By: Chaim Book  | 

YU Releases Requirements, Schedule for Israel-Based Torat Tziyon Program

YU released the requirements and schedule for the first cohort of students who will continue their studies in Israel in Fall 2022 as part of the Torat Tziyon Pilot program in an email to students on Sunday, Feb 6. The email also announced the appointment of Rav Josh and Rabbanit Margot Botwinick as rav and rabbanit of the Torat Tziyon campus.

This initiative for a pilot series of Israel-based academic programs called the “Torat Tziyon Pilot Programs,” a reference to YU’s Five Torot campaign, was announced in December. The undergraduate program will be offering a specific set of courses and Torah learning schedule during its first semester based on data gathered through student surveys and different sessions since the December announcement. There are also graduate programs for students in some of YU’s graduate schools, details of which were not included in the email.

According to the recently launched website, these programs will “continue to strengthen our connections with Israel by providing students—especially those interested in pursuing careers in Israel or making aliyah—the full YU experience in Israel. These new programs will further enhance our students’ ability to build and refine core leadership and market-ready skills, while working closely with our faculty, staff, and alumni.”

Rav and Rabbanit Botwinick expressed their excitement about working with YU in Israel. “We are in awe and inspired by the YU Board, President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, Dean Shoshana Schechter, Rabbi Kalinsky, Dr. Noam Wasserman and the YU administration for realizing how important this is,” they said in a statement to The Commentator.   

The undergraduate program is only for juniors and seniors of the Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB) with a GPA of at least 3.3 and who have spent at least two semesters at YU in New York. Despite over 50 students expressing “enthusiastic” interest, the program is limited to 20 participants. 

In an effort to interest as many students as possible, the program will focus on offering afternoon courses that are typically taken late in SSSB but aren’t major-specific. Courses will be taught by professors who have taught or are currently teaching in SSSB. Access to YU’s counseling center, Shevet Glaubach Career Center and academic advisors will be available. 

Students will have live, separate-gender classes with an accessible beit midrash. The men’s Judaic Studies program will resemble YU’s Mazer Yeshiva Program and Stone Beit Midrash Program, with learning in the mornings, including chavruta time in the beit midrash, followed by multiple shiur options. Advanced students will have the opportunity to join Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) Kollel Gemara Shiurim taught by Rabbi Asaf Bednarsh or Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein. Rabbi Reuven Berman and Rav Botwinick will teach shiurim exclusively for undergraduates. 

The women’s Judaic Studies program, overseen by Rabbanit Shani Taragin, will be different from the current schedule on Beren Campus with mornings exclusively dedicated for Judiac Studies courses. A beit midrash option with chavruta learning will be available followed by a shiur given by Rabbanit Taragin. GPATS in Israel will be launching and learning there as well. Students of any remote graduate program will have the ability to join for the daytime learning or classes.

“Another huge shift is the first ever option for undergraduate women in Stern to fulfill their core requirements through a Beit Midrash track,” Rav and Rabbanit Botwinick told The Commentator.

All students will be required to live in YU housing. The men will be housed on the YU Israel campus in Bayit Vegan in Jerusalem. The women will be staying next door at Chorev Campus in a newly renovated apartment and will learn Torah in the new Chorev beit midrash. The housing facilities will be the center of a vibrant student life community, which will include club activities, tiyulim and Shabbat programming led by Rav and Rabbanit Botwinick. 

Rav Botwinick is a three-time YU alumnus, including semicha from RIETS. A Wexner Scholar, he has served in formal and informal rabbinic and educational roles including directing the Bnei Akiva of New York and New Jersey’s Innovative School Programming Project, which focuses on bringing Israel-themed educational programs into schools. Rabbanit Margot is a graduate of the Legacy Heritage Fund Scholars program for Jewish Educators at Stern College for Women, and has taught at several women’s midrashot and learning programs in Israel. 

For the past five years, the Botwinicks have served as the first American couple on in Israeli campus as founding directors of OU-JLIC at the Raphael Recanati International School of the Interdisciplinary School (IDC) in Herzliya, growing their community of olim, students and young professionals. In IDC they provided programming, shiurim and Shabbatonim and worked to create a sense of community and family amongst the students. They hope to continue this work with their alma mater at the Torat Tziyon program.

“YU is addressing a wonderful, more recent, problem,” said Rav and Rabbanit Botwinick. “Over the past few years, 18-24 year olds have become the highest demographic of people making Aliya from North America. Yet, students in that age range still feel caught between staying in Israel and going back to New York to attend YU.”

The Botwinicks look forward to helping provide an opportunity they feel has long been missing from the Jewish community. “For the past five years, we’ve been running Mizrachi OU-JLIC at IDC and watching as hundreds of American yeshiva day school graduates flocked to IDC and other schools in Israel. YU was never an option,” the couple shared. “This is a historic step in the history of YU and the Modern Orthodox community.” 

“To the heads of Yeshiva Day Schools, Religious Zionist communities around the world and Rabbanim/Educators of Midrashot and Yeshivot in Israel — all we can say is thank you,” they added. “You have preached and taught aliya for so many years.Your students are finally internalizing it.”

Photo Caption: YU Israel Campus

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University