Emissaries to Athens despite Covid-19
Rabbi Shebo and his wife Ayala among the first to begin serving in communities abroad during Covid-19, made possible by the meeting of the Israeli and Greek Foreign Ministers. How will the High Holidays be celebrated in the Greek capital?
By Shimon Cohen | August 31, 2020
Although Israel has been marked as a Red country, some are able to leave it to begin working as emissaries, in Greece for instance.
Rabbi Eliran Shebo and his wife Ayala are expected to leave for Athens tomorrow (Monday) with their two small children, to begin working as emissaries on behalf of Ohr Torah Stone.
Eliran was trained by Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel emissary training program and Ayala by the Claudia Cohen Women Educator Institute . They spoke to Arutz 7, relating the last minute decisions they had to make before leaving for Athens.
The Greek Foreign Minister visited Israel last week, leading to the decision to enable the emissaries to leave for Athens. Correspondence with the Greek community took place during the Greek Foreign Minister’s meetings with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the next morning the green light was given to purchase the tickets.
Rabbi Shebo will serve as Deputy Rabbi of Athens, where he will also teach Judaism in the afternoons. “There is a Jewish kindergarten and school, but from junior high school onwards there is no Jewish framework. The Lauder Foundation funds tuition in a private high school in exchange for Jewish studies,” he says, describing the framework through which he will teach Jewish high school students as part of a program to complete their studies.
Rabbi Shebo does not speak Greek. How does one transmit messages and give lessons to youth and community members while overcoming the language barrier? “Fortunately the community’s level of English is very high. They learn it from an early age, and except for the much older adults, they all speak it.”
What about the challenge of Covid-19 during the holidays, which is still unclear here in Israel? “I know that the synagogues opened only about a month ago. I don’t know of any special preparations for the holidays. Not all the 4,000 Jews in Athens attend prayer services on a daily basis. There is a regular minyan twice a week and on Shabbat, but on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur attendance is high – one synagogue fills up and the other has a minyan. Right now we are preparing to fill the synagogue.”
Rabbi Shebo describes a reality in which “the synagogue is a religious building owned by Jews, and religious activity is allowed there only”, together with a prohibition that seems to exist in Greek law against converting to Judaism. Another issue the Rabbi will have to become accustomed to is the relationship with the surrounding Christian community. Some ceremonies are held jointly, conducted by both a priest and a rabbi. Rabbi Shebo emphasizes that these are not communal prayers in church and the like but public memorial services held at the foot of monuments or in the town square. The priest and the rabbi conduct the event together, with each one saying a prayer to prove the brotherhood between the two communities.
Will he also encourage Aliya? Rabbi Shebo notes that it is not part of his role. “That is the job of the Jewish Agency representatives there, not mine. I am going on behalf of the community in order to bolster Judaism within it. Of course I will not hide where I come from and the Zionist views I hold. If people decide their connection to Israel is stronger as a result that’s great, but that isn’t what I’m there for.”