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“Join us in Israel!” says the flier distributed to North American rabbis for the Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, celebration planned by Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics, an organization dedicated to building Israeli society one community at a time by successfully bringing Diaspora models of community building to Israel, with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).

With the coronavirus having halted travel to Israel for months, being in Jerusalem to commemorate the day it was liberated and reunited in 1967, is a far-off dream for Jews in the Diaspora, for now at least.

With lockdowns, holidays have had to be celebrated with immediate families. Communal celebrations have been cancelled and the all-important feeling of community has all but left us.

To offer something to their congregants and communities, Barkai and the RCA created a series of events twinning North American and Israeli rabbis and congregations. The first two were held on Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days. Jerusalem Day is the third and Shavuot will be the fourth such event.

Barkai believes it is important to strengthen the Israel – Diaspora bond and has a rabbinic exchange program pairing Israeli rabbis with those in communities in North America and England.

“We are one community, regardless of where we live geographically, and we can learn from and give to one another,” says Founder and Dean of Barkai, Rabbi David Fine.

The twinning program has been held over ZOOM with congregants sharing stories, singing songs, and hearing words of Torah. Tonight’s, however, will be slightly different.

“The government announced late Tuesday night that synagogues could open on Wednesday. This meant that we could change the Yom Yerushalayim program significantly on the Israeli end. We kicked into high gear, hiring videographers, screens, lighting, and more to make this celebration even better for those here who have been locked down so long and especially for those in the US who are still under tight restrictions. We have the responsibility to not only rejoice ourselves, but to join with our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora and bring them into our celebrations,” says Rabbi Fine. “We hope to lift their spirits and remind them that better days are coming.”

The events will be held in the synagogues – limited to 50 physical attendees -following the guidelines of the Ministry of Health, and broadcast professionally over ZOOM to viewers in the US who will join and dance in their living rooms.

Participating are Congregation Beit Tikva, Ottawa with Kehillat Meir Modi’in, Congregation Beit Yosef, Fort Lee with Kol Yehuda, Modi’in, and the Irving Place Minyan, Woodmere with Central Synagogue of Yad Binyamin.

But these collaborations are not just one time events. The plan is for long term relationships between rabbis, congregants and communities across the Diaspora and Israel. This was always a priority for Barkai, but has become even stronger with the impact of corona.  “Many speak of the breakdown in relations with the Diaspora, and I think this is an excellent way to create real bonds and lasting relationships,” continued Rabbi Fine.

Rabbi Howard Finkelstein of Beit Tikvah, in Ottawa, Canada, has had the opportunity to twin with two different synagogue communities in Modiin; Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Mordechai and Meor Modiin to commemorate Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut and will again join in celebrating Yom Yerushalayim. “It has been a wonderful experience for me and for my congregants to build bridges between ourselves and Israel,” said Rabbi Finkelstein. “I highly recommend the Barkai Twinning Program to Diaspora congregations, as a means to draw Jews together in demonstrating our commitment to the State of Israel.”

The Shavuot learning program is scheduled for the night before Shavuot, and will include breakout rooms for Chavruta (one on one) style learning, as well as group Torah classes as well.

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