About the Jewish Community of…Helsinki

With Chaya Votking

Tell us about the Jewish community of Helsinki:

The Jewish Community in Helsinki is a dynamic and diverse community with about 1100 members. You can hear many different languages spoken in the community; Finnish, Swedish, English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Norwegian, Yiddish and so on. The community centre houses a kindergarten, a school for grades 1 – 9, a library, a mikvah, a banquet/sports hall and holds a variety of both religious and cultural activities for different age groups. We have two rabbis and an activity coordinator working with people teaching, guiding and organizing various programs. Also, different international and local organizations are active and bring variety to the activities.
The synagogue building was built in 1906 and it is one of the few synagogues in Europe that survived the Second World War untouched and in which prayers continued uninterrupted. The roots of the community are in Eastern Europe and we still use a Lithuanian liturgy in our services, which is rare in these times. Today Helsinki is home for Jews from different countries, traditions and levels of religious observance. All the people join in the same prayers despite these differences and that is something unique.
One of the most popular activities in the community has been the monthly Shabbat dinner, which is arranged by volunteers.  It brings the community together and besides a delicious meal free of charge, people can enjoy the spirit of Shabbat and good company. At the same time, the community members from different backgrounds get to know each other and it gives a feeling of belonging.

OTS Amiel Bakehila Partner Profile – Laura Ben David

Writer, Photographer, Social Media & Marketing Consultant

Moving to Israel changed my life in a most profound way. In fact, Israel and my aliyah experience continues to influence and inspire me. From the moment I arrived in Israel from Boca Raton, Florida seventeen years ago, I’ve been writing about it and never stopped. From my book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, to hundreds of articles, I’ve used the written word as a vehicle to share the beauty, the complexity, the ingenuity and so much more of this special land I am lucky enough to live in.

As my career transitioned from marketing professional to include a photographer and social media consultant, as a vocal Israel advocate it was a natural progression to public speaker and presenter.

I work as director of marketing for an organization called Shavei Israel that works with lost and hidden Jews around the world who wish to reconnect with their roots. One group we work with is Polish Jews, specifically those whose Jewish parents or grandparents hid their Jewishness after the Holocaust and only now their secrets are being revealed, resulting in thousands around Poland newly discovering their Jewish heritage.

Having gone on the very first OTS Amiel BaKehila delegation to Poland in April 2018, I was thrilled to connect with rabbis and community members in person not just as a delegation member, but as someone who’d been in touch with them – and cared deeply about them – through my work at Shavei Israel. This unique experience, including the relationships cultivated there, has stayed with me until today.

As a writer, I naturally wrote about the experience which enabled me to take what was an incredibly meaningful opportunity for me, and what I felt was extremely positive for the Polish communities we visited, and then expand it to become an inspirational narrative for the wider Jewish public. To me, that is an absolute win.

Three Questions about the Jewish Community of…Cancun, Mexico

With Karen Duek and Brenda Sametz, Women’s Committee of the Community

Tell us about the Jewish community of Cancun:

In the ’90s, several families from Mexico City arrived in Cancun looking for a better quality of life. It was very important to us that we continue to live a Jewish life. At the beginning we met in private houses to celebrate Shabbat, each one brought food until the Marcos Family set up a place in a commercial plaza, to gather to pray, have classes during Shabbat and celebrate the Chagim. During that time, we hired chazanim from outside to support us.

The number of families has always remained around 50, as some families leave when their children grow up, but new ones arrive.

In 2000, thanks to donations from community members, we inaugurated the house that today serves as a synagogue. As of that date, the community has been in constant growth and development and has become a recognized Jewish community by the Central Committee of Mexico. Later, an alliance was achieved with OTS’s Straus-Amiel Emissary Training Program, who have supported us by sending Rabbis to Cancun, including Rabbi Eli Bari, who has been with us for a year and a half.

What are five things that characterize the Jewish community of Cancun?

Unity. Each member of the community becomes part of a large family, with whom you celebrate their achievements with the same joy. The participation of each member, from the largest to the smallest is equally embraced.

Commitment. All members want the community to grow, to be strengthened day by day and that there is always a community and a synagogue in Cancun where our Judaism is preserved and continued. We hope that this commitment to assist and maintain our community will never stop.

Respect. Being a Community that integrates people from many different places, traditions and customs – sometimes Ashkenazi other times Sepharadi – we try to make the prayers, activities and classes to everyone’s liking.

Empathy. There is a lot of diversity among our members: from complete families, single men or women, young and old couples. You always want everyone to feel valued.

Job. Being a small community and in the province, the work done by both Board of Directors, Administrative Committee and Activities Committee is greater, we must ensure that people attend, get donors, look for outside activities, and always keep Judaism alive and present in Cancun. It is not an easy task, there are times that while we have activities, getting people to attend is complicated when we are so few. We have many programs; activities for children talks for ladies, we are part of WIZO, Bikur Cholim, we receive visits from Keren Hayesod, OTS Amiel BaKehila and others. We are always looking out for the best for the Community.

Please share a community program or activity that you consider beneficial for other communities:

Shabbat is an ideal day for everyone to get together. Here at the beginning of the year, we make a calendar for each family to donate a Shabbat dinner and a Seuda. It creates a special connection between the community members and families who do not attend regularly feel honoured and special to be hosts.

Thank you for your interest in the growth of our Community. You are always welcome.

Karen Douek & Brenda Sametz

Yahav Kriti – “Chef on Wheels”


Hi friends,
My name is Yahav Kriti, I’m married and the father of five lovely children, I’m a professional chef and owner of “Chef on Wheels”, which specializes in experiential and entertaining cooking shows throughout Israel as well as Jewish and Israeli communities around the world for the last fifteen years.

My cooking workshops teach about a wide variety of amazing food styles from around the world. Everything is done in a humorous and fun manner with lots of laughter, combined with entertaining tips and stories as well as audience participation. 

The end result is an amazingly delicious and fun Israeli culinary experience that everyone enjoys (and eats!)

I was honored to participate in two OTS Amiel BaKehila delegations last year, as an ambassador of Israeli food, bringing the joyful Israeli spirit to distant communities through food, colors, spices and smells that come out of the pots of the Holy Land … making everyone fall in love over and over again with Israel. Over the coming year, I will participate in three additional delegations to the United Kingdom and the United States.

During my recent visit to Ottawa, Canada, we held a huge Culinary Workshop for the wonderful community at the Machzikei Hadas Synagogue, all of whom were invited to prepare a joint Israeli meal. It was amazing and heartwarming to see how everyone prepared the sumptuous meal together. Adults who had difficulties cutting the vegetables were assisted by the youngsters next to them, all of whom rolled up their sleeves to chop, mix, season and cook together a delicious Israeli meal of fresh salads, squash, chickpeas, fried eggplant and bread with Za’atar.

In every journey and encounter with the communities, I felt the warmth, caring and togetherness of everyone I take pride in being a part of this people who always reach out, learn and give. I take it upon myself to give – to the communities.

around me and specifically to my own community in the city of Holon, in the Land of Israel.

It is exciting for me to fly to the other side of the world and to bring the wonderful flavors of the Land of Israel to the far-flung communities to build and maintain the amazing connection we built through food – with a serving of Israeli humor on the side.

Thank you OTS Amiel BaKehila for the amazing experience of visiting those wonderful communities.