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The Winding Road to Kiryat Baltimore

by Sam Finkel

(Originally published in Baltimore newspaper, ‘Where What When’ on 6/7/22)


I had the privilege of interviewing Shimon Apisdorf at his apartment in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem on May 18, 2022. I have three of his books, including the

Passover Survival Kit, with its hilarious cover illustration of people asleep at the Seder table. Shimon Apisdorf is a writer, educator, and former publisher. He is affable and unassuming. But he is a man with big plans. Rabbi Apisdorf is not just a seeker, not just a visionary, but a doer.

With the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and the Democratic party shifting towards the radical left, I began to wonder about the future of American Jewry. Looking at the beautiful, barren hills in Samaria and the Negev, I had daydreams about a nucleus from Baltimore being transplanted in Israel with its own institutions intact. When I heard that Shimon Apisdorf is working to make those hazy dreams of mine a reality, I was very excited to take on the assignment from the WWW to interview him.

Sam Finkel: You made aliyah nine years ago. Why? And why from Baltimore? Baltimore has a fantastic Orthodox Jewish community. They have any kind of education institution you need; they have the JCC; they have everything. And yet you still wanted to make aliyah. What was lacking in Baltimore that made you say,” It’s not enough for me; I still want to go to Israel”?

Shimon Apisdorf: Essentially, aliyah was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. It’s true: Baltimore has everything one could want in chutz la’aretz, but Israel is altogether different. Everything we truly want – the fullest Jewish life possible, the highest Torah, being part of the Jewish people’s return home – it’s all a local phone call. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it is qualitatively different.

SF: Please elaborate. And also, don’t you feel Galus here because Israel is a predominantly secular country?

SA: No, never for a moment. The land of Israel is to the rest of the world what Shabbos is to all the week days. Shabbos is a different reality, a kedusha-infused dimension of time. That’s Eretz Yisrael; it’s a different reality, a kedusha-infused spatial dimension. In America, there are many Jewish communities, some with more amenities, some with less. No matter what they have, from world-class restaurants to world-class kollelim, one thing none of them have is intrinsic kedusha. My wife and I are big walkers. In Baltimore we used to spend hours walking along the waterfront. In Baltimore or Philadelphia or Lakewood, you can do a lot of walking, but your steps are never on holy ground. In Israel, every step is precious.

Do I ever feel in Galus here? Never, not for a moment. Chazal tell us that the air of Israel makes one wise, they tell us that ein Torah keToras Eretz Yisrael (there is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel), and that every step in this land is a mitzva. No one, no circumstance, and no government can ever diminish that reality, not even a little. If you look out that window, you will see a lemon tree on the other side of the street. I show people that tree and I ask them what they see, and they say “lemons.” I tell those people that those are not lemons; they are mezuzahs. This is the Shemittah year; it’s kodesh (holy). A lemon never grows in chutz la’aretz that’s kodesh. This year, the lemons or whatever is growing, can be “kissed”; they are like mezuzahs.

SF: So, you didn’t come here because you were afraid of anti-Semitism.

SA: No.

SF: And you didn’t come here because you were afraid that civilization in the Western world as we know it seems to be coming to an end.

SA: That was on my mind. We always spoke about aliyah. After 9/11, we put our house up for sale. My gut told me it was time to go home. Now, it took us another 10 years, but my sense was, from 9/11, that things are changing.

SF: What was it about 9/11 that made it a turning point?

SA: I felt that it was a wakeup call telling us that anything could happen at any time and that we could be trapped in America. That tragedy happened in Elul. I was speaking at a shul in Montreal for Shabbos Shuva a couple of weeks after 9/11. The planes had been grounded for a week, and I flew on one of the first days that flights resumed. I remember going from Baltimore to Newark, and I remember Newark airport being empty. Empty! The only people there were a few passengers, and the army – in fully armed, battle gear – with German shepherds on leashes. Whoa! The world can turn on a dime and flights can be shut down everywhere like that. It just made me think.

SF: So you always wanted to go, but you just needed a push, a nudge.

