Diaspora Emissaries-in-Training Stop in Poland
By Orly Harrari
Arutz 7 – 15/5/2018
About 30 emissaries-in-training from the Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel Institutes returned from a week of training which took place in the Jewish communities of Poland. “The trip exposes the challenges in the field from the outset.”
About 30 emissaries-in-training, men and women, returned from a week-long training seminar in Poland in preparation for becoming full-fledged emissaries next year.
The emissaries are currently undergoing intensive training in the Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel institutes, which are rabbinical and educational emissarial training programs under the auspices of the Ohr Torah Stone network. For the first time ever, their training included a week-long trip to Jewish communities of Warsaw, Lodz, Wroclaw and Cracow, Poland.
This is the first time since the institutes’ inception 19 years ago that the students were sent abroad as part of their training. The choice of Poland as a destination was no coincidence – four of Poland’s five community rabbis are Straus-Amiel emissaries who underwent similar training to that of the new emissaries-in-training.
During the course of the week the emissaries-in-training visited various communities in Poland where they met with the community’s representatives, a Polish journalist and Jewish students. They also visited schools and became closely acquainted with the Jewish communities, the educational work of the shlichim in their various roles, and even celebrated Lag Ba’Omer with the community.
“The emissary’s training begins in the classroom, and involves exposure to the Jewish world at large, diverse customs of the Diaspora, meetings with returning shlichim and various representatives of Jewish communities from all over the world, and participating in numerous seminars and simulations, ” says Dani Appel, who is responsible for recruitment and community relations at Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel. “Notwithstanding the above, a trip abroad is unique in that it allows the emissary trainees to see in real life the manifestations of what they have learned, in keeping with the belief that nothing prepares you better than hands-on learning.
“It’s an entirely different learning experience to climb the roof of a community building in order to see from up close how a mikva (ritual bath) is maintained; to sit in a garden and talk face-to-face with an Israeli who has started a new life in Lodz; or to meet in person journalist Konstanty Gebert and hear from him a detailed account of how the Polish people view the “new-old” Jews and why they are so interested in maintaining strong ties with the Jewish communities in the country.”
One of the topics that came up during the course of the week was the big difference in personality between native Israelis and those living abroad, as well as the need to treat every person with respect and sensitivity, be they colleagues, community members, those attending interreligious meetings or even any person on the street.
“At Straus-Amiel we learned how not to get into fights with people,” says the Rabbi of the Warsaw community, Rabbi Uriel Zaretsky, who is a graduate of the institute. “We learned how to tone down the very straightforward and no-nonsense Israeli approach to things, which doesn’t always work elsewhere, and how to work with people with whom we may have deep ideological differences of opinion. There are usually more common denominators than otherwise.”
Beren-Amiel student Yaakov Wax said at the end of the seminar, “We will be leaving for educational shlichut in Teaneck, New Jersey next year. On this trip to Poland I may have seen communities that are very different from the community in which I will be serving, but it taught me a very important lesson nevertheless: take a passion of yours and use it for the good of the community – be it your love for food, art, music, etc. All of these things can contribute to community life and form a connection between the emissary and his community, between the members of the community themselves, and between the community members – men, women and children – and their Jewish heritage.”
Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel director, Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, said that “hundreds of Israelis embark on shlichut to different Jewish communities all over the world through various programs, and the training they receive in preparation for their emissary work is very similar. In recent years, we felt that we must introduce new elements into the emissaries training programs, which will prepare them even better for their work in the field.
“This trip to the communities of Poland is the first step, with the aim of exposing the male and female shlichim to the challenges with which they will have to cope in future; both those relating to local community matters, and others that are much broader in nature.”
Another member of the delegation was Yinon Ahiman, General Director of the Ohr Torah Stone network, who said that “the trip was not only a taste of what the emissaries’ work entails, but also an opportunity for the students to undergo a personal change – a must for every shaliach, educator, rabbi or teacher. One cannot effect change in another, if he or she has not undergone a process of change in themselves. One cannot bring people closer if there is no mutual process or reciprocity. If I myself change, then my perspective on others changes in kind.”