Uniting and Exciting Jews Around the World
“A rabbi and a puppeteer walk into a bar…”
While this may sound like the start of a bad joke, this scene actually took place in February, as members of an OTS Amiel BaKehila delegation to Cherry Hill, NJ met with the local Jewish Federation’s Young Adult division at their “Jews and Brews” program, in which participants discuss Jewish themes and network over beer.
Run under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, OTS Amiel BaKehila sends delegations comprised of a Jewish educator, an Israel Engager and a Jewish artist to small and mid-sized communities around the world, with the mission of uniting, exciting and connecting people to Judaism and the State of Israel. The Cherry Hill delegation was led by Rabbi Amram Maccabi – a graduate of OTS’s Straus-Amiel emissary program and former Chief Rabbi of Stockholm; he walked into the makeshift bar with fellow delegation member Avishai Shitrit, a talented puppeteer who regularly appears on Israeli television.
Other stops on the delegation’s two-day visit to Cherry Hill were Congregation Beth El (Conservative), Congregation Sons of Israel (Orthodox), Politz Jewish Day School (Orthodox), the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation’s Young Adult division, the Kellman Brown Academy (non-denominational), and Temple Emanuel (Reform). As the delegation moved on to Wilkes-Barre, PA, and New Orleans, LA, Shitrit also performed values-based puppet shows for kids in Jewish schools, synagogues, groups and organizations of all Jewish denominations.
“Our mission is to work with any and all Jews throughout our partner communities,” explained Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of OTS Amiel BaKehilla. “We take great pride in the fact that we have been welcomed by Jews from across the denominational spectrum in the North America. All too often, Israel is a source of division in the Jewish community,” Spolter noted. “It is gratifying that our delegations serve as a source of unity, bringing the broader Jewish community closer together.”
One Hundred Missions
Since its inception, OTS Amiel BaKehila has sent delegations to 80 Jewish communities throughout North America, Latin America and Europe, interacting with more than 76,000 participants. The program recently marked its 100th mission, with a delegation to Bratislava, Slovakia; Basel, Switzerland; and Vienna, Austria.
The delegation was led by Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer, a community rabbi in Carmiel, who has made his life’s mission reaching out to Jews wherever they are and connecting them to Jewish life and identity. Topics Engelmayer addressed in this delegation included creation and evolution; the place of Israel in Judaism; the relationship between Judaism and other world religions; Jewish unity and more.
The delegation’s art educator, Sarit Gizbar, met with teachers from the local elementary and middle schools, giving them ideas of how to use art in the classroom to teach Judaism and Zionism in a creative way; together they made Purim decorations with the communities’ children in preparation for the upcoming holiday.
Avichai Koch was the delegation’s Israel Engager; an agronomist who now lives in the northern Negev, Koch had lived in Tel Aviv and worked in the world of hi tech until 2003 when he and his wife decided to follow their Zionistic dreams and take an active part in building the country. Koch’s farm is situated just 4 miles from the Gaza strip and has suffered missile damage, yet in spite of the difficulties he faces, he continues to work the land with joy and optimism – something that he shared with the groups he met through the delegation. “It is so refreshing to learn from someone who is on the border,” said one participant in Bratislava. “He really lives the values of Torah and of Zionism, sacrificing so much for the land of Israel.”