SA: The real push was the Rambam school in Baltimore. Our youngest son went to Rambam and then it closed. And we didn’t have a good educational option for him in Baltimore, so we looked to move elsewhere. And then we said to ourselves, if we are moving, it’s time to go to Eretz Yisrael. We found him a school here in Israel, and that’s what made it happen for us.

SF: So you had this vision to create this organization, Operation Home Again. What is its purpose?

SA: Operation Home Again is a catalyst and facilitator for synagogue- and community-based aliyah. We are the first organization founded solely to inspire and facilitate communities wishing to make aliyah as communities – not individuals, not families but communities.

SF: When you say community, you mean a sizeable number of people from a community?

SA: I mean minimum 30 to 50 families who are part of a pre-existing community, or where there is a significant core from one community that others can join. We focus on working with rabbis of shuls who have a desire to move their community, or plant part of their community, in Eretz Yisrael. We work with them, with the leadership, from the moment that they say they might want to consider it, with all the pieces related to finding a place to live, education, and even, hopefully as we develop, to a certain degree, employment. We’ve just finished working with our first community, which is coming this summer. It wasn’t a hundred percent ours; the rabbi had already initiated the move, and we partnered with them to help make it happen. For a rabbi to try this alone is truly overwhelming. Today we have one and possibly two communities that are coming on board.

SF: Which cities?

SA: The nucleus of one that is making aliyah this summer is from Yardley, Pennsylvania. Other families have joined from Baltimore and some from New Jersey. The rabbi is Rabbi Nesanel Cadle and his wife Mimi – fantastic people, very motivated. They’re bringing somewhere between 40 and 50 families, with close to 100 children. They’re making aliyah to Afula, where they have been greatly assisted by Rabbi Menachem Gold, who has been doing amazing work in Afula for 25 years and is now also the vice-mayor of the city. For now, our role with this community is wrapping up. Between the work we have done since October, the Cadles’ leadership, Rabbi Gold, and now the involvement of Nefesh B’Nefesh, they are well on their way.


SF: Are they going to reestablish their community intact in Afula?

SA: It’s not quite their community intact, but they’re all going to be living in close proximity, schooling is being started for them, and Rabbi Cadle will be the rav of the shul. So it’s not like everybody in the community is coming. But others will join over the next year or two. And I think it’s safe to anticipate that it will grow significantly.

SF: I heard stories of previous attempts of community aliyah.

SA: There have been attempts. Perhaps the only truly successful attempt was with Rabbi Zev Leff, the rav of Moshav Matisyahu, who took people from North Miami Beach and others. I don’t know all the details, though I’m hoping to meet with Rabbi Leff soon.

SF: What about Rabbi Riskin?

SA: Rabbi Riskin’s vision was to come with the community; in the end, he only came with a handful of families. Rabbi Riskin did obviously have a great impact on the growth of Efrat, but his vision in bringing the community from Manhattan didn’t really happen.

SF: Not only do you have to bring families here and find housing for them – and not even just find jobs for them, but it’s also about finding a job for the rabbi, creating a shul, and also a school. It’s massive. How do you do something like that?

SA: (laughs) It is massive. First of all, we have been assembling a team of highly motivated, idealistic, and capable people. I have staff – actually team members – who are far more capable than I am, who put together the bricks and mortar of what it really takes to move a community. I play the role more of the visionary, the inspiration, the big picture, and of course, the fundraising. Shifra Novograd is our Director of U.S. Operations; she is still, for the time being, living in Baltimore. Batsheva Goldman, our Director of Israel Operations, made aliyah from Baltimore about six years ago with her husband Yaakov and their family.

We had a meeting just a few hours ago with real estate people we are working with. We have a community – I can’t say which community yet – because the rabbi still hasn’t gone public with it, but it is a prominent shul from a prominent Midwestern community. Let’s just say the name of it is Anshei Shalom. So his vision is to create Anshei Shalom East. He will relocate here with a core group from his existing shul – about 25 families. Another 20 or 30 families will join that core, and we’re meeting with real estate people today to look at six potential locations around the country where they could possibly land. We’ll then meet with the rabbi and look at the pros and cons of the different landing areas. This is a couple-year process for a community; it’s not just let’s make aliyah. This doesn’t happen overnight.

