RHR’s Human rights & Judaism students tour West Jerusalem

No Comments 31 January 2015

RHR’s course in Judaism and human rights is taught at ten pre-military academies (known as “mechinot”) throughout the country. The course teaches that human rights are rooted in Jewish sources and Jewish tradition, and should not be considered marginal or external to Israeli society. Classroom work is supplemented by field visits to expose students to the gritty underbelly of Israeli society, allowing them to meet first hand the victims of human rights abuses. The course and especially the trips again and again prove life-changing as participants “get out of their bubble” to confront Israel’s complexities. Below Rabbi Nava Hefetz, director of RHR’s education department,  updates us on a recent trip one of the groups took in Jerusalem.

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Lesson Plan: The Temple Mount, Holiness, and Holy Places

2 Comments 03 December 2014

The issue of ascending  the Temple Mount is a major  public “hot-button”  discussion today in Israel and in the Muslim world. Education Director of Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Nava Hefetz, has therefore composed a lesson plan consisting of a number of Jewish and Israeli sources relating to this issue and the related topics of “holiness” and “holy places.” We encourage rabbis and other Jewish educators to utilize these texts and discussion questions in order to delve deeply into and then grapple with these complex questions. Continue Reading

Education, General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Occupied Territories

International Student Programs and Study Tour Dates – 5775 (2014-2015)

2 Comments 14 October 2014

RABBINICAL, CANTORIAL, AND EDUCATION STUDENTS: Get involved and learn how Israel can truly embody  our highest Jewish values! Join us this year in any number of ways and study the profound connection between human rights and Judaism. RHR offers student tours, service opportunities, and internship possibilities in a range of areas focusing on everything from socio-economic justice in Israel and the Negev Bedouin to African asylum seekers.

NOTE: While these programs are specially geared towards international students in rabbinical, cantorial, and Jewish education fields, they are open to all.

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Education, General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

“Come as Far as you Can”: RHR’s High Holiday Appeal

1 Comment 22 September 2014

An appeal by Rabbis for Human Rights Co-chairs Rabbi Amy Klein, and Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbi for RHR, on the upcoming High Holidays. Continue Reading

Refugees rights - UNHCR

We Want Education: Organizing classes for asylum seekers in the middle of the nowhere

2 Comments 31 August 2014

Sara Stern is the director of The Schoolhouse, an adult education program for African asylum seekers currently running programming out of Tel Aviv as well as Holot, the “open” detention facility in Israel’s Negev desert where thousands of asylum seekers are currently detained.  Although we object to the indeterminate detention of asylum seekers in Israel without cause, and hope that soon Holot will be shut down, with its residents  freed, we understand the practical importance of a program like this in the meanwhile for the well-being of the community. 


By: Sara Stern

”halow plase i wont to lerning to english longoj so u mast to halp wther is the adres of these school.” – message received on The Schoolhouse facebook page

English language and education are consistently  expressed by the refugee-asylum seeker community in Israel as significantly important  towards making an impact on their lives and their future.

The first time I really became aware of this was in 2008 when I was volunteering with the newly arrived Sudanese refugees in Jerusalem, and we had a meeting asking “How else can we help?” The response was loud and clear: We want Education.

After more than two years of developing adult education for the refugee-asylum seeker population in Tel Aviv through the framework of The Schoolhouse, students began to receive summons to the Holot “open” detention center. Our goal became clear: to implement an education program in the remote detention prison out in the middle of the Southern desert. I wrote a proposal for a broad education program serving the full inmate population, but many obstacles stood in the way. We sought cooperation or support from the IPS (Israel Prison System) and the Ministry of Education, but this turned into a frustrating challenge with no positive results to come so far. Meanwhile, with lack of activity or programming provided in the detention center itself,  and the prohibition to work, some 12-15 Holot inmates began teaching English inside the detention walls to their peers whose English backgrounds were less strong. This is what they chose to do with their time.

It took seven months until the first English class opened for 25 students, and in a few weeks, a Teacher Training program for these inexperienced yet highly motivated teachers will also commence.  The classes have been organized The Schoolhouse together with the nearby Nitzana youth village and the education activists in Holot, funded by UNHCR.

We face many challenges including finding qualified teachers who can commit to working  in such a remote location, transportation for students to Nitzana, where the classes are held, locating funding for additional teachers so that we might open additional classes, and recruiting volunteers who can assist in the classes, as the detention center is at least a half hour away from any city.  Additionally, the future of Holot remains unknown, a court decision is expected this month which will decide its legality, but despite all this we move forward, the threat of encroaching hopelessness too strong on our friends.

Students in the English class currently offered to Holot inmates. The class is held at the nearby Nitzana Youth Village, serves the highest level students, and is filled to capacity.

Students studying in the English class currently offered to Holot inmates by The Schoolhouse together with the nearby Nitzana youth village. The class is filled to capacity and in the next few weeks, a teacher-training course will be opened as well.

As I reviewed the results of English language assessments we gave to these Holot students joining the English class, I became filled with awe and inspiration. And this is fundamentally what again and again fuels me to do what I do.

The assessments themselves, I have to admit, were quite dry, and also difficult.

