KADIMA: My Schechter Vision
Rabbi Matt Berkowitz, Vice President, The Schechter Institutes, Inc.
Ariel Hirschfeld, in his essay Locus and Language: Hebrew Culture in Israel, 1890-1990, latches on to the word kadima as it appears in Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Hirschfeld points out that kadima is multi-directional. The root, qof-dalet-mem is found in hadesh yameinu k’kedem, ‘renew our days as of old’ – so it points backwards toward the past. Kedem also refers to the direction of the East – as in the direction of Israel (the present). And finally, kedem is found in kadima – ‘to move forward’ – pointing toward the future. Past, present and future are the indispensable essence contained within The Schechter Institutes; and just as important, these vectors brought me to this new chapter in my life.
Under the visionary leadership of Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, The Schechter Institutes has become a leader in creative Jewish thought connecting an acclaimed faculty with an exemplary student body representing the diversity of the State of Israel. As I began exploring this new position of Vice President, I became increasingly convinced that this was an inspiring next step for my rabbinate.
First and foremost, I am energized and moved by the expansive visions of the Schechter team. Professor Ari Ackerman, President of Machon Schechter articulates a vision of deeper cooperation and synergy among all of the institutes; Dr Peri Sinclair, Director of the TALI Educational Fund, thinks broadly beyond school membership and expanding the reach and scope of curricular materials; Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter, works tirelessly on behalf of Ukrainian Jewry as well as expanding the artistic reach and cultural vision of the Neve Schechter campus in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek. Finally, Rabbis Chaya Rowen-Baker and Arie Hasit are capitalizing on The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary’s energies to welcome, once again, JTS students to study closely and deeply with their Israeli counterparts. It is this remarkable team that made me realize the unique opportunities Schechter presents at this critical moment of Israeli history.
As a committed Jewish professional for the past twenty-four years, I have had a blessed journey with my alma-mater, The Jewish Theological Seminary. First serving at JTS’s Senior Rabbinic Fellow where I had the joy of bringing deep Torah to communities throughout North America and cultivating a committed donor base, and then having the privilege and honor to serve as JTS’s Director of Israel Programs. These years nurtured a love of teaching and learning, creative potential through artistic expression and a deep love of Medinat Yisrael. One of the highlights of my work with JTS rabbinical and cantorial students was teaching a class on Zionist Thought and Israeli History and crafting a core part of their year, the immersive Israel Experiential Program, leading them to explore the depth and breadth of Israel.
In my new position as Vice President, I seek an even brighter future for Schechter. My first task: learning the institution in all of its breadth and connecting with its administration, faculty and students. I will partner with my teacher and mentor, President David Golinkin, to cultivate current donors and engage a new generation of Jewish leaders the world over. Core to my approach will be deepening relationships with Schechter via the teaching of Torah and constant engagement. I will work closely with the heads of each of our institutes – to help Schechter realize its dreams and visions. I will help Schechter play a vital and larger role in bridging the yawning divide between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities, expanding Schechter’s scope in Israel and the Diaspora.
Today, we stand at a liminal moment in the history of modern Israel. The delicate balance between Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state is threatened; and the true embrace of the Jewish people’s religious pluralism has been weakened and jettisoned as politics distort religion. This is a time that we as a people committed to the principle of being an or l’goyim, a light unto the nations, must redouble our efforts to remind ourselves of the sacred message that we have carried through the generations.
For this reason, I have chosen to ‘cast my lot’ with The Schechter Institutes – an organization that in my mind represents the best of the Jewish world and the best of Israel.