April 18, 2024
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NJ Family Gift Provides ‘Home Away From Home’ To OU-JLIC and Tel Aviv University Foreign Students

(Courtesy of OU) International students at Tel Aviv University (TAU) will enjoy a strong Jewish support network this fall, thanks to a groundbreaking partnership with The Orthodox Union Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC), made possible by New Jersey philanthropist Dr. Monique Katz, an Englewood radiologist, and her family.

The Katzes’ gift will create the M.D. Katz OU-JLIC program at TAU in memory of Dr. Mordecai (Morty) Katz, z”l, who passed away at 88 in March 2021. Dr. Katz, the husband of Dr. Monique Katz, was a pillar of the Jewish community.

The gift will create a “home away from home” for the university’s Modern Orthodox and traditional students by significantly expanding Jewish life offerings, such as Torah study, religious services, halachic and spiritual guidance, Shabbat dinners and other social events.

Similar to the other 25 JLIC programs developed during the past 21 years across North America and Israel, the TAU initiative will include an onsite rabbinic couple, the program’s directors, who will facilitate activities and studies at their home. The couple, Rabbi Eitan and Elana Phillips, previously served as youth directors at Kehillat Shivtei Yisrael in nearby Ra’anana. Both received undergraduate degrees at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and graduate degrees at Haifa University.

The program will serve the 2,500 international students enrolled at Tel Aviv University, including more than 250 medical students.

Tel Aviv University is the largest Jewish university in the world, and the JLIC program there will be the third in Israel; the others are at Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya) and Bar-Ilan University. Bar-Ilan is actively expanding its JLIC programming, also thanks to the generosity of the Katz family and the Mizrachi World Movement, a global religious Zionist organization.

In Israel, the OU-JLIC initiatives help address the general lack of religious support and infrastructure for Modern Orthodox students who come from abroad. While these students don’t have to worry about exams or classes scheduled on Shabbat and other holidays, they contend with 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.

For Drs. Mordecai and Monique Katz, the connection to JLIC is personal: The program served as a valuable support network for their grandson during his undergraduate years at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Monique Katz contrasts her own experience as a medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the 1960s, before the advent of JLIC programs and a time when there was no campus synagogue or rabbi. “We religious students were left to fend for ourselves,” she said. “When my daughter graduated from Einstein years later, I appreciated the significant difference the campus shul, rabbi and programming made in her life and the lives of the other students.”

International students, many of whom come from the United States and Canada, are drawn to Tel Aviv University by the academic level, its location in buzzing Tel Aviv, the relatively low tuition fees and the environment that is, of course, welcoming to pro-Israel students. said Tel Aviv University International Director Maureen Adiri Meyer. And the timing couldn’t be better: With the number of Modern Orthodox students attending TAU increasing, the university was already expanding resources and programming.

“OU and JLIC seem like the perfect partners for this endeavor,” said Meyer. “They work with universities around the world and adapt their work to the DNA of the specific university. This partnership will allow us to bring multiple important resources for our range of students, coming with different expectations and needs.”

In stark contrast to most U.S. universities, Israeli campuses simply don’t offer significant student life outside the university, noted Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal, national director of development for OU-JLIC. “Israelis go to university after the army, many are married, and they commute to school and go home. International students can’t go home,” he explained. “Opening OU-JLIC at Tel Aviv University is part of an effort to accommodate all the international students who really don’t have a family or strong community.”

OU-JLIC Associate Director Rabbi Jonathan Shulman noted, “TAU is such a dynamic, diverse place. This partnership is an incredible opportunity for us to reach many more students.”

The M.D. Katz OU-JLIC program at Tel Aviv University is a fitting legacy to Dr. Mordecai Katz, who was a staunch proponent of Jewish education and made an everlasting impact through years of tireless dedication and philanthropy to many Jewish organizations in the United States and Israel, including Yeshiva University, Ohr Torah Stone, Bar-Ilan University, the Orthodox Union, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, UJA-Federation and The Frisch School.

“Morty had two major priorities in life,” explained Dr. Monique Katz. “His primary concern was for his family. His second priority was for the welfare of the Jewish community. He firmly believed that a good Jewish education was the key to Jewish continuity and [communal] strength.”

The Katz family has served on the OU Board and in other OU leadership roles for decades. Dr. Mordecai Katz was instrumental in developing the OU’s Institutional Advancement Department and its philanthropic Benefactor Circle, among other initiatives. At Bar-Ilan, he served for 12 years as chairman of the Board of Trustees and was instrumental in that university’s growth and expansion.

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

OU Executive Vice President and COO Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph, who was well acquainted with Dr. Mordecai Katz, said the Katz family’s latest contribution is an ideal way to honor his lifetime achievements and stalwart commitment to the Jewish future.

“From Dr. Katz’s early engagement on the OU board through this new initiative, the Katzes continue to support OU’s mission to maximize religious engagement and develop spiritual fulfillment,” Dr. Joseph noted. “Dr. Morty Katz, z”l, always taught me that if you want to help people grow, you must invest in their education. With their groundbreaking gift to OU-JLIC, the Katz family is fulfilling this very legacy.”

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