Confronting Critical Challenges: 70 OTS European Shlichim Gather for Regional Conference
Impact of war, demographics, conversion and interfaith relations top agenda at OTS European Jewish emissaries conference
Maariv Online | March 20, 2023
Just prior to the Israeli government’s official “Diaspora Week,” 70 Israeli shlichim – rabbis, rebbetzins and educators trained by the Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel Emissary Training Institutes serving in communities across Europe – came together in the city of Lausanne, Switzerland last week to discuss the main issues and challenges they face in the course of their emissary work.
The European conference was held to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of Straus-Amiel by the Ohr Torah Stone educational organization and was attended by Ohr Torah Stone President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander; Head of the Department of the WZO’S Religious Affairs in the Diaspora, Roi Abecassis; Director General of World Mizrachi Rabbi Doron Perez; and 70 Straus-Amiel emissaries from communities in Estonia, Germany, Spain, Poland, Rome, Greece, England and other countries.
Among the topics discussed at the three-day conference were the future of European Jewish communities, sociological and demographic considerations, the impact of the war in Ukraine, and a snapshot of the world of conversion. The shlichim also took part in a session devoted to caring for their family relationships while serving in their public communal roles.
“We are in the midst of unusual days in Israel and in Europe filled with disagreement, strife and rising anti-Semitism,” said Straus-Amiel director Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum. “It is particularly significant to hold a conference in this location where the first Zionist conference took place in 1897 and from here come together to discuss the future of the Jewish People and Israel-Diaspora relations.”
“It is specifically when the people of Israel are divided and experiencing challenges and difficulties that the cooperation of those working in the field of shlichut is so important to help build the joint future of our people,” shared Roi Abeccasis, Head of the Center of Religious Affairs in the Diaspora and senior representative of World Mizrachi in the World Zionist Organization.
“During this time, when we are witnessing heightened tensions in Israeli society in particular and in the Jewish world in general, it seems that the disconnect between the people of Israel and Diaspora Jews is expanding,” said Ohr Torah Stone President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander. “While I am genuinely concerned about the situation in Israel and around the world, I am encouraged by the knowledge that our emissaries across the globe are working each and every day to strengthen the future of our people based on our traditions and values.”
World Mizrachi director, Rabbi Doron Perez, said: “There is no doubt that we live in challenging times. But as in other periods of challenge in Jewish history, our destiny is in our hands and strengthening our people means creating a more united global Jewish community. Perhaps more than ever before in modern Jewish history, the importance of building bridges between Israel and the Diaspora is clearer than ever, so we applaud the work of these emissaries who are literally serving on the front lines in this blessed and critical effort.”
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, spoke about how the Polish Jewish community has handled the war crisis and the many refugees after they fled the battle zone and came to Poland. “There are many challenges, but it is a privilege to support these refugees and help them with work, housing and their mental health.”
“If we look at press articles about Jews in Denmark in 1910 and compare them to newspaper articles about Muslims in Denmark of 2020, we will see a definite similarity in the attitude of the locals to these waves of immigration,” noted Straus-Amiel shaliach Rabbi Jair Melchior, Chief Rabbi of Copenhagen, in a session on interfaith relations. “This data led us to the understanding that the Muslim community needs the help of the Jewish community, as they are now going through the exact same experience. It is one of the most powerful tools that we have, because they can come and learn from us. I do not believe in ‘interfaith discourse’ but rather in partnership and the building of an interfaith coalition which wants to make a difference and fight together on important issues. Developing the relationship during periods when the situation is calm allows for the correct response in moments of crisis.”