Cultivating Long Term Connections with Jewish Communities Worldwide
The Beren-Amiel and Straus Amiel Training Programs make a long term impact on communities across the globe who look to OTS each year for a steady infusion of shlichim
Antisemitism, assimilation, intermarriage, “Jewish apathy” – There are many challenges to fostering strong, healthy Jewish communities today. Among them, many Jewish communities worldwide lack “homegrown talent”— locals with the Jewish education, passion and skills to inspire the next generation and lead their communities.
For this reason, each year OTS’s Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Training Programs receive more requests than they can fill for candidates to take positions as Jewish educators, rabbis, youth leaders and campus professionals in both large and small Jewish communities around the world.
Since its inception 25 years ago, the Amiel emissaries have become a backbone for so many communities who have come to depend on a continuous supply of Amiel shlichim to foster continued community engagement and growth – infusing Jewish schools with excitement, providing an address for people approaching life cycle events, and engaging young adults with Jewish programming.
Two such communities are Warsaw, Poland and Omaha, Nebraska – two cities that look to Amiel for a steady infusion of Jewish knowledge and passion that engages their community members with Jewish life.
Reinvigorating Small Jewish Communities
Rabbi Yoni and Shiran Dreyer spent four years in Omaha, Nebraska, where he served as Assistant Rabbi at Beth Israel Synagogue and she was the Director of Jewish Education at Friedel Jewish Academy. The Dreyers came after another Amiel-trained couple, Moshe and Hadar Nachman, had been on shlichut at Friedel; they are now handing the reins over to Rabbi Eitan and Noy Ziv, graduates of the class of 2023.
“When we first arrived at the synagogue, there was barely a daily minyan,” recalls Rabbi Dreyer. “Now there is. There were very few children coming to shul, and now there are many more. Greater numbers of teens are going to Israel for a gap year after high school. And there is a whole lot more Torah learning happening.
“In small Jewish communities across the United States, a lot of people are ‘getting lost.’ Being shlichim in communities like Omaha give us an opportunity to be involved in so many aspects of the community, and to really have a big impact,” he asserts.
Executive Director of Friedel Jewish Academy, Beth Cohen, explains, “It can be a hard sell to convince people to come to certain communities. Omaha, for example, is a small community of about 6,000 Jews in the middle of the United States, a six-hour drive from a larger Jewish community. The preparation our Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel emissaries receive is simply unmatched. It’s wonderful to know that thanks to them, we can bring quality staff to our community.”
Cohen points out that the emissaries also make a difference through their daily interactions, “as they drop their children off at the preschool, when they meet people in the kosher section of the grocery store and in their work in the school and the synagogue. In a community like ours,” she relates, “everywhere they go, people recognize them as the ‘shlichim from Israel.’ They ask them questions about kashrut, about observing Shabbat, about parenting, about Israel.
“The emissaries are impactful every minute of the day, everywhere they go in the community,” Cohen says. And we continue to return to Amiel for new, fantastic Jewish professionals who strengthen our community and our connection to Israel.”
The Backbone of Jewish Life in Warsaw and Across Poland
Jewish communities in Poland, once vibrant centers of the Jewish world, have faced tremendous challenges in the aftermath of the Holocaust and Communism. Numbers dwindled and of those Jews who remained, most had little to no connection to Jewish life, often only learning of their Jewish identity later in life.
Over the past two decades much has changed, in no small part thanks to Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel shlichim who are leaders of Jewish communities in cities across the country. In fact, other than Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, every current rabbi in Poland is a graduate of the Straus-Amiel training program.
Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis spent 10 years as a rabbi in Warsaw; he took over from Straus-Amiel Rabbi Uriel Zaretzky, who had, in turn, replaced Straus-Amiel Rabbi Moshe Blum.
“Chief Rabbi of Poland Rabbi Schudrich only hires Straus-Amiel emissaries,” shares Rabbi Ellis. “We have become the lynchpins of every community in Poland. We are responsible for the daily functioning of the synagogues, the mikvah, the chevra kadisha, making sure there is kosher food throughout the country, running Jewish education programs – things that simply weren’t happening 20 years ago,” he explains.
Rabbi Ellis is now being replaced by Rabbi Shai Welfeld, another Straus-Amiel trainee as well as a musmach of OTS’s Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary, who, along with his wife Yael, embarked upon the new position in early July.
“Amiel’s vision is to provide programming that’s meaningful and accessible, and to connect every Jew to Jewish life in the way that’s appropriate to him or her,” says Rabbi Ellis. “That’s what we’ve been doing in Poland, and I think that’s why Rabbi Schudrich keeps returning to Amiel when he’s looking to hire additional staff.”
Rabbi Schudrich confirms: “Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel have produced all of the Jewish leaders I’m hiring to work in Poland. The programs are simply a blessing for the Jewish world.”