Dear Aish Family,
Most of my trips to Israel place me in Jerusalem. Many times I actually spend the whole trip in the Old City. While those trips are incredibly productive, I don’t get to spend as much time in the rest of Israel. This past week I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Tel Aviv, for three days of meetings as a Board Member of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).
JAFI is a fascinating NGO whose large operating budget gets funded by the Israeli Government, the World Zionist Organization (WZO), and Jewish Federations of North America. It has an interesting makeup within its board of people with diverse views on Judaism and the political landscape. I was heartened that even though we all held differing positions, we could come together for dialogue and conversation.
While I am happy to share my views with all of you regarding the topics and outcomes, there was one moment that stood out for me over the three days. I am on the budget and finance committee for the Jewish Agency so I attended our committee meeting on the first night. As we ran down the budget there was one major item that had not been planned for; the Ukraine-Russia war. As a result of the ongoing conflict, many Jews from that area were now coming to Israel to seek refuge and make aliya.
Over the past few months I have been hearing terrible stories out of Russia about the conscription of young men to the army who find themselves at the front of the war within a few weeks. One of my colleagues at the JAFI meetings told me stories of the evacuation of the Jewish community in Ukraine where the bus drivers would only take them so far, pulling off to the side of the road and demanding large sums of cash to continue. One suggestion at our meeting was for JAFI to maintain a part of the budget designated to address future war and conflict issues for Jews around the world. In many ways it was a surreal conversation.
At one point after discussing how much money was needed to address these emergency needs and how to maintain those amounts, a man sitting to my left asked to speak. Richard Pearlstone is a former Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee who had been involved for many years. He said that he remembered almost going bankrupt during the period that JAFI helped facilitate the Aliya of the Jewish Ethiopian community. He said that if Jews are in trouble anywhere around the world we can’t look at the cost, we must save them.
I was so taken by his words. I thanked him after the meeting. Jews are the only nation that refuse to recognize borders when our brothers and sisters are in trouble. What makes us a nation is that we take responsibility for each other. That is why when i24 asked me to do an interview about antisemitism I knew I had to prioritize that conversation. Even though I was on my way to the airport I felt I needed to stop in to convey the message that Jews are in trouble and we must educate the next generation of young Jews to fight for all of us online. You can see my comments here:
While in Tel Aviv I was able to spend some time at Aish’s new offices with Aish Israel leaders Rabbi Etiel Goldwicht and Rabbi Shimmy Kaufman. We spoke at length about their efforts to branch out into the social media space to help bring Israelis closer to Jewish wisdom. They are embarking on some creative and brilliant social media campaigns.
I was touched and honored to address alumni from the last few years of our Triumph Leadership mission. Every year Aish brings many young Israelis to the United States to engage American Jews and learn about how they can become leaders of world Jewry. I shared with them words of Torah about the importance of responsibility and telling them frankly that without this core belief we would cease to be a Nation. It was uplifting to hear them all describe the positions they have attained within Israeli society and how important the Aish mission has been to their development.
Our founder and mentor, Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt”l, built Aish on the core belief of taking responsibility. Our current Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits drives this point home incessantly every day to our students. Aish staff around the world feel this trait coursing through their veins. If someone asks you what it means to be a Jew I believe that the answer is simple.
We take responsibility for each other and ultimately the world at large. We were placed on this earth to be a light unto the nations. What so many forget is that to light our beacon WE must be strong. First we must build the Jewish people and then we can shine our light brilliantly across the globe. This is what drives us towards AishVision 2030. I urge all of you daily in your lives to double your efforts to take responsibility for each other and humanity. This is the holy mission that the Almighty entrusted us with. This is the mission of Aish.