Pesach Seder via ‘remote control’

“Pesach Seder by Remote Control”

An original way of teaching Pesach to faraway tribes: via the Internet

by Itamar Eichner | Yediot Acharonot | 16 April, 2019 

Pasteup of story in Yediot AcharonotSharen and George, members of the Lemba tribe in Zimbabwe, lived in Israel for four months and learned about Judaism, Israel and their connection to the Jewish People in Ohr Torah Stone’s Robert M Beren Yeshivat Hesder Machanaim.  They have recently returned to their respective communities in order to manifest the reason for which they had come to Israel in the first place: that is, becoming leaders in their own community, which sees itself as part of the Jewish People. 

George teaching PesachThese days, Sharen and George are in the middle of intensive Pesach preparations, both technical and spiritual in nature: giving Torah lessons around the clock, in their villages as well as in surrounding villages, right up until Passover eve, when they will be moderating community Seders for their villages. 

Like the Lemba tribe, there are numerous communities worldwide comprised of Jewish descendants or who have a historical connection to the Jewish people and Judaism, who view themselves as Jewish although they cannot be defined so according to halakha.  In the run up to Pesach, they are studying about the festival and try to observe it down to the last detail – and all this is done through Ohr Torah Stone’s Nidchei Yisrael (“the scattered of Israel”) Program. 

Many of the communities participating in the program are located in remote places and are consequently unable to maintain ongoing ties with Israel – a fact which renders Sharen and George all the more indispensable to their communities.

JayapuraOther communities who partake in the initiative are the Jayapura community of Indonesia; the Bnei Ephraim community in Andhra Pardesh, India; descendants of the anusim in southern Italy, and the Abuyudaya community in Putti, Uganda. 

However, not all these communities are fortunate enough to have someone come help them firsthand with the numerous preparations for Pesach.  Communal Seders will be held in the Bnei Ephraim’s two central congregations, and in addition to receiving the traditional packages of matza and haggadas from Ohr Torah Stonelike the other communities, Nidchei Yisrael Program coordinators are holding “remote learning sessions” with the members of the community. 

Online learningOne of their online teachers is Yehoshua Ya’akobi, originally of the Bnei Ephraim community, who made aliya many years ago and has been studying in Ohr Torah Stone’s Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary for the past year and a half.  During the past few months, Ya’akobi has been spending many hours in front of his computer screen, organizing conference calls and teaching online how to kasher utensils for Pesach, prepare for the Sederand perform other commandments related to the approaching festival. 

passover kitsRabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, director of the Nidchei Yisrael program embarked on a trip to the Bnei Ephraim and Lemba communities last year.  “We have much to learn from their eagerness and determination to learn about and observe the holiday of Passover properly,” he says.  “We are fortunate to be a part of the Jewish nation with all its hues and colors, tribes and communities.  These remote communities have an unequivocal historical affiliation with the Jewish People; they see themselves as Jews but they are not halakhically Jewish.  The members of these communities aspire higher; they truly want to be bound to Judaism.  It is our role to take care of all Jews in the Diaspora; to stand by them and embrace all those who wish to come closer.”

Alongside the Nidchei Yisrael Program initiatives, dozens of OTS emissaries from the Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel programs, who work in communities all over the globe throughout the year, will soon be celebrating the holiday of Passover with their communities in South Africa; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Modena, Italy; Izmir, Turkey, Stockholm, Sweden; Guatemala, Mexico to name but a few.   

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