SF: Who gave you the idea to do it in the first place?

SA: I’ll tell you the short story. We made aliyah nine-and-a-half years ago. Shortly after arriving, within the first year, I started learning the sefarim of a mekubal (Jewish mystic) in Tel Aviv who was known as Harav HaChalban.[1] He passed away a few years ago. He was an elderly nistar (hidden tzadik) in Tel Aviv for many years. He owned a dairy and cheese factory. He started teaching, publishing, writing this series of sefarim on my shelf, called the Talelei Chaim. I came upon his sefarim, which were co-written with a younger rosh yeshiva, Rav Reuven Sasson. I ended up attending the shiurim of the Chalban in Tel Aviv and eventually formed a relationship with Rav Sasson. To make a long story short, there is one sefer that’s about Geula and the times in which we are living. I went to Rav Reuven Sasson who wrote all the sefarim together with the Chalban, and I said that we have to translate this into English.

SF: What’s unique about this sefer? Have you seen anything in the sefer that’s come true?

SA: It’s not a question of things coming true or not, but since you asked, I can tell you that from the Chofetz Chaim, in his book Tzipisa L’yeshua, to Rav Elchonon Wasserman, in his book Ikvasa De’meshicha, to Rav Shimon Schwab, in his book Beit Hashoeva – according to all of them, we’re living in the times of achris hayamim and ikvesa de’meshicha[2], and, again, according to each of them – not according to Shimon Apisdorf – everything Chazal said that needs to transpire before the final Geula takes place has already happened. And that is already going back to the 1920s and ’30s when they were teaching and writing.

But I will share one thing with you that I happen to connect with, probably because we used to live across from the new train station in Yerushalayim. The navi (prophet) says that in the time of the Geula there will be a panu derech, a highway leading to Yerushalayim for everyone returning from Galus.[3] It says the mountains will be brought low, and the valleys will be brought high, and there will be a nice, smooth road to Yerushalayim. I say it’s pashut (obvious). If you have ever driven from the airport to Yerushalayim, you know it’s up and down all the way. But not anymore, because now there’s a train, and there’s a new road. And the train goes straight, thanks to a series of tunnels. It’s as if the mountains no longer exist. It’s the same with the valleys; bridges have made them irrelevant. It’s a straight, level road from the airport to the tachanah mercazit (central bus station) and the Navon[4] (train station). From there you get on the rakevet hakalah (light rail system) and get off at Jaffa Gate, and you’re a ten-minute walk to the Har Ha-bayit (Temple Mount).

It seems clear to me that we are living in both a time of upheaval and, simultaneously, of unprecedented opportunity. Rabbi Berel Wein has made the point a number of times publicly. To quote him: “Shamayim is closing down the Galus.” We’re actually meeting with Rabbi Wein next week about Operation Home Again. If you take a look at Jewish world population, and compare 1920 to 2020, a hundred-year period of time, and you look at Jewish populations across the world in 1920, there were 60,000 Jews living in Israel. Now, we just went over 7 million. That is a 1,100 percent increase! If you look at Russia over that same period of time, there has been a 96 percent decrease of Jewish population over those years. If you look at world Jewry everywhere, Galus has closed down, with one exception: the United States. It is the last great Galus community that is still open for business. But Galus is designed to go out of business. It’s built that way. Most people build businesses in the hope that they last. But the business plan for Galus is to go out of business, everywhere. The United States is the last.

SF: What’s the name of that book by the kabbalist again? And did you translate it to English?

SA: It’s called Hikitzu Veraninu. Here’s what happened: After I had been translating essays for Rabbi Sasson over two years and advocating for the translation of that sefer, Rabbi Sasson finally said that he wasn’t ready to have it translated. I said, fine I’m writing my own book. I spent the next two years writing my own book, which is not published at this point by design. It is called Remarkably Troubling, Remarkable Times: The History of Exile, the Anatomy of Redemption, and the Times in which We Are Living. It was the first book I wrote for the educated, frum market. It’s about Galus and Geula and the time in which we are living. I finished writing that book and realized I had a problem. The problem is this book is mechayev (obligating) me. It’s telling me that I have to do something. I am very used to, in my previous kiruv life, to writing kiruv books that tell other people what to do. And I felt like this book obligated me to do something. So I had cornered myself.

