There are many communities throughout the world which claim historical and sometimes even spiritual ties to Am Yisrael. Most of them separated from Israel as the result of the historical persecution the Jewish people experienced during the exile. But now that we have returned to Israel, our responsibility is to reach out to those remote communities and help them in their formal return to Judaism and strengthen their connection to Israel, so that no Jew is ever truly lost.
Many of the communities are far off the beaten track – such as the Jayapura community in Indonesia, the Lamba tribe in Zimbabwe, Bnei Efraim in Andhra Pradesh, India; Bnei Anusim in Italy and the Avyuda community in Putti, Uganda – and as such the emissaries’ visits are all the more logistically challenging. Prior to Pesach, for example, the shlichim set out weeks before the festival in order to prepare and kasher kitchens, bake matzah with community members and study with them about the holiday, in order to be ready for Seder night.
“We place great importance on empowering our brothers and sisters who wish to return to their roots,” explains program director Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum. As the director of OTS’s Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel emissary training and placement programs, Birnbaum has earned the nickname “Rav Olami” – “the Worldwide Rabbi” – because of his comprehensive understanding of Jewish communities, large and small, all over the world. “The ‘Nidchei Yisrael’ emissaries are the first-responders for distant communities who wish to be connected to Judaism. We have the privilege of helping communities throughout the world who have been cut off from the Jewish people and are interested in coming back, and we have the ability to give them the feeling that Am Yisrael is with them, to guide and assist them.”