‘When You Open Doors to Yiddishkeit, People Will Come’

Clockwise from top left: Rabbi Riccardo Shemuel di Segni, Rabbi Michael Yosef Schudrich, Rabbi Mordechai Zsolt Balla, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Rabbi Moshe Baumel, Rabbi Yaron Baruch Engelmayer

They stand at the front lines promoting Yiddishkeit and fighting battles for Jews in their countries while taking care of their own flocks. They represent not only their own communities but religious Jewish life at large.

The Chief Rabbi, in some countries an official, elected title, is the religious representative, at times, its highest religious authority, and represents Jews in government and other institutions. It is through Chief Rabbis’ efforts that Jewish infrastructure becomes possible and remains available, overcoming hurdles that ban foundations of our life like shechitah and milah or producing and obtaining kosher food, building chinuch institutions, enabling them and other Rabbanim in their countries or cities to fulfill their ultimate goal — bringing Yidden closer to Yiddishkeit.

Hamodia invited several Chief Rabbis and local community Rabbis to share their experiences, assessments, and hopes for European Jewry. The range in age, experience, and location allow for a diverse view of Jewish life in places that might be off the radar for the typical chareidi Jew.

As the daughter of a Rabbi, I know firsthand that Rabbanim are the busiest people, available for their flock 24/7. Understandably, coordinating a roundtable with these distinguished Rabbanim was no easy feat, and only feasible because we live in the age of Zoom. And still, there were last-minute changes, such as a sudden emergency forcing one Rav to cancel.

I am honored to have had the privilege and humbled by all that I learned. For, while individual kehillos have very dedicated Rabbanim, much of their aspirations could never be accomplished without the Chief Rabbinates’ continuous commitment.

 

Rabbi Riccardo Shemuel Di Segni, shlita

Chief Rabbi of Rome since November 2001, fourth in a family of Rabbanim, obtained his rabbinic ordination in 1973, first taught at the Rabbinical College of Italy, under whose directorship it has been since 1999. Rabbi Di Segni also trained and served as a medical doctor and director of a department of radiology at the Roman public hospital for many years. He has published several works, such as Noten Taam Leshevach, was a member of the Governing Council of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis and has served as Vice President of the European Rabbinical Conference since 2010.

Rabbi Yaron Baruch Engelmayer, shlita

Chief Rabbi of Vienna, studied at Yeshiva University in N.Y., Yeshivat Hesder and Machon Lehoraa Lifshitz in Yerushalayim and was ordained by the Chief Rabbi of Israel in 2002. Rabbi Engelmayer served as Rabbi in the German cities of Aachen and Cologne and as a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference in Germany. In 2015, he moved to Israel where he served as community Rabbi of Carmiel, before accepting his current post as Chief Rabbi of Vienna in early 2020.

Rabbi Michael Yosef Schudrich, shlita

Chief Rabbi of Poland since 2004, is the son of a pulpit Rabbi. He received rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University and spent six years in the 1980s as Rabbi of the Jewish community of Japan. In 1992 he moved to Poland, taking on the position of Rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz in 2000 before being appointed Chief Rabbi of Poland. Rabbi Schudrich is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Conference of European Rabbis.

Rabbi Mordechai Zsolt Balla, shlita

State Rabbi of Saxony, Leipzig and the German Army, attended the Beis Tzion Yeshiva in Berlin, later at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminar where he made history, as one of the first two Orthodox Rabbanim to receive ordination in Germany since the Holocaust. Since 2009 Rabbi Balla has been serving as the Rabbi of Leipzig as well as State-Rabbi of Saxony. He is a board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference and head of the Institute for Traditional Jewish Liturgy in Leipzig. In June of this year, he was appointed as military Rabbi to the German Army, a position that had not been filled in a century.

