Going Home: Emissaries Strengthen Jewish Life in their Native Communities
Every Jewish community in each country is different; the language, the culture, politics and dynamics all vary. But what if people who already know the language, are intimately familiar with the local culture, and even know many of the players were trained to return to their native communities as emissaries? Meet three recent graduates of the Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel Emissary Training Programs who went back to their roots out of a passionate desire to make even more of a difference.
Rabbi Itzhak and Odeya Preschel recently returned to Itzhak’s native community of Montevideo, Uruguay, with their five children in tow. The trip was not a short visit to family and friends, but rather the beginning of shlichut; Itzhak is now serving as the rabbi in the very community in which he grew up, while Odeya is director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at the local Jewish school.
“Before embarking on this initiative, we attended emissary training classes at Straus-Amiel, which provided us with really practical skills relating to things like public speaking and tips for holiday programs. But because I grew up here and know the language and culture, I was also able to hit the ground running,” Itzhak says.
“Graduates of the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Training Programs are trained to strengthen Jewish identity and rejuvenate Jewish communities in locations across the globe,” confirms Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, the programs’ founding director. “When emissaries return to their home communities, they have a much shorter learning curve and are thus able to make a much faster impact.”
A Big Step
Rabbi Aron and Raziela Kindi’s families both hail from Sao Paolo, Brazil. While Aron’s parents made aliya before he was born, Raziela grew up in Sao Paolo and moved to Israel only after graduating from high school.
“Aron was very committed to going on shlichut – he spoke about it the very first time we met,” Raziella shares. Aron explains: “When I was growing up, my family travelled a lot and I saw how far removed so many Jews are from the beauty and relevance of our heritage, so I’ve always known I wanted to be an emissary.”
“However,” Raziella continues, “we both felt it was crucial to attain the skills and support that the Straus-Amiel program provides. And to me it was clear that if we were going to take such a big step, then we should really do it in Sao Paolo, a community we both know, where we speak the language and where we have friends and family.”
Aron concurs: “Going to a place we already knew enabled us to have a much faster impact. And Straus-Amiel prepared us with concrete ideas for programs, practical educational skills, and training in areas such as public speaking.”
Tools and Skills
“Growing up in the Diaspora, both my wife Yael and I encountered shlichim,” says Rabbi Aharon Saadon, a native of Venezuela. “We both understood the important role that emissaries play in inspiring connection to Judaism and also to Israel, so we decided that we wanted to go and give back as well.”
The couple recently embarked upon emissary work in Madrid, Spain – teaching classes and developing programming for local youth in the very community in which Yael grew up.
“There is a large Jewish community in Madrid but most people are very removed from Jewish tradition. By working to inspire the youth, we are building the future of the community,” relates Yael. “The fact that we speak the language, that I know the country and understand the culture gives us a huge advantage in enabling us to succeed. And our studies at Beren-Amiel provided us with the tools and skills that we need in order to do the work,” she says.
“We could never have found the training that Beren-Amiel provided us in our home countries, or really anywhere else,” adds Rabbi Saadon. “Here we received not only tools, but also guidance in finding the positions that suit us. On top of everything else, we also enjoy an entire support network of likeminded people who are doing the same thing we are in communities across the globe.”