April 16, 2024
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New Jersey Family, Israel’s Bar-Ilan University Commit to Multiyear Expansion of OU’s Student Life Program for International Students

Philanthropic gift will grow critical support network on campus for Modern Orthodox English-speakers from abroad.

(Courtesy of OU) Hundreds of English-speaking Modern Orthodox international students at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University will benefit this fall from a significant expansion of The Orthodox Union Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC), a support network that serves as their “home away from home,” thanks to a generous multiyear investment by Englewood philanthropist and radiologist Dr. Monique Katz and her family, along with Bar-Ilan University.

OU-JLIC is active on 25 campuses in North America and Israel and supports Modern Orthodox and traditional students by offering mentorship and a religious framework including Torah study; religious services; halachic and spiritual guidance from a resident rabbinic couple; Shabbat and holiday meals; and other social events. The Mizrachi World Movement, a global religious Zionist organization, is also a partner in the JLIC programs.

The general absence of religious support and student life on Israeli campuses highlights the need for such programs. While Modern Orthodox students from abroad don’t have to worry about exams and classes scheduled on Shabbat and other holidays, they contend with a distinct set of challenges, such as communicating in a new language, learning a different culture, being far from home, finding and making new connections in the community and facing a dearth of support in maintaining a religious lifestyle and identity.

Of the 20,000 students enrolled at Bar-Ilan, located near Tel Aviv in Ramat Gan, approximately 1,500 anglophones attend the university’s international undergraduate and graduate programs. Students live both at the dormitories at Bar-Ilan’s Ramat Gan campus and in the adjacent city of Givat Shmuel.

“In contrast to North American universities, Bar-Ilan’s student body is far more diverse,” said Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal, national director of development for OU-JLIC. “Many students have served in the Israel Defense Forces, many are married, some may be Lone Soldiers, and others may be completing Sherut Leumi, Israel National Service.”

About 450 international students currently take advantage of Bar-Ilan’s OU-JLIC’s Jewish life offerings. Thanks to the generosity of the Katz family, Bar-llan University and the Mizrachi World Movement, a global religious Zionist movement partnering in the expansion, these students will now have greater resources in English that also bridge the cultural divide.

“Our goal is to double OU-JLIC engagement at Bar-Ilan with a second resident rabbinic couple and on-campus programming, including a new English-language Beit Midrash Program at the university’s Machon Hagvoha l’Torah/Midrasha,” said Rabbi Jonathan Shulman, OU-JLIC’s associate director.

At the start of the new academic year, Uri and Abby Lorkis will join Rabbi Tzvi and Tali Wohlgelernter as directors of Bar-Ilan’s OU-JLIC team. The Wohlgelertners will serve the student community in Givat Shmuel and the Lorkises will live in a new Bar-Ilan dormitory with first- and second-year students, and increase on-campus activities.

“We have a lot of exciting events planned and we can’t wait to create a hub of student life,” Lorkis said.

Bar-Ilan University CEO and Senior Vice President Zohar Yinon appreciates the critical leadership roles the rabbinic couples play on campus. “It is very important for people who want and need Jewish life to have spiritual guides that are close to them, live with them on campus and are part of their daily lives,” he said.

In addition to hosting students in their homes and cultivating meaningful relationships with them, the Wohlgelernters and Lorkises will oversee dynamic student life programs ranging from weekly Torah classes, leadership development activities, chesed initiatives such as visits to Holocaust survivors and cooking for the sick to social events such as soccer and football games and a wine and cheese night. They will also offer spiritual and emotional support via ongoing mentorship and pastoral care.

“The scene of the action will be both on and off campus,” said JLIC’s Rabbi Rosenthal. “Thanks to our partners’ generosity, there’s no end to the possibilities of programmatic offerings.”

OU-JLIC’s extended reach also will be evident at Bar-Ilan’s new English Beit Midrash and Midrasha programs, which will offer credit courses for international students.

“The growth of OU-JLIC is very exciting,” said Rabbanit Dr. Leah Wiesel, head of Bar-Ilan Midrasha for Women. “It will allow us to deliver classes in English along with moral support and accessibility for all students. We can now provide the full variety of resources they need to grow in the Jewish values that we all hold dear.”

Bar-Ilan has actively supported and contributed to the success of the JLIC program since its launch in 2019.

“Bar-Ilan University is the sole Israeli university making an investment of this magnitude over the course of a number of years,” said Rabbi Rosenthal. “OU-JLIC is deeply gratified that Bar-Ilan has seen what we are doing on campus and has significantly invested in our growth.”

For Dr. Monique and Michael Katz, the expansion of Bar-Ilan’s OU-JLIC program is an extension of Dr. Mordecai Katz’s decades-long relationship with the university, where he served for 12 years as chairman of the Board of Trustees and was instrumental in the university’s growth and expansion. Dr. Mordecai Katz, z”l, who passed away at 88 in March 2021, was Dr. Monique Katz’s husband and Michael Katz’s father.

“His focus was always on ensuring that students could afford to attend and providing them with a top-quality education,” Michael Katz said. “The expansion at OU-JLIC at Bar-Ilan very much aligns with what my father believed to be important and what he worked so hard to achieve.”

Said Dr. Monique Katz, “Morty firmly believed that a good Jewish education was the key to Jewish continuity and [communal] strength.”

Dr. Mordecai Katz was a staunch proponent of Jewish education and made an everlasting impact through years of tireless dedication and philanthropy to the OU and many other organizations in the United States and Israel, including Yeshiva University, Bar-Ilan University, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, UJA-Federation, The Frisch School, and Ohr Torah Stone, an international Modern Orthodox movement that aims to develop Jewish life, learning and leadership.

“We are so blessed to have the Katz family help us build our community of hundreds of American yeshivot and day schools graduates,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “Having OU-JLIC on the Bar-Ilan campus will provide them a warm, nurturing community in which they can truly feel at home.”

Said OU Executive Vice President and COO Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph: “Anyone who knew Dr. Morty Katz, z”l, knew that he was a huge proponent of education, and this gift is a testament to his values and priorities. Bar-Ilan University, with its already robust JLIC program, is uniquely suited to harnessing this generous donation to further enrich students’ lives religiously, spiritually, and beyond.”

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