From Israel with Love
OTS Amiel BaKehila launches a new year of increased activity with symposium for mission delegates. Rabbi Kenneth Brander: “”All of you represent a new paradigm, a new phenomenon: that Diaspora Jewry can be influenced and inspired by its brothers and sisters in Israel – and vice versa.”
A symposium on the subject of world Jewry was held this week by OTS Amiel BaKehila, a unique Ohr Torah Stone initiative which operates under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and is geared toward strengthening small communities throughout the Diaspora and building a bridge between them and the State of Israel.
About 70 men and women who participated in delegations during the program’s first year of operation participated in the symposium, which included networking and practical workshops from Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, director of OTS’s myriad emissary programs; Rabbi Reuven Spolter, director of OTS Amiel BaKehila, and others.
The event culminated in a Rosh Hashana toast to the New Year and a celebration of the impact the program is making – as evidenced by the fact that the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs has tripled the number of communities OTS Amiel BaKehila can reach in its second year of operation, from 25 to 81.
“I want to thank Ohr Torah Stone for undertaking this very large and significant mission, and I want to thank each and every one of you for your sense of responsibility and mission,” said Dvir Kahana, director of the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. “Israel is already 71 years old, and we are taking a greater responsibility for Jews throughout the Diaspora – not because of how we think that Israel will benefit, but rather because if we perceive ourselves as the center of the Jewish people then we have a responsibility to each and every Jew in the world,” he said.
Kahana revealed that his ministry is investing millions of shekel per year in Diaspora Jews through a number of educational and social initiatives. “We are also testing out pilots for new models, exactly like this one, the groundbreaking OTS Amiel BaKehila which is supporting the worldwide Jewish community by strengthening and developing meaningful Jewish identity, while also connecting the communities to the State of Israel.
“This is the very first time ever that we are, systematically reaching the smaller Diaspora communities,” Kahana stated. “Through OTS we are now reaching places without easy access and infrastructures which already exist. This new model is proving very successful; you are literally changing the concept of partnership between Israel and the Diaspora through your valuable work. The success of the initiative is that it’s not a one-off program but rather an ongoing repeating project which has led to a paradigm shift which is enabling us to reach and impact on thousands upon thousands of people.
The OTS Amiel BaKehila project is based on 3-person missions that travel to pre-selected Diaspora communities 6-7 times a year. Each delegation is headed by an educator who, for the sake of relationship building and continuity, leads each visit. He or she is joined by two additional delegates: someone involved in Israel engagement, and someone from the world of Jewish arts and culture.
“Coming on a mission to small communities is so empowering, because the potential to make a difference is so large,” said Dov Maisels, co-founder and Senior Vice President of International Operations for United Hatzalah, who participated in one of the program’s missions to Charleston, South Carolina, New Orleans, Louisiana and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. “This was not only a great project on a national level but also very meaningful on a personal one,” he added.
Rabbi Yosef Garmon, a delegation leader to a number of communities in South America: “I don’t think any of you really understand how much of an impact you are making when you come visit the small communities. People tell me all the time how grateful they are that we aren’t here to ask for anything, not to encourage them to lobby for us or make Aliya or give money… but just because we think that as Jews they are important,” he said. “This program answers so many needs. Zionism. A thirst for connection, a desire for Jewish identity. And it’s all the more effective because of its diversity; it’s more than just guest rabbis or lecturers, it’s about you, the artists, musicians, journalists, politicians, tour guides and farmers who join our delegations and spread light all over the world.”
A New Paradigm
Symposium attendees were also addressed by internationally known specialist on the demography of world Jewry Professor Sergio della Pergola shared fascinating insights on demography, Jewish identification, antisemitism, and trends in the Diaspora and in Israel, with an accent on the similarities and differences that define Jewish identity in each location. Renowned educator Avraham Infeld also delivered a lively and entertaining address about the importance of connecting the Jewish people through what he calls “The Five-Legged Table”, describing how we can find ways to unite and connect by addressing those values which are important to Jews around the world.
“I wonder on a regular basis about the future of Diaspora Jewry,” shared Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva. “On the one hand, assimilation rates tell a scary story that speaks to the demise of tradition, culture and Jewish continuity. But on the other hand, throughout its existence, Diaspora Jewry has shown a resilience in the face of challenges which cannot be ignored or dismissed,” he said. “All of you represent a new paradigm, a new phenomenon: that Diaspora Jewry can be influenced and inspired by its brothers and sisters in Israel – and vice versa.”