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Gordis, Alexander Leave UJ for Posts in Israel

UJF campaign donations have risen, but Federation allocations remain fixed at 1998 figures.

by Orit Arfa

January 28, 1999 | 7:00 pm

Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism, has good reason to believe that the spirit of Zionism is alive at the institution.

Recently, two prominent school administrators, Dr. Hanan Alexander, vice president of academic affairs, and Rabbi Daniel Gordis, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, announced that they are leaving their posts to assume comparable positions in Israel.

Alexander will become a professor of education at the University of Haifa, where he has previously taught while on sabbatical. Gordis will direct the Mandel Foundation's Jerusalem Fellows program, which examines Jewish education and public policy as to ensure Jewish continuity both in Israel and the Diaspora. Gordis and his wife and three children are currently in Jerusalem, where he's on sabbatical at the Mandel Foundation. Both UJ leaders will begin their new positions in the fall of 1999.

Wexler's search for their successors has already begun.

Alexander and Gordis long have been principal architects of the UJ's academic and religious design. As the school's chief academic officer, Alexander, who began his career there in 1983 as a junior faculty member in education, has advanced UJ's academic reputation and standing in the community by broadening its curriculum and scope.

"Since Alexander had such a defining influence on the curriculum and academic character of the UJ, he will be greatly missed," said Richard Scaffidi, dean of admissions and financial aid. "Still, I think we can look at this change as an opportunity to take stock and restructure academic programs and build upon his fine work."

Gordis, an educator and administrator at the UJ for 13 years, is best known for launching the 4-year-old Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies, the only Conservative seminary on the West Coast. Author of "God Was Not in the Fire," a book that responds to the apathy toward Judaism of assimilated Jews, Gordis has shaped the spiritual direction of Ziegler, aiming to teach rabbis-to-be how to energize, enrich and add meaning to Jewish life in America.

Gordis' resignation has aroused a wide range of emotions from Ziegler students, who looked to the dean as a guiding spirit and personal mentor. Gordis, who hails from a line of prominent Conservative rabbis, has not only influenced Ziegler's vision and curriculum but has worked to secure the school's reputation as a sturdy breeding ground for future Jewish leaders. Gordis believes that the school will continue to strive and excel despite his move.

"I will watch its progress with a small amount of pride and a tremendous amount of joy," Gordis told the rabbinical students at an informal address last week.

The future dean may affect the religious orientation and philosophy of Ziegler. The seminary will continue its commitment to Conservative Judaism, said Gordis, but which shade of the movement may depend on his replacement.

"In the meantime," wrote Wexler, in a letter to the UJ staff that announced Gordis' resignation, "I am considering a new policy for the administrators at the UJ: No more sabbatical leaves in Israel! It's just too dangerous."



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