Meet Cornell’s New JLIC Torah Educators: Rabbi Ami and Eliana Silver

17 Nov 2011


Rabbi Ami and Eliana Silver are the Orthodox Union’s new JLIC (Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) Torah Educators at Cornell University. Along with their four-month-old daughter, Noveya Tzion, the Silvers have come to the prestigious university as a team, with a sense of mission to develop personal relationships that foster the students’ discovery of a meaningful Jewish experience.

The Silvers also serve as part of the Cornell Hillel staff, and additionally are the primary professional advisers to the Cornell Center for Jewish Living, an entirely student-run organization comprised of a residence hall and a programming board dedicated to running campus-wide Jewish religious, social and cultural events.

They succeed Rabbi Jason and Chana Leib, who spent three years at Cornell.

JLIC places Orthodox rabbinic couples to serve as Torah Educators within the Hillels on local college campuses. In their responsibilities as role models and guides, the couple provides religious study on a group and individual basis, warm Sabbath and holiday observances, and interaction in the social life for Orthodox students coming from yeshivas, many of whom find themselves attending school in a non-Jewish environment for the first time. They also reach out and interact with students who participated in the OU’s international youth program, NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership.

Including Cornell, JLIC is currently found on 15 campuses: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Brandeis, University of Massachusetts/Amherst, NYU, Brooklyn College, Rutgers, the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, UCLA, and York University/University of Toronto in Canada.

Rabbi Ilan Haber, Director of JLIC, declared, “The Silvers are very warm, sweet, and engaging. They reflect a rare blend of thoughtfulness, intellectual endeavor, and spirituality. They were extremely well-received by Hillel, and the students of Cornell, especially those associated with the Cornell Center for Jewish Living. We are all very excited for possibilities of their work on campus.”

Rabbi Haber emphasized, “The unique qualities, talents and capabilities of each of our educators are the keys to JLIC’s success. Our educators serve as role models and mentors for the students, relating to the questions and answers that students are facing, and helping them continue their Jewish development. We have put together an incredibly talented and diverse cohort of educators, including our most recent additions.”

He continued, “The Leibs – who spent three years serving the Jewish community at Cornell – brought incredible dedication, creativity, and substance to the work of JLIC on campus and their legacy is an excellent platform to build upon.”

Rabbi Silver shared, “Before coming to Cornell, Eliana and I had been living in Jerusalem for almost seven years. We had been interested for some time in working on a college campus, and felt a strong desire to share the gifts that we had received living and studying in Israel with students in the States. We were both blessed to have mentors and rabbis during our college experience who had a meaningful impact on our own lives, and felt a natural draw to return to the campus environment to connect with students during these formative years.”

Ami Silver, a native of New York City’s Upper West Side, earned his BA in Jewish Thought and World Religions from McGill University in Montreal; which included a year-and-a-half of classes at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has studied at Yeshivat Bat Ayin in Israel’s Judean Hills, and Yeshivat Sulam Yaakov in Jerusalem, where he received his rabbinical ordination. Over the years, Rabbi Silver taught and mentored newcomers to Jewish learning at Yeshivat Sulam Yaakov’s beginners’ program; worked as a tree-planter in the Canadian hinterlands; a Jewish outdoor educator in Israel; and a Hebrew-English translator for The Steinsaltz Center of Jerusalem.

Eliana Silver grew up in Boxford, MA (a small town North of Boston). She received a BA in Psychology from Naropa University in Colorado, before moving to Israel and immersing herself in intensive studies at Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo in the heart of Jerusalem for five years. During that time, Eliana taught in their Women’s Beginner’s Program; ran a healthy catering company; and worked as a Hebrew-English editor and translator for The Steinsaltz Center of Jerusalem.

“Ami strives to unearth relevant life lessons from all areas of Torah learning and observance. He is passionate about helping others discover their personal connection to Torah and Judaism, and enhancing that connection through fun, meaningful experiences,” noted Eliana. During his “Lunch and Learn” sessions, Rabbi Silver has explored fundamental Jewish concepts behind prayer, in addition to the content found in Jewish prayer books. He has also infused a Thursday night in-depth learning session of the Talmud with underlying discussions regarding the interplay between people and God through prayer. “The goal of these programs is for students to feel empowered to form their own personal relationship with prayer, and for the different elements of a Judaism to take on personal meaning in their lives,” Rabbi Silver emphasized.

Music is another passion of the rabbi, which he shares with Cornell students. “I play guitar, and led singing at events throughout the Jewish holiday season at the beginning of the semester,” he shared. “In addition, we often spend quality time singing with students on Shabbat at all three meals.”

Eliana has begun a weekly women’s program called “Circle Works.” It is a forum for the female students to work on building their community, deepening their relationships with one another, and personal growth utilizing Torah teachings and experiential exercises.

Rabbi Silver explained, “A new program we’ve initiated is the weekly Open Beit Midrash (Study Hall) Night, where we partner with students to create our vision of offering community-wide learning. The idea is to make the beit midrash a central place for Jewish learning for students from across the spectrum of Jewish backgrounds and identities. One night a week, we offer texts and help facilitate learning that is catered to the interests of each of the students, and help pair them up with chevrutot (study partners) or encourage them to study together in small groups. This is an initiative that we’re hoping to expand and turn into a cornerstone of Jewish campus life. Eliana is working to revamp the beit midrash on campus in order to make it a more inviting and inspiring space for learning.”

The Silvers declared, “Between academic responsibilities, extra-curricular activities, clubs and board meetings, Cornell students often come to us feeling overwhelmed – they are overworked, and overextended. Yet, they are extremely dedicated to their Jewish life and creating a vibrant Jewish community on campus. One of the challenges and opportunities we face is helping them to create this community, while simultaneously guiding them to care for their own personal physical and emotional needs.”

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