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From the Brooklyn Nets to the White House

As the CEO of Aish, I find myself in many different venues representing all of you. Some are fun and others are more serious. All of them are interesting. So when Rabbi Elliot Mathias reached out to me to ask if I wanted to attend a Brooklyn Nets game in a private suite I quickly said yes. What emerged was an amazing evening filled with excitement and even a bit of Jewish wisdom.


Rabbi Steven Burg & Rabbi Elliot Mathias at a Brooklyn Nets Game


A number of years ago we thought long and hard about how to engage Israeli millennials. So many young Jews come out of the IDF idealistic and committed to the Jewish Nation. Was there a way to harness that energetic spirit and keep it directed to assisting the Jewish people. What ensued was an initiative called TLI which stands for Triumph Leadership Innovation. In the TLI program, Israeli men and women just starting out in their careers are mentored by successful business leaders. The participants are also given a healthy taste of Jewish wisdom and tools to apply this wisdom in the business world. 


TLI is so successful in Israel that we now have alumni all over Israel who appreciate the role of Jewish values in their lives. Many of you read my account of Aish TLI alumnus Captain Ron Afrimi HY”D a few weeks ago who fell in battle in Gaza. Truly, the Aish TLI members are the best of the best. Some of our alumni have found themselves in New York and wanted to start a similar program locally. As a result, we are very proud that we now have a cohort in New York City. One of the speakers for this group was the dynamic CEO of BSE Global, Sam Zussman who, as part of his career path, served as a Lieutenant in the IDF. His portfolio includes managing the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center. Sam was so taken by the Aish TLI group that he offered to host us at a Nets game. 


Aish TLI members at the Brooklyn Nets


Our group had a fun filled night in Sam’s suite filled with kosher food. During halftime we gathered for a photo and I was asked to say a few words. I shared with them that in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, named for the father-in-law of Moses, the verses detail Yitro’s analysis of Moses’ management style. Moses sat in judgment of the Jewish Nation all day long. Yitro pointed out that it would be more efficient to name managers to handle the case loads. Moses took Yitro’s advice and the servicing of the Jews became more efficient. I pointed out that 3000 years ago we were already giving the world management tools and we must look to our heritage as a guide to the future. I left the game feeling that the future of the Jewish people is bright with these young Jews in place to lead. 


Rabbi Burg & Jamie Geller at the White House


From Brooklyn I headed to Washington DC for a long overdue trip. I have been traveling to DC for the past few decades to represent the Jewish people on varying levels of political engagement. Usually I travel by myself to attend these meetings. For the past few years I have been telling Aish CMO, Jamie Geller, that she needed to accompany me to Washington. Aish’s ability to reach more Jews through social media than any other current effort is an important story. It’s a story that the US government is well aware of and needs to be acknowledged in a thoughtful way. So Jamie and I met in Washington for an extraordinary day.


Rabbi Burg & Jamie Geller inside the White House


We went to the White House with a camera crew in tow to document our trip. It took many bomb sniffing dogs a while to clear all of our equipment. We then spent quality time touring the White House and engaged in important conversations about Israel and the Jewish people. Everywhere I go with Jamie is a VIP experience because with billions of lifetime views online, she is recognized by nearly everyone. We did some extensive taping in the Indian Treaty Room located in the East Wing. I won’t go into details here as Jamie has a plan to release our work on social media. Suffice it to say that it was an experience of a lifetime for us both.


Rabbi Burg & Jamie Geller recording at the White House


We also stopped at the US State Department for an important conversation with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt who currently serves as the United States Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism. We were thrilled to be able to interview the Ambassador at the State Department. It was a fascinating conversation which covered her work around the world. From sharing with us the Jewish wisdom she told over to Pope Francis, to describing rising antisemitism in the Asian world, it was both an inspiring and depressing conversation. 


Deborah Lipstadt speaking with Rabbi Burg & Jamie Geller


Towards the end of the interview I asked the Ambassador about her title. We had spoken about monitoring antisemitism, but I was wondering what she thought young Jews could do to combat the rampant hatred of Jews. She said that there was no magic bullet. Yet, perhaps most importantly we must make sure young Jews have a strong Jewish identity because that is crucial for weathering the global antisemitic storm that is raging. Ambassador Lipstadt said unequivocally that Aish was playing a crucial role in strengthening the Jewish identity and commitment of Jews around the world.


Rabbi Burg, Jamie Geller & Deborah Lipstadt


Hearing these words was so moving to me. The Jewish people are under constant attack around the world. While we must fight back, we must also make sure the next generation has strong Jewish values. We must not allow the haters to determine who we are. We are the Jewish people. We are the children of the Almighty. We are the nation that gifted morality and ethics to the world. The Jewish people are and always will be strong. From Aish TLI to the millions of Jews who study and grow with Aish around the globe, we are committed to keeping our Nation strong. That is the only way to weather the current storm of venomous hate. Let us not allow others to define who we are. Let us celebrate the courage and tenacity of our Nation every day. Am Yisrael Chai!