One of the fixtures of Aish in Jerusalem for over forty years is Rabbi Gil Eisenbach. Rav Gil, as he is warmly known by our students, has been coordinating the prayers at the Aish yeshiva for many years. So many who are not familiar with how to communicate with the Almighty have been guided by the gentle yet passionate approach of Rav Gil.
This past week, Rav Gil arranged a makeshift bar mitzvah for a middle aged man who lives in Saudi Arabia and had never been called to the Torah for an aliyah. The gentleman came to our attention through Aish Essentials coordinator, Rabbi Stuart Schwartz. After his aliyah, Aish students threw candy and celebrated with dancing as is customary at a bar mitzvah. The next day, Rav Gil arranged for him to receive his first pair of tefilin (phylacteries).
I was so overwhelmed by this story. So many Jews have never had basic Jewish experiences. They have not opted out of our religion, rather, they were never given a chance to experience the beauty of being an active Jew. We must all offer our brothers and sisters who are not connected to their Judaism a chance to experience its splendor.
I always enjoy spending the 4th of July in Israel. It is a constant reminder of the strong bond between Israel and the United States. So many of the founding fathers of America were well versed in the Bible and created a democracy unlike any that had come before it based on the Bible’s values. The concept of freedom of religion was an incredible and innovative approach at that time.
The highlight of the day was the celebration at the US Embassy. The party was also a farewell for Ambassador Tom Nides who is soon departing his role. Tom has become a good friend of Aish. At one of our programs on the roof of Aish, I presented the Ambassador with a picture of him praying at the Western Wall (in an Aish kippa). I reminded him to always reflect on that moment of prayer during tough times and to know that the Almighty is with him.
While the event was festive, everyone was mindful that as we were celebrating, the soldiers of the IDF were carrying out a dangerous mission to weed out terrorists in Jenin. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about the operation and it is clear that both Israel and the US must always stand shoulder to shoulder against terror.
Amidst the celebrations, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by the legendary news anchor, Greta Van Susteren. It was a wide ranging conversation where we spoke about geopolitics, antisemitism and freedom of religion in Israel. I have done many media appearances over the years but this was definitely the highlight. Greta is highly intelligent and asked difficult and thoughtful questions.
I had a depressing moment when she asked me about the involvement of so many Jews in the movement to boycott Israel. I told her that so many of these Jews were unfortunately taken in by the propaganda and demonization of Israel. Much of it takes place on social media. It made me realize that at Aish we must redouble our efforts to reach these Jews. We must communicate the beauty of being a part of the Jewish nation. It really is great to be a Jew. The Jewish people brought morality and ethics to the world. Let us all increase our efforts to embrace our extended Jewish family throughout the world.