Orthodox Students Travel to Study Social Justice Issues in Israel

The Group of women in Sderot.  Tova is top row, third to the right; I am in the bottom row in the center.— by Malka Nusbaum

Thirty Yeshiva University undergraduate students were  privileged to explore social justice issues for a week this past January in Israel. This trip, Tzedek and Tzedekah (Justice and Charity)was sponsored by the Jim Joseph Foundation under a grant from the Council of Jewish Federations. Our delegation, composed of fifteen young women and an equal number of young men, was accompanied by Roshei Yeshiva (heads of the school), Rav Hershel Shechter and Rav Assaf Bennarsh. We spent two weeks exploring many aspects of social justice and the laws pertaining to justice in the Torah.

More after the jump.
Picture of Tova and me.We learned about the unique judicial system in Israel, the dichotomous nature of a social system founded on core Jewish principles, based upon Torah values and tradition. As part of our mission, we volunteered at Afikim, a non-profit organization dedicated to founding programs that offer “a realistic solution to the poverty crisis in Israel.” Their “focus on incorporating both children-at-risk and their parents…has led to establishment of a network of afternoon centers across Israel that offers new hope and possibilities for disadvantaged, troubled families.” We also toured jails, halfway houses, kibbutzim, and the Beit Mishpat Elyon, the Israeli Supreme Court.

We also learned about non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), privatization, and spoke to various activists, political thinkers and CEOs of companies which demonstrate outstanding corporate social responsibility.

One prominent social issue that was addressed at a forum we attended, are the prejudiced statements and actions committed by the ultra-orthodox populations’ against women who do not follow their approved approach to modest dress. Speakers addressed the shocking events which transpired on the streets of Beit Shemesh, which reinforced the trip theme of the importance of social justice regulations and activism.

The is a picture at Bar Ilan University. In the center is Rabbanit Shachter and to the right is Devorah Deutsch and the left is me.At a panel discussion on the spitting incident and the ramifications of Haredi (ultra-orthodox) extremism, one panelist, Rabbi Dov Lippman said, “Religious extremism in Israel needs to be dealt with – now. All Jews must unite to remove this threat to our country’s future. We must proactively work to transform Israel in this realm before we can reach our full potential. Along with the negative e-mails and messages I have been receiving for my activism these past few weeks, I have been touched by the outpouring of support from both moderate Haredim and secular Israelis who have thanked me for taking on this challenge and doing what is right. So those who are closed-minded and not willing to join forces with other groups can remain at home while complaining about our problems. The rest of us will join together to save your country.”

“Having great Rabbanim with us on this trip enabled us to put our work in a Torah perspective and made it very meaningful. It made a world of a difference. It really helped us learn about our relationship [with Israel] through a Torah
perspective. It became a Torahdika trip,” explained Tova Miller a 21 year old Biology major at Stern College for Women.

Our trip was not only a setting in place what would serve to be two weeks of exploration, learning, and shared new experience, but also was unique because of exposure to the darker sides of Israeli society, which are not discussed with enough honesty on most trips to Israel. We learned that Israeli society is much larger than what can be learned on a visit to the Western Wall.

Malka Nusbaum is a junior at Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women majoring in Judaic Studies and Biology.

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