The OU Center launches initiatives to ease the way for English-speaking olim.

The Soulful Sounds of Nuriel featuring the Attias brothers performs at the Hanukka celebration (photo credit: RIKKI LIFF)
The Soulful Sounds of Nuriel featuring the Attias brothers performs at the Hanukka celebration
(photo credit: RIKKI LIFF)
When local Jerusalemites think of the Orthodox Union Israel Center in downtown Jerusalem, the tendency is to think of activities for Jerusalem’s older Anglo community and of Torah Tidbits, its weekly Torah publication in English.
While the OU Center is continuing its traditional popular activities, it is also launching new initiatives to reach out to young professional olim (new immigrants). With this in mind, the center, which has been operating in Israel for more than 35 years, has spearheaded the creation of JCHAT – the Jerusalem Community Hub for Anglos and Torah – a new division of OU Israel targeting professionals between the ages of 25 and 45, seeking to provide them with hizuk (reinforcement), shiurim (religious lectures), social events, rabbinic mentorship and guidance, and a sense of community as they continue to build their lives in Jerusalem.
JCHAT, which kicked off officially on December 28 at a Hanukka celebration packed to the rafters with more than 200 young professionals, is the baby of Rabbi Sam Shor, program director of the OU’s Israel Center in Jerusalem for the past year. Shor originates from New York. He grew up involved in the National Council of Synagogue Youth organization, where he also began his career in Jewish adult education two decades ago. He studied in Israel after high school and has smicha [rabbinical ordination] from three yeshivot.
Shor, who made aliya with his family in 2009, is talented in encouraging and enabling Jewish adults of all backgrounds and ages to explore, connect with and be inspired by a wide variety of Jewish texts – in their own way and from their own perspective.
According to Shor, the impetus for JCHAT arose from the fact that “many olim come to Israel with incredible excitement, and the desire to enrich their lives by returning to the epicenter of Jewish life. They come very idealistically and soon are greeted by the very real challenges of klita (absorption) – finding a home, stable employment, finding a community. Many olim get so caught up in the rhythm of the practical side of immigration to Israel that their enthusiasm and passion for Torah and Jewish life become overshadowed by the struggle to build a home and career. The center decided to launch JCHAT in order to offer support, encouragement, community and inspiration to young professional olim as they build their lives here.”
The inaugural event was organized with the help of a committee of nearly 20 young Anglo olim who have also been instrumental in arranging subsequent activities – including JCHAT’s next event, due to take place on March 8, a pre-Purim cooking demo and celebration with celebrity chef and olah Danielle Renov of the food blog Peas, Love and Carrots.
The pre-Purim extravaganza promises to be a lot of fun, with two different cocktails and a delicious beef chili to sample during the cooking demo. People are encouraged to come in costume to get into the Purim spirit and prizes will be given for the best costume.
In addition to JCHAT, the OU has introduced other initiatives in order to reach diverse segments of the population and make their absorption into life here easier and less stressful. One example is the “Mommy and Me” program for young mothers, which meets three times a week, giving women a chance to go out with their young children and meet women at the same stage of life. This is of particular value to immigrants who are less likely to have an extended family in Israel.
Another vital initiative for olim is the Klita Mentorship Program, which connects new immigrants with veteran olim who not only offer hospitality and a sense of community, but who also serve as a network that the OU can turn to help olim with specific challenges pertaining to their absorption.
The need to create resources that address the specific challenges of olim is of particular importance and emphasis. Moving to Israel creates a large number of challenges and new areas to navigate.
Parents have to find new jobs, which often involves retraining and learning a new field; they have to assist their children in acclimatizing to new schools, friends and cultural differences; and perhaps most daunting of all, they have to battle Israeli bureaucracy.
This is in addition to getting used to the day-to-day differences between life in America or England and Israel and often missing their wider families left behind. The OU will be creating strategic institutional partnerships with Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Jerusalem Municipality and others to provide support and services for olim and to assist them in becoming better informed regarding the various platforms that already exist to help them acclimatize.
In 2016, 85,000 people crossed the doors of the OU Center in Jerusalem to attend the many programs that it offers; the center is hoping to pass the 100,000 milestone this year. While the majority of participants are Jews from North America, which makes up the largest group of Anglo olim, Shor stresses that they cater to English-speaking Jews from a wide variety of places.
The aim is to provide them with a sense of community “to share their talents and contribute to the sacred work of the OU Israel Center. Dozens of our participants have expressed interest and excitement in becoming involved,” he said.
For more information, check out the OU Center on Keren Hayesod Street or contact Rikki Liff, the associate program manager, at (02) 560-9100, ext. 127.