Amidst the overall devastating news facing the Jewish Nation this past week, the Aish family lost one of its most beautiful members. Ronnie Schiff z”l was an amazing person who was a long time partner of Aish. His wife, Sandy, was one of the most active members of our Aish board and she was one of five lay leaders who hired me almost a decade ago. Sandy also was the impetus for Aish to acquire the beautiful Chihuly sculpture called “Fire and Water” which hangs in our lobby. Sandy and Ronnie were married for 65 years.
I traveled to Denver to be with Sandy and the entire Schiff family. While I was there we spoke about Ronnie’s gentle spirit and enormous integrity. When I told them that we want to place a plaque in Ronnie’s memory on our porch at the Dan Family Aish World Center, Ronnie’s son smiled and took me over to the wall in their living room where there is a beautiful portrait of the Schiff family on the AWC porch. We must never forget the contribution partners like the Schiffs have made to Aish. We exist because of their kindness, passion and commitment to the Jewish people. Seeing Sandy with her children and grandchildren, I have no doubt that Ronnie has left the most beautiful legacy for the Jewish people.
One of the most innovative programs built in the last few years at Aish has been the Jewish Wisdom Society. The JWS was founded by the creative team of Rabbi Saj Freiberg and Rabbi Elliot Mathias as a way for busy New Yorkers to engage in Jewish wisdom. Close to 200 passionate Jews came together this past Monday night at the exclusive Manhattan kosher steakhouse, Reserve Cut. Key builders of JWS, Caroline and Marcelo Messer were honored and it was moving to learn how much their children are benefiting from their parents’ learning Jewish wisdom.
The highlight of the evening was a conversation between Elisha Wiesel, the son of Eli Wiesel, and myself about his father’s work. We spoke about his father’s firm support for Israel in spite of the constant threats that he would receive from the ‘cancel culture.’ Elisha described his own journey through a life which included serving in high level positions within the financial industry, and his road back to studying Talmud daily. We were honored that Eli’s wife, Marion Wiesel, joined us at the event. It was truly touching when the entire restaurant rose to honor this special Holocaust survivor.
A few days ago Aish was approached by a number of families whose relatives are being held captive in Gaza. They asked us if we could put together an international prayer service for their loved ones. With the help of a small group of dedicated partners who care deeply for the Jewish nation, the heads of Aish Israel, Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht and Rabbi Shimmy Kaufman leapt into action coordinating a “Global Day of Prayer for the Hostages and the Missing.” The Chief Rabbis of Israel and Chairman Yaakov Hagoel of the World Zionist Congress immediately agreed to participate. What transpired was a moving event filled with spirituality, unity and tears. Tens of thousands of Jews watched live and many hundreds of thousands of Jews in over 50 countries have participated by watching the recording. It truly strengthened the families and all of the viewers.
Meirav Leshem, whose daughter Romi is still missing, shared the excruciating experience of being on the phone with her daughter throughout the attack. She shared how she tried to strengthen Romi by telling her how much she loved her. A young man in the car with Romi asked Meirav to call his mother and tell her how much he loved her. The love she described for family coming out of this despicable terror attack moved us all to tears. The program was filled with psalms, prayers and the sound of the shofar.
Rabbi Goldwicht gave the keynote address switching from Hebrew to English throughout. He challenged all religious leaders around the world to stand on the right side of history, to take a moral and ethical stand and raise their voices in condemning this tragedy and calling for the hostages to be freed.
Every staff member at Aish has told me that at one point that night they were in tears. Having the families there in the holiest spot in the world beseeching the Almighty was a moment of holiness that none of us will soon forget.
My friends, our work is not done. What has defined us for over 3000 years as a people has been the love that we feel for each other. We must raise our voices around the world and demand that our brothers and sisters be set free. Concurrently, we must storm the gates of Heaven and plead for the Almighty to intercede on behalf of the hostages. Romi is our daughter. Romi is our sister. All of the hostages are our family. Eli Wiesel could have led a much easier life after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust if he hadn’t become an international advocate for humanity and Israel. Still he lived a life in service of mankind and the Jewish nation. This is our time. This is our mission. We must not sleep, eat or relax in comfort until we bring our family home. May the Almighty bless us with their freedom quickly and safely.