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.

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.

Ayala Smotrich – Forensic Expert and MDA Volunteer

Ayala Smotrich Forensic Expert

Ayala Smotrich has volunteers for Magen David Adom from the tender age of fifteen. Over the years she has attended a wide variety of training seminars and for the past four years has served as a volunteer coordinator where she is responsible for and supervises all of the volunteers that work in her station.

Ayala holds a B.Sc in molecular biology from Ariel University and an M.A in criminology with a focus on forensic science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Since 2016, Ayala has been employed as a crime investigator in the Forensics Department of the Israeli Police. Over the past year and a half, she has been working to combine her job and her volunteering with MDA by promoting a joint venture which provides MDA personnel with a better understanding of police protocols on a crime scene. This effort works to increase the MDA personnel’s level of awareness of police procedures without hindering their lifesaving work.

Ayalah lectures widely on the topics of evidence gathering at a crime scene to different police professionals. She also gives training to emergency responders to teach them how to give lifesaving treatment without compromising crime scene evidence. 


Hanan Greenwood – Journalist

Hanan Greenwood – Journalist

Hanan Greenwood is an Israeli journalist who has been covering events and  provocative issues in Israeli society for many years .

Hanan grew up in Kiryat Arba, near the city of Hebron, during the first and second intifada. In his military service, he served as a fighter in the “Merkava” tank. Among other things, he fought as part of a tank ambulance team during the Second Lebanon War.

He graduated with honors from the University of Ariel in Samaria. He took part in the establishment of the newspaper “Shvi’i”. He then served as editor of the “Kipa” website, which addresses the National Religious audience, and later worked as the head of the news desk on the “nrg” website of the “Makor Rishon” newspaper. In recent years he has been editing the Soldiers’ Channel and the Jewish Channel on the “Israel Hayom” newspaper and on the website .

Over the years, Hanan has revealed quite a few stories and dealt with the core areas of the State of Israel. As a writer and editor in the field of Judaism, he has worked extensively on coverage of anti-Semitic events in the world and in the fields of Religion and State, including issues around the Western Wall, in the field of conversion, a arguments around the work being done on Shabbat, issues in ultra-Orthodox society and more.

In his work as a military journalist, he deals extensively with the IDF’s Special Units, including interviewing fighters and officers in Rescue Unit 669, participating in classified exercises and being exposed to behind-the-scenes activities of the Israel Defense Forces.

Hanan also has extensive knowledge of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As one who grew up in the Kiryat Arba settlement, he was exposed to a few attacks. As a journalist, Hanan has encountered quite a few terrorist scenes,  and he has covered the issue from both sides; as a journalist and as a resident of the region.