Midrash facility on campus and to strengthen the number of participants in the daily minyan (prayer service), which already has 20 regular attendees.
“With the Melameds having created the community, the Poraths will be working on greater student empowerment in organization and function,” Rabbi Schrader said. “The progress is likely to be less dramatic, but incrementally very substantial.”
More of the Porath’s plans for the future include inviting Jewish educator guest-speakers and programming to help aliyah-minded students, possibly in conjunction with the Israeli organization Nefesh B’Nefesh. “We are always thinking of new ideas and strategies,” said Rabbi Porath. “It’s a trial and error process and we have to find the right button to push.”
“My wife and I love teaching,” said Rabbi Porath. “It’s such a blessing that we can share Torah with the students at Rutgers. It’s more than a job; it’s a mission. And when you see it as a mission, there are no work-hours, it’s all day, every day, and we love it.”