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, shlita

Chief Rabbi of Ukraine learned at the Karlin Stolin Yeshiva, where he received his ordination, after studying at the Karlin Stolin Rabbinical Institute in Yerushalayim. In 1990, a year after moving to Ukraine, Rabbi Bleich was appointed Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and its capital Kiev. He served as vice president of the World Jewish Congress for many years and currently serves as vice president of the European Jewish Congress.

Rabbi Moshe Baumel, shlita

Community Rabbi of Basel, studied at Berlin’s Beit Tzion Yeshiva and Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Manchester, later returned to Berlin and attended the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminar, where he was ordained in 2010. Rabbi Baumel also received ordination from Dayan Zalman Nechemia Goldberg in Yerushalayim and Rabbi Osher Westheim, zt”l, in Manchester, under whom he studied for two years. After serving as the Jewish director of the Tzvi Peres Chayes school in Vienna, Rabbi Baumel spent two years as a community Rabbi in Osnabrück, Germany, before moving to Switzerland to serve as Community Rabbi of the city of Basel in 2015.

Rabbi Moredchai Zsolt Balla (R) with Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau.

Can you express what the role of Chief Rabbi means to you, in one sentence?

Rabbi Bleich: For me, being Chief Rabbi means an opportunity to change people’s lives and bring them closer to Hashem.

Rabbi Di Segni: Imparting knowledge of our religion, to show Jews the beauty, the inspiration, and the basis of their lives. This is what the Torah provides the Jewish people with, to be conscious of their mission in this world.

Rabbi Engelmayer: For me, the task means to open the doors not only of the synagogue, but also to spiritual life, for everyone who wants to enter.

Rabbi Balla: As a community Rabbi, I see the role as taking responsibility for people, whatever it takes. As military Rabbi, I see it as a great opportunity to be mekadesh shem Shamayim b’rabbim. I daven that Hakadsoh Baruch Hu give me the right insight and koach to fulfill that task.

Rabbi Schudrich: For me, to be Chief Rabbi of Poland is a symbol of the level of destruction of Jewish life in Poland. It is humbling and serves as a constant reminder, that while I am blessed to hold this position, it’s a tremendous responsibility. For so many decades rebuilding wasn’t possible, and now we can, b’echasdei Hashem.

Rabbi Baumel: It enables me to do much more chessed than I could, if I weren’t in my position as community Rabbi.

What is the current situation regarding basic Jewish infrastructures such as shechitah, milah and chinuch in your country and its challenges?

Rabbi Di Segni: Shechitah and milah are permitted, although there are always movements trying to have them banned. We remain vigilant on any developments in parliament and other institutions. Basic kosher food is easily available in large communities. The relatively small number of Jews in Italy makes it difficult to produce commodities such as fresh chalav Yisrael. There are many kosher items produced in Italy under major kashrus organizations, such as the OU, but they are generally for the export market.

Regarding chinuch, there are Jewish schools in Rome and Milan from kindergarten to high school graduation. In Turin and Trieste there are elementary schools.

Rabbi Baumel: Shechitah was banned in Switzerland over a century ago, so our shochtim shecht in France. There is a strict policy against shechitah chutz and we have one shechitah for the whole country, besides Geneva, which has its own.

Currently, there is an initiative to ban the import of productions of so-called animal cruelty, which would include kosher meat. Even if the government rejects it, it can be brought to a vote by the Swiss public, whose outcome is unpredictable. The SIG — Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund (Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities) represents us in government and is currently working on an exemption clause for kosher meat in case it is ever passed into law.

In Switzerland, the approach is to work behind the scenes and find solutions with government instead of going public. I think as long as there are not clear indications of blatant antisemitism this approach is the right one — keep the dialogue going, but handle it diplomatically.

Milah is permitted, although every few years an oiberchacham, usually a doctor, tries to have it banned. As with shechitah, the SIG usually shuts it down quietly and swiftly.

We have an extensive kosher-list of items one can buy in the regular supermarkets. The SIG employs a full-time Rav for this purpose. He visits production sights and signs contracts ensuring the kashrus of these products. In Switzerland much of the food is produced locally, making it significantly easier.

