Thirty years ago, Aish began to play an important role in the Jewish community on the West Side of Manhattan. The unstoppable Rabbi Yitz Greenman and a group of young Aish Rabbis who lived there, had many Jews over to their homes for Shabbos meals. They built an outreach shul on 83rd street which was packed every Shabbos. As the times changed and the Rabbis’ families grew, they moved out of Manhattan. Although Aish New York continued to facilitate programming, it has been a long time since Aish Rabbis have lived on the West Side.
It was with this background in mind that I was excited to attend the housewarming party for the Freiberg family. Rabbi Saj Freiberg has been working with Aish NY for the past few years. A charismatic and passionate educator, Rabbi Saj had been commuting every week to New York from his home in Florida. When Covid struck he was able to continue to study with hundreds of Jews through zoom. As the world has started to open up, he and his wonderful Rebbetzin Hadassa decided that they would be more effective if they moved to New York. After a serious search, a terrific apartment was procured on 99th street and we all gathered to celebrate.
The atmosphere was electric. Rabbi Saj spoke with tremendous enthusiasm about the launch of the Jewish Wisdom Society. This is a program that runs throughout the year giving Jewish professionals an opportunity to explore Jewish ideas and texts. Rabbi Elliot Mathias spoke passionately about the roadmap to educating 3 million Jews by 2030 and how that road runs right through Manhattan. It was exciting to see our online efforts dovetail so perfectly with in-person activities.
I took time throughout the night to get to know the people in the room. Many of them have been studying with Aish for years. Some were joining us for the first time. It was clear that it was an intelligent group with diverse levels of personal observance all seeking out wisdom. They intuitively seemed to understand that Judaism is so desperately needed in our lives today. Rabbi Elliot spoke about our soon to be launched “Clean Speech” campaign in New York. With so much hate being thrown around our society we need to help focus the greater world on the power of words.