Hebrew Union College saluted as ‘beacon of tolerance’ at Jerusalem campus groundbreaking
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Hebrew Union College saluted as ‘beacon of tolerance’ at Jerusalem campus groundbreaking

Renovation of the Israeli headquarters for Reform Jewry funded by a $15 million grant from Taube Philanthropies

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

From left: Sean Taube, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Taube Philanthropies founder and chairman Tad Taube, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, and Taube Philanthropies executive director Shana Penn celebrate as The Taube Family Campus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is named in Jerusalem,  June 29, 2016. (Avi Hayun)
From left: Sean Taube, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Taube Philanthropies founder and chairman Tad Taube, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, and Taube Philanthropies executive director Shana Penn celebrate as The Taube Family Campus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is named in Jerusalem, June 29, 2016. (Avi Hayun)

Israeli and American dignitaries gathered with leaders of the Reform Movement on Wednesday for the naming of the Taube Family Campus at a groundbreaking at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Jerusalem. The event marked the beginning of a multi-year construction project to update, enhance and beautify Reform Judaism’s Israeli headquarters. The project is funded by a $15 million grant from Taube Philanthropies, a foundation founded by San Francisco Bay Area businessman Tad Taube.

The $15 million grant is the is the largest ever given to a Jewish organization by Taube Philanthropies, which had until now focused its Jewish giving on the Bay Area and in Poland, where Taube was born.

HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem campus is the headquarters for the Reform Movement in Israel, including the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, Union for Reform Judaism, and Israel Religious Action Center. HUC-JIR prepares Israeli rabbis, educators, and pastoral counselors and all HUC North American rabbinical, cantorial and education students are required to spend their first year of study at the campus.

Capital improvements to the King David Street campus will include a prominent new entrance gate and piazza, which will be designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who drafted the campus expansion three decades ago. The project will also involve renovation of the campus’ first building, designed by International Style architect Heinrich Heinz Rau in 1963.

At the Wednesday ceremony, Reform leaders — including HUC president Rabbi Aaron Panken, Union of Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and HUC chancellor emeritus Rabbi David Ellenson — sat alongside Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, and other dignitaries.

From left: HUC-JIR dean Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Taube Philanthropies executive director Shana Penn, HUC-JIR president Rabbi Aaron Panken, and Taube Philanthropies founder and chairman Tad Taube, celebrate the newly named Taube Family Campus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, June 29, 2016. (Avi Hayun)
From left: HUC-JIR dean Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Taube Philanthropies executive director Shana Penn, HUC-JIR president Rabbi Aaron Panken, and Taube Philanthropies founder and chairman Tad Taube, celebrate the newly named Taube Family Campus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, June 29, 2016. (Avi Hayun)

On a day when far-right Orthodox Jewish organizations filed an urgent petition with the High Court of Justice against a government plan to allow an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall, the speakers at the groundbreaking all praised HUC for its advancing tolerance and religious pluralism in Israel.

“It is so important for Israel, the Jewish people, and the Israeli government — even if it doesn’t know it — that you are here in the heart of Jerusalem,” Sharansky said in his remarks.

‘It is so important for Israel, the Jewish people, and the Israeli government — even if it doesn’t know it — that you are here in the heart of Jerusalem’

Shapiro saluted HUC for the values it promotes, and for being “a beacon of tolerance and pluralism in Israel.” He then thanked Tad Taube for helping to build a stronger bridge between Israel and the US, and for creating a campus that will be a model of openness and accessibility for Israelis, tourists and other visitors alike.

The theme of religious diversity and tolerance was echoed by Barkat, as well as in messages from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres, which were read aloud to the crowd by HUC dean Rabbi Naamah Kelman.

“I reject the delegitimization of any denomination of Jews… Israel is a place where all Jews can feel at home,” Netanyahu wrote.

Taube said he viewed the $15 million grant not as a gift, but rather as an investment in HUC-JIR and toward impact it will have on future generations of Jews around the world, and especially in Israel.

“Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is doing groundbreaking work in training the next generation of Reform rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit leaders… Its brilliant faculty and ambitious students deserve a beautiful, modern campus that matches the institution’s lofty goals,” Taube said.

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