Up Close & Personal with Gvanim 10, Part II

Another member of the fantastic group of Israeli leaders coming to the Bay Area as part of the Federation’s Gvanim program – read more here and here – is Rabbi Menachem Bombach. Rabbi Bombach is director of the Haredi Campus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and director of the youth division of the city of Betar Illit. He is also a moderator of the Shluchei Tzibbur program for leadership in the Haredi community, and headmaster of Le-Zion Be-Rina high school for the last 10 years. He was named religious educator of the year in 2011.
A proud Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jew, Rabbi Bombach is a uniquely situated leader and thinker who is working hard to bridge divisions and misunderstandings in Israeli society between Haredim and the secular majority.
Haredim make-up 10% of Israel’s population and frequently feel threatened by the government’s efforts to pull them more into the Israeli mainstream, especially into the military and workplace. Haredi moderates like Rabbi Bombach are critical to this often-fraught debate, as only intermediaries familiar with both worlds can advance cohesion and unify disparate voices.
Although Rabbi Bombach has been working on these issues of religious and secular discourse for many years now in schools, the military, and in academic research, he has come to Gvanim to experience first-hand the different streams of Judaism in Israel today, not merely through anecdotal readings and the media.
“The fact that I can meet opinion leaders, get to know them, ask them questions about their motivations, actions, and vision, is an invaluable learning experience that helps me to formulate my own opinions and stance,” said Rabbi Bombach. “It decreases my natural prejudice and stereotyping of persons who are different than myself and, of course, it gives me a new perspective on ongoing conversations we have in our society that revolve around Jewish pluralism.”
He continued:
“I can’t say it is always easy. Sometimes, I have a hard time. Throughout the program, you’re frequently exposed to ideas that are in essence against everything you’ve known and been taught, that goes against your personal ethos, your world, your values. But that’s the challenge, to take the time to process and analyze, and try to digest what you’ve heard.
“For example, I was astounded by our meeting with female conservative Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum. She was extraordinary. I felt the deep connection she was describing between herself and G-d, and after I heard her speak, I went home knowing that I need to do a lot of homework now to think deeply about her motifs, her vision, and see how to possibly incorporate them. Even though we are very different in many of our viewpoints I felt that despite this, we have a wide area for discussion and mutual learning. I really wasn’t expecting what I heard.
“I think it is important that Haredim are more and more present in these conversations about pluralism. Our participation reflects the greater openness of our community.
“I know that in San Francisco we’ll visit many Jewish communities, some of which aren’t well represented here in Israel. I am anticipating meeting the Jew that says, ‘this is my way of life, how I was raised and educated, how I choose to live as a Jew.’ I can try and think theoretically how it might look like, but now I’ll be able to see it for myself, how it works, how meaningful it is to these Jews, and I’m certain it will give me a lot of inspiration and thought about how things perhaps ought to look like here in Israel.”
To learn more about the Federation’s Gvanim program contact Siggy Rubinson, Program Officer at the Federation.



March 17, 2014