With Florida’s Jewish community continuing its explosive growth, Agudath Israel of Florida has expanded rapidly in recent years and this past week saw Agudath Israel of America’s debut conference of synagogue rabbonim in its southeastern region.
Interest in the December 21st conference ran high, with some 20 rabbonim representing the Sunshine State’s southeast corridor stretching from West Palm Beach to Miami taking part in the one day event.
After opening remarks by Rabbi Moshe Matz, executive director, Agudath Israel of Florida, who led a discussion on activities and goals to be pursued, Rabbi Eliezer Gewirtzman, member Machon Chayim Aruchim, provided an informative and detailed look at the Agudah’s Chayim Aruchim division which advocates for the religious rights of patients in end of life situations. Rabbi Mordechai Biser, general counsel for both Agudath Israel of America and Chayim Aruchim, discussed Agudah’s legal efforts as well as understanding ever-changing tax issues that pertain to rabbonim including parsonage and discretionary funds.
Rabbi Labish Becker, executive director of Agudath Israel of America, traced the history of the Agudah’s rabbonim conference which began in New York three decades ago and has spread to other large Jewish communities nationwide. Rabbi Becker noted that while individual rabbonim can create programs and challenges for their kehillos, structuring projects involving multiple shuls can be an extremely effective method of inspiring participants who feel that they are part of a larger movement. Rabbi Becker also noted the importance of creating a support system for rabbonim who can benefit greatly by networking with their peers.
Rabbi Hillel David, one of the most senior rabbonim in America, shared his own insights into the rabanus and the many unprecedented challenges facing rabbis today. He stressed the importance of Torah study to combat contemporary cultural influences and also discussed dealing with sensitive issues that rabbonim often confront. Drawing on his own decades of experience as a rov, Rabbi David spoke warmly, providing attendees with suggestions on how to inspire their kehillos to greater devotion and taking the time for a lively question and answer session.
Rabbi Matz described feedback to the conference as “very positive,” noting that he has already been inundated with requests for follow-up events.
“Quite a few participants told me they have ideas that they want to discuss in greater depth and that they plan on working together and setting up follow up meetings to come up with even more initiatives,” said Rabbi Matz. “It is encouraging to see so many rabbonim engaged in this conversation and I am looking forward to seeing what develops as a result of this outstanding conference.”
Agudath Israel of America opened its Florida offices 20 years ago and is heavily involved in education funding, helping to bring significant government funding into the yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs of Florida. He noted that in recent years South Florida has been attracting a younger population and Agudath Israel of Florida is continuing to evolve in order to address the changing needs of the local Jewish population.
“It is an interesting challenge and we are happy to be able to provide essential community services to area residents,” said Rabbi Matz.