Chareidi communities in Zurich as in Basel have well-funded elementary schools for boys until yeshivah and girls up to seminary age. Geneva and Strasbourg have high school, but in other cities, parents who want to provide a high school education for their children don’t have an option in the Jewish school system. So far, every attempt at founding such a school has failed. Some parents send their children abroad but many attend public schools and learn in the Talmud Torah in the afternoons. These frum children, who daven three times a day, are very isolated at school. This is one reason why some families make aliyah.

Rabbi Balla: At the moment, there are no problems regarding shechitah and milah in Germany, although these topics keep coming up every once in a while.

General kashrus is fine, the only problem is that [parts of] the Torah-observant world started keeping more policies than actual halachic requirements, making simple kashrus look unreliable. This creates a dangerous divide between the Torah-observant world and those fine Jews, who due to historical reasons could not live a Torah-observant life, and now because of these “disqualifications” do not want to return.

Berlin is the only city with proper religious schools. In other places there is a problem with schools, which has made it increasingly difficult for young Rabbanim to serve in small remote communities…

Rabbi Schudrich: About seven years ago we faced two problems with shechitah. First, they wanted a total ban, later a ban on exporting. We won the first in highest court and the second was killed in parliament. Now, we are one of the largest producers of kosher meat in the world. Pretty much everyone shechts here, Israel ranking highest. For other kosher food we have a kosher list.

There are no problems with performing milah in Poland but we don’t have our own mohel and usually bring someone from abroad.

We have a Jewish school and a kollel in Warsaw, an informal cheder and adult education in other cities. Cracow, Lodz and Wroclaw have preschools and a Sunday school.

Rabbi Engelmayer: Our kehillah is well established. Shechitah is permitted and the community continuously works to ensure that it stays this way. We have several shochtim and also import from other countries.

There are six local mohalim, all members of the Union of Mohalim in Europe.

We have a vaad kashrut, madrich kashrut and a broad selection of restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries.

There are four Jewish schools, two of them including high schools. We have a beautiful well-rounded infrastructure. It is important that the community continuously maintain this, not only the official community but individuals as well.

Rabbi Bleich: In Ukraine we have everything, baruch Hashem. Ess fohrt glatt. It’s the Western countries that have issues with milah, shechitah.

I think, the reason for these gezeiros is that we don’t appreciate these mitzvos enough, as the Chofetz Chaim said “if we are mezalzel in the matanah of the Ribbono shel Olam, then Hashem takes it away.”

Besides the shtadlanus we must do, we also have to consider why the Eibershter is doing it. The Torah tells us to look at our own deeds when there are problems, to be mechazek in these inyanim within the communities.

President of the Jewish community of Vienna, Oskar Deutsch; and Rabbi Engelmayer, meeting with Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig.

Every community has their individual challenges, every country has their particular challenges and then there are issues shared across the continent. In your experience, what would you define as the biggest challenge now?

Rabbi Bleich: I think that there are two major challenges, one from outside, the other from inside.

From outside it is obviously the growth of nationalism and antisemitism. As Jews, I wouldn’t even differentiate between the Islamic, right-wing and left-wing. While it makes a difference to the politicians, for us as Jews its one and the same — the halachah of Esav soneh l’Yaakov. We are feeling it more and more; people are afraid.

As for the inside, I’d say it’s Jewish education. I think that after the war, except for the chareidim, the communities in Western Europe didn’t immediately set up chinuch on a level to produce future generations of shomrei Torah umitzvos. People were too light-headed in regard to strong, solid Jewish education. So, most of the Rabbanim here on this panel are dealing with communities that had no education for a long time.

Rabbi Di Segni: I agree with Rabbi Bleich that there are two kinds of dangers, one from outside and one from inside. The outside danger is obviously antisemitism. But that’s the non-Jews’ challenge. Our problem with antisemitism is the struggle for people who [they feel that] antisemitism doesn’t allow them to be Jewish. This is different from the concern of those who fear antisemitism.