SF: Why?

SA: Because I felt very powerfully that the time has come. Virtually all of historic Galus has closed down, and the United States is now also phasing out of business for the Jewish people. That’s my sense of things.

SF: What signs do you see now that make you say that the United States is going out of business?

SA: There are two things: the push and the pull. The push is the push out of America, and the pull is the draw to Eretz Yisrael. In terms of the push, you have the specter of anti-Semitism. Jews are now looking over their shoulders in the United States in a way that didn’t exist before. A major fundraising focus for federations in the United States today is for the safety and security of Jewish institutions. This wasn’t the case five years ago. It wasn’t the case 10 years ago, but it’s the case today. Is the sky falling tomorrow? Hopefully not, but the ground has shifted.

That’s one thing, and it seems to me like a genie. Once it leaves the bottle it’s hard to get it back in. Exactly what form that genie takes and how long it takes to metastasize is up for question. In the Jewish America that I grew up in, the accepted mantra was, “It can’t happen here.” But Jonathan Greenblatt, who is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, came out with a book this year called It Can Happen Here! Those are very powerful and sobering words. He’s primarily, but not exclusively, focused on the threat of the Right, which is very real and very genuine. But he also looks at the spectre on the Left as well.

Two or three weeks ago, at the Mir Yeshiva dinner in New York, a major event attended by all the leading, prominent roshei yeshiva, Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, one of the most influential lay leaders in the yeshiva world in the States gave the keynote address.[5] He devoted a few minutes of his address to anti-Semitism in the United States, and he said, if you don’t understand what’s going on with anti-Semitism in America, you’re living under a rock. “You heard it here first: in 15 years, 75 percent of us are going to be in Israel.” That’s what he said at the Mir dinner. Now, whether that pans out or it doesn’t, the fact that somebody like him, who is a very influential person in that yeshivishe world, gets up and says, “Folks, it’s over,” that yes, we’re supporting the Mir, and yes, with all that money we are building – but in the end, we’re headed out.” This is indicative of times that have changed. The sand is shifting beneath the feet of American Jewry, and in certain ways, particularly beneath the feet of the Orthodox community. But that’s a bigger conversation.

SF: That’s interesting because the Orthodox Jewish community seems to be growing in numbers, and yet…

SA: And yet. What has happened with the Orthodox community in the United States is nothing short of miraculous... Do you remember Itchy Lowenbraun?

SF: Yes, through NCSY.

SA: As a young man, Itchy attended the Bobov school in New York. The Bobover Rebbe, who survived the Holocaust, didn’t have even a minyan of chasidim in New York in those days. What has happened here with the Orthodox and the growth of Torah in America is nothing short of miraculous. However, there is one caveat. It has all happened in America, and by heavenly design, Galus is meant to come to an end. So no matter how phenomenal the edifice that’s built in America, ultimately, for Jews, it’s built on sand. And the frum community is now sensing that.

Look at what’s been going on the last few weeks with what’s been perceived by the Orthodox community as a major threat to the lifeline of chinuch (education): In New York, there are proposals to mandate new educational requirements that will impact the schools. The yeshivas and yeshiva high schools will have to conform to certain (secular) curriculum requirements and values that are now mainstream in the United States but that are anathema to the Torah world. There’s a tremendous effort going on now in New York by the Agudah, the OU, and others to push back against these laws that the state of New York is trying to put into place. Aside from the terrible curriculum requirements, they come with the provision that any person in the state of New York, whether they have any relationship to a school or not, can complain that a private school isn’t teaching what is required to be taught. That complaint can trigger an investigation into the school, and the state can mandate that parents must send their children to another school or be declared truant. That’s what’s been being discussed in New York now. That’s what might become law in New York, and if not today, then perhaps in the near future.

