While most Diaspora communities look to Israel to celebrate the holiday of Tu B’shvat and the new flowering season, one program in Israel is looking to the Diaspora. With fruit baskets sent to the homes of the participants, the virtual program for educators at an Israeli high school provides them an opportunity to explore the beauty of the Land of Israel through the eyes of those in the Diaspora.
“One of the main goals of the religious Zionist movement is to continue to develop and build the relationship between Jewish communities around the world, meeting them ‘where they are’ in true partnership and understanding,” says Rivky Yisraeli of Ohr Torah Stone’s Neveh Channah school, and coordinator of the program. “For years, the Jewish Diaspora communities have supported us in Israel; financially, politically and morally. Today, more than ever, we have to show our support for them. Smaller communities are crumbling during this pandemic and we have to strengthen them, stay connected, and support them. And to do that, we must understand them.”
This is not something out of the blue. A group of teachers and students have been participating in a 10-part course on the Jewish diaspora taught by the Straus-Amiel Emissary program of Ohr Torah Stone. The program sends Modern Orthodox, religious Zionist rabbis and educators to serve in communal and educational leadership positions in Jewish communities worldwide.
Among the topics introduced in the high school course were the challenges faced by post-modern Jewish communities, the right of return, type of communities in existence, religious denominations, anti-Semitism, challenges to religious worship, as well as Israel’s lost tribes across the globe.
“This type of program brings attention to our global Jewish family,” says Matan Milner, taking part in the emissary program in Manchester, England with his wife Nini and family. “The feeling we often have is that the Jewish diaspora is thirsty for water, the water of Torah and of the Land of Israel, as well as a mutual connection with Israeli Jewry and its values. It’s also important for the Israeli community to realize how much we can learn from our brothers and sisters around the world; about preserving their Jewish character, as well as new ideas and resources for strengthening their continued existence. This program and the investment in learning about Jewish communities around the world is important because we are one family.”
“As educators we have a responsibility to open up our students to the reality of just how large and diverse the Jewish world is,” says Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president and Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “While Israel is at the center of our spiritual and national existence, we need to deeply appreciate the place Diaspora Jewry occupies in our national identity. This program is getting that done by directly sharing with our teachers and students the challenges faced by Jews in other parts of the world and showing these communities that wherever we may be, we will always remain one nation."