Internal challenge, I believe the most dangerous thing, at least in our country, is the dissolution of family, the concept of family is in dire crisis. One century ago, while people were not very educated in Judaism, they at least had a Jewish family, got married, had children, lived together. Now all of this, so fundamental to our survival, is dissolving. This is what is happening in the Western countries, and is a major challenge for us.

Rabbi Balla: I agree, but I think one of the biggest problems is a general sense of indifference within society, not just to religion, but to values and to one another. I think this global problem is endangering Yiddishkeit and it would be shortsighted to perceive everything outside of this complexity. In mathematics, you would describe it as a chaotic system, way too complex with too many variables. I think indifference is one common denominator and don’t know if anybody has a solution for that.

Before we get to the solutions, do you mean to say that this indifference in society as a whole affects Yiddishkeit?

Rabbi Balla: Yes, we have become desensitized, especially because we are faced with bad things daily and find it hard to cope with, so we react by shutting it out and not dealing with it.

Rabbi Baumel: I observed it in Switzerland and I imagine it’s the same across Europe. People have lost interest in religion as a whole. Churches are closing and when you start speaking about religion, no matter how open you are, they consider you the Taliban. This overall attitude towards tradition and religion diminishes interest in joining or being part of the community or even to marry Jewish. This is definitely another challenge for European Jewry.

Rabbi Schudrich: The antisemitism I worry about is when it causes some Jews to be afraid to be Jewish.

But for me, it’s the internal problems that are far more important. I think that for Poland and many communities in Europe the main challenge, along with education, is shidduchim. Making sure that our young people marry each other. We’re clearly not doing enough to ensure that Jews marry other Jews. That, for me is the great challenge. I invite any of my colleagues to talk to me afterwards. Because we have to do something.

Rabbi Engelmayer: I want to add two things. One, to what Rabbi Di Segni mentioned, that antisemitism doesn’t allow Jews to be Jewish — Jewish pride may be a European-wide problem; there is a lack of pride in our kids, to show it, to feel part of something big, something secure and safe. The second thing is the [lack of] internal unity. There may be a lot of things that divide us but we must deal with the challenge of feeling united as a people.

Rav Schudrich with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda during the ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of a 1946 massacre of Jews in Kielce, Poland, July 4, 2016. (Dagmara K/ Getty)

Of all the challenges mentioned, can any of you share a possible solution?

Rabbi Bleich: When I mentioned the challenge in education, I was also referring to adult education. We must provide something for the adults to gain better understanding, of the responsibility of being Jewish, which Rabbi Di Segni touched on, the issue of the family unit or indifference that Rabbi Balla mentioned.

The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah dealt with a generation very similar to ours; they were totally assimilated. Pirkei Avos tells us three things they did in order to re-engage a generation torn away from Yiddishkeit. One, hevei mesunim badin — don’t be judgmental! You have to be open to people and not judge them because of what they did and who they are. Just bring them back in. Haamidu talmidim harbei, get as many as you can into an educational setting where they can learn to rebuild their lives as Jews. And, of course, assu syag laTorah, understand not to chas v’shalom, overstep your limits. People are at a loss, completely indifferent and assimilated by the societal issues that are destroying the fabric of the family and the community and everything else Jewish.

How do you interest people enough so that they want to find out more?

Rabbi Schudrich: Make sure everybody knows that I’m their Rabbi. We have all kinds of Jews, just like in Bavel. Rabbi Bleich really hit it right on the head. We must let every Jew feel that no matter where they’re holding, or what problems they have, I’m their Rabbi. When people say that I’m the Rabbi for the Orthodox community, I say, “No, I’m an Orthodox Rabbi for any Jew.”

