This past week, I was honored to join the Hytman family in Toronto for the wedding of their son Ari to Hadar Elyovich. Rav Yehuda Weinberg joined me from Jerusalem. The highlight of the evening for me was spending time at the wedding with Leslie Dan, grandfather of the groom, who celebrated his 95th birthday the day before. Leslie was close friends with our founder Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt”l and Aish’s first International President Harvey Hecker zt”l. He told me how excited he is for the future of Aish and insisted that we had to take a picture together with his children Stuart and Andrea. His joy and optimism was truly infectious and I am honored to call him my friend.
It was also energizing to spend time with some of the staff of Aish Toronto. It is exciting to see how the local efforts have emerged as strong as ever after Covid. I called the new President of Aish Toronto, Oren Rosen, to tell him all of the good things the staff was saying about him behind his back! I also spent time with Rabbi Tzvi Sytner and Rabbi Avram Rothman who run two of the Aish shuls in Toronto, the Aish Thornhill Community Shul and the Village Shul, which are both thriving and growing. It was invigorating to see one of the oldest Aish branches continuing to blossom and develop.
From Toronto I traveled to Israel to spend some much needed time on our new budget and strategic plan for 2023. As we enter the third year of our ten year plan we are focused on the pathway to connecting 3 million Jews to Jewish wisdom. AishVision 2030 isn’t just a slogan. We live and breathe our mission every day. In seven years we have TRIPLED our budget. That type of growth requires a lot of work. I want to thank all of you who have made your year end gifts to Aish. For all those who have not yet had the opportunity to donate, please partner with us and support the most important movement in the Jewish world today.
When I am in Jerusalem I have the habit of praying at the Western Wall at sunrise. Many times I meet visitors there and occasionally give impromptu tours of Aish. This past Wednesday I bumped into Rabbi Mayer Freedman and his son Aryeh Yehuda. Rabbi Freedman works in New Jersey with Torah Links, an outstanding Jewish engagement organization. He reminded me that we met fifteen years ago when I spoke to the Jerusalem Kollel of which he was then a part. I invited him to come up to the roof for our magnificent view of the Temple Mount.
While we were up there he told me that his son Aryeh Yehuda had just had his Bar Mitzvah. Aryeh’s dream had always been to visit Israel so he worked at a number of jobs and saved enough money to buy his own ticket. I was so moved by his story. Recently, a former student of mine named Monica Fischman from Detroit asked me an amazing question. She queried how to explain to American Jews who question why so many engaged Jewish families seem to obsess about going to Israel. We send our children and try to go to Israel at every opportunity that we can. To many unconnected Jews it seems like an unnecessary expense.
My response to her was that no one ever asks why people go to their grandparents’ home so often. Even if it’s costly. They are family and that is all the explanation that is needed. Israel is the land of our forefathers. It’s where our family lives. It’s home for us. We must all come to Israel as much as we can. The world needs to know that there is only one Jewish country and every Jew must support it. I look forward to hosting all of you at the Dan Family Aish World Center, your home in Jerusalem.