Rabbi Josh and Rebbetzin Margot Botwinick are joining 52 Torah educators serving 4,400 students on campuses throughout the U.S., Canada and now Israel. With the launch in October of the OU’s Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program at the Raphael Recanati International School of the Interdisciplinary School (IDC) in Herzliya, the Botwinicks are the first American couple to serve on an Israeli campus. Of the approximately 2,000 students in the international program, some 400 are Orthodox and 150 of them are graduates of North American yeshivot, a demographic growing rapidly on the IDC campus.
The Botwinicks come to this new position armed with solid and admirable backgrounds in learning and teaching Torah. Rabbi Josh grew up in Riverdale, where he attended SAR High School. A graduate of Yeshiva University, he is currently in its semicha program and also is a Wexner Scholar. He directed Bnei Akiva of NY/NJ’s innovative School Programming Project, which brings Israel-themed educational programs into schools. He served as youth director at Congregation Ohav Sholom in Merrick, Long Island, and also as the rabbinic intern at the Roslyn Synagogue. During the summers of 2012-13 Botwinick served as Rosh Moshava at Camp Stone.
Margot (Reinstein) Botwinick is from Teaneck, attended Maayanot High School and spent her gap year at Midreshet Lindenbaum. At Stern College, she was a Legacy Educators Scholar and president of student council. After graduation, she enrolled in a masters program in education at Hebrew University. She taught Tanach, Talmud and Jewish thought at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
This past summer, while co-directing the Sephardic Adventure Camp in Seattle, the Botwinicks received a call that changed their lives. Despite being happily engaged in their learning and teaching situations in Israel, Josh at Gush and Margot at MATAN, the Botwinicks knew they could not refuse this offer of a lifetime. And so, a mere three weeks ago, they moved with their 8-month-old son, Yoshi, to Herzliya, to assume the position of OU-JLIC rav and rabbanit.
In addition to providing the typical JLIC programming, which includes chavrutot, shiurim and shabbatonim, the Botwinicks will provide IDC students with a much-appreciated and needed sense of community and family. For the ever-increasing number of North American students as well as the numerous observant students from countries including Mexico, Brazil and the USSR, the presence of the JLIC rabbi and rebbetzin will provide them with a much-sought-after religious environment. In these past three weeks, the Botwinicks have already organized and hosted over 20 events.
“We are in close contact with the faculty at the gap-year programs throughout Israel,” explained Margot, “as we were part of these programs. Their graduates were hesitant to live close to IDC and preferred to live in more observant communities such as Givat Shmuel, from which they would have to commute to Herzliya. Now they are encouraging their graduates to move closer to IDC as there is now a growing and hopefully permanent religious community in formation. We even have local, young married couples attending our programs, so grateful for our presence in the area.”
OU-JLIC has become a reality through a lead grant by the Mayberg Foundation, generous parents of an IDC student and student momentum. “The students at IDC were instrumental in our hire. It was through their determination and fundraising efforts that they were able to assure the OU that our expenses would be covered for at least three years.”
Two of the IDC students involved in the new initiative are very enthusiastic about the program so far. “We’ve been blown away by the explosion of interest and participation at the launch of our program,” said Nathaniel Mayberg and David Ostrofsky. “The first week we had over 90 students for Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday night dinner, oneg, seudah shlishit and Havdalah. The second week we had a successful all-girls challah bake, two shiurim, in addition to seudah shlishit and Havdalah. We estimate we’ve had over 130 students participate in our events, and we’re just getting started.”
This coming Shabbat, the JLIC Shabbat services will be moving from the Botwinick apartment to the IDC campus’ Communications Building, displaying the need for more space that the Botwinicks hope, and expect, to grow.
By Pearl Markovitz