In the Footsteps of Elissa Froman

12 January 2017

Emily Aronson, a first-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College (HUC), is one of three Froman Fellows currently spending the year in Israel. The Elissa Froman Israel Social Change Fellowship is an HUC fellowship run by NIF. It was established to honor the memory of Elissa Froman, who was accepted to HUC’s rabbinical school program before tragically passing away from cancer. The program aims to provide rabbinical students with an opportunity to become familiar with the movement for progressive change in Israel so that they can be effective ambassadors for progressive social change in Israel as they serve the American Jewish community.

For Emily, one of the current fellows, there is a personal connection.

Elissa taught Emily Hebrew at the Temple Micah Synagogue in Washington, DC. “The Temple Micah community was a wonderful home for me, the rabbis took a real interest in my connection to Judaism,” Emily says. “When I was in middle school they hired a woman assistant rabbi – it made me aware for the first time that women could be rabbis.”

Alongside her passion for Judaism, Emily also developed a passion for activism. During her junior year at high school she took part in Operation Understanding DC, a joint year-long program for Jews and African-Americans. This included study and social action followed by a journey in the footsteps of the Freedom Riders through the South.

After completing the joint JTS / Columbia undergraduate program, Emily decided to become a rabbi. HUC rabbinical students spend their first year in Jerusalem, which led her to the Froman Fellowship. “It seemed the best way to be able to learn about the issues we’re facing here. It lays the foundation for understanding and will help me become a better rabbinical student and a better rabbi.” The program aims to ensure that participants are well versed in NIF’s key issue areas. It includes regular meetings with NIF staff members in Israel and field trips with NIF partner organizations, such as the Peace and Security Association and B’Tselem.

“It shows us a lot more of the complexity of some of the issues we’re covering. There’s something to be said for meeting with people working for change – you can’t get that from just reading about the issues. Israel is a central issue. As rabbis it will be our responsibility to both inform our communities and to stay connected to Israel. On a personal level I’ve always had this idea of Israel in my head but never had the strongest connection. I think that came from discomfort at not knowing enough. This fellowship and living here for a year is giving me the tools to have difficult conversations to help address the issues that I and the American Jewish community are struggling with when it comes to Israel.”

Before returning to the US, Emily and the other Froman Fellows are organizing activities for the rest of their HUC cohort in order to share as much of what they’re learning about NIF’s work as they can. The Froman Fellowship is a fitting tribute to Elissa’s legacy, and NIF is proud to help the fellows gain a deeper understanding of Israeli society and the challenges it faces.