The Orthodox Union has hired its first Southeast regional director, Naftali Herrmann, based in Boca Raton, Fla.
Herrmann’s region covers Georgia, Florida, the Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana (no OU-affiliated congregation operates in Mississippi). His office’s support to synagogues and communities will include Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, and youth movement NCSY.
Barbara Lehmann Siegel, an OU vice president and the lay chairwoman of the OU’s community and synagogue services department, said Herrmann “will serve as our ambassador to strengthen the bond between the OU and the region’s Jewish communities, as well as to deepen the relationships among the various synagogue communities.”
The OU’s decision to open a Southeast office is a response to the concentration of Jews in South Florida, the second-largest Jewish community in the United States, said Rabbi Judah Isaacs, the OU’s director of community and synagogue services.
“We feel it is imperative to fully and robustly service that burgeoning Jewish presence,” he said. “The OU also aims to bring to the entire Southeast network of Orthodox synagogues and communities positive vitality, shared resources, programming ideas and solutions to varied challenges. We deliver strength in numbers and are a respected, powerful voice in the political arena. Naftali Herrmann will listen, ask and learn from the region’s rabbis and lay leaders to help determine their communities’ and synagogues’ individual challenges and needs.”
Rabbi Isaacs said Herrmann will help synagogues fulfill a role as the gateway to the full range of OU services. “Naftali’s personable nature, his enthusiasm and depth of experience augur well for deepening relationships within both the OU family and the general Southeast Jewish community.”
Herrmann, who grew up in Suffern, N.Y., and his wife, Shani, a pediatric nurse practitioner, are members of the Boca Raton Synagogue.
“I was very fortunate and blessed to have grown up in a home and community in which the foundation was built on tzedakah and chessed,” Herrmann said. “From the leadership of my parents to the synagogue we all davened and grew in, I was constantly surrounded by people who strove to make the world a better place.”
He worked for the OU in New York as the director of community outreach and engagement and Yachad.
“While this is a brand-new initiative, the Southeast office is not an island,” Herrmann said. “I am in constant communication with other regional directors throughout the country, and we are joining forces and working together so that we don’t need to re-create the wheel in addressing the different issues in our constituencies.”
He said his work will begin by developing relationships with the region’s rabbis, synagogue lay leaders and other Jewish organizations. “I come from a social work background, and the first step is going to be us listening and learning. We need to better understand each unique community’s story so we can properly address the needs of their synagogues and beyond. Simultaneously, we also need to do a better job of articulating and telling the OU story. Who and what is the OU? What does it mean to be an OU shul? How can the OU help?”