Rabbi Baumel: I completely agree that the personal connection between the Rabbi and the people in the community is crucial. Every success or failure depends on the personality of the Rabbi. Secondly, it is important that the Rabbi knows his limits and creates a team so that people in the community can join him in outreach. No matter how open a Rabbi may be, people may want to connect to others, such as baalei batim who portray the role of a working person and can still inspire by giving shiurim. Let them be involved, don’t be the one-man show for your community.

Rabbi Engelmayer: I would go a step further because the Rabbi can’t solve it all. The pressures on the families nowadays are tremendous. There are big expectations on marriage, on the family, ever growing social and financial pressures. The Rabbi can’t be the only one to solve all these problems. So, you need a team and facilities in the community. When I was in Cologne, there was a social department, dealing with such issues together with the Rabbi. In Israel, we built up such a facility, the Vaadat Hamishpachot and Vaadat Hachessed, and in Vienna we have a fantastic institution called Esra, which also works hand-in-hand with the rabbinate. So, while the Rabbis are very much involved, there is hands-on support to address these needs.

Do you mean to say that personal challenges are pulling people away and solving that will improve matters?

Rabbi Engelmayer: I’m not sure, but it’s definitely hard to deal with today’s challenges and expectations, which makes matters more complex.

Rabbi Balla: I think there’s an interesting paradox in being a Rabbi. Somebody once said, the first job of a Rabbi is to make himself dispensable. As Rabbi Baumel said, create an environment that can function without you. At the same time, as Rabbi Schudrich said, be there for everybody. I don’t think anybody has ever cracked this conundrum. But most important is to be available. Call people; create an atmosphere that will make people want to come to the synagogue. And a very crucial thing, especially nowadays, is to keep praying, show the values we live for. We want to connect to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. How can you do that? Only through tefillah.

Rabbi Schudrich: I just want to add that the more you make yourself dispensable, the more you empower other Jews to become Jewish leaders. So, the paradox within the paradigm of contradiction, the more you empower other people that could make you indispensable, the more indispensable you become.

Rabbi Di Segni: I would like to give a halachic quotation which is related to my former life as a doctor. When people are in avelut, they are forbidden to work. But if the avel is a doctor and is called to heal somebody he may go. Because “shelo mikol adamo zochim lehitrapot” not from every person can one have the merit to be healed. The same goes for Rabbis. Not every person or soul feels the same connection. A Rabbi must engage his audience in various ways. I find that when speaking in different styles and on assorted issues, there will always be something for everyone.

Another thing that wasn’t mentioned yet, is the importance of building a network for isolated places. Rabbis need to be imported. Now, during the pandemic we saw how people formerly far from Judaism came closer through media. The point is, not to be limited to ourselves, to call others for help, to discover other voices.

Actually, I am curious to know how much you communicate with other Rabbanim for support and advice?

Rabbi Bleich: After more than 30 years in the rabbinate I can safely say it’s impossible for any Rav to live in a vacuum. The idea of teaching amongst Jews was always pilpul chaverim, speaking to others. I think that is one of the greatest things of the Conference of European Rabbis. There are communities declining in numbers; we are trying to interest people in Judaism. We all have similar issues and questions and challenges. So, it would be a loss of an opportunity if we didn’t consult with each other on a very regular basis.

Rabbi Balla: O chavrusa o missusa.

Rabbi Bleich: Right. I remember being in Kiev for Pesach 1990. I was getting she’eilos from Moldova, Russia, Georgia and other places. Today we have Rabbanim in these places; it’s so easy to communicate. It behooves us to utilize this opportunity that the Ribbono shel Olam gave us to be more in contact with one another.

How much contact do you maintain with your government and with the local population; how much do you feel is necessary?

Rabbi Schudrich: A Rabbi should spend his time talking to the government as long as he can utilize it to help at least one Jew. When Rabbis run to talk to governments because of a photo-op, they’ve lost their sense of mission as a Rabbi. I’ve been here for over 30 years, so I’ve had a chance to develop relationships. It takes time and you have to keep at it. But most important is to always keep in mind how it can benefit the Jewish community and sometimes just one Jewish individual. We are Rabbis, our goal is to help Jews. So, whatever we do must be through that prism. The same goes for exchanges with the rest of the population; in Poland the church also plays an important role.

