Hillels in Israel are helping immigrant students feel at home in Israel through a new program called SOLY: Student Olim Learn Yahadut (Judaism). Designed by Rabbi Yossie Goldman, the associate vice president and director of Hillel in Israel, and SOLY Director Nachum Amsel, the initiative aims to teach immigrants (olim), many of whom grew up knowing little about their Jewish heritage, about Jewish life and learning.
"Most of the olim came to Israel from the former Soviet Union, South America or Ethiopia, where they had little or no opportunity to celebrate Jewish traditions. Many of them come from mixed families," Goldman said. "What better place to learn more about our common heritage than Hillel?"
Students who register for the SOLY program attend weekly classes with qualified teachers to learn about many aspects of Judaism, including the Bible and other Jewish texts, Jewish holidays, the Jewish life cycle and Jewish values like chesed (charity) and a responsibility to the community. The students participate in educational tours relating to Judaism, Shabbat and holiday experiences, seminars and community-service projects.
Goldman and Amsel designed the program to provide a basic survey of Judaism that answers many of the questions students have been asking about Jewish issues. Most of the immigrant students are not Jewish based on halacha (Jewish law) but would like to convert through Israel's Chief Rabbinate. SOLY will help their efforts by laying the groundwork for future conversion.
The program is already running at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University and Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Each campus has a SOLY coordinator who handles recruitment and logistics and acts as a liaison among students, teachers, the university and the director. Though the program began only a month ago, approximately 130 students have already registered and are expressing enthusiasm about the classes.
SOLY is run in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry for Immigration and Absorption. Negotiations are under way with university administrations to grant academic credits to the participants, who are all pursuing academic degrees aside from their Jewish education through the new program.
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