Hakhel Newsletter October 2021

What’s Inside: Community Spotlight | Sharing Resources | Monthly Quote


Dear Hakhel Communities,

Last week (October 9), we read the famous Torah portion that tells the story of Noah (Noach), the righteous man who built an ark that preserved animals and humans from G-d’s epic flood. It may seem with today’s current events that we too are enduring a flood, in our case the health and social crisis around COVID. Looking back on this challenging time, how have we acted as righteous community leaders that prepared our communities to weather this storm at this time when sadly isolation and loneliness skyrocketed? Learning from this crisis and looking forward as community leaders, how can Jewish intentional community-building be an ark that carries us to safety, healing, and connection?

In this action-packed Torah portion, we also read about the Tower of Babel, which humans constructed in an act of rebellion to attempt to reach G-d. In retribution for their arrogance, G-d scatters the people across the globe by assigning them different languages to speak. In some ways, our work at Hakhel can be seen as a Tikkun (act of reparation) for this moment in the Jewish people’s history. With our motto of “Gather the People,” we seek to create once more a common language amongst our brethren around the world, a language of community-building. No matter where you are in the world or what language you speak, thank you for partnering with us in this work!

Yours truly, 

Deborah Fishman Shelby

Network Manager, Hakhel

Community Spotlight: Jewish Majorca

The Hakhel community Jewish Majorca, based on an island off the coast of Spain, has a very unique Jewish history and vibrant present reality. The conversation that Deborah, Hakhel Network Manager, had with Dani Rotstein, a community member and leader, was incredibly interesting and inspiring. The community was recently in the news with this recent JTA article about their public sukkah, “a triumph over the Spanish Inquisition.”

Tell us in a few words about your community and what is special about it.

The Jewish community living on Majorca island right now is the most diverse and multicultural community I’ve been a part of in my 41 years of existence. It’s very exciting because very few Jewish community members are originally from Majorca island; it’s mainly an expat community with interfaith families from all over the world, all connected here on this Mediterranean island. There is a fascinating and unique Jewish legacy from this island that most people don’t know about: the Xuetas (pronounced “choo-wetas”). These are Catholic descendants of the Jewish Conversos who were forcibly converted 600 years ago at the start of the Mallorquin Inquisition (that lasted until 1834). There are expat Jews who didn’t move here to be part of a Jewish community who are now meeting Xuetes, Catholic natives who are returning to their Jewish roots and want to observe their ancestors’ faith. It’s an exciting adventure into what it means to be a part of Jewish peoplehood.

How did COVID impact your work and what are you doing to protect and preserve connection between your community and its members, both practically and emotionally, at this time?

We took a page from Nike’s ethos because the simple answer is: Just do it. Do Judaism in any shape, any form that’s possible. You can’t gather physically because of COVID? Do it virtually. You can’t go to the memorial and honor the victims of the Inquisition like you do every year? You do it virtually. You read the names via an online program. If you don’t do anything, you are missing an opportunity. No matter what, you have to find a way to continue. COVID stopped us from interacting in person, as gathering 10 or more people in person became illegal. Our traditional activities like celebrating Rosh Hashanah in a Finca with 40 people was suddenly illegal. Chanukah in a synagogue with 150 people was illegal. So we did SHAZOOM (Shabbat Zoom): every week around 60 people from all over the world came on to engage in breakout rooms, speaking different languages, with music. Actually, Jewish engagement was increased because suddenly you had more options than ever before! You could access a rabbi in Los Angeles or hear our friend Leon sing nigunim from Taiwan. COVID’s silver lining is that it opened up Majorca as a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean to different expressions of Judaism all over the world. And this was beyond refreshing and ultimately necessary for our budding community.

Share one influence that inspires, motivates, or gives you strength in this work?

What inspires me most is when our small Jewish community partners with the local City Hall, and we dare to share our culture with the Catholic Mallorquin society, and people write to us afterward and share how beautiful the experience was and how it connected them to their taboo past. When we see local reactions to people connecting with Jewish culture that hasn’t been present on the island for centuries, that is the most inspiring thing of all. The Judaism I grew up with in New Jersey is not the same Judaism as in other parts of the world. When you’re the one synagogue in town, you begin to understand how Jewish diversity is lacking elsewhere. Judaism in Mallorca was extinguished for centuries. It makes you realize how special Judaism is and how special it actually is to be raised in a pro-Semitic environment. For tourists to come to the island and realize there is a Jewish community and a synagogue, it is really inspiring. You really feel like a stranger in a strange land. But when you meet other Jews here, there is an immediate connection because you know that you are one of the few. When you organize our community events – it’s inspiring to hear about all the different traditions from different Jews from all over the world. Since this is a relatively NEW Jewish community, we get to CREATE the minhagim here, because nothing is set in stone.  It feels like we’re pioneers. The fact that we’re welcoming people returning to Judaism here is historic.

What is one tip/piece of advice about how you create a culture of belonging in your community?

Smile. Just smile. If an outsider enters and wants to see what a community is about, and is met by a glare or a suspicious look or someone asks, “Who are you and where are you from? How did you hear about us?”, you are losing a potential community member. If you smile and say, “Welcome” and put out your hand and say, “Here, this is the page we are on,” and if you open up in your physical appearance, you’re opening your heart, and you’re opening your community. If you come to our synagogue, you will be welcomed and receive a smile, and be encouraged to learn and share. That is the recipe for success that led us to start with 2 members and grow to 500 members on the island in a very short period of time.

Watch this Rosh Hashanah video to see Jewish Majorca in action! ​​https://youtu.be/S2ROSf_PCiQ 

If you would like to be our next community in the spotlight, please email deborah.fishman@hazon.org.

Community Asset Mapping

When it comes to Community Asset Mapping, many communities wonder whether it’s worth the time and intention required for the process. Yet, it is important to remember that the mapping process itself is as important as the outcome!  It creates an open invitation for partnership and ownership. Rather than participating as guests or an audience, each member gets the message that they matter and bring a unique value to the group. It also encourages a mindset shift that strengthens the Culture of Belonging.

By curating the community’s assets/resources, you will most likely gain the following outcomes:     

  1.       Engaging community members individually and towards one another, by strengthening their sense of meaning, belonging, pride and responsibility.
  2.       Empowering individuals who share their unique attributes for a collective effort.
  3.       Uncovering in-house solutions and potential to address challenges and opportunities.
  4.       Determining and planning what we can do with what we already have… to get to where we want to be and do what we wish to do.
  5.       Strengthening self-reliance of the community

It starts with defining the goal. Mapping can be done towards a specific event, holiday, communal task, committee, or a broader overview of the community.

There are many methods to map Community assets. The most effective methods consist of mapping Bottom – Up, allowing as many community members as possible to be part of the process.

We would like to share with you a suggested tool that clearly outlines the know-how and can be an excellent starting point to design the relevant process in your community.

The Culture of Belonging Asset Mapping Tool was developed by Maia Tchetchik and Wendy Verba for the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, drawing from the teaching of Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman.

If you would like to discuss this further – Hakhel’s network, resources, and advisors are here for you! Please contact michal.guttman@hazon.org.

Download the Guide to Asset Mapping here.

Hakhel Mini-Grants

Hakhel is continuing to support its communities in a variety of ways, Mini-grants are among them and part of our “Incubation Package.” 

This year, we have revised the criteria and the process so that small grants can make a greater impact. We are happy to share the details of this opportunity. We ask you to read carefully through the criteria before applying and suggest that you discuss it with your advisor, too.   

Monthly Quote

A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living. Rudolf Steiner – Austrian philosopher, educator, and social thinker. The founder on anthroposophy.