Rabbi Bleich: An important part of the job for a Chief Rabbi is definitely to maintain good relations with the government, the matarah always to help Jews. I spend a lot of my time doing that. For example, today was Ukrainian Independence Day and I addressed the nation as I do every year.

I also find it to be an opportunity to be or lagoyim. I’ve had high-ranking government officials approach me with hashkafic questions or thoughts on G-d. Such things can only happen because of a strong relationship. Of course, the focus must always be to help. I once succeeded in getting exams for medical students that were scheduled for Shavuos to be pushed off. Connections enable us to help people who want to keep mitzvos, and help the government understand the needs of the Jewish people. It is a great thing to raise the level of respect towards the Jewish people within the government and greater society.

Rabbi Di Segni: Well, I have a double job, since I deal with two governments. The Italian government and the Vatican. I have a long experience in this field. One must keep in mind the teaching of our fathers hevei zehirin b’reshut — be careful with people in power, because in many cases they are out for their personal or political advantage. We absolutely must speak with them, for our benefit, pride in Judaism for the dignity of the Torah and proudly defend our history. So, while it’s very important to maintain good relations, one must ensure not to make any compromises. Especially in Italy where we have had all sorts of governments changing frequently and the third pope in the Vatican since I became Chief Rabbi.

Rabbi Balla: I think that no matter what we do, number one is to be nose beol chaveiro, we should never forget the Jews in our surroundings. So often I see people looking for political capital by making connections to powerful people and at the same time ignoring the needs and troubles of the Jewish community. I think this is a huge mistake. Whenever we make connections, it should be in order to help people, whether religious or not.

And sometimes, even if the purpose of the relationship is to help, be aware not to make allies, that one should avoid ethically. No matter what, we must remain true to our values. The goal may never sanctify the means. We must always stand up for our values, even if we might lose out in this day and age, in the alma d’shikra, the world of disguise and lies, especially the media, because we represent Yiddishkeit and eternal values. So, while it’s important to build and maintain relationships we must be aware of this very narrow bridge.

Rabbi Engelmayer: While it’s not always good to be in the public eye, nowadays it’s very important, because we live in a time where everything is transparent, so you also have to be open. Meaning, if you want the Jews to be heard, it’s important to make sure they are heard. Here in Austria, the Jewish community has a strong connection with the government, which provides extensive support in all aspects, whether laws, fighting antisemitism or financially. My task as Chief Rabbi is also to speak about Judaism and to attend functions because it opens doors, which helps benefit the community.

Rabbi Baumel: I’ll just add something small, besides the connection to the government and to the other religions, I think it’s very important to be connected to general society. Two years ago, I began lecturing at the University on Jewish life and over 100 non-Jewish students attended, because they wanted to understand. So, while reaching out and providing Jewish knowledge should not be the purpose, it is quite important since we live here amongst the nation.

Looking ahead, what hopes do you have for your community?

Rabbi Baumel: I have no idea how to answer that. It depends on so many things, like development in Israel and antisemitism, shidduchim. My community changes every two years. I do what I can to inspire and hope that more young people will show interest in Yiddishkeit. I also hope that people will stay in the community. Many make aliyah which puts me in a difficult position. Because on the one hand, I’m pro-Israel but on the other hand we don’t want to lose people. My only hope is that I can continue to help.

Rabbi Balla: The truth is that my dream would be that in 10 years’ time, there will be world peace and all Yidden from Leipzig will live in a block of houses in Modiin with a replica of the Leipzig shul. If that won’t come to pass then, as Rabbi Baumel said, I’m not a Navi. But if we do our work then the nucleus of committed people will shift to Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne and their infrastructure will grow while smaller communities will shrink. My sincere hope is that committed, traditional Jewish life will become a normalcy in Germany.

