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Joint Initiative with Tzohar Expected to Transform Synagogues into community Centers for all Israelis

The Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) in conjunction with Tzohar ran a Shabbaton Seminar this past weekend for over 40 rabbis and lay leaders from around Israel with the goal of strengthening Israeli communities by transforming their synagogues into community centers.  The Jerusalem-based seminar served as the first stage of the training program for the Open Communities Project, Tzohar’s flagship initiative. 

Bolstered by the CJF’s ( extensive experience in the cultivation and support of Jewish Communities throughout North America, the comprehensive project aims to train and guide over 400 talented rabbis and incorporate them into communities across Israel over the next 10 years.  These rabbis will participate in an ongoing training program that will focus on the role of the rabbi in the community and the challenges that they are certain to face.

“This initiative endeavors to provide Israeli rabbis and lay leaders with the tools they need to mirror the North American model, successfully integrating a rabbinical figure into the community structure and refocusing the goals of the lay leadership toward the revitalization of the synagogue,” explained Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF, who made a special visit to Israel to attend the event.

Over the weekend, the seminar’s attendees participated in a variety of workshops, lectures, and discussions that helped them better understand the issues facing Israeli society – including the absence of Jewish values from the public arena – and verbalize their own visions for the futures of their communities.

“Our goal is to make rabbis more accessible and relevant to all sectors of the community, and to promote the synagogue as a community center and safe haven for secular and religious Israelis alike,” said Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, director of the Open Communities Project.  “Our collaboration with the CJF makes us feel confident that we can achieve these goals.”   

During the project’s trial run in 2008, 10 communities – from as far north as Zichron Yaakov and as far south as Arad – experienced the reintroduction of rabbinic figures and development of lay leadership activities with very positive results.  Tzohar hopes to reach out to approximately 20 new communities by the end of 2009, with another CJF-led seminar scheduled for June.

(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)

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