“In Europe, antisemitism is in the air”

Venice conference in Venice Museum synagogue

“In Europe, antisemitism is in the air, and we have no idea what to expect in future” These are the words of French journalist Richard Darmon, who spoke with Ohr Torah Stone emissaries in Europe this week. OTS President: “In the very same place where Jewish holy books were burned, we are writing a new …

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Talking about Jewish values in Cancun

Merav and Rabbi Yaakov Wacks

Talking about Jewish values in Cancun Israeli educators from Ohr Torah Stone to Bergen County meet with peers to discuss best practices By Abigail Klein Leichman | February 28, 2019 An Israeli couple who arrived in Englewood in August and have been working as youth directors at Englewood’s East Hill Synagogue and as educators at Ben …

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Tackling Critical Issues: Regional Conference for OTS Shlichim in Cancun

Group shot in Cancun

42 Emissaries from the Americas Tackle Critical Issues Affecting Diaspora Communities at Ohr Torah Stone Conference CANCUN, Mexico – Ohr Torah Stone’s Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel emissary training programs brought together 42 of its North, Central and South American emissaries here to address ways to tackle critical issues affecting mainly smaller Diaspora Jewish communities. There was …

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Training for emissaries… and their parents

Training parents of shlichim

For the first time in Israel: Training for the parents of shlichim as well  After 20 years of training shlichim to serve in Jewish communities in the Diaspora, Ohr Torah’s Straus-Amiel institute decided that the time has come for the parents of emissaries to get involved too Arutz 7 | 3 February 2019 (Translated from …

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No Longer ‘The Rabbi’s Wife’

Group of Claudia Cohen graduates in Venice

No Longer ‘The Rabbi’s Wife’ 

“I looked at the women around me with wonder and admiration, and found myself pondering the role of the rabbanit in this day and age and how different it all was when I was a shlicha and the wife of a serving rabbi.”

Sara Beck | Maariv Newspaper | Friday, December 21, 2018

Group of Claudia Cohen graduates in VeniceLast week, Ohr Torah Stone’s Claudia Cohen Women Educator Institute held a conference in Venice for 26 graduates who today serve as emissaries in various communities throughout Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Discussions focused on the general, as well as delicate issues impacting Jewish communities throughout Europe, the United Kingdom and Israel. Topics included raising a Jewish family as anti-Semitism is on the rise, a lack of Jewish infrastructure in many communities throughout Europe, family purity and mikva, Jewish education, parenting – couplehood and family in rabbinical and emissary work, the role of and status of women in the Jewish community and prayer in the postmodern world.

Media personality Sara Beck, who attended the conference as a lecturer, wrote about it in the Israeli Maariv daily:

Tuesday of last week, Asara b’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet, Venice, Italy.  In the heart of the Jewish community two buildings stand side by side, in what I view as an extraordinary juxtaposition.  In a small bet midrash, situated right next to the Jewish ghetto’s Great Synagogue, ten or so Jews gather together in prayer.  They are elderly and are wrapped in prayer shawls and tefillin.  Some made their way by boats through the nearby canals, others live close by in the ghetto.  I seat myself in the corridor, close to the entrance, because there is no designated women’s section, and it feels like I’ve been taken back in time by half a century at least.  It is dark and cold.  The synagogue, which was once one of the most splendid structures in the ghetto, does not even have heating.  The wooden beams which hold up the ceiling, as well as the loam-colored velvet curtains, are in desperate need of some cleaning.  But the community is on the demise and there is no budget for preservation.  Venice is emptying out of its youth in general, and in the Jewish community this is all the more apparent. 

That said, in the building next door there is great commotion.  20-odd young women, all of whom are inspiring leaders, are engaging in lively and creative discourse.  All the women present are the wives of rabbis who went out on shlichut to different parts of Europe as part of Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel program.  Under the auspices of Ohr Torah Stone and the WZO they came together from Sweden, England, Switzerland, Poland, Germany and Bulgaria in order to exchange ideas and discover that they all, in fact, face a similar challenge:  How does one help Jewish communities reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant?

Take Ilana Epstein from London.  She started a blog on Jewish cuisine which went viral on the web.  She is a culinary expert and the star of a charming cooking show she created, reminiscent of (famous Israeli pastry chef) Karin Goren.  Every cooking episode begins with a history of the particular dish, followed by recipes.  It has become obvious to all another way to discovering Jewish identity is through the stomach. 

Danielle Basok, an energetic and indefatigable rebbetzin working in the Jewish community of Wroclaw (Poland) helped renovate the local mikve (ritual bath) built in 1905 inside the premises of the city’s ancient synagogue, and turn it into a museum and culture center as well.  She, too, discovered that food is the way to go, and in wake of her success in the local community, the University of Wroclaw invited her to give a series of monthly lectures in the coming year.  Miriam Singer of Lodz founded a TV channel for the Jewish communities of Poland and Rotem Noy from Berlin started a commune of sorts for Jewish students who wish to live together in a Jewish environment.

