Local Rabbi Accepted to Amplify Israel Rabbinic Fellowship | Shalom Austin

Local Rabbi Accepted to Amplify Israel Rabbinic Fellowship

The Jewish Outlook

Mar 1, 2024

Amplify Israel Rabbinic fellows meeting with Israeli Reform rabbis on Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmeq. Courtesy: Rabbi Kelly Levy

In August 2023, Rabbi Kelly Levy of Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, Texas,  was accepted into the pilot cohort of the Amplify Israel Rabbinic Fellowship. This fellowship for new career rabbis (ordained 15 years or fewer) comes out of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. The highly sought-after fellowship provides rabbis with enrichment programs, mentorship, and several opportunities to develop new skills that help to center Israel within their rabbinates. One of the highlights and most important aspects of the fellowship is a trip to Israel, which was scheduled for November 2023.

After the terror attacks in Israel on October 7, Senior Rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, Rabbi Amiel Hirsch, and Israel Fellow at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz,  gave the 13 rabbinic fellows a choice: opt-in for the planned Israel trip in November, change the trip to another, possibly safer time, or cancel the trip entirely. Nine of the fellows decided to go ahead with the previously scheduled journey, including Rabbi Levy.

Along with Rabbis Hirsch and Kaplowitz, the nine fellows traveled to Israel during one of the most trying and difficult times in Israeli history. Landing in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Monday, November 12, the fellows were struck by the quiet and lack of passengers typically bustling throughout the building. While the airport was quiet, the traffic was in full force that morning for the first time in six weeks, according to Rabbi Levy’s taxi driver.

During the next several days, the fellows met with dozens of speakers, each with specific expertise and experience. They heard from former members of the K’nesset (Israeli government), authors, reporters, Reform rabbis, CEOs and leaders within many organizations and more. Most significantly, the group met with families directly impacted by the events of October 7.

On the first full day of the trip, the fellows concluded a long day of learning by visiting Sheba Medical Center, a multi-faceted medical center providing care for patients recovering and receiving rehabilitation. Many of the patients were soldiers recuperating from battle fields, as well as survivors from Kibbutzim and other areas that were viciously attacked by terrorists. The fellows heard from Chief Medical Officer of Sheba Medical Center Dr. Rafi Walden. He introduced them to Avida, a rehab patient recovering from gunshot wounds and a subsequent right leg amputation from October 7. Avida shared his heart-wrenching story of survival in his family’s Mamad (safe room). Avida and his 13 year old daughter, who is recovering from shrapnel injuries, told their story, as well as the devastating loss of Avida’s wife and 15 year-old son during their ordeal.

The fellows continued their journey, listening and bearing witness to stories of survival and loss. They heard directly from families who had loved ones held hostage in Gaza. They met with Reform Rabbis working tirelessly to support their broken communities. The fellows volunteered at the Tel Aviv Expo center, sorting and packing donated clothes for evacuees and those who lost everything when their houses were lit on fire or bombed.

Leading up to the trip, the fellows were prepared to take shelter at least once a day, possibly more, during rocket attacks from Gaza. Every space they entered had signs and arrows pointing to the shelter in that building. Fortunately, the fellows only heard one azakah (siren) during their trip, which occurred in the midst of Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday evening services. While the experience left Rabbi Levy and the other fellows rattled, the Israelis praying with them during Shabbat services kept everyone calm and safe. The entire congregation came back to finish services after the azakah, which included the celebration of four conversion students.

The Amplify Israel journey in November was powerful, intense and completely unexpected from its original iteration. The fellows, especially Rabbi Levy, left with full hearts, minds and souls, ready to share their stories with the American Jewish community.

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