Meet NYU’s New JLIC Torah Educators: Rabbi Gideon and Aliza Black

21 Nov 2011


Rabbi Gideon and Aliza Black are the Orthodox Union’s new JLIC (Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) Torah Educators at New York University. Along with their infant son, Judah, the Blacks have come to the metropolitan university as a team, with a sense of mission to balance an authentic college experience valuable for personal and intellectual growth, with the opportunities for positive Jewish experiences to live a life by Torah values. NYU’s undergraduate Orthodox population has grown exponentially over the last decade into what is now, one of the largest Orthodox campus communities in North America.

They succeed Rabbi Yehuda and Michelle Sarna, who built up a legendary program for Jewish students at NYU, including JLIC.

The Blacks also serve as part of the NYU Hillel staff, and additionally are the primary professional advisers to the NYU Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, dedicated to running campus-wide Jewish religious, social and cultural events.

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

Rabbi Ilan Haber, Director of JLIC, declared, “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.”

According to Rabbi Haber, “The Blacks are warm, engaging and excellent models for Jewish leadership, growth and communal engagement. We are extremely excited and proud to have them join the JLIC family team and look forward to seeing their energy and creativity with the NYU students.”

He continued, “The Blacks do not come as a replacement per se of the Sarnas, as the Sarnas will continue to serve the Jewish community at NYU in other capacities. The decision to place a new couple at the university came from the desire to place additional resources for the growing and burgeoning student population on campus. We are proud that Rabbi Yehuda Sarna will serve as the Chaplan at NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, and together with his wife Michelle, will continue to serve as professional mentors. I can’t think of better examples for the Blacks.”

Gideon Black, a native of London, began his academic career at the London School of Economics. He holds a Law Degree from University College London, and a Master’s Degree in Jewish Philosophy from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University in New York. As part of his rabbinical training at from YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), Gideon both worked with the Jewish community in Charleston, SC, and served as a rabbinic intern at Manhattan Jewish Experience and the Riverdale Jewish Center, both in New York.

Aliza Black, originally from Englewood, NJ, holds a BA in Biology from Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, and currently studies at Pace University to be a Physician’s Assistant. Aliza spent a year living with her husband in Jerusalem, where she joined the staff at Midreshet HaRova Seminary, while volunteering in the Education Department of Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance, and in the Maternity Ward of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital.

“Coming to NYU as a British Orthodox Rabbi, I continue to feel a constant sense of amazement at the strength of campus life here – the students are tremendously blessed to be in such a vibrant campus,” noted Gideon Black. “As hundreds of Jewish students are involved in Jewish life, it’s important to remember that our role as JLIC Torah Educators is to build on the strength of Jewish life NYU has to offer, and to instill that the students will take this vibrancy wherever they go personally, and professionally.”

He continued, “One of our primary focuses is to make NYU our home — to connect personally with as many students as possible. We’re here to build those relationships for me to be a rabbi to turn to for mentoring, counseling, and to share Jewish experiences with friends. This year NYU has its largest intake from yeshiva/day schools. Part of that is a testament to the Sarnas and the framework they built on campus of exciting positive Jewish experiences. We want to continue their successful framework, and eventually expand programming to meet the needs and interests of our students.”

Aliza noted, “We enjoy being able to relate differently to the students in various venues. For our very first Shabbat spent on campus, we attended a Friday night dinner sponsored by NYU’s Bronfman Center, and we were with hundreds of students; for lunch we hosted students. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur many students went home, and our services were transformed into much more of a community shul — serving locals and professors as much as we did students. This year’s Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah/Shabbat was a three-day marathon of energy embraced by our students to make a most exhilarating, meaningful experience.”

Shared the Blacks, “Life on campus will always be spiritually different for students coming from Israel or their home communities. While life in the city is not a safe cocoon, we are part of a community where the energy on Shabbat is incredible – Jewish life at its fullest, of singing, and words of Torah shared – all part of an extremely positive Jewish environment. NYU students are blessed. We feel extremely fortunate to be part of life’s journey with them.”

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