As I approach my eight year anniversary at AISH, I am once again reflecting on the process of how I was hired. As most searches go, there was a standard hiring committee, however, there was so much lore to this experience. I actually met with close to a hundred people before I took the job. The members of the AISH family are incredibly dedicated and finding a CEO who would continue the spirit of what Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt’l had built was important. Spending time with one of the great rabbinical leaders of our generation, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit’a was an amazing part of the process.
In the end, what moved me the most was meeting the core group of five lay leaders who had taken it upon themselves to help restructure AISH to continue on after the devastating loss of our founding leader. There was an important meeting between eight AISH Rabbis and this group of five lay leaders where all the challenges of rebuilding our movement were laid out. As one of the Rabbis told me, they had no expectations going into the meetings, but knew that something had to be done. Not only did these five lay leaders listen to every word the Rabbis said over two days, but they walked out committing to find a way to rebuild AISH.
The group was composed of four men, Jake Aronov, Louis Mayberg, Jerry Lieberman, Dr. Stuart Hytman, and one powerhouse woman named Sandy Schiff. I still carry Jake Aronov’s card in my wallet with Sandy Schiff’s contact written on it because I met the two of them back to back and I knew that day that my life was about to change. This dynamic group rolled up their sleeves to rebuild AISH at a time when we were in dire financial straits. I knew as soon as I met them that these were the partners I had been searching for my entire life. Now, almost eight years later, they have never disappointed.
It was in this context that I was honored to travel to Denver this week to spend time with Sandy Schiff. As per our usual set meeting spot, we had lunch at the East Side Kosher Deli. We spent four hours catching up over their famous chili soup. We only ended because I had to run to pray the afternoon service and the deli staff had to reset the room for dinner. In truth, the time flew by. We are both passionate about the Jewish people. When you are spending time talking about the great love of your life, time becomes irrelevant.
We talked about the history of AISH HaTorah. One of the most iconic points of the Dan Family AISH World Center is the beautiful centerpiece sculpture by Dale Chihuly. In the original plans for the building, as you walked through the main entrance there was to be a spiral staircase that would lead to the upper level. Due to a “chance” meeting in Las Vegas with an employee of the Chihuly Gallery, Sandy came up with the concept of asking the world famous artist to craft a piece for AISH. I will tell the full story of how Sandy worked to make this happen at a later time. Suffice it to say this is a woman with extraordinary vision.
I reminded her that when I first came into AISH she had told me that working with our alumni was key. She was thrilled that we just had a large alumni reunion in Teaneck, NJ. Perhaps the most important advice Sandy ever gave me was to start a crowdfunding campaign, to leverage current donors, bring in new donors, and reactivate alumni. Sandy spoke about how she got started on her philanthropic journey as a young woman with Hadassah. She wanted to attend an event which was beyond her means at the time and asked them if she could raise the money instead of giving it. They agreed and she raised many times the entry fee. She never forgot their kindness and she now sits on many boards and has led scores of philanthropic campaigns. Sandy feels passionately that we need to teach the next generation to raise money.
I received a call from a close friend this week who is a lay leader at a prestigious Jewish high school in New Jersey. He asked me about our AISH AMPLIFY campaign and what my thoughts are regarding having the students raise money. Some on his board had expressed that it was distasteful to have students involved in fundraising campaigns. I told him that I felt that it was our sacred obligation to train the next generation of Jewish leaders to be active participants in philanthropy or as we like to call it “tzedaka.” Our AISH AMPLIFY campaign is crucial for the development of students because it allows them to passionately tell their story about why AISH is so meaningful to them. The funds we are raising are going to engage Jews we have NEVER met. I don’t believe there is a more important mission as a Jew.
I would ask all of you to please join us in our AISH AMPLIFY campaign. Please give as generously as you can and send out our link far and wide. We must support our brothers and sisters around the world. AISH has and always will be there for every Jew no matter where they are located. From Ukraine to Denver I have dedicated my life to telling every Jew I meet: “We will never forget you.” Please join Sandy and the entire AISH family as we achieve our philanthropic goal and tell the world that the Jewish Nation is alive and well. Am Yisroel Chai!