Small- and medium-sized Jewish communities around the world are facing a critical shortage of Jewish educators in the classroom and on college campuses, as well as pulpit rabbis in Europe, South America and Australia. They are increasingly turning to Israel to solve this problem.
It is well-documented in the world of Torah that the epicenter of Jewish learning and scholarship is shifting from the Diaspora to Israel. The first major movement occurred after the Holocaust, when Jewish scholarship was decimated in Europe. We saw a seismic shift to the United States, where learning flourished and grows to this day. As a child of a survivor, I am a product of this tectonic change.
But with the maturity of the State of Israel and its attraction to Jews from around the world (who arrive both freely and due to anti-Semitism), its learning institutions in the past 40 years have grown tremendously. Many of the best yeshivahs, advanced academic centers in the field of Judaism and publishing houses have blossomed here. Some of the most learned and sought-after rabbis in modern times chose to live and teach in Israel. Further, the Hesder yeshivah movement has spawned several generations of young people able to integrate their love of learning with service to the Jewish state, serving side by side and even influencing their not formally observant comrades. It has made living a religious Zionist lifestyle in Israel more appealing than ever.
As a result, we have seen an influx of well-educated young people to many of our 27 institutions and programs, who see Jewish education as a lifelong mission, either as teachers or rabbaim. So much so that there is an abundance of talent that has become one of the greatest exports of the Jewish state of all time.
This week, Ohr Torah Stone’s Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel programs are celebrating the 20th anniversary of sending well-trained, creative and motivated educators and rabbis to serve Jewish communities throughout the world. Shabbat Tfuzot will be celebrated in more than 90 Jewish communities and 20 countries, including New Zealand, China, Germany, England, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Switzerland, Panama and even Israel. In each of the cities where our graduates serve, it is important to note that the local community, school or campus requested the emissary and have a stake in their success.
In the 20 years of the program, we have graduated more than 1,000 emissaries, who go abroad and work in local yeshivahs, campuses or synagogues in communities thirsty for trained educators and rabbis who bring enthusiasm, creativity and energy to the classroom and the pulpit. These professionals commit to a two- or three-year stint, living and fully participating in the communities they serve. Many of these emissaries stay for periods of five years as they establish roots in these locales.
They are supported by an experienced staff in Israel who themselves served abroad for many years, and who therefore have the understanding and sensitivity necessary to help the emissaries and their families through the transition of life outside Israel.
I can’t think of a more important responsibility for the religious Zionist community than to support programs like this. Diaspora communities are not producing enough people to fill these roles. It is even harder to get qualified people to smaller communities in more Jewishly remote parts of the world. Israel is now filling this void.
It is also easier for Israeli-trained professionals to go abroad for a few years. In many cases, there are more professional opportunities available abroad with salaries and living stipends well beyond what they would receive back home. They also can take advantage of academic opportunities that they might not have in Israel.
But while our emissaries are giving so much to these communities, they are also gaining valuable skills that they are bringing back to Israel. After several years abroad, many of them return with enhanced skills they have garnered from being in places that in some areas are more advanced than in Israel. For example, our emissaries who serve in the United States often return with greater skills on how to integrate technology in the classroom, and a greater focus on individualized instruction and experiential learning. This training is invaluable, and Israel benefits. We have wonderful examples of this in places like Petach Tikvah, Har Homa and even Ra’anana, where our returning emissaries are using such skills to help Israeli students.
Sending our students abroad may be one of the most important exports of the State of Israel and the best way to build strong bridges with Diaspora Jewish communities for centuries to come.
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is the president and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, a Modern Orthodox network of 27 institutions transforming Jewish life, learning and leadership worldwide.