Ensuring Jewish Community Growth, Even During a Pandemic
When idealistic, committed young adults embark on the two-year Straus-Amiel Emissary Training Program for rabbinical couples, they cannot possibly imagine all of the challenges they will face building Jewish community throughout the Diaspora; least of all, those that will arise due to a worldwide pandemic.
During the course of their studies, emissaries-in-training prepare for halakhic issues they may confront, are trained in educational pedagogy, and gain skills in counseling and public speaking. Today, the use of technology is an especially important topic.
And amidst the challenges of COVID-19, these skills helped emissaries around the world as they rose to unprecedented challenges and continued to strengthen Jewish identity and Jewish life and their Jewish communities.
Rabbi Bentzi and Michal Mann are just one example. After Bentzi received rabbinic ordination from The Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary and the couple completed the Straus-Amiel Rabbinical Emissary Program, the Manns were selected to be the first rabbinic couple in the new, tiny Jewish community of Mill Hill East, a neighborhood of London. Thanks to their energy, enthusiasm and the ongoing guidance they receive from Ohr Torah Stone, they have fostered tremendous growth since their 2018 arrival.
“If not for our synagogue, we believe many would be unaffiliated.”
The United Synagogue (a union of British Orthodox synagogues) recruited the Manns to move to Mill Hill East as part of their “Communities of Potential Project.” With the Mann’s initiative, membership more than tripled and activity at the synagogue increased dramatically, with weekly (rather than bi-weekly) Shabbat services, classes, holiday programs and social events.
“Our community is diverse,” explains Rabbi Mann. “It includes people who are observant, alongside those who don’t keep Shabbat. Many who don’t consider themselves religiously observant are nevertheless very involved, attending prayer services and participating in programs. If not for our synagogue, we believe many would be unaffiliated.”
Michal adds that, “Before COVID, we had doubled attendance at Shabbat services. Today, COVID health restrictions allow up to 30 people to attend in-person services. We fill up and have a waiting list every week.”
In attributing the importance of the Straus-Amiel training program, Rabbi Mann says, “The halakhic knowledge I gained was a prerequisite to serving as a rabbi. In addition, Ohr Torah Stone gave us the perspective and tools we needed to do our work. Throughout the pandemic, they have provided constant halakhic and practical guidance to help us strengthen our community amidst the current challenges.”