I looked at the women around me with wonder and admiration, and found myself pondering the role of the rabbanit in this day and age and how different it all was when I was a shlicha and the wife of a serving rabbi.  If in the past the role of the rabbanit (or rebbetzin, if you will) was taking out the cookies from the oven in time to serve those coming to consult with the rabbi (don’t worry, I was never such a rebbetzin), today the young wives of serving rabbis are leaders in their own right and agents of change in the communities they serve. 

They are also a great source of knowledge, support and creativity, and they engage in all these task often paying a heavy personal price: leaving behind their extended family in Israel, raising children in an unfamiliar environment and sometimes having to deal with internal community challenges – when the community to which they belong is also their formal employer.  In short, one might call these women the “Chabad” movement of religious Zionism. 

Sarah Beck addresses the women at the conference “Our Rebbetzins and women educators play a vital and multi-faceted role in communities around the Jewish world. As such, before they embark upon their roles as community educators and emissaries of Modern Orthodoxy, receive professional training which helps them effectively lead their communities and provide the spiritual resources their communities need,” said OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander. “The goal of the conference was to provide the forum for ongoing education on important contemporary issues, to talk freely amongst themselves about the challenges and opportunities arising in the course of their holy work and, most importantly, to strengthen their peer network and sense of camaraderie.”

“It was impressive to see young women who are spiritual leaders in European communities come together to discuss pressing issues facing their communities,” said Rabbanit Renana Birnbaum, Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Claudia Cohen Women Educators Institute. “It’s no longer, ‘The Rabbi’s wife,’ but rather a true spiritual leader, with each of these women playing a central role in the heart of the growth of their communities.”

There’s no place too far or too isolated

scan of first page of article

There’s no place too far or too isolated In New-Zealand and England and even in far-off Brazil, the shlichim of Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel are active in hundreds of Jewish communities around the world. The common denominator: strengthening Jewish identity, fighting assimilation, and also their language – the language of Religious Zionism. Yair Kraus | Makor …

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The President of Ecuador Lights Chanukah Candles

Nir Koren and President of Ecuador

The President of Ecuador Lights Chanukah Candles At an interfaith confab hosted by the president of Ecuador, the president lit Chanukah candles. Local Jewish community rabbi: “We are fulfilling an immense calling here” December 10, 2018 | Translated from Arutz 7 The climax of an interfaith confab hosted by Lenín Moreno, the president of Ecuador, was …

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A Thousand Words – November 26, 2018

Rabbi Ariel Tal and Maori hongi

Rabbi Ariel Tal, Straus-Amiel shaliach in Wellington, New Zealand, was welcomed to the opening of a Holocaust exhibition by local Maori leadership, who greeted him with the traditional hongi welcome. After the Maori prayers, Rabbi Tal led the Shema Israel. View previous Photo of the Week #ContemporaryJewishLeadership #RabbisWhoAreComfortableInTheWorld #RelevantSpiritualLeadership #KiddushHashem #PartnershipsForProgress #OTSLivingLearningLeading

“Our mission has not ended”

Posed photo of evening's participants

Returning Emissaries: “Our mission has not ended” Eleven emissary families who recently returned from Jewish communities in the Diaspora met last week to reflect upon the happy moments, the times of crisis and difficulty, and also the moments which gave them satisfaction. Some had been in the Diaspora for five years; others for two. Some …

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Sukkot of the World

Sukkot in Poland

Sukkot of the World OTS emissaries cap the period of Jewish festivals in communal sukkot that they built all around the world. “To bring the spirit of the holiday from the State of Israel.”    By Reut Hadar – 28 September, 2018 (translated from Hebrew) Throughout the world, many Jewish people celebrate the Sukkot holiday. …

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How many emissaries are there? All the surprising details…

Photo of Fish family

How many emissaries are there, and who is the youngest of all? All the statistics about the emissaries exposed: how old is the youngest, and how many languages to they speak? All of the surprising details. Guy Ezra, Srugim News – 28 September, 2018  (Translated from Hebrew) The new OTS emissaries, graduates of Straus-Amiel, Beren-Amiel, and …

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The Forgotten Jewish Community of Ecuador

The Synagogue in Quito Ecuador

The following article in the OU’s Jewish Action magazine celebrates the work of Straus-Amiel emissary Rabbi Nir Koren as he revitalizes Jewish life in Quito, Ecuador The Forgotten Jewish Community of Ecuador Jewish Action Magazine Jews have been living in Ecuador since the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, but those early Sephardic families almost completely …

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