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ARUTZ SHEVA, 2015: AM YISRAEL FOUNDATION BRINGS JEWISH LIFE TO TEL AVIV

Building Jewish Life For Young Olim in Tel Aviv (full article)

On December 27th, the Am Yisrael Foundation and the North Central Synagogue of Tel Aviv will dedicate a brand new Sefer Torah in honor of the 72 soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

Participating in the celebration will be Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; MK Michael Oren (Kulanu); and Rabbi of the North Central Synagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Chayen.

The Foundation has garnered support for the project from private donors as well as a crowdfunding campaign.

Jay Shultz, President and Founder of the Am Yisrael Foundation spoke to Arutz Sheva about the event as well as the social and religious change his organization is trying to bring to Tel Aviv.

“We are dedicating the new Sefer Torah at the North Central Synagogue, as it is the synagogue that is most active for the young Anglo-Immigrant community,” said Shultz. “This is the community where most young people go, and it is a real honor to host this Torah that was written in honor of the 72 heroes who were killed during Operation Protective Edge.” The Torah, is  set to be used regularly by the young olim community in the city.

Tel Aviv currently boasts over 20,000 young olim from the western hemisphere and is currently, according to Shultz, “the largest Jewish community without rabbinic leadership in the world.”

“What we are trying to do in essence is to fill that gap,” he said. The Foundation is aiming to build a Jewish cultural and spiritual center in the middle of the city, with a focus on providing Jewish learning opportunities and creating Jewish cultural events for the burgeoning Jewish community that is residing in the city, and in the entire Gush Dan Region.

“Tel Aviv is the hub of the Gush Dan region” said Shultz. “We get a lot of young people from the  rest of the area, including Netanya, Herzliya, Rishon Lezion, Bat Yam and other nearby cities.”

The inauguration of the sefer torah is one of the first steps the Foundation is taking towards building the Tel Aviv Center for Jewish Life. “It is about bringing Jewish education and Jewish faith to the center of Tel Aviv,” Shultz said.

The organization just hired its first educational director, Rabbi Shlomo Chayen, who is now the first Rabbi for the young olim community in Tel Aviv. As Shultz puts it, “We are looking to not only bring sifrei torah but also people to teach that torah to the community here.”

With the new wave of western olim moving into the area, a lot of ideas that are being brought from the Diaspora are being applied to rebuilding Jewish life in the city. “The new olim bring with them the ideas of  building community, giving tzedakah, placing an importance on Jewish education. All of these ideas we are bringing to the city, and we are helping to renew Jewish and Zionist growth in the city,” Shultz explained.  “These are things that we as an organization invest ourselves in.”

Shultz pointed to the mass exodus of western olim leaving Jerusalem and coming to Tel Aviv over the past decade as a shift in the needs of the community. “When I came here only a decade ago, there were a few hundred olim from western countries, now we are over 20,000. Tel Aviv has become the city where most olim go to when they arrive, more so than Jerusalem.  This is making Tel Aviv the most exciting and happening thing in the young Jewish world.”

Shultz sees the ability to tap into the innovative power and spirit of these olim, not just from a technological standpoint, but from a Jewish standpoint. “The energy and vibrancy from people coming around the world to Tel Aviv is incredible. It is the new engine of kibbutz galuyot.”

Tel Aviv served as the largest center for immigrants to Israel back in the 20’s and 30’s. However, as Shultz pointed out, that waned over the interim decades. “When I came here 10 years ago, Jerusalem was the center of young olim. Today that is center has moved back to Tel  Aviv. If we invest in them we can do tremendous things for the land of Israel and the Jews in the diaspora as well.”

“This is the center of influence for the land of Israel. If you want to influence the Jewish people in some ways you can only do it from Tel Aviv. And that is why the Am Yisrael Foundation is here.”’

Am Yisrael Foundation is looking for Rabbinical leadership and Jewish educators to help build the Tel Aviv Center of Jewish Life. “We are at the infant stages of what we are trying to build. Ultimately we will have a full center for Jewish life, with Jewish educators of many different backgrounds to help continue to build and sustain the community, to educate and to inspire.”

And community according to Shultz is one of the most important things that olim can offer one another. “‘When people come from all over the world, the  community is what sustains them. It’s what helps them find jobs and keep them here. And that is powerful.”