In Israel, the beating heart of the Jewish people, tens of thousands of Jews live with no connection to their religion. This is true of many places in the country, but in few places is the problem as centralized and tragic as the Gezer region of Israel. Located in central Israel, this regions consists of 25 communities, five kibbutzim, 15 moshavim, three community settlements and two designated Jewish localities (various types of towns).
Of these 25 neighborhoods, only a few, most notably Nof Ayalon and Shaalavim, have a thriving religious life, the others are nearly devoid of Jewish religious institutions. For those who do want Jewish learning for their children, the 40 minute ride to get to these neighborhoods is simply not a viable option. What makes this all the more tragic is that the majority of the population of this area is descended from the great Jewish Sephardic communities which have a deep and rich tradition dating back to the exile of the First Temple Period.
Having left their lands upon being told of the miraculous reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land, many left thriving communities and properties behind. They came, religious and unaware that in the nascent state settlement and survival were paramount, God and religion an antiquated notion. This created a huge upheaval in their traditional way of life and caused no small amount of disconnect between parents and children.
Now, a mere two generations later, most of their descendants are not religious or connected to their heritage. The disconnect of these communities from their roots is tragic for the Jewish people and the well being of the state. While this phenomenon is hardly restricted by geography, outreach organizations generally focus on the larger cities, leaving the Gezer region and its people sadly neglected.
The situation deteriorated drastically to the point that assimilation rates began to rise alarmingly and anti-religious sentiments were openly displayed. This culminated in an act of arson on a local defunct mikva. Alarmed at the situation, in 2014, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau sent an urgent request to Rav Baruch Choresh to come to Mishmar Ayalon and open a community outreach center, to give Torah classes to youth as well as adults.
After a successful year in Mishmar Ayalon, youth in other moshavim began to hear about the program and expressed interest in having something similar in their moshavim. Expansion began with Azarya, Yad Rambam, Beit Chashmonai, Matzliach, Ptachia, Pedaia, Yashrish, Beit Uziel, Yatzitz, Mazkeret Batya, and Binun. Thus began a phenomenon of returning a people to their history and heritage.
In the summer of 2016, Rav Choresh officially merged with Rav Travis of Nishmas Kedoshim, founded with the intent of spreading Torah to less affiliated places and bridging gaps between communities by learning Torah in memory of the soldiers killed in service.
Nishmas Kedoshim is dedicated to helping youth with little or no religious background to explore and learn about their heritage in a comfortable, accepting environment. Rabbis and mentors create positive relationships based on respect and love for our fellow Jews. Currently operations include a number of locations in central Israel. One of our regional bases is located in Moshav Yad Rambam, the other in Mevaseret Zion.
The Community Outreach Center in Moshav Yad Rambam is our Gezer regional base where the doors are always open and meaningful friendships are developed with the local residents.
Nishmas Kidoshim now sends teams to 12 local moshavim. Daily Torah classes for youth, as well as fun activities are held. Torah classes are also given to adults. Those who have requested, receive home visits consisting of a Torah class and religious guidance for the entire family. To date, roughly sixteen youth have already left their moshavim in order to study Torah in Yeshivas specially geared for the newly religious.
When I came home to the moshav after my army service, I was astounded to see hear the sounds of Torah study, a very rare sound in the moshav. I saw my friends drinking in words of Torah taught by R' Baruch Choresh and his colleagues. Unfortunately, not all of my friends are being reached. Many do not even know what Tisha b'Av is. This is because there is no Jewish education available for them on the moshav. If there was, I am sure that most of the parents would send their kids.
-Ohr Maimon, Moshav Yatzitz
Overall, the community has benefited greatly from the return of Judaism in their lives. Many residents turn to the religious members in times of distress for blessings and advice. Having a warm, positive, accepting address to turn to in time of need or crisis and the ability just to seek advice from one of the Rabbanim has contributed a great deal to the overall community dynamic.
It is important to note, that all learning and services are done in the style and tradition of the residents’ heritage. For example, in Moshav Ptachia, we ensured that the chazan be Sefardi and lead in the style with which they are most comfortable. Study materials materials are either neutral or Sefardi. In this way, they do not learn someone else’s traditions, but rather that of their forefathers.
Plans for expansion:
We seek to expand the current successful outreach efforts to all 22 communities in need. To strengthen relationships and be more on hand for the residents, we would like to have one of our professionals take residence in each neighborhood and oversee all religious activities including but not limited to minyanim, eruv, mikvah, bnai-mitzva preparation, holiday and spiritual guidance, as well as building a community proud of its heritage and communal religious life.
We also aim to build or renovate mikvaot in the moshavim where there is a need. A final and main goal is to create a school which will offer a Jewish education to children from all 22 communities. Building and basic infrastructure has already been secured. We will soon be seeking funding to set up and run the school.
The budget we’ve created for Nishmas Kedoshim reflects the program as we would like to implement it in 2020 with two full time residential and 20 part time educational teams. Our programming now runs in 12 communities, we will expand according to the funding acquired.
We ask that ------ join us in bringing back the beloved heritage and culture to communities who are seeking something they cannot define. The disconnect created loss of history and direction is taking a toll on thousands of young Jews. The difference in their lives and sense of pride when exposed to the beauty of their heritage affects all aspects of their lives- not only do they connect to their Judaism, but to one another and to fellow Jews. Their sense of purpose and direction are palpable. Nishmas Kidoshim is dedicated to bringing back their past while giving them a future. Please join us.
The Founder and Director: Rabbi Daniel Travis attended the Bronx High School of Science where he was the editor of the school paper, involved in a Westinghouse project, and training for the Olympic 400 meter hurdles. He became interested in Torah study and moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1986. Since then he has published 20 books in English and Hebrew and directs Nishmas Kedoshim, a kiruv program based on Moshavim in Israel as well as Kollel Toras Chaim, a program to develop poskim who can assume a role of Jewish leadership.
|Community Outreach Teams||$400 per community per month (currently 12 - aiming for 22)||$105,600|
|In-House Resident||Two full-time at $1,500 per community per month||$66,000|
|Program Expenses||Advertising, food, educational materials, gas, heating||$9,400|