Jumpstart Israel

New JTS Hebrew Language Program Makes Transition to Israel Studies Easier Than Ever

  Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and dean of the Division of Religious Leadership at The Jewish Theological Seminary, and I were having dinner with a friend of JTS from Florida. Our friend innocently asked us about some of the challenges of The Rabbinical School program in Israel. Immediately, Danny and I flagged the matter of JTS students' transition to a full day immersed in the Hebrew language as they study at the Schechter Institute and live in Israel. We expressed our wish to develop a Hebrew-intensive ulpan program that could ease the transition for students who feel the need for additional language support; a program that would significantly advance their Hebrew-speaking ability, and root them more deeply in a love for Israel.  

Our friend, who has deep roots in Israel, took the ball and ran with it, and lovingly and generously decided that this idea was a worthy investment. Together, we researched a number of venues for the program. We traveled the length and breadth of Israel in order to understand the components we wanted to include in building our own unique program, and to explore the possibility of different settings. As our ulpan provider, we turned to Ulpan Milah, which has an extraordinary reputation. They have also worked with JTS's William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education's Kesher Hadash Semester-in-Israel students, so they have a proven track record of working with JTS. And so Jumpstart Israel for JTS rabbinical and other students was born, with the pilot program beginning modestly this summer. We had an expectation that a few students would enroll; very quickly, we exceeded that expectation.  

Between June 16 and September 11, 2013, our Jumpstart Israel students will learn in the Ulpan Milah program on Monday through Thursday mornings. This intensive experience will be supplemented by some unique JTS programming. Students learning on the bet and gimmel ulpan levels will also participate weekly in a supplementary session hosted at JTS's Schocken Institute in Jerusalem. While the session will begin at Schocken, students will go on outings every Sunday to practice their spoken Hebrew and to build self-confidence. We hope to have a number of other special programs along the way, including an Amazing Race-style competition, as well as a hike or two in the Jerusalem area. The Conservative Yeshiva (under JTS academic auspices) has also graciously opened its afternoon program to our Jumpstart Israel participants. Students can opt to take as many classes as they like for a nominal fee.   All in all, this will be an extraordinary experience for these JTS students studying and living in Israel. We hope to make Jumpstart Israel an annual tradition.  

Rabbi Mathew Berkowitz
Director of Israel Programs, JTS