Through its network of synagogues, the Orthodox Union serves large and small communities across the United States and Canada. In a new initiative that has already produced positive results nationwide, the OU has dispatched lay leaders as Areivim -- those who look out for each other -- to strengthen and unify small Jewish communities, as well as smaller congregations in larger communities, by providing special inspiration on Shabbat.
Every OU community, large and small, is eligible to participate, and many already have.
Project Areivim is the inspiration of Stephen J. Savitsky, OU President, who quoting Hillel’s Kol Yisrael Areivim Ze Ba Zeh, declared, “The purpose of Project Areivim, with its underlying concept that all Jews must look out for one another, is to bridge the gap between the OU’s available talent and the communities which can use that talent to supplement their home grown strength.”
The Areivim are leaders and members of the OU who are professionals in the work-force and knowledgeable Orthodox Jews. They volunteer their services for a weekend as a scholar-in-residence to small communities and synagogues to keep them in touch with the Orthodox Union and larger Jewish community.
Playing a pivotal role in Project Areivim, is the OU’s Young Leadership Cabinet (YLC), which is grooming the next generation of leaders. As one of Mr. Savitsky’s first initiatives as President, he established the YLC with the assistance of Charles J. Harary, an attorney, who is Chairman of the YLC Board of Directors, and Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, National Areivim Coordinator and Director of YLC.
“There is unique dynamic of sending people who are not professional speakers but observant Jews leading regular lives,” said Rabbi Schonbuch. “Everyone benefits from these visits: the Areiv who learns about the unique qualities of smaller Jewish communities; the communities, themselves, for being connected to the larger Jewish world; and the OU for having the unique ability to touch and inspire them.”
“This is a very exciting opportunity for the Orthodox Union,” declared National Executive Director Rabbi Moshe Krupka. “As the OU expands its programs and reach into its communities, Project Areivim will enable us to effectively and professionally follow up with them.”
“By sending a representative, we have the means of importing our network of services and initiatives into these smaller communities,” Rabbi Krupka continued. “We have a frontline ability to gain further entry there and in that manner to bring news to them of what is happening at the OU while bringing bring back information about local needs. There is a synergy here. The challenge for the OU is to assimilate the information we receive and to disseminate programs based on this information. We look to the Areivim as a front line to make this exchange of information beneficial both to the OU and to communities we serve.”
To jump start this project, YLC appointed Uri Schneider as Areivim Chairman and sent him on a pilot phase, last March, from his residence in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY to Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob in Albany, NY. Mr. Schneider, a speech pathologist, is one of the founding members of YLC and active on the OU Community and Synagogue Services Commission.
“I was given the opportunity to address the community at various times throughout Shabbat,” Mr. Schneider said. “Meals, the kiddush, walks, and many other ‘in-between-moments’ were used to connect me with individual community members. Some wanted to hear about the OU and its activities, while others were responsive to my questions regarding the quality of life in the community and their dreams of where they see the community going in the next five years.”
Since that successful Shabbat, other small Jewish communities and congregations have been visited, including Richmond, VA; Worcester, MA; Stamford, CT; Oakland, CA; New Haven, CT; San Diego, CA; Las Vegas, NV; Rochester, NY; and Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Smaller congregations in larger communities were recently visited in East Brunswick, NJ; Los Angeles; and Washington D.C.
“Spending Shabbat in a smaller congregation housed in a larger community is a different component of Project Areivim,” declared Emanuel J. Adler, Chairman of the OU Commission of Community and Synagogue Services. “These communities, such as East Brunswick, NJ, as part of the wider York Tri-State area, already have their own sophisticated speakers and elaborate Jewish network. Therefore, the purpose of an Areiv visiting these localities is more about strengthening ties between the community and the Orthodox Union -- by informing community members about the OU’s services and programs, and in turn, listening to what they would like to see the OU doing for them.”
In a recent visit to Congregation Shaarei Tefilla of Las Vegas, Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, Director of the OU West Coast Region, led four families to spend Shabbat with Rabbi Yaakov Wasser and his congregants. Rabbi Kalinsky reported, “We went to give strength, but instead received strength from this small but vibrant congregation.”
Future communities and congregations the Areiveim plan to visit, include Rochester, NY; Dallas; and Portland, Maine, as well as the OU’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) programs at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and UCLA in Los Angeles.
Outline of Communities and Congregations Areivim have already visited are as follows:
From Baltimore to Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond, VA – Avrohom Kowalsky, an attorney and member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah.
From Waltham, MA to Shaarei Torah West in Worcester, MA – Rabbi Aharon Frazer, JLIC Torah Educator at Brandeis University.
From Long Island, NY to Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, CT – Rabbi Gidon Rothstein, Rosh Kollel HAFTR Yeshiva.
From Queens, NY to Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, CA – Dr. John Loike, Professor of Bio-Ethics at Columbia University.
From Highland Park, NJ to The Westville Synagogue in New Haven, CT – Carl Hochhauser Ph.D., specializing in Early Childhood Trauma.
From Long Island, NY to Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob in Albany, NY – a second Shabbat, due to its first overwhelming success, with Dr. Stuart Rappaport, a psychiatrist, chazzan (cantor), and semi-professional comedian who leavens his sermons with humor.
From Queens, NY to Beth Jacob Congregation in San Diego – Dr. John Loike, a follow up to his success in Oakland.
From Los Angeles to Congregation Shaarei Tefilla in Las Vegas - Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, Director of the OU West Coast Region.
From Baltimore to Beth Shalom in Rochester, NY – Dr. David M. Blass, a psychiatrist and professor at Johns Hopkins University.
From Long Island to JLIC at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY – Ricky Magder, Director of OU Media.
Smaller Congregations in Larger Communities:
From Teaneck to Young Israel of East Brunswick, NJ – Emanuel J. Adler, Chairman of the OU Commission of Community and Synagogue Services.
From Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY to Congregation Mogen David in Los Angeles – Uri Schneider, a follow up to his success in Albany.
From Long Island, NY to Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah Congregation/ The National Synagogue in Washington D.C. – Rabbi Gidon Rothstein, a follow up to his success in Stamford.
Outline of Upcoming visits include:
May 5: From Teaneck, NJ to Shaare Tefilla in Dallas – Dr. Seymour Adler, an industrial psychologist.
Outline of Upcoming visits, with further details to follow, include:
JLIC at UCLA in Los Angeles – Areiv and date to be determined.
Congregation Sharrey Tphiloh in Portland, Maine – Areiv and date to be determined.