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A Precious Soul

As I have traveled extensively these past two months, I have found one commonality wherever I go. During prayers, no matter what type of synagogue I am in, we recite Psalms for the soldiers of the IDF and for those who are still being held hostage in Gaza. This past week in Israel, I had the opportunity to speak at length with one of the parents of the hostages kidnapped on 10/7. The strength of these families and their ongoing faith in the Almighty is truly breathtaking. It is hard to begin to imagine the pain they are experiencing, not knowing the whereabouts or the condition of their loved ones for 77 days. We must all continue to pray for the return of all of our brothers and sisters.


family members of hostages in Israel


I had the honor of visiting one of my favorite communities in North America this week. Chicago has long stood as a bastion of Jewish life and growth in the diaspora. As a major city that traditionally never had an Aish branch, I am always moved that every Jew I encounter in Chicago has been influenced and uplifted by One gentleman I met explained to me in great detail how an video by the great Jewish leader, Charlie Harary changed his life and inspired him to start a Jewish camp! 


Rabbi Steven Burg and Charlie Harary


My meetings gave me a chance to hear what’s happening in the local Jewish community in Chicago. It also gave me the opportunity to explain where we are up to on AISHVision 2030 and how our next phase of building digital verticals of community can help bring so many unaffiliated Jews into the local Jewish community. When we launched our 10 year plan almost three years ago and suggested that we would attempt to influence three million of our brothers and sisters, many seemed skeptical. Now that we have surpassed our three million mark and are attempting to enrich and deepen their experiences, we are finding no shortage of partners and cheerleaders.


Rabbi Steven Burg with Jewish community members in Chicago


My friends, tonight marks one of the darkest moments in Aish history. It also commemorates one of the lowest moments in my own personal Jewish journey in leading Aish. Eight years ago on 11 Tevet on the Hebrew calendar, we received a call that one of our dearest faculty members, Rabbi Reuven Biermacher HY”D was slaughtered as he left the Old City of Jerusalem. I remember rushing to the hospital only being told as I arrived that he had succumbed to his wounds. He was a gentle giant who always wore a smile. I think often of his wife and seven children who lost their husband and father that day. I remember going to the funeral with our students, most of whom had never attended a Jewish funeral before.


Aish students singing together


We made an important decision at that time that we would never forget Rabbi Biermacher’s life and sacrifice at Aish. We put up a memorial plaque at the Beis Medrash door he exited after he had finished teaching Torah. Each year we march from that spot and follow his route through the Old City of Jerusalem until we reach the place where he was martyred. We sing and pray there, letting the world know that the Jewish Nation will not be cowed into submission. 


It is clear to me that the violent pro-terror demonstrations which we are witnessing today have only one conclusion. To embolden antisemites to shed more Jewish blood. Any campus leader who is standing idly by and allowing demented individuals to call for genocide against the Jews has blood on their hands. These demonstrations emboldened terrorists and put machetes in the hands of the terrorists who snuffed out Rabbi Biermacher’s life in the most horrific circumstances. 


My friends, over the last two months the world has removed its mask and is now divided into good and evil. There are those that cheer on rape, kidnapping and murder of women and children. Then there are those that stand with the Jewish Nation. I urge all of you to remember Rabbi Biermacher tonight at your Shabbos table. Remember this amazing educator who chose a path of Godliness and came to Israel from his home in Argentina. Remember his seven children who grew up these last years without their beloved father. Remember his Rebbetzin who lost her husband and best friend. We must NEVER FORGET the sacrifice of the Jews who were killed only because they were Jews. May the Almighty hear our prayers and speedily return all the hostages to their families. May He protect and keep all of the heroic soldiers of the IDF safe.