As I mentioned last week, we observed the 14th yahrzeit of Aish founder and leader, the great visionary, Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt”l. Since joining Aish, I have always felt that Rav Noach’s influence must be preserved and celebrated as time goes on. I came to Aish only six years after his passing, and it is one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t get a chance to spend quality time with Rav Noach. Yet, when speaking with his family and students I feel as if he is ever present. The ‘larger than life’ role he played for all those who knew and loved him has never wavered. It is in this spirit that I was blessed to participate in three events to commemorate his influence.
The first was an international zoom event hosted by Rav Noach’s close student and the COO of Aish Global, Rabbi Elliot Mathias. Beautiful words were spoken by Rav Noach’s successor, Aish Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, former Aish CEO Rabbi Eric Coopersmith, and Aish Rabbi Yaakov Palatnik. All of these presentations were extraordinarily personal and painted a beautiful canvas of Rav Noach’s influence on their lives. You can view the event here.
The highlight for me was listening to my close friend Leslie Dan. He spoke about the first time he met Rav Noach and the purchase for Aish of the original building facing the Western Wall. Leslie said that he understood how transformative this edifice would be for Aish and that is why he gave the lead gift. He then made the point that he chose to put his family name on the building rather than his own name because it was and has continued to be a family effort. Leslie said how proud he is that his children Andrea and Stuart Hytman have continued his family’s close connection to Aish.
It has always amazed me how many of you not only have treasured Aish in your lives but have passed on to your children that passion for our movement. On a personal level, Leslie’s words were so affirming of the goal of Judaism to pass our traditions on to the next generation; to recommit to our Nation, and, as Leslie mentioned, to the Almighty. It was also moving to hear his kind words about his good friend and the first international president of Aish, Harvey Hecker ob”m.
Immediately following the zoom call, I joined Aish Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berkovits at a Thursday night “tisch” in memory of Rav Noach Weinberg. Every Thursday night the students at our Yeshiva join together in the dining room for words of inspiration and song. The Aish Yeshiva band led by the talented Akiva Taubenblat always creates a ‘rockin’ spiritual atmosphere. The songs, camaraderie and festive mood were absolutely moving. Listening to Rav Berkovits’ words about Rav Noach and his leadership style was truly uplifting. Rav Noach’s spirit was felt in that room and his work would be certain to continue through these young dynamic leaders.
After a beautiful Shabbos, we all gathered in the Beit Ha’am concert hall in Jerusalem for the highlight of the weekend. With the support of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon and Member of Knesset Yitzchak Pindrus, we were able to create a truly unique atmosphere for a major public tribute to Rav Noach. Many months ago I approached Project Inspire Executive Director and brilliant creative powerhouse Yossie Friedman with some thoughts of what a next step event would look like. Yossie took it to a whole new level. Partnering with Rabbi Etiel Goldwicht and Rabbi Shimmy Kaufman, co-Directors of Aish Israel, he created an experiential journey for all of us to bask in Rav Noach’s ideology. You can view the event here.
The tributes from those connected to Rav Noach and Aish, like Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith, aish.com Editor-in-Chief and student of Rabbi Weinberg, were intertwined with moving musical songs from international Jewish megastar Shulem Lemmer. Most of the songs were in English which complemented Rav Noach’s approach of opening up Judaism to all. With video tributes and previously unseen footage, it was an amazing, full sensory experience.
My personal highlight was when a number of young boys were invited up to the stage to share their names with the crowd. All of them were named “Yisroel Noach” after Rabbi Noach Weinberg. In Judaism there is a beautiful tradition that we name children after deceased relatives to carry on their name. So many of us truly felt like Rav Noach was our spiritual father and appropriately named our children for him. It was a truly spectacular night and I am indebted to all those who made it possible.
In essence, this weekend defined the power of Jewish continuity. It is about standing on the shoulders of giants who came before us. Three times a day we mention Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in prayer because a Jew never forgets those that came before us. We constantly study the teachings of rabbis in the Talmud from 2,000 years ago. We name schools and hospitals after the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides who lived 1,000 years ago. We will never ever forget the 6 million lives of our brothers and sisters that were cut short in the Holocaust. The world has no concept that the reason they have been unable to cut the Jew down is because our roots run deep into the soil, back thousands of years.
At Aish we were led by a giant cedar named Rabbi Noach Weinberg. Even though he has left this world, beautiful new gardens are being grown from the seeds that continue to spread and germinate. Jewish wisdom is blossoming all over social media today because he instructed us to make the Almighty’s insights available to all. Aish branches on six continents continue to convey his pure, holy teachings. Enrollment in our educational institutions continues to break new records each year. My friends, never forget where you came from because that is the most important part of finding the path forward.