Close this search box.

Politicians with a Heart

In my position as CEO of Aish, I have been blessed to meet politicians from around the world. For better or worse, many meetings that I attend hold few surprises. This past week I traveled to Washington to attend a mission with a new, dynamic pro-Israel organization called the Israel Economic Forum. It was founded by my close friends Avi Jorisch and Shai Romirowsky to be a Davos-style venue for leaders from the business, government and non-profit sectors who support Israel. As I walked into the Serbian Embassy I had little expectations for the meeting other than helping Israel in its ties to the world. I certainly did not expect to leave inspired.



As the conversation got under way, Serbian Ambassador Marko Djuric came across as tall, handsome, smart and very charismatic. In many ways the perfect politician. He said all the right things regarding Israel which was a positive for all of us in the room. At that point the person leading the conversation said, “Let’s move on to your personal connection to Judaism.” I was surprised as I wasn’t aware that the Ambassador had a connection to our religion. He then spoke about his Jewish mother and his Jewish grandmother who was a survivor of Auschwitz. He said his mother lost 72 members of her family and was a true inspiration to him. 
The Ambassador went on to relate that he was sent to live with his uncle in Israel when he was a young boy. His uncle was a leading pioneer in Israel and he learned so much from his uncle’s “can do” spirit. He also mentioned that he was a dual citizen of Israel. As the Ambassador continued to speak, I was so taken by his story and how his connection to Judaism had shaped his path. I left the Serbian Embassy truly energized. I re-learned an important lesson that I must walk into every room ready to learn and grow no matter how mundane the situation seems. 
After Washington I hurried back to New York for a special Shabbos in Manhattan. On behalf of Aish, I have spent quality time in Jerusalem with the new Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Amichai Chikli. His responsibilities include maintaining and growing the relationship between Israel and the Jewish community around the world. The Minister’s office contacted us and said that the Minister would be in New York for Shabbat and would like to spend time with the community. I told him that I would make the arrangements and personally join the Minister.



I called my close friend and beloved Jewish leader, Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt who has one of the most dynamic synagogues in Manhattan called the Altneu Shul and asked if we could join. He said it would be his honor along with Aish partner and Altneu President, Alexander Tsigutkin to host the Minister. It was an exceptionally warm weekend with over 500 participants attending Saturday morning services in the Pierre Hotel to hear the Minister. After Kiddush, we had a panel discussion where we were joined by my good friend, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.
In the synagogue, Minister Chikli spoke about his family’s journey to Israel. His father made aliyah from France as a young man. The Minister related that he asked his father why he had moved to Israel since his home in France had not been particularly Zionist or connected to their Judaism. His father related that one time news came over the radio that some Israeli soldiers had been killed. He looked up and saw his mother crying. When he asked her why she was crying, she answered that all Jews are family and these Jews died protecting their family. His father knew then that Israel would be his future home.
So many of us have become cynical regarding the political process. We assume we know what motivates people and are suspect of many leaders’ intentions. In one week, I found myself moved beyond words to hear the personal stories of two Jewish political leaders from very different backgrounds. The common denominator between the Serbian Ambassador and the Minister of Diaspora Affairs is the love of their Jewish ancestors. 
They both derived inspiration from looking up to a generation gone by. As Jews, we must always look to our history to be inspired to build a strong future. All that we are today is a result of those that came before us. I encourage all of you to delve into the beautiful portraits of Jewish history. To probe the depths of the Bible. The Bible is not just a nice story book. It is our heritage. It is the story of our grandparents. It is the greatest story ever told. It is the story of the Jewish Nation.