OTS Amiel BaKehila’s Conference on the Jewish Diaspora

An important opportunity to learn, connect and celebrate the New Year

Late last month, just before Rosh Hashanah, over fifty delegation members from across Israel gathered at the Yehuda Hotel in Jerusalem for an afternoon conference focused on Jewish communities in the Diaspora, their different needs and challenges, and some of the ways that Amiel BaKehila has been making a difference in our partner communities.

Before the official program, we convened a special panel for Community Educators led by Rabbi Benjy Myers of the Strauss-Amiel institute. Rabbi Myers encouraged the participants to share some of the challenges inherent in maintaining a connection with a community over a number of short visits, as well as some of the successes that different educators shared with their peers.

Rabbi Benjy Myers leading a discussion with Communal Educators

The formal program began with introductions from Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Hayeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone and Rabbi Elaihu Birnbaum, Director of the Amiel Institute. They were followed by a lecture from Professor Sergio Della Pergola, a recognized expert in the area of Jewish demographics. Professor Della Pergola shared a number of important statistics about the changing nature of Jewish demographics over the past few decades, giving us much food for thought as we work with smaller communities around the world.

Professor Della Pergola sharing statistics about the Jewish world

Following a short break, we enjoyed a short musical presentation by Ianir Kilinsky and Reuven Bransburg, two talented musicians who have traveled around the world on a number of different delegations. Then we were joined by Mr. Dvir Kahane, Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, who gave a short talk about the Ministry’s work and then engaged in a discussion with delegation participants.

Rav Eliahu Birnbaum and Dvir Kahane
Reuven Bransburg and Ianir Kilinsky

The final major address was from Mr. Avraham Infeld, the President Emeritus of Hillel – the Foundation for Jewish Campus life and a life-long activist for Jewish communal engagement around the world. His excitement for Jews and promoting Judaism infected the crowd, as he delivered a passionate address outlining his “five-legged table” formula to engage Jews wherever they may be.

We concluded the program with a traditional “haramah kosit” – as we drank a “le’chayim” to celebrate the incredible success of the past year, and pray for continued growth and success over the coming year. We look forward to 5780 as we bring passionate speakers, advocates, educators and artists from Israel to small Jewish communities around the world.

Three Questions about the Jewish Community of…Buffalo, NY (USA)

With Rob Goldberg, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Buffalo

Tell us about Jewish Buffalo:
Jewish Buffalo is a relatively tight-knit community of approximately 10,000.  While it only represents less than 1% of the greater population in the region, its impact is felt through the leadership of so many families in law, medicine, education, and the arts.  Nearly 75% of the population lives in suburban areas, concentrated mostly in the Town of Williamsville.  There is a JCC system with both a city and suburban building, two Reform congregations, one Conservative congregation, 6 Orthodox shuls and a variety of other non-affiliated worship groups. The Federation system raises nearly 3M annually and supports a range of agencies – from the Hillel on the campus of the University of  Buffalo to a Jewish Family Service and Holocaust Resource Center – as well as a number of educational and engagement efforts that touch all sectors of the community.

Tell us five things that are unique to the Buffalo Jewish community? 

  • An overall spirit of cooperation among synagogues, rabbis and leaders
  • A warm and welcoming atmosphere that is symbolic of many Midwestern communities
  • An embrace of our reality as a smaller community (60 years ago we were double the size) and the commitment to be “small” and “mighty”
  • Innovation – Buffalo is a city known for innovation in aerospace, manufacturing, architecture, the arts and a variety of other sectors, and the Jewish community reflects that, in particular, the Federation that is always seeking new ways to engage more Jews in having a meaningful Jewish experience
  • Our proximity to Niagara Falls and the Canadian border
Please share a community program or activity that you feel would be beneficial for other communities to know about:
Security has been at the forefront of our agenda since the Tree of Life massacre last fall. Buffalo moved swiftly to raise funds (over $225,000), hire a dedicated security professional, and to begin to distribute grants for synagogues and agencies to harden their buildings, train leaders, etc. In less than a year, we’ve accomplished that and so much more and serve as a model for other communities of our size. There is, as a result, a general sense of appreciation among community members for this commitment to ensure a safer and more secure Jewish Buffalo, and the need and effort have brought us even closer together.

