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Old Friends and Rekindling Relationships

Reconnecting with old friends is one of my favorite parts of my job. There is nothing like revisiting someone or a group from your past to see how they’ve grown and where they are today. When I took over as the CEO at Aish 9 years ago, I spent my first Friday night at the Kotel just trying to see what the vibe was. I immediately noticed a large group of Sephardim praying at the back of the Kotel Plaza. Amongst the group, I noticed my friend Jonathan Hazghiyan. He told me that he was there with members of the Mashadi community from Great Neck. They had 26 Bar Mitzvot that year and 800 members of the community came to Israel together. I was honored to join them for dinner that night. 


So it was with much excitement that my wife and I got to spend this past Shabbat with the Mashadi community in Great Neck. There are about 9000 Mashadi Jews that live there. The entire community left Iran after the fall of the Shah and rebuilt its communal institutions in the most beautiful way. I was honored to speak 8 times over Shabbat to all parts of their community. They were also blessed to host Rabbi Adam Abergel the director of Aish Sephardi in Jerusalem.  We have a daily Sephardic Minyan at Aish and many programs geared to that population. So many of Rabbi Abergel’s students joined us for Shabbat. It was incredible reconnecting with the Mashadi community and I look forward to Aish playing a greater role in their communal structure.


Rabbi Burg with Mashadi Jewish community members


I also was able to rekindle a very special relationship from my early days at Aish. Shortly after I started we were approached by some of our partners from Minnesota who asked if Aish would host a trip by Congressman Tom Emmer. We readily agreed and had an amazing week with Tom. The highlight was Shabbat dinner at Aish. Tom remembered how I took him to speak to one of the visiting groups of college students who were also eating dinner at Aish. Even though many of the group did not agree with his politics it was a thoughtful and stimulating discussion all around.


Welcome sign at Whip Emmer


Tom has assumed many leadership positions over the years in Congress. Currently, he is serving as the Majority Whip in Congress. We sat in his beautiful ornate office and talked about Israel and the challenges of living in a post-October 7th world. It’s moving that every time I have an interaction on this level it starts with condolences. Everyone knows the Jews are a family and this struck all of us hard. After talking about Israel for a while we switched topics to the Bible. Tom is studying the Bible and we talked about a few topics. I gave him an insight into the book of Numbers (Bamidbar) which I think helped him understand the bigger picture. We spoke extensively about King David and his model of leadership. We parted ways and promised each other to stay in better touch.


Rabbi Burg and Tom Emmer


I then went to a special meeting with former Member of Knesset, Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh who has smashed so many barriers. She was “the first Druze woman to anchor a Hebrew-language news program on Israeli television, the first female Druze member of Israel’s legislature (from April 2019-April 2021), and now, as the first Druze to serve as an Israeli emissary for the Jewish Agency.” 


We had met at an event last year where I mentioned that I was a board member of the Jewish Agency. We spoke about Aish at the time and we said that the next time I was in Washington, where she is currently posted, we would get coffee. It turned out to be a fascinating conversation. Gadeer is the ultimate representative of Israel with the ability to speak Hebrew, Arabic, and English. We spoke about her work post-October 7th and the direction of the Arab world. She felt that there were real opportunities for Aish to play a bigger role on the world stage given our resources.


Rabbi Burg and Gadeel Kamal Mreeh


I had lunch with old friends Avi Jorich and Shai Romirowsky who founded the Israel Economic Forum. They shared their exciting plans with me about building a Davos-like conference in Israel. I then met with former Congressman and previous Chief of Staff to the President, Mark Meadows. He had heard from a number of our partners about the work Aish was doing online and was interested to hear more specifically about how we were reaching millennials.


Rabbi Burg with Avi Jorich and Shai Romirowsky


While this may seem like a disjointed day it all stemmed from the same fact. People from all walks of life are noticing that Aish is dominating the online space and is doing cutting-edge work in terms of reaching those Jews whom everyone else has written off. In a post-October 7th world, Aish has been inundated by secular and non-affiliated Jews who are feeling a longing to be a part of their Nation. We have heard their cries and we stand ready to help any Jew rejoin their brothers and sisters. Perhaps most rewarding is that so many people who are not Jewish are noticing our work and cheering us on. The world is a better place when the Jewish people are united and strong. Join Aish as we redouble our efforts to bring our brethren home.