Leor Sinai is a fifth-year student at The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a husband, father, and dual-citizen of the United States and Israel. But, most of all, he’s a man on a mission. Leor wants to become a JTS rabbi, pack up his family, make aliyah, and convince the Jewish people of Israel that Conservative Judaism has something very special and substantial to offer them.
Not a minor mission. You might even call Leor a revolutionary, if you had the mind to. If nothing else, he is a man of great passion who clearly has to make an effort to keep from bursting with Jewish pride, love of Israel, and gratitude to JTS for helping him harness his enthusiasm and discover the means by which to manifest his goals.
“I got hold of The Sacred Cluster by Rabbi Schorsch, and I understood that Israel is central to the Jewish people and that Hebrew is the ‘irreplaceable language of Jewish expression.’ That’s when I began to explore both sides of my life and decided to become a rabbi. What appealed to me about JTS was the yiches (heritage), the vision of past leaders, and the ongoing change of that vision. You know: don’t forget your roots, but march forward with them. I found that equation here at JTS.”
Leor came to his personal crossroads after attending Haifa University and graduating from Hunter College with a degree in Jewish Studies. For several years, he worked at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and became its youngest Long Island campaign associate, specializing in board development and fund-raising, and winning a national Regional Director’s award. With the rise of anti-Israel sentiments on campuses across the US, Leor became national co director of JNF’s college activist department, traveling to various campuses and developing programs that focused on Israeli culture, history, environment, and Democratic values. He also organized and led students on leadership training missions to Israel.
“I’m about Jewish peoplehood, but I realized that if I was going to be what I thought I could be, there was a lot I needed to know that I did not know.”
Leor found what he did not know and what he did not have at JTS. “I have an atypical background. I didn’t have a rabbi growing up . . . I kind of came out of left field with this. The dean of admissions at The Rabbinical School asked how I came to my decision to apply to rabbinical school and he shared some of his own experience with me. I identified with him, and he understood me, and that relationship has continued. Whenever we talk, we hang out, we catch up. He says, ‘You’re doing great. You’ve grown academically and spiritually.’”
Leor couldn’t be happier with the direction of his life and the life of his family. His wife, Karen, is an attorney who once worked with the head of the Likud party in Israel. Their almost three-year-old son, Akiva, speaks fluent Hebrew and was spotted being quite the superhero at JTS’s Purim celebration, in the care of his proud papa. Leor and Karen’s youngest son—born May 31, 2008, at nearly eight pounds and twenty-one inches—is the bouncing new addition to his lovely family.
When asked about JTS, Leor doesn’t mince words: “Go to JTS! You’ll find practical knowledge, you’ll be learning with an internationally renowned faculty that teaches in every realm , and you’ll be in a place where ideas are welcomed. JTS is a place to think , struggle , and discuss . It’s not about one way of thinking.”
Leor’s thinking is now quite clear. He knows he i s going to be a pioneer of sorts when he and his family move to Israel, and his mission of Conservative Judaism is a great motivator:
“Because of the current religious climate in Israel, most Jews I know there often call themselves Israelis and not Jews. They feel distant from what Judaism is because it’s forced on them in extreme terms. It’s very sad. Our Judaism is so rich and so beautiful and so full of energy and inspiration . . . I want to be part of the Movement that has already started in Israel, to try to bring an additional way of seeing things through a Conservative lens. I’m here to do something in this world, I think we each are. JTS taught me that it’s a question of whether we’re willing to accept that mission and then take one small step after another.”