I started this past week in Washington at a special event. Just before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us were gathered at the AIPAC Convention with 18,000 people. I was asked to speak at their pre-convention Shabbaton, so I was there for a few days. I remember seeing some bottles of Purell strategically placed, and some attendees had chosen to fist bump instead of shake hands. That was the last major gathering that many of us attended before the worldwide lockdown.
Therefore it was personally momentous to be able to attend the first major gathering for AIPAC in three years. Although the numbers were smaller by design, it was an important gathering as AIPAC shared its new vision and mission with some of their most important members. It was great to spend time with Aish partners Bob Diener, Josef Loeffler, and Seth Damski, and it got my creative juices flowing. I started to think about how we can convene all of you to think about how to make AishVision 2030 a reality. Stay tuned for some upcoming events focused on our movement to create a more Judaically literate Jewish nation. I also want to wish my colleagues at AIPAC the greatest success as they work towards strengthening the bond between Israel and the United States.
I had to leave the conference early to attend one of the best Aish events I have ever attended. A few months ago, my good friend and Aish partner Henry Siegel had the opportunity to hear Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan speak at an event. He called me to tell me how impressed he was with Ambassador Erdan. Henry knows that Ambassador Erdan has worked with Aish many times over the years, and that we are personal friends. Years ago when the Ambassador was an MK in Israel, he directed funding towards training young Jews to defend Israel on campus through Aish’s Hasbara Fellowships.
That was Ambassador Erdan’s first encounter with our movement. Since then he has brought hundreds of UN ambassadors from around the world to the Dan Family Aish World Center for educational presentations about the 3300 year history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Last year Aish facilitated a mock Passover Seder at the United Nations for over 75 ambassadors. I still remember Rabbi Etiel Goldwicht bravely asking all the ambassadors to hold hands as we sang Dayenu together!
Henry and I immediately started to strategize hosting an intimate dinner at his home with Ambassador Erdan and a small group of Aish partners. That is how we found ourselves this past Tuesday night at the Siegel’s home for one of the most fascinating dinners I have ever attended. First, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to meet Ambassador Erdan’s wife, Shlomit who not only is accomplished in her own right, but moved her family to New York during the pandemic, which made the transition even harder. Many thanks to Aish partner Steven H. Hirth who acknowledged how difficult that must have been, and thanked her publicly in the most beautiful way.
The dinner was classy and delicious as Henry and Talia Siegel are incredible hosts. The conversation was fascinating as it ranged from Israel’s role in the Russia-Ukraine war to the working relationship Israel has with the US administration, and the formation of the current Israeli government. For a while, Ambassador Erdan had been the first person ever to simultaneously hold both the UN Ambassador position and the Israeli Ambassador to Washington role. That gave him a truly unique perspective.
There were two moments that stood out for me. The first was when Henry kicked off the evening sharing how Jewish wisdom had never played a major role in his life until his good friend Steven Bram introduced him to Aish. Since then he has studied with a number of Aish rabbis. He said that as a result of his exposure to Jewish wisdom he has become a better “friend, father and husband.” It was really moving to hear Henry explain the important, qualitative role Jewish wisdom has played in his life.
The other moment was listening to Ambassador Erdan talk about the respect that he has for Aish and the important role that we play for the Jewish people and Israel. I said at the meal that you can’t have Judaism without Israel or Israel without Judaism. They are inseparable and critical to the life mission of a Jew. To hear someone of the caliber of Ambassador Erdan relate how crucial Aish’s global role is was incredibly validating for all of us at Aish.
To put it bluntly, we have a mission at Aish. We know that the knowledge that we possess can change lives for the better. The knowledge that we possess can influence nations. The knowledge that we possess can make the world a better place. We must facilitate the dissemination of that knowledge and make it easily attainable for all. May the Almighty give us the strength to increase our efforts towards AishVision 2030 and help us find more partners like Ambassador Erdan.