Ohr Somayach Conquers Australia
According to Rabbi Shlomo Weiner, a frequent visitor to the Land of the Antipodes, aka “Down Under”, Ohr Somayach graduates have been transforming the landscape of this South Indian Ocean continent. They have taken a leading role in outreach and community development there.
About three years ago, a former South African and Ohr Somayach Center alumnus, Rabbi Evan Widmonte, began a kiruv organization that he called “OHRSOM” (which happens to be the name of another very successful Ohr Somayach outreach offshoot organization in South Africa). OHRSOM targets non-religious university students in Melbourne. In July of 2017 OHRSOM and Rabbi Widmonte brought a group approximately 70 young men to the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem for a two-week learning and touring trip. A follow-up trip in January of 2018 (Summertime in Australia) brought 10 of those students back to the Yeshiva to learn full-time for a month. We are happy to report that all 10 are fully shomer Shabbat and shomer kashrut. This past July, the OHRSOM trip was comprised of approximately 50 participants. We expect at least 15 OHRSOM students for the January 2019 full-time learning program. These large numbers of interested young Jewish men eclipse any other similar program from anywhere else in the world. This is a tribute to the talents of Rabbi Widmonte and his staff. OHRSOM center is located in South Caulfield, a Melbourne suburb with a large, but mostly non-religious Jewish population. Many classes are offered throughout the week, and there is also a Friday night minyan. Two avreichim (young, married Torah scholars) of the famed Melbourne/Lakewood Kollel also tutor for OHRSOM. Both are former Ohr Somayach Center alums: Rabbis Myron Sacher and Dovid Cohen.
Recognizing the need for a similar program in Sydney, Rabbi Widmonte recently added another staff member, Rabbi Kosovsky, to head up a new OHRSOM branch in Sydney.
About eight years ago, a minyan of mostly Ohr Somayach alumni, including Gary Sher, Brett Cohen, Gavin Rosetenstein and Lior Stein, disturbed by the bars, beach party culture and lack of modesty in dress that is the character of many of the eastern suburbs such as Bondi, decided to move en masse to the northern part of the city. They chose St. Ives, which has both has a large modern Orthodox Jewish South African community and is far from the beaches. They moved to St. Ives about six years ago and established their own Shabbat minyan in the large Masada shul there. They appropriately and eponymously named their minyan “Ohr Hatzafon” (a name with a double meaning: “Northern Light” and “Hidden Light,” and, of course, contains the “Ohr” of Ohr Somayach). There are now approximately 40-50 men praying there on Shabbat. They hired a rabbi, another Ohr Somayach Center graduate, Barak Cohen, who is originally from Des Moines, Iowa. Not content with the level of Jewish education at the local Jewish school, three years ago they decided to start their own Torah-centered school, with limudei kodesh in the morning and secular studies in the afternoon. Rabbi Cohen is also the principal of the Day School, which now has an enrollment of approximately 50 children, and growing every year.
Three of OHRSOM’s students are now learning full-time in the Center Program at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. They are Aidan Nussbaum, Daniel Katz and Gabe Chait.