From Mexico to New Zealand, Jewish Communities Prepare for Rosh Hashana
Kosher meat slaughter in Peru; eight new Torah scrolls in Ecuador; early morning Selihot in Cancun; Wellington Jewish community considers reinstating prayer custom
Zvika Klein, Makor Rishon | 26 September 2019
Jewish communities worldwide are busy preparing for Rosh Hashana, the most popular day for synagogues. Preparations are not only taking place in large, well-established communities but also in smaller, more distant ones.
We received reports of such preparations from Ohr Torah Stone shlichim [emissaries] serving all over the world. Celebrations took place this week in Quito, Ecuador where eight new Sifrei Torah [Torah scrolls] were inaugurated in the synagogue for the New Year, enabling the congregation to use Kosher Torah scrolls during the High Holy Days and Sukkot. In the far-flung community of Nidchei Yisrael in Indonesia, congregrants will blow a Shofar that was purchased in Israel led by Daniel, the spiritual leader of the community who recently received his ordination. The Lemba tribe in Zimbabwe, who consider themselves to be the descendants of Jews, will celebrate Rosh Hashana with prayer services and festive meals.
In Lima, Peru the Ohr Torah Stone emissary slaughtered Kosher meat for the small, local Jewish community. In Cancun, Mexico daily services are held, with early morning selihot [penitentiary] prayers attended by members of the local community – alongside tourists visiting the popular resort famous for its parties and beaches.
For more than two decades, Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) has been sending emissaries to communities all over the world. At present, 277 emissaries are active in 108 cities worldwide, working under the auspices of OTS’s emissary training and placement programs. There are very few countries in the world in which OTS emissaries have not been active.
In addition to the aforementioned activities, OTS emissaries also run group cooking sessions for favorite holiday dishes, quizzes for children, enrichment programs at Jewish schools and for local communities.
Rabbi Ariel Tal is the OTS shaliach in Wellington, New Zealand along with his wife Rachel and their four daughters. Tal, who serves as the rabbi of the community, reports that most of the members of this long-standing community which was founded 180 years ago are traditional or secular Jews, and that they have some distinct customs for the High Holy Days. “During Yizkor on Yom Kippur, the community used to read out all the names of every member of the community who had passed away, which would take an hour and a half,” he reports. “The previous rabbi did away with this custom, and to this day people are still angry about his decision. Since there is such a great demand, and some families used to come to the synagogue just to hear the names being read out, we are now considering reinstating this custom in some form or another.”
Rabbi Tal also said that on Rosh Hashana he was planning to introduce a new custom to the community: a kiddush in the middle of the service, before shofar-blowing, as opposed to the current custom of having kiddush at the end. “It is difficult to sit for five consecutive hours during prayers. I hope that I managed to convince them,” he said. “The prayer services will be held according to the traditions of the community with many tunes that are unique to Wellington, alongside more familiar tunes.”
Training to become an emissary under the auspices of OTS’s Beren-Amiel, Straus-Amiel or Claudia Cohen Women Educators program takes one to two years, and includes both Torah study and enrichment content. Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, director of the various programs: “The guiding principle of the OTS emissary programs is to reach out to each and every Jew and to be available for the entire Jewish nation. In light of this approach, we encourage our emissaries to go serve in both large and small communities; in the West and in the East; in classic Jewish communities and in far-flung communities of ‘lost Jews’ in all four corners of the world, whose members believe they are descended from Jews. Anywhere we can have an influence and strengthen Jewish existence and identity – we will be there. Our activities during Rosh Hashana and the High Holidays in so many places that require our presence is even more meaningful, since this is an important festival in the Jewish calendar and in Jewish communities.”
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone: “The emissary programs are at the center of Ohr Torah Stone’s activities and we are pleased to see how it is expanding through our various outreach programs. We see the huge demand from the communities for knowledge and for spiritual leadership; our emissaries are very busy wherever they are. We salute the families and the younger emissaries who leave the State of Israel to go out to make a positive difference to Diaspora Jewry. We are so proud of you. Shana Tova to you – and to all of the Jewish people.”