Thank you to all who responded so positively to my email last week. I was incredibly moved by the tsunami of replies I received to the question of what is Aish’s “Why.” I apologize that I wasn’t able to personally reply to all of your emails, but rest assured that I read everyone of them and I am incorporating your thinking into our process. I will share more on this effort in the coming weeks. The beauty of Aish is that we never rest on our laurels. Every day is a day to grow and improve all that we do. Thank you for being a part of ‘Team Aish!’
This week I had the honor of attending Olami’s North American conference. Olami is a wonderful organization which has grown tremendously over the past few years. They have taken upon themselves the responsibility to help organize international efforts to work with Jewish millennials. In service of this mission, they have built a global community to help young Jewish adults view their lives through the prism of Judaism.
The gathering, their first since before Covid, brought together rabbis and educators from all over the world. The vibe was electric. There was so much passion in the room for the mission of connecting Jews to their heritage. I was blessed to be asked to sit on a panel with the talented Rabbi Naftali Schiff who leads Aish UK, among his many other responsibilities, for a discussion on how to implement positive organizational culture. My good friend Charlie Harary moderated the panel. One of the most interesting takeaways was the question of structure and culture in smaller organizations. I felt that knowing where you are headed and elevating your staff is imperative no matter what the size of your institution. Rabbi Schiff spoke beautifully about how to make sure your staff feels appreciated and part of the mission.
Since I have been working within the Jewish community for over 30 years, it was amazing to reunite with so many former students and junior colleagues of mine who have grown to lead their own institutions. I even reconnected with my former high school teacher, Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, who is a powerhouse educator for Meor DC. The connection and friendship between the educators was inspiring. I was reminded of a beautiful quote from Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Kudos to Olami for facilitating and strengthening these bonds. I believe that as important as the community is for their students, the community they have built for their educators is just as important.
The highlight of the conference was the banquet which featured many inspiring speeches. It was terrific to see Aish Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzchok Berkovits appear on their video multiple times. The most inspirational speech was the shortest! The person who has had the vision and drive to build Olami has been Aaron Wolfson. In his day job, Aaron is an uber-successful businessman, but clearly his passion is elevating and ensuring successful outreach to young Jews. I was blessed to have a relationship with Aaron’s father, Zev Wolfson, zt’l.
Sitting with Zev was an experience. He was always pushing those involved with Jewish outreach to think bigger. When I had an idea 20 years ago to start an organization called JSU to reach Jewish teens in public schools, he was one of the first people I went to for guidance and support. Zev challenged me then to think big and as a result we went national.
Seeing Aaron at the conference made me think of Zev and how proud he would be to see his son continuing in his footsteps. I watched Aaron give every person in the room the warmest embrace. He was not playing the role of donor that night. He was a full partner in the mission. Aaron gave the last speech of the night with little fanfare. Praising the energy of the rabbis, he spoke about how hard the work is. He repeated multiple times: “I could never do what you all do and that is why I have so much respect for all of you.” It was sincere and straight from the heart. There is a phrase in Hebrew that words that come from the heart enter easily to another’s heart. Aaron’s words fit that description.
Rav Noach never used the word donor. He always referred to everyone as a partner. Partners function on an equal playing field. Partnership means love and respect for one another. It is clear that the reason that Olami has done such great work and is achieving impressive results is a result of a true partnership. The partnership between the staff of Olami and the educators. The partnership between the funders and the professionals. The partnership between the educators themselves. There is no greater joy that the Almighty has then to see his children working hand in hand towards the betterment of our nation. Thank you Olami for providing a passionate Jewish path for young Jews around the world.