As part of a new initiative to extend its meaningful programming and sense of community to English-speaking olim beyond Yerushalayim, OU Israel recently held its first mega event outside of Jerusalem, which attracted a standing-room only crowd.
Close to 500 people attended OU Israel’s Torah Modiin at Kehilat Shaarei Yonah Menachem in Modiin’s Buchman neighborhood ahead of Yom Kippur. The evening followed Torah Yerushalayim, a daylong, pre-Rosh Hashana program at Baka’s Beit Knesset Nitzanim which drew almost 300 attendees.
Sponsored by the Fund family in memory of OU lay leaders David and Norman Fund, Z”L, the programs featured shiurim on the Yamim Noraim delivered by renowned personalities and OU senior faculty, including Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Rabbi Leo Dee, Rabbanit Racheli Sprecher Fraenkel, Sivan Rahav-Meir, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, Rabbi Shalom Rosner and Rabbanit Shani Taragin, among many others.
Since its establishment 44 years ago, OU Israel has run impactful Torah-based and social programming for Anglo olim and visitors that provides them with support and community as they work to integrate within Israeli society. OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman made Aliyah at the age of 9, and notes that new immigrants to Israel experience multiple challenges during the acclimation process, which involves everything from creating new social circles and seeking employment, to adjusting to a new culture, language and school system.
“OU Israel strives to create a community for them, where they can find support and camaraderie among people experiencing similar realities,” he says.
In 2022, attendance reached over 180,000 at OU Israel programs including Kashrut seminars from the Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education seminars, the Semichat Chaver Program (SCP), the L’Ayla Women’s Learning Initiative, The Bais Men’s Learning Program, Kesher programing for seniors, the Jerusalem Community Hub for Anglos and Torah (JCHAT) for young professionals, the ATID program for young olot, Hebrew-on-the-Go family-friendly outings around Israel, weekly shiurim, and OU Israel’s mega events Torah Yerushalayim, Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim Tfillot, and Leil Shavuot All-Night Learning Program.
Previously, all mega events have been held at Jerusalem locations in large part because OU Israel is headquartered there and the city’s Anglo population is significant. The organization decided to take programming to the next level by making it more geographically accessible to a wider range of English-speaking olim living in other regions.
“Torah Modiin was launched following the many requests we received for OU programs to be brought to these communities,” says Rabbi Berman. “Some people relayed that they were unable to travel to our Torah Yerushalayim program in the past, but wanted to attend. I am grateful to those who shared their thoughts which allowed us to find a creative solution. With adequate interest and support, we hope to expand this initiative to other cities in the future.”
OU Israel board member Daniella Hellerstein served on the committee that worked on Torah Modiin and explains why the city was chosen for the event.
“Modiin has a large Orthodox Anglo community which appreciates the kind of speakers and Torah that OU Israel offers,” she says. “It’s also very centrally located so it drew a big crowd from surrounding areas. I expected the event to be very well attended, but I was surprised by the number of people who also came from outside Modiin.”
Avi and Tzipora Hornstein of Hashmonaim were delighted to see the advertisement in OU Israel’s weekly Torah Tidbits newsletter publicizing Torah Modiin.
“The collection of speakers were of a caliber not normally found so close to home,” says Avi. “We are thrilled that the OU put forward this effort to reach out to Anglos in other communities outside of Jerusalem. This is a much-needed and desired endeavor, proven by the record number of participants.”
Tzipora says, “The OU has been an integral part of my life. I am always interested in the shiurim offered by the OU Israel Center but find it difficult to get to Yerushalayim for them. To see the organization branch out to other areas in Israel has rekindled that sense of community that I have always associated with the OU/NCSY. The line up of shiurim offered in Modiin was phenomenal and I’m grateful to OU Israel for enriching my Torah learning.”
In addition to SCP Chaburot which run across the country, OU Israel Program Director Rabbi Sam Shor notes that over the years, OU Israel has piloted additional programming in Maale Adumim, such as women’s Yemei Iyun and periodic shiurim led by senior OU faculty. The organization is also working on bringing L’Ayla Women’s Initiative programs to Modiin.
“We realized that in the years ahead we have the opportunityto begin to bring more programs to communities at large,” says Rabbi Shor, who delivers frequent shiurim on behalf of OU Israel at the English Kollel Boker at the Hesder Yeshiva in Modiin. “The impact of Torah Modiin was incredible in that the event uplifted the Yom Kippur for close to 500 people who were inspired to come learn Torah.”
“Anglos are increasingly moving outside of Jerusalem,” says OU Israel President Stuie Hershkowitz, who spearheaded the initiative to expand programming beyond Jerusalem alongside OU President Mitch Aeder. “These are families and individuals who associate with the OU and are looking for opportunities for spiritual growth. We hope to expand our inspirational and educational programming to Anglo communities beyond Yerushalayim to provide them with the opportunities they are seeking.”
Torah Modiin received overwhelmingly positive feedback following the event.
“There is a tremendous demand for Torah learning and inspiration this time of year, and it is a wonderful feeling to hear from so many people that these events transformed their Yamim Noraim,” says Hershkowitz.
Hellerstein adds, “Since the event, many people have conveyed that they were blown away by the event’s magnitude, its professionalism and organization. Torah Modiin showed people what they can experience in their own neighborhood and now they’re asking for more of it. ”
Director of Marketing, OU Israel
About OU Israel
Established in 1978, OU Israel is the Orthodox Union’s branch in Israel, established in Yerushalayim as its own Israeli non-profit yet able to receive US charitable donations through OU America with 501c3 Tax Exempt Status. OU Israel’s mission is to promote the unity of the Jewish people by celebrating our shared common Jewish experience and identity as inspired by Torah Judaism/Zionism, to positively impact Israeli society, strengthen its next generation, absorb new immigrants and empower Israel’s periphery while advancing a pro-active commitment to community activism.
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.