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Herzog Yemei Iyun Bring Tanach Alive in Gush Etzion

Rachel Levitt Klein Dratch (right) with Shira Kronenberg (left), director of the Judaic Studies Learning Center at Frisch. They both participated in the Herzog Global Jewish Educators’ Day, which was part of the Yemei Iyun. (Credit: Nati Ben Nun)

When most olim arrive in Israel, they usually spend their first few weeks taking care of all the administrative details and getting to know their new surroundings.

This was not the case with Rachel Levitt Klein Dratch. Just one week after making aliyah with her husband, Rabbi Mark Dratch, a VP of the Rabbinical Council of America from New Hampshire, she spent the week sitting through lectures at the 32nd annual Bible Study Conference, known as Yemei Iyun B’Tanach, at Herzog College in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion.

Rachel, an education consultant for Prizmah, had a thoroughly enjoyable week learning about the very Tanach that connected her and her husband to Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, Rachel posted on Facebook, “Being here at the Herzog Yemei Iyun is like being in a candy store for Tanach geeks! So happy!”

Every summer, thousands of Bible study enthusiasts gather at Herzog College for four days of intensive lectures by the world’s leading Tanach lecturers. This year’s program included 125 live lectures in Hebrew, 25 lectures in English and five in French. Some of the lectures were livestreamed and are also available for online viewing. Also available are online virtual Tanach tours around Israel—originally added during the COVID era—plus new evening events that took place this year in Jerusalem and Modi’in.

Originally, those attracted to the Yemei Iyun back in the 1990s were mostly Tanach teachers from Israeli schools, but the event soon became popular with men and women of all ages who enjoy learning Tanach.

In the Jewish Educators’ Day portion of programming, educators from the United States, and Jewish communities around the world workshopped ways to meet the needs of today’s students and empower them to learn Tanach, in a way that makes it exciting and applicable to their lives. Rabbi Dr. Shalom Berger, who runs the English-language program at the Yemei Iyun, explained: “Whether they teach in Jewish day schools in Manchester, Memphis or Melbourne, they need to show that the Tanach is still relevant today, in order to engage the ‘TikTok generation’ with its eternal messages.”

Participants in Yemei Iyun. (Credit: Nati Ben Nun)

To that aim, Herzog Global is set to launch its new storytelling curriculum for community schools, which takes a novel approach to exploring themes of Jewish identity through biblical stories. Herzog Global is the international arm of Herzog College that delivers teacher education programs and resources in English and Spanish to Jewish teachers and schools.

The Yemei Iyun B’ Tanach traditionally takes place shortly before Tisha B’Av, and every participant receives links to free online lectures suitable for viewing on Tisha B’Av. Speakers jetting in from the U.S. to speak at this year’s event included Rabbi David Fohrman of Aleph Beta, Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter from Yeshiva University, Rabbi Yehuda Chanales from Teaneck, and Rabbi Shmuel Feld from Silver Spring, Maryland. Many participants plan their summer vacation in Israel in order to attend.

Rabbi Berger explained: “Despite the wealth of Tanah material available today on every online

platform, over 3,000 people have booked seats at this in-person event, because of the shared excitement that it generates every year. As one of this year’s speakers, Dr. Yosefa Fogel Wruble, who teaches Tanach at Herzog College and Matan, wrote on Facebook: ‘If you have always wanted to know what Matan Torah felt like, come to the Yemei Iyun!’”

Indeed, Fogel Wruble, who has taught at the Yemei Iyun for three years, told The Link: “When I made aliyah 15 years ago I got my teacher’s diploma from Herzog. Then, it was my dream to teach at these Yemei Iyun in Ivrit. It means more to me to teach at the Yemei Iyun than at university, as here it means you’ve made it in the world of Tanach teaching and the fact I’m able to speak in Ivrit means so much to me. This year I spoke in English about Moshe and his leadership skills and in Ivrit about female models of leadership—which just weeks after the birth of my fifth child is so meaningful. I’m already looking forward to being there again next year.”

Rabbi Shalom Berger, head of the English speakers’ program at the Yemei Iyun. (Credit: Nati Ben Nun)

Julia Waldman, from Highland Park, New Jersey, who made aliyah 30 years ago old The Link:

“[After I made aliyah], the only thing I missed about the U.S. (other than my family) was Drisha, where I learned after work. I moved to Neve Daniel 16 years ago and love it here. What’s so exciting about the Yemei Iyun is the energy here. The opportunity to really immerse oneself in Torah, with such a selection of brilliant lecturers, right next to my house, is such a blessing. I have been coming for four years now, and each time both the lecturers and the content were interesting and uplifting. In short, the Yemei Iyun are one of the highlights of my year.”

Reuven Weiser, who made aliyah from West Orange in 2005, shared: “It’s incredible to have the opportunity to dedicate some time to learning Tanach, among so many other people for whom this opportunity is so important. Having so many people gathered in Alon Shvut for a singular purpose feels almost (l’havdil) like aliyah laregel, and seeing the stands that merchants have set up to appeal to all those who have come from near and far gives one a small taste of what it might have felt like when so many gathered in Jerusalem.”

Rabbi Moshe Taragin, a lecturer on the Yemei Iyun and a popular rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion, said: “Scheduling this Torah celebration during the week immediately prior to Tisha B’Av powerfully symbolizes that as we mourn over Jewish exile and dream of redemption, thousands of people immerse themselves in the Book of Prophecy and Jewish history. Watching teenagers and retirees, local Israelis and international visitors all gather in the Gush is a thrilling reminder of how Torah study draws our people back to our homeland—literally and figuratively. The study afforded a well-needed respite from the social unrest in Israel. Studying the book of Jewish history reminds us of our common destiny, which transcends political divisions.”

Benjy Singer lives in Jerusalem and is a freelance journalist covering Jewish world and Israel stories. He can be reached at [email protected].

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