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Nothing is Stronger Than the Broken Heart of a Jew

As with any Jewish organization, these past few months I have had a hard time not seeing our work through any lens other than that of a post-October 7th world. Two videos within the last few days have brought this home to me. These were not Aish-generated content per se, but for me, they had enormous connections. The first was a clip of the testimony of Shabbos Kestenbaum in front of Congress. 

Shabbos is an incredible young man who came to study at the Aish Yeshiva. As I got to know him during his time with us in Jerusalem it was clear that he was a leader. While at Aish, he discovered our founder Rav Noach Weinberg’s famous classes on the 48 ways for Jews to live their lives. After his first year studying at Aish, he went back to the camp where he grew up in Pennsylvania. Later that summer I received a picture with an enormous group of young Jewish kids. Shabbos had taught them all the 48 ways, and they were celebrating the completion of their study. He has always been a person of thoughtfulness and integrity. 

Fast forward to this year when he was a graduate student at Harvard’s Divinity School. Like many other Harvard students, he was the recipient of a tremendous wave of antisemitism after October 7th. Shabbos did not take the bullying lying down. He was incredibly outspoken, to the point where he received physical threats from those who sought to demonize the Jewish people. Yet he has not stopped calling out malicious hate on the Harvard campus and he was asked to testify in Congress about the toxic atmosphere for Jews at Harvard.


Shabbos Kestenbaum speaking in front of Congress


Watching Shabbos’ speech, I took enormous pride in seeing him defend his people. The world would like the Jews to keep silent as they persecute us relentlessly. Thankfully, we have produced a generation of young Jews who can stand up for what they believe in. At Aish, we have always conveyed the message of leadership. Leadership means standing up and saying the truth, even if no one wants to hear it. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent studying at Harvard Business School. The skills I developed there have helped me rebuild Aish. Yet, I cannot ignore the cesspool of hate that it has now become. I am so proud of Shabbos Kestenbaum for taking a stand. 

Just yesterday, someone forwarded me a video of a young woman named Senai Guedalia speaking about her husband. I immediately recognized her husband’s name, Yosef Guedalia. Just last week I passed by his grave on Mt. Herzl where I went together with a mission from the West Side Institutional Synagogue. At this cemetery, there is a section where the heroes of the October 7th war were buried. Right after the war started I took our executive staff to the South to see things first-hand. As leaders, we needed to understand what happened and how we could help. We started the day by stopping in the Guedalia home to pay our respects.


Aish leaders at the home of Yosef Gedulia


I remember saying to Yosef’s father that his son reminded me of King David who was a warrior and a Jewish scholar who went to war to defend his people and also taught Torah classes. He responded that the person before me compared him to Joshua, Moses’s successor. It was clear that we were in the presence of greatness. Yosef was great and so was the Guedalia family. I was so taken aback by the encounter that I asked the team to write an article about Yosef for the world to know how special he was.


Yosef Guedalia


I also remember vividly seeing his wife sitting on the traditionally low chair mourning her husband of only one year and thinking to myself that this is the true cost of war. She exuded a special kind of sanctity and holiness. It was very crowded and I didn’t have a chance to speak with her, but her poise and demeanor spoke to her values. I was especially thankful when someone sent me a video of her telling her story in her own words, and explaining who Yosef was, and the strength of their relationship.


Yosef and Senai Guedalia


Listening to how Yosef left in a hurry to save his Jewish brothers and sisters on the horrible day, moves the soul. He went from dancing with the Torah to fighting one of the greatest evils the world has ever known. The cost of being a Jew has never been more clear than when one watches this video. I defy any Jew to watch Senai’s interview and not cry. We are crying for Yosef. We are crying for Senai. We are crying for the enormous loss that we have all felt and internalized. The Jewish people have had their hearts broken in a very real way. Where do we go from here?


Senai and her husband Yosef Guedalia


I had the honor of attending the Project Inspire convention this past Shabbos with my family. It was a gathering of over a thousand Jews who want to reach out to their unaffiliated brothers and sisters across the world. I was given the task of delivering the sermon on Shabbos morning. It was a daunting task as great luminaries including Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau were in the audience. I mentioned a question that my good friend Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, a well-known Rav in Passaic, N.J. had once shared with me. Everything in the Beis HaMikdash was perfectly crafted and beautiful, except for one thing. Inside the holiest vessel, in the holiest spot, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, were the broken tablets containing the Ten Commandments. According to Jewish law, broken holy items must be buried. Why keep the broken tablets around, and in such a prominent space? 

I believe it is to teach us the lesson that some things that are broken can be stronger than steel. That item is the heart of a Jew. Our collective hearts were broken on October 7th. Yet, what the world doesn’t understand is that there is nothing more determined, stronger, daunting, fierce, indefatigable, and relentless than the broken heart of a Jew. When you hurt our brothers and sisters, we will pursue you to the ends of the earth. We may do it through tears and heartache but the Jews are the strongest family unit ever created. We never ever abandon one another. 

The founder of the Aish movement, Rav Noach Weinberg, was often quoted as saying “ If you don’t know what you are willing to die for, you haven’t really begun to live”. So many Jews have demonstrated that they are willing to die for one another. We are a family and family defends one another when attacked. Yosef Guedalia made the ultimate sacrifice so that the Jews of Israel could continue to live. Senai Guedalia is living with that sacrifice and staying strong. Shabbos Kestenbaum, who has had to have armed security guards accompany him around campus is fighting the good fight for the Jews of Harvard. 

We are broken. We are hurting. The fight is not over. We possess the most important gift that the Almighty ever bestowed on this world. The Heart of a Jew. There is nothing stronger. There is nothing more fierce. It will prove to be the determining factor as we will ultimately be victorious. We must all continue to come closer to each other and closer to the Almighty. United we shall overcome. Divided we always fall. Love is the glue that will keep us all together.