This past week our Executive team and our students accompanied by their teachers went to visit the Dee family as they were observing shiva for Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee. Rabbi Leo Dee shared an amazing story with our students. He said that when he was working on a kibbutz as a teenager, he attended an Aish Discovery seminar and that played an important role in his religious development. He shared that when he went back to university, he studied Talmud with an Aish Rabbi.
I was so happy to hear about the important role that Aish had played in the Dee family’s Jewish journey. This is the same story that I hear as I travel so often. So many Jews across the world have been accompanied on their lifelong Judaic search by the programs and classes that Aish has created. It is an honor to play this role for millions of Jews across the world.
For the past few days I have been participating as a delegate in the World Zionist Congress. It has been a fascinating experience spending time with Jews from different countries. There has been much discussion and debate about real issues facing Israel. I was in a three hour meeting addressing the current “law of return” in Israel. There is so much passion and determination in every room.
I was honored to have been asked by my good friend, WZO Chairman Yaakov HaGoel to chair the Final Resolution Committee meeting at the culmination of the Congress. This was not an easy task as so many folks feel so strongly about everything being discussed and want to be heard. I thought long and hard about the opening message that I wanted to deliver to this auspicious group.
I was inspired by a gentleman named Boris (Ben) Kogan who I sat next to at one of the sessions. When Ben saw my name tag he asked if I was related to Rabbi Melvin Burg, z’l from Flatbush. I told him he was my father. He said that my father had officiated at his marriage ceremony and how badly he felt about his passing. It was a moving conversation as my father was the type of rabbi who was very close to everyone that knew him. I decided then and there that I would speak about my own personal journey.
I talked about my father, whose father passed away when he was eleven. My grandfather helped smuggle weapons to Israel from the New York harbor while he worked as an inspector for the ships. This was before the creation of the State of Israel when these weapons were desperately needed. I then spoke about my father’s 50 year career in the rabbinate and his love of Israel. After my father passed away 18 months ago, my mother made aliya and brought with her his tefillin which he proudly wore at his congregation in Brooklyn.
This Shabbos in Ramat Beit Shemesh, my nephew Shimmy will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. As a Bar Mitzvah gift he received my father’s tefillin. That is the true testament of the Jewish people. My father, who loved the land of Israel his whole life, has a grandson wearing his tefillin every day in Israel. We must all focus on these beautiful stories that unite us in our love of the land and each other. Too many times we focus on that which divides us, but so much more connects us to each other.
We live in precarious times where the world still seeks to demonize the Jew. Antisemitism numbers are at record highs. We must come closer to one another as never before. We must seek to find commonalities. We are all brothers and sisters and must never forget that. I closed with a quote from Ronald Reagan. President Reagan once said: “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally – not a 20 percent traitor.” I keep that quote on my office wall to remind myself that so much more binds us together than divides us. We must constantly seek unity and brotherhood. This is what the Almighty desires above all else for His children.