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International conference of emissaries looks ahead to ‘post-COVID’ Jewish world

Emissaries from 36 countries take part in a virtual symposium focused on the practical challenges facing Jewish Diaspora communities.

By ILH Staff | December 25, 2020

As the Jewish world continues to address the challenges from the coronavirus and its impact on communal life across the globe, close to 300 rabbinical emissaries gathered for a virtual conference to address these issues and strategize for the “post-COVID” world.

The conference, hosted by the Ohr Torah Stone network’s emissary training programs, saw the participation of rabbinical couples and educational envoys serving in several dozen countries and featured addresses by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich, Israel Prize Recipient Miriam Peretz, Chief Rabbi David Lau and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, to name a few.
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Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, Miriam Peretz

Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel programs, said, “This event has allowed us to come together to learn, listen and think about our true role as emissaries which is to best ensure the future of the Jewish people.

“The online forum provides us with the opportunity for conversation to address the real challenges facing our people as well as how we as rabbis can positively impact these communities. Our emissaries and teachers, each in their own way, have become integral figures in their communities and their services have been all that much more important during this period of Corona and to prepare for what lies ahead.”
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Omer Yankelevich

The conference focused on practical challenges facing Jewish Diaspora communities, from threats of anti-Semitism and assimilation as well as very immediate issues like the recent ban on ritual slaughter in the EU.  In her comments, Yankelevich said that this ban is imposing a real threat to the ways of life for Jews in Europe.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu addressed the emissaries saying, “Your important work strengthens Jewish education, fosters Jewish identity and inspires Jewish learning and bolsters pride in our common Jewish heritage.”

The online format allowed for the participation of emissaries from 36 countries, who welcomed the chance to share their experiences in recent months. An underlying theme shared by all was how the very face of Jewish communal life has changed as a result of the coronavirus and that rebuilding the communal fabric will take time and patience.

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Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President of Ohr Torah Stone, highlighted those difficulties,  saying, “The past year has changed the very concept of Jewish community in a myriad of unprecedented ways. The massive loss of life has been deeply painful, and the closure of synagogues and schools has weakened the glue that binds our communities together. Yet our emissaries have selflessly and heroically navigated challenging issues regarding life-and-death, mental health, domestic violence, halakha and spiritual crises.  They have harnessed technology to create virtual, values-based, vibrant communities.  And as we emerge from the pandemic, they are now uniquely poised to continue developing innovative and proactive ways of ensuring healthy Jewish continuity across the globe.”

Rabbi Yosef Garmon, a Straus-Amiel emissary in Guatemala, described how the past few months have been “a real case of the best of times and the worst of times. While 2020 certainly was the worst in terms of what was lost, we were also provided with a chance for togetherness and unity that perhaps only became possible because of this virus.”

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Natan Sharansky

Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel programs train modern Orthodox, religious Zionist rabbis and educators and place them in communal and educational leadership positions in Jewish communities around the globe.  The 2020 conference included a tribute by Natan Sharansky and the emissary programs to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Founder and Chancellor Emeritus of Ohr Torah Stone, who envisioned the emissary training and placement programs and established them in 1998. 


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