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Rabbi Loren Sykes


Women in Israeli military with arm on shoulder of URJ Heller High student

I love the sounds of Jerusalem. The voices, noises, and music all tell stories that are unparalleled in the Jewish world – and perhaps in the world at large. One I find so compelling is that of my story and the story of the “other,” which I hear simultaneously.

There a variety of others in Jerusalem – Arabic, Russian, Amharic, Yiddish, and Hebrew – and over the course of a week, I can listen and hear these voices and countless more. It is one of the incredible characteristics of our city.

Join me on a brief tour of some of the other voices I am so fortunate to hear...

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Group photo of Heller High students

Recently, I spent Shabbat at Kibbutz Tzuba which is nestled in the Judean Hills. Tzuba is also the home of URJ Heller High, where Reform Jewish students live and study during a semester in Israel. Established at the beginning of the state by veterans of the Palmach, the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces, Tzuba is a remarkably beautiful place that exudes the spirit of the classic kibbutz experience. 

That morning, the students experienced something extraordinary that is far more common in Israel than most people know. We hiked from the hotel down to an ancient spring. We walked...

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Dachau concentration camp is visible in the distance behind a long barbed wire fence

Each semester, student participants in URJ Heller High make a pilgrimage to Poland as part of their Jewish history course. During the trip, we learn about the 1,000 years of rich Jewish life, religion, and culture that existed in Poland. Students make pilgrimage to the Lopuchova Forest, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau to bear witness to the incomprehensible number of Jewish lives extinguished during the Shoah. In each place, these Jewish students stand as proof of the ultimate failure of the Nazis to achieve their goal of annihilating the Jewish People.

The pilgrimage to Poland is...

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