OTS Amiel Bakehila Partner Profile: Deborah Jacubovsky – Actress, Singer, Dancer and Playwright

Deborah Jacubsky

I traveled to Israel for the first time on a study trip at the age of fifteen and felt an immediate and deep connection with the land of our ancestors, our present and future. Since then I understood that Israel would one day be my home. Following my Aliyah from Chile in 2012, I met my husband in Shuk Machane Yehuda and we have a wonderful son. Kibbutz galuyot!
I am a creative mind that dreams day and night. Within my itinerary of activities with the communities is “Soul Dance”, Theater, music and artistic workshops with Jewish content.

Soul Dance
Seven years ago I created a dance movement called “Soul Dance”. It is a circle of tribal Jewish dance that is composed of Afro Latin rhythms, song and prayer in motion. Together we create a dance that reactivates the lost or sleeping heritage of the Jewish woman and reignites traditions we shared in ancient times prior to 2,000 years of exile. This dance helps us connect with God, with ourselves, with the circle of women in brotherhood and with the natural cycles of the planet and our bodies.
Through this experience, we let go of fears, anxieties and conventions about what is beautiful and aesthetic. We let go of personal and collective judgments and concepts about coordination and rhythm in order to learn to listen to the movement of our souls. It is incredible for me to see the transformation of women from the beginning to the end of the sessions. It fills my heart to be able to share tools that encourage living a more conscious and meaningful life. These dances he us understand that we are warrior women who fight in an internal war, one that makes us better human beings, using all the wisdom that lives within our wombs.
Every time I shared Soul Dance, without exception, the women enjoyed and managed to connect in a way that they did not know and that many times did not think possible. On several occasions, women who did teshuva or converted to Judaism approached me, and with tears in their eyes, they thanked me because they have not felt that level of connection for a long time. For many, it is a gift to know that they can find a way to express themselves, dance and sing with holiness.

Comedy is a very high form of healing for people. When the audience laughs collectively, it often ignores the fact that in addition to entertaining there is an even deeper phenomenon that is taking place. Laughter helps the person release endorphins, which in addition to relieving pain strengthen the ability of white cells to defend the body against viruses and bacteria. In short, laughter is both physical and spiritual medicine.
It has been a giant pleasure to be able to act for hundreds of people who have laughed out loud and also taken an important message to reflect. On these trips I have presented a monologue called “Bite The Tongue” based on the teachings of proper speech.

What has impacted me most has been the opportunity to meet the emerging communities that are made up of men and women who converted or are in the process – devoted and committed people of humble nature and exceptional values. They gladly receive the knowledge we share to feel closer to Israel, reaffirming the path chosen in the decision to live as Jews. It is inspiring and overwhelming.

To date, I have had the blessing and opportunity to travel to six countries and fourteen different cities with OTS Amiel BaKehila delegations. It has been an immensely rewarding experience for me on a personal and professional level.
My work brings joy, Jewish values ​​and empowerment on a personal and collective level. For me it is a blessing to be able to connect with the greatest number of people, listening to their stories and dreams, giving my support and maintaining connection with these people even at a distance. It is very inspiring and helps them feel closer to Israel.
Being able to represent Israel by sharing culture and spirituality with Jewish communities in the Diaspora is an honor and a huge privilege, and for that I feel grateful.
In November I will, God willing, be traveling with OTS Amiel BaKehila to Paraguay and Chile, the land where I was born. I hope to continue doing this beautiful and enriching work to continue connecting with the soul of those who live so far away but who are also part of our people.

We are creating indestructible bridges, from heart to heart.

Sherry Laness – Trauma & Resilience expert

Sherry Laness – Trauma & Resilience Expert

Sherry Laness has a MA in Jewish education and taught in Hebrew Schools and Day Schools in the US before making aliyah in 1981.  During her first year in Israel she worked in a kibbutz with newborn calves and then taught English.  Twenty years ago she was certified as a workshop facilitator and became one of the first personal coaches in Israel.   Sherry is also an expert in Jewish coaching (Psychology of Judaism).

After Israelis who had lived in Gush Katif were evacuated during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Sherry was called upon by Mahut Israel to help them rebuild their lives and define new desires and new dreams. 

During quiet periods and also during wars and times of terrorist attacks, Sherry has trained teaching staffs in resilience and coping techniques.

Sherry is a mentor in the program “From Age-ing to Sage-ing®”, which presents a new model of senior years as potentially being a time of emerging wisdom and achieving full maturity and inner peace. 

And finally, she is trained to create and lead a Havurah, (a study group where each person is seen and heard).  Using methods that empower heart to heart communication with Jewish texts, people experience the joy of learning and connecting to each other and even to the Heart of the Universe.