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YCT: Expanding Reach and Impact Beyond a Rabbinical School

March 30th, 2022

Rabbi Passow shaped my life at Harvard Hillel. From his brilliant divrei torah to his all-inclusive meals, he focuses on each individual while creating a wholesome community around them.
-Joe Hostyk, Cambridge, MA

Two years ago, YCT (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah) recognized that while the world had changed dramatically in the last 20 years, its mission—to train and ordain Modern Orthodox rabbis—had remained the same.  A new vision, and a new business and strategic plan, would be necessary if the institution was to remain at the cutting edge of its field.

At the heart of YCT’s rabbinical school was a distinctive talent for training mission-driven Jewish leaders, a vision for creating diverse and welcoming communities, and a belief that a Torah deeply anchored in the past can and must speak to who and where Jewish people are today. A four-year ordination program is one way to bring such leaders and Torah to the Modern Orthodox and larger Jewish community, but YCT recognizes that it is not the only way. 

While still centered around its rabbinical school, the institution now defines itself in broader terms; it is a source of “Vibrant Torah Leadership” and is known simply as “YCT,” or “Chovevei.” This new identity—internally dubbed “YCT 2.0”—is reflected in a range of initiatives designed to expand its impact and engage new audiences:

YCT’s Jewel (Jewish Leaders and Educators) Certificate Program focuses on non-rabbis, providing one year of immersive Torah learning and preeminent professional and pastoral training for individuals committed to serving at least one year in a Jewish professional capacity. This fully-funded program seeks to create empowered Jewish leaders who are confident in their Torah and professional skills and active listeners with an approachable, pastoral presence. Graduates of the program have access to job opportunities and professional connections through the YCT alumni network. YCT believes that Jewel will inspire more people to enter careers in Jewish communal service and maximize their future impact.

YCT’s competitive Zakkai Fellowship for Rabbinic Innovation provides mentorship and matching grants to spur innovative programming among its 150 alumni, expanding the impact and reach of its rabbis and of YCT’s religious and communal vision. With these supports and encouragement, YCT alumni can face new challenges and serve a broader, more diverse community outside of Orthodox congregational walls.

Recognizing the success of its rabbis in both pulpit and non-pulpit positions, and the growing need for rabbis in a range of roles, YCT also collaborated with Clal’s LTI program to provide students with training in innovative leadership and community building. More broadly, YCT shifted much of its professional training from the classroom to in-service, field-based, mentored training, individualized to the student’s needs and talents.

Going beyond the borders of North America, YCT’s highly successful, Israel-based Rikmah (Hebrew for “tapestry”) program brings YCT’s signature training and Torah to Israeli rabbis in the field. Rather than focusing on rabbinic skills, the program emphasizes rabbinic identity. Participants meet with religious leaders ranging from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem to the rabbi of one of the largest Reform synagogues in the U.S. Starting with its third cohort, which began just a few months ago, YCT has brought on Maharat as a partnering institution to train both women and men in rabbinic capacities in Israel.

Within these programs and others, YCT develops leaders who can address issues vital to daily life, such as climate YCT leader engaging students change and advocacy for and modeling of disabilities accommodation. As just one example, all of YCT’s public programming has live closed captioning and ASL interpretation, and soon it will publish a resource book and practical guide for those seeking to do the same. YCT plans to play a similar leadership and advocacy role in the area of social-emotional disabilities as well.

With its new program offerings, committed alumni, and vast resources, YCT is poised for continued growth and deeper impact in communities across the country and in Israel.

The Jim Joseph Foundation is a supporter of YCT.  The growth and expansion detailed above has also been made possible through the generous support of the Aviv Foundation, Micah Philanthropies, Maimonides Fund, and Preside. Learn more at yctorah.org