SF: You’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism in the United States. You’re talking about an attack on Jewish values and the Jewish way of life in the schools. What about the Iranian threat to the existence of the State of Israel? They’re closer than ever to a bomb.

SA: When we put up our house for sale after 9/11, my dad asked me the same question. He said, “Are you out of your mind? What about Iran!” I mean, it’s not news that Iran is seeking nuclear capability. Iran’s trying to blow the place up. My answer was, “Dad, I’d rather be at home on the streets of Yerushalayim, even in difficult times, than be alive here in the United States if that bomb goes off in Yerushalayim.” That’s my true, gut, personal answer.

SF: You have a very high spiritual nature, but what would you say to the average Joe-shmo out there?

SA: I’m talking to the average Orthodox Joe-shmo out there. When things get tough, you

want to be home with your family. When things get really difficult, you don’t want your kids here and there. You don’t want to be separated from them. G-d forbid, if things look bad, you just want everybody home. You want everyone together. You know what? If something should happen, G-d forbid, at least we’re all together. Eretz Yisrael is our home. We’re all family. We are all brothers and sisters. Family belongs together, it belongs home. But besides that, we are all ma’aminim bnei ma’aminin (believers, the children of believers). We all have, truly in our souls, emunah and bitachon (faith). And by the way, that teaching of Chazal is in the context of Moshe questioning Hashem about Geula and whether or not the Jewish people were really up to it. And Hashem told Moshe, you may have doubts, but don’t doubt Am Yisrael; they are ma’aminim bnai ma’aminim. We have the emunah that somehow, someway, it’s not going happen. It’s not. We’re Am Yisrael.

SF: What about the complaint of many parents that the kind of education they can give their children in the States – both a secular education and a very good frum education – you don’t have in Israel.

SA: So, there are two answers to that. One is that that’s why Operation Home Again has been created. That is the number one issue that we have come to address. And it’s a hundred percent true. Ten, 20, 30 years ago, there was a dramatic difference between chinuch here and chinuch in the United States, and the transition for kids here was exceptionally difficult and fraught with danger. Two things have happened. Number one is that a number of schools have been created specifically for the American kids, such as YTA (Yerushalayim Torah Academy), which has a boys school and a girls school here in Yerushalayim, where our youngest son went to high school. There’s also Netzach Yisrael in Ramat Beit Shemesh; there are a few schools in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Operation Home Again is coming specifically to say that, if communities come as communities, we can then start a school for that community, and we can custom design the chinuch that’s appropriate for that community. That’s what’s happening in Afula this summer. The school is being specifically tailored for the kids that are coming, and it will grow from there.

Remember, Operation Home Again is all about community aliyah, and the experience and possibilities that exist when people come as a cohesive, focused, supportive community are a totally different ballgame than when people make aliyah on their own.

SF: Are you getting cooperation from the government of Israel?

SA: Not yet. That takes time, though we have begun the exploratory process. We need to show proof of concept. We are at the very beginning of that process.

SF: Does the Israeli government seem to be more interested in non-Jewish Russians and Ukrainians than in Orthodox Jews?

SA: The Israeli government is responsive and not particularly proactive. So the government responds to the pressures that are brought upon it. If something all of the sudden happens in the Ukraine, it must respond. Ultimately, the goal of our organization is to create a movement, to create a wave of momentum that makes the government – but more than that – communities across America sit up, pay attention, and reassess things. My belief is that if, in the next five or six years, we can have five communities that make aliyah, that could shift the conversation in the Orthodox community in the United States. It will become mainstream: “You know that shul in Chicago? Oh yeah, that’s my cousin’s shul; they’re making aliyah.” Or, “Oh really! Yeah, my friend’s shul in New Jersey is making aliyah.” It will become a part of the normal conversation.

SF: You’re interested in creating a dynamic.

SA: That’s what we’re shooting for; shifting conversation, shifting consideration, and impacting the trajectory of American Jewry. And yes, that can sound a bit heady, even crazy, to some, but it’s going to happen. It is.

SF: When did you actually start this?

