Last night I attended the Chanukat Habayit (rededication of a new home) of our OU Israel Bayit Yehudi building in Tiberias. Before Rav Shmuel Eliyahu affixed the first Mezuzah, he shared with the 60 guests a message which goes to the heart of what OU Kiruv in Israel is about. He spoke of the relationship between Chanuka and the word chinuch (education). Both relate to the idea that in order to be effective one need not create something anew, but should instead rededicate that which already exists but has tarnished over the years.
The Maccabim, said Rav Eliyahu, did not build a Beit Hamikdash from scratch; the Second Temple existed for hundreds of years! Instead, they purified it, rededicated it to God, and brought out its true light. They took the existing beautiful structure and renovated and rejuvenated it to bring it back to its glory.
So too with chinuch, says the chief Rabbi of Tzfat, it is not about creating a new person; rather it focuses on the pure neshama (soul) which already exists and finding ways to bring out the individual’s true light. This is Rav Eliyahu’s credo, it is also the philosophy of OU Israel in all of our Kiruv efforts.
We truly experienced this unique approach to outreach when we witnessed the range of personalities which entered the newly rented building in the heart of downtown Tiberias; old and young, secular and traditional, men and women, all ascended to hear the Torah of Rav Eliyahu and to be there with the wonderful staff for their new opening.
Visitors from Toronto bringing Love and Support
Joining the festivities was a solidarity mission from the Synagogue Beit Avraham Yosef in Toronto. Larry Zeifman, a member of the Shul as well as the Vice President of OU Canada region, spoke of how this year, in addition to visiting communities of Gush Katif expellees, they decided to visit a Bayit Yehudi showing appreciation for the wonderful outreach we are doing in Tiberias. Larry, Moshe and the group came with gifts for OU Israel to be used by kids in many of our projects. They were moved by the words of Rav Eliyahu and clearly enjoyed seeing the many activities going on in Tiberias, we appreciated them stopping by during their trip.
The Origin of the Bayit Yehudi in Tiberias
The story of the outreach home with its charismatic leaders of the place is mesmerizing; both the Rav and the Director have a special tale to tell, one of sacrifice and determination, commitment and faith.
Meir Shwartz is our young dynamic leader of our entire outreach program at the OU Israel. A few years ago he realized that the only way to affect Jews throughout the country would be to create a training course on Kiruv, called ‘course shlichim’. 70 students meeting weekly over a four month period learn from the experience and wisdom of leaders in Israeli Kiruv—Rabbi Eliyahu, Rabbi Alon, Rabbi Stavsky, and others. The commitment is that after taking this course the graduates would spread out over the country and begin implementing the lessons they learned and hopefully start their own Bayit Yehudi, the institute for Spiritual Growth.
After the first year Rav Ohad Baruchi and his wife Hadas were inspired to bring this message to secular Jews, to open their hearts and give of themselves to Jews in need. A few weeks after the course Meir received a call from Rav Ohad who said: “I am in Tiberias ready to open a Bayit Yehudi!” “But we don’t have a budget”, cried Meir, “how can you just pick up and move to Tiberias?” Rav Ohad responded that he would volunteer in the beginning until the funds were found but the messages of spirit, dialogue, warmth, and love needed to get out as soon as possible.
They started giving classes in a barber shop! Yes, a barber shop. Rav Ohad told me the story which proves that the Highest Authority was guiding their endeavor. A secular man named Yossi Azulai walked in to Synagogue one day and Rav Ohad saw him and approached him, helping him with the evening service. In their conversation Rav Ohad spoke of his plans to open up a home of spirituality but he was looking for a venue. The man responded that he had an office behind his barber shop and if they wanted they could give classes there and he would invite his friends each week. That man became one of the staunchest supporters of the Bayit and held many classes over the year. From a modest beginning of 10 people who came to the first class, today between 150-200 people enter the Bayit each week.
From Student to Director in Two Years!
Yaki Yitach is 29, he was raised in a secular home in Tiberias. Two years ago he met one of the Rabbis of the Bayit Yehudi at a gym and started asking questions about Judaism. During workouts they would have debates on Judaism and finally the rabbi said: “come to my classes”. Yaki started attending shiurim and slowly began his process of revealing the pure light of his soul.
During this time Yaki did not sit idle, he obtained a college degree, followed by a Masters degree in Economics at the Tel Aviv University. He is beginning his doctorate in this field but first he has taken the position of Director of the Bayit Yehudi in Tiberias.
Why? Because Yaki believes in helping others, in the power to grow and the potential of each person. One of the programs at the Bayit is called project metzuyanut (excellence). It offers day school and high school kids assistance in Mathematics, Science, and Geography. Yaki, in his spare time teaches some of the classes.
Bayit Yehudi is a sanctuary for secular Jews who are searching for meaning in their lives, it is an educational support center for kids who are struggling in their matriculation exams, it is a warm environment for mothers and daughters who are preparing their Bat Mitzvah, it is classes, lectures, dialogue and discussions.
We hope the wonderful staff at the bayit continues to work for the Jewish people; to teach them, guide them and strengthen the people of Tiberias, helping them find their inner light for many years to come.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.