At a time when a disturbing number of Jewish nonprofit organizations are cutting back on programming or closing their doors altogether, why is the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) dramatically expanding its reach?
“Precisely at this moment, one of the most important and challenging times in Jewish life, the Jewish community cannot afford to put its educational needs on hold,” says Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute. “Our current obligation is to act in ways that meet the needs of the Jewish community to create a strong and vibrant future.”
What Hartman’s father, David Hartman, set out to accomplish nearly 40 years ago in Israel was nothing less than deepening and spreading Jewish knowledge, commitment, passion and pluralism. Much more than a think tank, SHI has been called an “action tank,” a laboratory for the development of high-impact initiatives destined to shape the future of Jewish life in Israel and around the world. Through learning and dialogue the Institute has built strong new models of unity within diversity, based on mutual respect across the denominational spectrum.
“The Hartman Institute creates a place where some of the finest minds in the world can come together to address the critical challenges facing the Jewish people,” says Hartman. “We then disseminate these ideas to the people best positioned to influence the future of their communities,” adds Hartman.
Now, the Institute is building on the work it has long done in its Jerusalem campus by expanding programming directly to North American shores. “The vitality and independence of the North American Jewish community requires us to have a North American base of operations to ensure that we sufficiently serve this community,” says Hartman. “North America has its own unique challenges. We need to make sure that we service the Jewish community there at the highest level, which is tough to do at a 6,000-mile distance.”
Yehuda Kurtzer, a rising star in the Jewish world, has been selected to spearhead the new Shalom Hartman Institute of North America (SHI-NA). Two years ago, the Harvard doctoral student was selected over 200 other applicants to capture the first Charles R. Bronfman Visiting Chair in Jewish Communal Innovation at Brandeis University. Kurtzer takes the Hartman mission seriously. “We are looking to become the Jewish community’s premier provider of serious learning applied to leaders and change-agents, and the central address for serious engagement with ideas,” he says. In order to accomplish this, SHI-NA will reach out to Jewish leaders, from congregational rabbis to start-up entrepreneurs. “We will continue to build on the Institute’s innovative work: engaging and empowering these change-agents with the kind of Torah wisdom they need to be stronger and more effective leaders. Our vision is to elevate the discourse of the North American Jewish community to deal with texts, ideas, and learning; rather than crisis-management.”