SA: I had two ongoing projects I was involved in, and at a certain point, my wife said, “Shimon, either you are going to do this or you’re not going to do it.” After being cornered by my manuscript, I invested a number of months in writing a 100-page plan for the Operation Home Again, and she said, “If you’re really going to do this, you’re going to have to walk away from what you’re doing. Either do it or don’t. I had to look myself in the mirror and make the decision to stop what I was doing and commit myself full time to this. It wasn’t an overnight decision. It was difficult, and I knew this wasn’t a three-month or six-month or one-year project. I knew this was going to be different, and I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own. It took a lot of soul searching to come to the decision that, okay I am going to do this. It’s been a dramatic change for Miriam and I.

SF: What kind of change?

SA: For a number of years, I did my writing and translation projects; I did a lot of freelance stuff for educational organizations. I created curricula and all sorts of educational projects, and I had my learning. But I was always basically my own boss. Then, all of the sudden, this is on my shoulders – you know, to make it happen. With siyata d’shmaya, of course, because without that: nothing. Now we have a small team, and I’m raising money for that. So, it’s a whole different mode of operation, and for a while it was difficult. The adjustment was not easy. For me personally, and for Miriam and I together, to get used to this new mode of operation.

SF: So, you’re basically dedicating your life now to this vision.

SA: Yes.

SF: Have you ever thought of creating a place called Kiryat Baltimore? Just like you have neighborhoods here named after Galus communities like Mattersdorf and Unsdorf, and it would have branches of the Baltimore Bais Yaakov, TA. and Beth Tefiloh schools.

SA: Yes, I actually went to a leading Baltimore rabbi with that idea about 20 years ago. I said, it’s time for Kiryat Baltimore, and you’re the one who is going to lead it. He said, “not yet.” I forgot about that for a long time to be honest with you. But even back then I did have a sense. And from where I sit today, there’s no question that the time has come and that it’s doable. Huge, but doable.

SF: Like sort of transplanting a core of a community with its institutions in Israel.

SA: Yes, I actually think that Baltimore is a prime candidate for that.

SF: Why?

SA: Because Baltimore has what seems to me to be an unusual degree of intercommunity respect across the spectrum of the Orthodox community. That’s special.

SF: Where there is a sense of cohesiveness.

SA: The cohesiveness and the notion of coming together as a community; I think Baltimore has what it takes. It might not be doable tomorrow, but it’s on my radar. Israel isn’t the Israel it was 20 years ago. The United States isn’t the United States it was 20 years ago. The world isn’t the world it was 20 years ago, or even two years ago: whether it’s the new reality of the remote workplace, the changing chinuch landscape in Israel, the high-tech scene in Israel, which has enormous professional and parnassa opportunities for young people and couples, the fact that people now know that things can change dramatically overnight, or the deep polarization that has gripped American society. It’s all a perfect storm but not a threatening hurricane of a storm. It’s the sort of storm that can, and will, bring life-giving rains of opportunity for nothing less than, well, Home Again. It’s an incredible word, isn’t it? Home. Home and family, finally, together again. That’s what it’s all about.

SF: What is the relationship between you and Nefesh B’Nefesh?

SA: At this point there is no formal relationship. I chose that. The reason is that, until recently, Operation Home Again was an idea. And even though I had spent a year working on a plan on how to launch this idea, it was still just an idea. It has been only over the last eight months that our team began to come together. These are people who have put their heart and soul into it, who have moved things forward significantly over the last eight months, and now we’re in a position where I can go to Nefesh B’Nefesh and we can have a substantive conversation. We’re not just a pie in the sky, not just another guy with an idea.

SF: How would you like them to help you?

SA: The real answer to that question is that I don’t know. What I do know is this: They and others are now paying attention to the notion of community aliyah. Until now, Nefesh B’Nefesh has been focused on individuals making aliyah. If you’re going to make aliyah from North America, you must go through Nefesh B’Nefesh, and Nefesh B’Nefesh does a phenomenal job at guiding the entire aliyah process. No question, Nefesh B’Nefesh, in my estimation, has been a true game changer. I believe they have had an impact of historic proportions. Community aliyah though, has not really been in the mix. We are working to put community aliyah on the radar as a mainstream form of aliyah.

