Rabbinical and educational emissaries from across North and South America convened in Miami, Florida this week for the annual conference organized by the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Training Institutes, part of the Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) network.
The conference provided a platform for the organization's emissaries to tackle pressing issues that confront Jewish communities in their region, especially in the digital era. Sessions delved into the intricacies of navigating the ever-expanding digital landscape, exploring the opportunities it presents for smaller communities while discussing the ethical dilemmas arising from the advancement of artificial intelligence and other technologies.
"Those who came to the conference have again proven the dedication and professionalism that exists within the OTS emissary family around the world," said Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, founding director of OTS’s Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel institutes. "Every one of them in their individual community is involved with their blessed work to strengthen the Jewish communities and schools, which is of vital importance at this time."
The Ohr Torah Stone programs, celebrating their 25th year, equip rabbis and educators with the necessary tools and skills to serve Jewish communities worldwide. Those accepted to the program go through training and in-depth instruction in pastoral counseling, community leadership, public speaking, and educational methodologies. Understanding the diversity of the Jewish Diaspora, the program emphasizes the significance of maintaining a deep connection to Jewish tradition while addressing the unique challenges faced by Jewish communities in the modern world.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, travelled to Florida to be part of the gathering and commented: "The conference gave our shlichim (emissaries - ed.) the opportunity to address contemporary issues through the lens of halakhic sources, examining how to effectively convey Judaism's messages and values. We discussed how to use the most modern of innovations, such as AI and various other media platforms, visited thriving local Jewish communities that exemplify engagement and tolerance, and enjoyed crucial conversations in the realms of family dynamics and finance. Our shlichim were strengthened with the knowledge that they are part of something larger - an Ohr Torah Stone family that invests and cares for them. It was a wonderful, uplifting conference that inspired me and my colleagues at the Beren and Straus-Amiel institutes, as we witnessed the amazing work, dedication and dynamism of our shlichim."
Close to 50 emissaries from North and South American participated in the multi-day event which included a variety of sessions including Jewish identity for Gen-Z, kiruv, and conversation for different types of communities, raising a family while on shlichut, issues of conversion, and formal and informal education. The conference was supported by the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and speakers included attorney Roi Abecassis, Head of the Center of Religious Affairs in the Diaspora and senior representative of World Mizrachi in the WZO; and Ilan Friedman, representative of the Department of Education in North America of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).
"This gathering gave us the chance to discuss the role of our emissaries as a link between Israel and the Diaspora, particularly in these times of internal social tension in Israel, and to spread the message that despite those difficulties, we need to remain focused on national unity, wherever on the globe we find ourselves," Abecassis said.