I was honored to spend this past Shabbat with our Yeshiva where I addressed our English and Spanish programs. I also had the opportunity this week to speak to our Women’s Seminary. The mood at Aish is similar to that across the country. Our hearts are broken over the pain that the Jewish Nation has suffered. Yet, there is an inner resolve among us all that we must now move forward and support the IDF as they seek the return of the captives. The moral clarity in Israel has never been clearer. I am so proud of our students as they spend their time studying and doing acts of chesed to support the war effort.
Our online efforts have been nonstop since the war began. Because of our reach on social media it is our duty to disseminate the truth to the world. We have been posting nonstop and have seen our numbers increase exponentially. An average week sees over 3 million video views on Aish’s social media accounts and we acquire approximately 6500 new followers. Last week we had almost 31 million video views and had 66,000 new followers. The Israeli government is well aware of Aish’s reach and specifically the fact that we reach Jews that no one else has access to. They have asked to work in concert with us all on the war efforts. We are honored by their trust and humbled by the role we are playing.
This past Monday, I traveled to southern Israel with some of the leadership of Aish. We wanted to demonstrate our solidarity with our brothers and sisters. I was accompanied by Aish COO Hillel Schoenfeld, Aish CMO Jamie Geller and Aish ED Rabbi Ben Gonsher. It was a day that moved me beyond words although I will try to paint a picture for you here.
We started by attending a Shiva (house of mourning). Yosef Guedalia was a beautiful 22 year old young man who had been married just one year ago. As a member of an elite unit, he rushed to the scene of the attacks as soon as he heard. His holy soul perished in battle against the enemies of Israel. We sat and spoke with his father, David, about what a holy Jew Yosef was. I said to his father that his description reminded me of King David who was both a warrior and a tzadik. He responded that the person visiting just before had compared Yosef to Joshua who led the Jews into Israel. I told his father that we would like to share his story with the world on aish.com. The family was grateful and you can read about Yosef HaTzadik here.
After we left the Guedalia home we traveled south to Beersheva. There we planned to pick up pizzas to distribute to the soldiers. Unfortunately most pizza shops were closed due to the war. We finally found an open pizza store but there was only one worker. That’s when Jamie Geller swung into action and ordered us all to get behind the counter and we started to help make the pizza! Now armed with many boxes, we traveled to one of the largest bases in the south. When we got to the base it was very congested so we found an adjacent, smaller base. We handed the guard at the gate a box of pizza and he was only too happy to let us in and direct us to soldiers just returning from maneuvers. They were very happy!
We also distributed the many letters of support that were sent by all of you from around the world. They were so touched that Jews worldwide care about them. Then we offered the soldiers the opportunity to write notes that Aish would place in the Western Wall on their behalf. All day long we collected notes from soldiers. I was moved by how important the notes and our pledge to insert them in the Kotel was to the soldiers. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and blessed them with safety, health and strength.
We traveled to a number of locations to interact with soldiers, delivering letters of support and collecting notes for the Kotel. It was amazing how many soldiers we met who had participated in our Aish Israel programs. Everyone we met that day was realistic about the challenges but committed to do what was needed. The morale was extremely high.
On one of the bases, I met my good friend Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb who runs an organization called tzalash.org that ensures that IDF members have what they need to maintain their religious commitment and emotional well being throughout their service. He was delivering religious items to soldiers. Everyone was making sure the soldiers had what they needed physically and spiritually!
We then traveled to Soroka Hospital to visit victims of the terror attacks. As we entered the lobby we met a number of soldiers who were in the lobby singing songs to cheer up the patients. Jamie Geller immediately bonded with them and they sang the most beautiful tunes. At one point Hillel Scheinfeld joined the singing and played piano. In the lobby we spotted two young women in army uniforms who seemed to be in charge. We told them we were representing Aish, visiting the wounded and collecting notes to place in the Kotel. They told us there was a lone soldier who did not get a lot of visitors and they asked if we could spend time with him. We set out to find his room in the maze of the hospital.
When we arrived at his room there were two young women visiting. One was his sister who is also a lone soldier and the other, a young woman who had just met them and was offering her support. The siblings are from France and were so thankful that we came. I think they wrote the longest notes of the day. I was so moved that these young Jews had come to Israel on their own to defend the Jewish people. I thanked them for all they had done for the Jewish Nation. I told them that all of you, the entire Aish family was indebted to them. We took their letters and wished him a speedy recovery.
We left the hospital in Beersheva and went directly to the Western Wall to place the notes as we had promised. We then proceeded to the office of the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Amichai Chikli. We have had many conversations with the Minister about the social media reach of Aish. We spoke about how to better connect Aish to the government resources so we could help with the effort to support Israel. It was a great conversation which ended with recording an interview between Minister Chikli and Jamie Geller in English and with Rabbi Etiel Goldwicht in Hebrew! After the meeting I headed back to Aish to process the day.
So many thoughts and feelings raced through my mind. Being in the home of Yosef Guedalia zt’l and by the bedside of the wounded young French soldier made me realize how special it is to be a Jew. The fact that Jews will always defend Jews even at the cost of their lives is a truly sacred bond. Seeing the spirit of the soldiers everywhere we went and their commitment to the Jewish Nation filled my heart with tremendous pride. Our enemies have never truly understood the DNA of a Jew. We are one people with one heart. If you attack one of us you have attacked all of us. We know that the Almighty is behind us and we are all standing shoulder to shoulder. I urge all of you to support our brothers and sisters in Israel in any and every way you can. The stand we take here, in this moment, will define us for years to come.
May the Almighty bless and protect all of His children who are currently in harm’s way.
עם ישראל חי