“OTS Amiel BaKehila” Lights up Latin America
Two Ohr Torah Stone delegations left from Israel to Latin America this week to celebrate the festival of Chanukah with the local Jewish communities
The central squares of the world’s largest cities boasted impressive chanukiyot this week, and even the mayors of large cities attended candle lighting ceremonies. However, the special occasion was not confined to cities like New York and Berlin. Two Ohr Torah Stone delegations left Israel this week for Latin America in order to celebrate the festival of Chanukah with small Jewish communities in San Salvador (El Salvador), Monterrey and Cancun (Mexico), Lima (Peru) and the communities in Quito (Ecuador) and Bogota (Bolivia).
The delegations are a part of a joint initiative of Ohr Torah Stone and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, called OTS Amiel BaKehilla. The program has been running for more than six months and has already sent 30 delegations to more than 35 small communities all over the world, with the aim of running meaningful and diverse programs which will strengthen and expand local communities and promote a change of perception as far as Israel is concerned.
In contrast to other initiative involving shlichut, OTS Amiel BaKehilla delegations regularly visit small and mid-sized communities comprising between 300 and 10,000 Jews, with the understanding that these communities have not had the good fortune of maintaining constant ties with Israel, or enjoying regular visits by Israeli delegations through other shlichut programs. In order to create a strong bond with these communities, the delegates must be fluent in the native language of the community they visit.
The first delegation over Chanukah was headed by Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Diamant, who was born and bred in Uruguay and even served for a time as the local rabbi in Monterrey. Rabbi Diamant gave Torah lectures in the communities and spoke about the essence of Chanukah. He was also joined by actress and artist Deborah Jacubobsky, who gave workshops and engaged community members in special activities commemorating the festival. All the delegates joined the community members in a candle-lighting ceremony: “Lighting Chanukah candles in the presence of many is very moving, especially in communities that are so lacking the connection to something bigger,” said Diamant. “We lit a huge menorah, which was made by the members of the communities themselves. They also made a huge dreidel.”
The communities reached by this delegation comprised about 1000 Jews all in all. The community in El Salvador is actually made up of two communities: an older community consisting of approximately 65 families, and a community in-the-making comprising about 300 Jews. Cancun has a small community of Mexican Jews, numbering about 40 families, and the Monterrey community has about 300 Jews. “They live all year round in small communities, one might even say tiny communities, and don’t always feel strongly connected to anything, definitely not to the State of Israel,” explains Rabbi Diamant.
Rabbi Aharon Golman, who headed the second delegation, is a native of Argentina. The rabbi studied at the teachers’ seminary in Buenos Aires and received his rabbinical ordination from Machon Ariel in Jerusalem. Rabbi Aharon was the principal of the Mount Sinai school in Mexico, the CEO of the Ramat Shalom community in Israel and the rabbi of the Monterrey and Yavneh communities in Mexico City. He was joined by the musician Yanir Klinsky who played at all the events and told stories.
“This will be my fourth time in Latin America heading an OTS Amiel Bakehilla delegation, and I am excited every time anew,” Golman said. “We meet people who are thirsty for this encounter and everything we do is a godsend as far as they are concerned. Moreover, there are a number of communities all over Colombia that are reconnecting to Judaism through great love and strong will, and some have even converted. Others have gone so far as to send their children to Israel to study.”
Rabbi Yisrael Diamant adds: “The delegation’s schedule is very intensive, but we have a great time. The community also uses us to promote foreign ties, and that is how we landed up visiting the parliament of one of the countries where we met with pro-Israel members of parliament in the hope of initiating diplomatic ties between the countries. Chanukah is known as the festival of light, and we literally saw the light in their eyes.”