A Young Rabbinical Couple from Israel Arrives at the U of P to Bring the Warmth of Jewish Life

07 Nov 2006


Direct from Israel, a young Orthodox rabbi and his wife have arrived at the University of Pennsylvania to guide Jewish students in furthering their spiritual growth and Jewish knowledge. Rabbi Mordechai and Limor Friedman are the new Torah Educators of the Orthodox Union’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program.

JLIC is found on 13 prestigious campuses nationwide, including the University of Pennsylvania. (Other Ivy League schools with JLIC couples are Yale, Princeton and Cornell.) In addition to the Friedmans, new JLIC couples are also in residence this semester at Cornell, the University of Maryland, and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, where the program debuted this fall.

JLIC, operating in coordination with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Student Life and the Torah Mitzion organization, 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.

The program 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.

Rabbi Friedman, a native of Teaneck, NJ, has lived in Israel for the past five years, where for the past two, he taught at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, a one-year learning program for post-high school students in Israel, located in Jerusalem. He is also pursuing his doctorate in Talmud at Israel’s Bar Ilan University. He earned his BA in Judaic Studies from Yeshiva University in New York and a MA in Medieval Jewish History at the Bernard Revel Graduate School at YU. Rabbi Friedman began his semicha (rabbinic ordination) studies at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and completed his work at the YU’s Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem.

The daughter of Moroccan immigrants, Limor Friedman was born in the southern city of Netivot (near Sderot and Be’er Sheva) in Israel. She attended a Bnai Akiva religious Zionist high school, and afterwards, for two years, did national service by giving seminars across Israel to secular high school students. She also taught Hebrew and Bible at a Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, as part of a shelichut (national service abroad) option. While in LA, she also headed the Bnai Akiva chapter there. Limor received her BA and MA in English Literature from Bar Ilan.

The couple met while Limor was completing her national service by working as a madricha (guide) in a Bnai Akiva camp in Indian Orchard, PA called TVI (Torah and Avodah Institute), where Mordy was also a madrich. The following summer the couple married in Israel. They have a two-year-old daughter, Noa.

According to Rabbi Ilan Haber, Jerusalem-based Director of the OU campus program, “The new JLIC couples are all off to really excellent starts on their campuses. I am very excited about their unique blend of qualities and talents, and what they bring to their respective campus communities. The feedback that I have received about the Friedmans and their counterparts has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Now that the fall holiday season is behind them — with Yom Kippur services led by Rabbi Friedman and students having drawn close to 500 people –the JLIC couple at Penn is continuing to reinforce its goals of stimulating love, curiosity and intellectual drive for Torah, as well as building a sense of community, friendship and family on campus.

During the week, the Friedmans can be found in their office at Hillel, in the cafeteria, or in Starbucks on campus, where they build relationships with students by “schmoozing” in one-on-one consultations, study sessions and meetings. The couple’s laid-back approach allows students to feel comfortable developing a bond with them.

Rabbi Friedman gives numerous classes — an advanced Talmud class twice a week, a class on Jewish dietary law (kashrut), and also a class on the Torah portion of the week (parsha). Limor gives a class on Aggada (non-legal Talmudic stories) in which she utilizes her background in literature to arrive at a deeper meaning and its application to daily life. Her second class is given in Hebrew on Biblical personalities.

“This class is quite popular,” said Limor. “It is for those students who feel a strong connection to the land of Israel and love to hear Tanach (Bible) being taught in its original language.”

She also initiated a class, My Favorite Parshan, which invites speakers across the denominational divide from the campus or the surrounding area — ranging from Orthodox rabbis to a female Reconstructionist rabbi — to present a basic biography and methodology of the parshan (commentator), such as Rashi, the great medieval exegete, and Nachmanides.

Through the efforts of the Friedmans, there is not a day on campus without Torah learning, as there are a minimum of four Torah classes a day, making the University of Pennsylvania a true makom Torah (place of Torah learning). Attendance at Torah classes has been very strong and unprecedented in student involvement.

After the week’s activities are completed, Mordy and Limor, along with Noa, welcome students to spend Shabbat with them in their home, which is conveniently located two blocks from Hillel.

“Our home is a major part of our work at JLIC, as we have hosted many events here, ranging from Shabbat to breakfast meetings to women’s movie nights,” said Mordy. For the first Shabbat of the semester, the Friedmans held a successful oneg (Friday night Jewish social gathering), in which they focused on freshmen and hosted 60 enthusiastic students until late in the evening. The following Shabbat, more than 50 students came to their Friday night meal and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Limor and Mordy are used to having students in their home. They served as eim bayit (house mother) and av bayit (house father) at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, where Limor practiced cooking for many people. Noa, they say with delight, plays an important part in making students feel at home.

“During the first two events, we opened our hearts and homes to the students to demonstrate that we’re here for them,” Rabbi Friedman said. They paid particular attention to freshmen, he explained, “because it’s so easy to be swept away by many things on campus. God willing, we will be able to cultivate a united and powerful group of active freshmen who will be a powerhouse group in the years to come.”

“By living near campus we have ability to host Friday night dinners and spend time with students on Shabbat day. For us, the most important part of our job has been getting to know the students and letting them know that we’re here for them and can be a resource to them in variety of ways,” Rabbi Friedman declared.