The Efrat model

At first glance, there are certain similarities between Rabbi Shalom Rosner's attempt to found a new community in Beit Shemesh and the aliya of another (then) young rabbi some 25 years ago. In 1983, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin left his position as rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue to make his home and career in the developing settlement of Efrat. But there the comparison largely ends. "I had to build a school, put up infrastructure," recalls Riskin, who still serves as rabbi of the community that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. In contrast, Rosner will enter a community where a synagogue is already in place, and such basic amenities as a shopping mall are no more than a few minutes away. "I had to worry about getting the city off the ground," says Riskin, adding that important contacts within the government were key to Efrat's success. Riskin says the years spent building Efrat into the city it has become - now numbering some 7,500 residents - have taught him important lessons. "It has been an incredible experience for me, a magnificent journey." When asked what advice he has for Rosner, he says: "The major task of any rabbi of a community is to inspire the community with a goal and to clearly define what that goal is." Riskin says he learned early on that "the difference between a dreamer and a visionary is the visionary has a plan of action." In the case of Efrat, the plan of action involved not only giving Torah classes and sermons, but also close involvement with the city's institutions, and, of course, fundraising. A crucial issue in the shaping of a community like Efrat - one that is very relevant to Nofei Shemesh - is the integration of Israelis and English-speaking olim. Riskin says he wanted to establish a community that would be Israeli with Anglos in it. As such, one simple but crucial rule he established at the outset was that all of his public speaking would be in Hebrew. Neve Shmuel, the yeshiva high school for Israelis that he founded as the first institution in Efrat, also clearly set the tone for Anglo-Israeli integration. Looking at the concept of Nofei Shemesh as a community built around a charismatic rabbinic leader, Riskin says that's a model Israel desperately needs. "When Israel first became a state, Jerusalem was a community," says Riskin. Israel needs rabbis who take responsibility for their community, he continues, and synagogues which serve as more than houses of prayer - as a center for hesed (charity), a center of Torah study and a place where people care for each other and are there for one another in times of sorrow and joy. While that model is more or less the norm in the US, there are relatively few such communities in Israel, and in that sense the founding of Nofei Shemesh might serve as a paradigm for neighborhoods around the country. - JJ.L.