“One Extended Family” – OTS Emissary Training Programs Reach Out to Students’ Parents
When a young couple makes the decision to leave Israel and serve as emissaries, the move impacts not only them, but their parents, as well.
Over the last 22 years, Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel Rabbinical Emissary Program, Beren-Amiel Educational Emissary Program and Claudia Cohen Women Educator Institute have prepared over 1,000 idealistic young men and women for roles as Jewish educators and leaders throughout the Diaspora, strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and the Jewish people.
But when a young couple makes the decision to leave Israel and travel across the globe for at least three years (and often more), the move impacts not only them, but their parents, as well. A recent online event offered parents of shlichim-in-training a deeper understanding of the structure, vision and incredible support system offered by the emissary programs. Parents also had the opportunity to meet the staff of Beren-Amiel, Straus-Amiel and the Claudia Cohen Institute; to hear perspectives on the concept of shlichut from leading Israeli figures who are also parents; and to ask questions.
“When a couple decides to go on shlichut, it impacts everyone – it impacts upon their children, and it also impacts upon their parents,” noted Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel director Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum in his introductory comments. “That makes you also shlichim. Our goal for the evening is to think together and to involve you in our vision and in our activities.”
Your Children are Our Responsibility
“The emissary programs are constantly improving and developing to make sure we are addressing the most important issues, contributing to the emissaries’ spiritual development, and guiding them throughout their shlichut,” OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Kenneth Brander emphasized, adding that the intensive, ongoing support that emissaries receive from the moment they enter the program extends even to their ultimate return to Israel.
“We are one extended family, and we are always in touch with the emissaries, sharing new strategies and helping them when they face professional and personal challenges,” Rabbi Brander explained. “We take our responsibility to your children very seriously and we believe that their experiences as emissaries will make them better people.”
The Parents’ Perspective
As the centerpiece of the evening, two of this year’s students interviewed their fathers – both well-known figures in Israeli society – about their own views on shlichut and working with Jews in the Diaspora.
Esther (Melamed) Lax is the second daughter of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (pictured, top row) to participate in the OTS emissary program. In response to her question, “What should our goal be as emissaries”? Rabbi Melamed discussed the importance of loving and respecting all Jews and finding ways to bring each one closer to Torah and to Israel. “The goal is to strengthen Jewish identity,” he explained, “to help people understand that it’s a tremendous honor to be part of the Jewish people and to take part in building the Jewish future.”
Lax’s fellow program participant, Hana Moriah (Mendelevich) Dahan, introduced her father – former refusenik Yosef Mendelevich (pictured, bottom row), who served in prison with Natan Sharansky. “Growing up, I thought everyone had a parent who had spent time in jail,” she commented, and asked her father, “You travel the world sharing your story. How is that a type of shlichut“?
Mendelevich answered: “Jews in the Diaspora need to hear positive messages about Israel. I sat in prison dreaming of making aliyah and didn’t know if I would ever have the opportunity. However, I eventually got out of prison and made aliyah. I came to Israel to help build the future of the Jewish people in Israel. My message is about the importance of building Jewish identity and strengthening Israel,” he said.
Rabbi Birnbaum noted, “It isn’t by chance that these young people come to us with a desire to give of themselves to the Jewish world. This is a value that they learned from their parents.”
Learning How to Strengthen the Jewish People
In explaining the program’s approach, Rabbi Birnbaum noted, “Straus-Amiel is about building Jewish identity, Jewish community and the Jewish people. We provide these young adults with practical tools to connect people to Jewish life in diverse Diaspora communities across the globe. We explore our roles as leaders and spiritual guides and emphasize the importance of learning the language, culture and perspective of each community.”
Among the many topics covered in weekly seminars throughout the two-year program, students learn about halakhic (Jewish legal) issues they will confront, educational pedagogy, the use of technology and marketing, and gain skills in counseling and public speaking.
Rabbi Birnbaum emphasized, “Your children are doing holy work, especially today, during the pandemic.”
This point was not lost on the parents who participated. “When my son came to me and told me that he wanted to participate in this program, it wasn’t easy for me to give my blessing, knowing he would be going so far away,” admitted Eli Hur. “But I now understand what a tremendous opportunity this is, and I’m very proud that our children have dedicated themselves to strengthening the Jewish people through this very special program.”