The reason I’m optimistic is that when you open doors to Yiddishkeit, people will come. Our tradition is powerful on its own. You don’t have to play games or manipulate. We as Rabbanim have to open the doors for people who wish to enter. The power of the Torah and Yiddishkeit is there. I witnessed it myself over the 19 years in Berlin: From three families it has turned into a committed Jewish community with close to 100 frum families, a school with 250 children. It’s amazing!

In regards to the army, we’re obviously not going to recruit Jewish soldiers actively, but to maintain and create an environment that normalizes it, like in the U.S. Army or the French and Dutch armies.

Rabbi Di Segni: I observe two different directions of escape — people who are escaping from Judaism and others escaping from the outside and coming closer. We have to stop the escape to the outside and keep on gathering those who want to come inside. I remain encouraged. When people see so many people coming to synagogue and ask me how that happened, well if I knew the reason it would be the solution for everybody.

We have to be optimistic about the future because many people are coming back home. The social frame of these people is diverse, from poor to rich. There is no difference between type of profession, social status or political affiliation. This kind of diversity is reflected in the religious realms. In the past there was a more specific group that was attracted to Judaism, unlike today.

Rabbi Schudrich: Obviously, it’s impossible to look 10 years ahead, because when I look back 10 years, I would’ve never guessed that things would develop as they did. What I hope for is that more Jews will be doing Jewish things, no matter where they live. I share this conflicted feeling about people making aliyah or even people leaving for larger Jewish communities like London and New York. I sincerely believe that my responsibility as a Rabbi is to empower people to live as fully Jewish as they can, in the place where they feel they can do it. Therefore, if a bunch of my people make aliyah, I’m very proud. It’s a loss here, but it’s a gain for the Jewish people. We’re all on the same team. So, if this means some of my best guys leave for Yerushalayim or London, then I hope that we’re going to enrich those communities.

Rabbi Bleich: I think that even though none of us are Nevi’im we still have to have a plan. If we don’t set goals, then we’ll never reach them. I think that these goals vary in different communities. The job of each Rabbi is to be realistic about the goals he sets. Larger communities with many children need a day school. But if a Rabbi of a small community has the same goal, it’s not going to happen. In such cases he may be better off bringing people closer to Judaism and then shipping them off, as Rabbi Schudrich said, to New York, to London or to Israel, where they’ll have a chance to live a Jewish life.

Twenty-five years ago, I faced this challenge in Ukraine and without being a Navi, foresaw that within 20 years there will be 10 large communities with proper infrastructure, because that’s where the bulk of the Jewish population is. Whereas other places needed more outreach to send people to larger communities. We have to be able to set goals that are attainable and sustainable. We all want to do what we can and pass on to the next generation.

Chief Rabbi Sacks, z”l, used to say, “Good leaders have many followers, but great leaders create leaders.” This is the challenge for every Rabbi, to create people who will take that community to the next level, to the next generation.

My goal is for my community to continue to grow. I want a stronger infrastructure, better education, improvement in kashrus. Get Rabbanim to work with each other with an infrastructure that manages these things. We have 360,000 Jews in Ukraine, so we have a big challenge. There are many Rabbanim and many are making “Shabbos far zich,” when we should be more organized. The numbers may not grow, but their dedication must grow. I agree with Rabbi Balla. Look at miracles like Berlin, Kiev, Moscow, Dnipropetrovsk and Warsaw and all the places represented on this call. I think that we are witnessing miracles. At the same time, the goals that we set, have to be realistic and then the Eibershter will help us to be successful beyond our goals, beyond our dreams.

While we wait for Moshiach, our kehillah is well established with quite a surge in recent decades and will continuously grow. It is imperative that much is invested in Jewish education and to reinforce unity. We have various communities with their own traditions, which must be preserved while remaining connected and supporting each other.

There are issues that mustn’t be ignored, such as battling assimilation. Antisemitism is latent in comparison to other countries but must still be diminished.