How do I see them helping us? Again, I don’t know, and I’m okay with not knowing. Eventually we’re going to have a meeting and we’ll say, this is what we’re doing. You are who you are. What can we do together? I have no interest in reinventing any wheels, in duplicating efforts, in doing what others can do better, in trying to be what we’re not. We’re moving towards the point where we will need very significant collaboration if we’re going to make this happen, and if we’re really going to shift the trajectory of American Jewry, which I think we have the opportunity to do.

SF: How can people help your organization? Obviously, people can help by contributing funds, but is there a website?


SA: It’s OperationHomeAgain.com. It’s still a beta site, but it’s a start. Right now, we have two priorities. One is to do a survey of 100 to 200 U.S. rabbis in the coming months to gauge their current perspective on aliyah and community aliyah. That will give us a data-based handle on where the communities are at and how we can begin to help those communities that have an interest in starting to put the pieces in place.

Second, we are now open for business, particularly at the leadership level: for rabbis and lay leaders who have in mind that it would be great to make aliyah as a community but wonder how it could possibly happen. The gap between wanting to do it, dreaming about it, and doing it is enormous. We’re here to fill that gap. So, we are ready to explore this notion with rabbanim at this time. We’re here to have those initial conversations and help them plot the steps and implement those that are in sync with the nature, dynamic, and demographics of their kehillas. Again, this doesn’t happen overnight; this is a two-, three-, four-year process.

SF: Is that on your website? The steps?

SA: Not yet. What will be up there soon is a sampling of the steps. We’re in the middle of creating something called a “mind map,” which is basically a step by-step map that leads, let’s say, the rav of a shul or community. What are all the considerations that he would have to look at as the leader of his community? Then our leadership liaison will work with them. At the end of the day, aliyah is a big, emotional, and challenging undertaking. And if that’s true for an individual or a family, imagine it writ large as a community. But that’s the beauty, because as a community, one plus one plus one doesn’t equal three. It equals 100. Committed people, with devoted leadership, working together for one another’s good, and for the good of the community, transforms the calculus and the experience. G-d willing, G-d willing.

SF: It’s a practical plan to go from A to B.


SA: Right. But I need to be honest and clear: We, too, are at the relatively early stages of a learning curve, so I can’t say, “Don’t worry, we’ve got this whole thing figured out for you.” No. Every rav, every community, every situation is unique and requires its own thinking, its own sensitivities, and its own plan.

SF: Is there a particular shul or institu tion in Baltimore that you think would be a great candidate for your organization?


SA: I’ve been approached. I can tell you this: There is interest in Baltimore.

SF: I appreciate having been able to speak to you tonight.


SA: My pleasure. ◆



Endnotes


1. Rabbi Chaim Avishalom Cohen-Farhiya (1935-2019 ) was an Israeli Kabbalist known as the “milkman.” His father’s family immi grated to Palestine from Turkey in 1904 and engaged in the production of cheeses and dairy products. When he was 20, he entered the family business. He also gave shiurim in gemara and kabbalah in the Kollel “Ha-Sha lom” in Givatayim.

2. Achris hayamim – the end of days. Ikvesa de’meshicha – on the heels of the Messiah. This term is used to describe the era right before Messiah, i.e. close to his coming.

3. Isaiah 40:3-4, “A voice rings out: Clear a road (panu derech) in the desert for the LORD! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God! Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain.”

4. Named after Yitzchak Navon (1921- 2015 ) He served as the fifth president of Is rael between 1978 and 1983. He was the first Israeli president born in Jerusalem and the first Sefardi Jew to serve in that office.

5. Mir Dinner 2022 - Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz with intro from Harav Elya Brud ny, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykI-pOwxjV8&ab_channel=shiezoli. Read also: “Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein calls on US Jews to make Aliyah” (Arutz Sheva, 9.06.20 - www. israelnationalnews.com/news/281594). His remarks can be heard on this link: trinity media.ai/player/share/ed2d00da73c35d 3c451acd99ca1d8fd3. Rabbi Wallerstein, who passed away recently, was one of the foremost Jewish educators in the United States.


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