But as I reviewed the completed tests,  one by one, it was astonishing to see what burst through these dry papers. The motivation, strength, desire to learn and move forward, to make something meaningful of their lives, to contribute to society and give to others, to become leaders and make a social, just or educational impact. This is what I read in between and directly on the lines of their answers, sometimes regardless of the questions. Yet,  these are the people we are putting behind bars.zoey group 3 first week

At The Schoolhouse when students come to register for evening classes in Tel Aviv, they fill out a questionare and we ask a few questions such as: “Why is it important for you to study English?” and “What do you want to do with your future?” I’ve heard and read many variations of the answer “I want to go back to my country and help my people” or “I want to influence my government from within” or “I want to become a teacher,” or “lawyer” or “doctor” or “leader”.

There must be an alternative, humane solution for our refugee-established country, the country that was built with the very hands and minds of courageous and strong people yearning for independence, freedom, and life without persecution,  individuals who fought so hard not only for their own survival, but also for a better future.

We must have another system for dealing with other refugees and asylum seekers who walk all the way to our borders and ask to be let in, braving hardships of the journey and such immense risk. Likewise for migrants who seek escape from poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity.

Maybe one idea is to turn the center into less of a detention prison and more into an absorption center, serving those who need the support and at the same time are more likely to fall burden on Israeli society. They would be permitted to work, being productive for themselves and surrounding society and an education program would provide practical and transferable language and vocational skills. At the same time,  their refugee claims would be reviewed and alternative long term solutions would be researched. You say this may be costly? Check the numbers on the money invested so far to build and operate Holot as it is.

The truth is – and I speak from experience – that if the people themselves were consulted with we’d all be amazed as to the intelligent and innovative solutions they’d come up with and suggest, taking into consideration not only themselves but also the politics and complexity posed on Israel as a state.

I’ll  leave you with a short composition written by Schoolhouse student Hussein from Sudan, at the opening of the Jewish year in 2013:

This year is going to be better than last year.
I’m going to improve my life.  
I am also going to improve my English more and more, in some way.
 Sometimes  I see myself running, but why am I running?
I am running for life.  
I just want to be somebody. I don’t know if I can. 
I will try to have a better life, no reason just to run away.
 I just move on, I can’t sit and feel sorry for myself. 
Life is not that bad. There will be good and bad times, either way it’s life.
 I would like to change my life.


Sara Stern is the founder and director of The Schoolhouse. To learn more or volunteer in the developing education program for Holot inmates, contact her at /

 All opinions expressed here are those of the writer, and not necessarily those of Rabbis for Human Rights.

Additional information on asylum seekers and refugees in Israel

Education, General, Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

Why Jerusalem?: Two bereaved fathers give hope for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples

No Comments 24 July 2014

Israeli society, and Jerusalem in particular, is currently living through days and nights of violence, racism and revenge. The fragile calm of the last few years is gone.  Almost every evening, groups of extremists in the streets call for “death to Arabs” and “revenge.” Nevertheless, a handful of citizens try to calm passions, to talk and to explain that these actions are not a Jewish way to act. The words fall on too many deaf ears, while rockets continue to fall throughout the country, and Gazans are left without protection from attacks on their cities.  

As part of Rabbis for Human Rights’ series  featuring the reflections, both human rights related and not,  of our staff and rabbis during Operation Protective Shield, Rabbi Nava Hefetz visits a meeting of the Bereaved Families Forum, and sees a glimmer of something different. Continue Reading

Education, Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

There’s extremism, and then there’s my brother, Fahd: By Rabbi Nava Hefetz

No Comments 23 July 2014

 As part of Rabbis for Human Rights’ series  featuring the reflections, both human rights related and not,  of our staff and rabbis during Operation Protective Shield, Rabbi Nava Hefetz, director of education at RHR, shares about her friend Fahd, a Gazan peace activist who lives in Ramallah. Despite the tragedy taking place in our region, the connection between the two remains strong. 
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General, Press Releases, Refugees rights - UNHCR

PRESS RELEASE: Authorities Violently Break-up African Asylum Seeker Protest Camp

1 Comment 05 July 2014


Reports of violence against asylum seekers and Israeli human rights activists during the “Freedom March” protest in a forest near Nitzana.


On Sunday (June 29 2014) evening, hundreds of African asylum seekers were evacuated from a forest next to the village of Nitzana near Israel’s border with Egypt. The asylum seekers were violently evacuated by riot police forces and Immigration Department agents, as well as people in civilian dress, apparently civilian security officers from surrounding villages. Continue Reading

Education, General

Sunday July 6th: Learn to engage your communities on the most critical issues facing Israel today!

No Comments 04 July 2014

What does it mean to have a Jewish democracy? How can Israel keep her citizens safe while respecting the rights of others? What do the Jewish texts say about the pursuit of war and peace?


Jewish educators- are you looking for new ways to get your communities and students to ask the hard questions about Israel today?


We can help.


When: Sunday July 6th
Time: 3pm-4:45
Location: RHR Offices, 9 Rehov HaRechavim, 3rd Floor
PICK-UP: From the Hartman Institute at 2:45 pm and return by 5 pm Continue Reading

Education, General

Pull an All-Nighter: Tikkun Leyl Shavuot Listings

No Comments 01 June 2014

Looking to join in on the custom of all-night Torah study on the eve of Shavuot?  Below is a listing of tikkunei leyl Shavuot events throughout the country which are either being organized or taught by RHR rabbis or staff. We hope to see you at one! Continue Reading

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