One of the things I learned early in my career was how important it was to travel. When sitting in an office you think you have a good perspective on what is important. Yet when you spend time on the road and have real conversations with real people it helps you understand the issues that the Jewish people face. This past week I traveled to seven cities in five days with Aish’s indefatigable Executive Director, Rabbi Ben Gonsher. Everywhere we went we encountered the most impressive Jews who gave us their perspective on what can only be described as a genuinely historic period for the Jewish Nation.
The one common denominator that I found was the focus on Israel. The world does not fully grasp that every Jew is united in sadness, outrage and resilience since 10/7. It is hard to start conversations because the first line we always say is, “How are you?” The truth is that no Jew is truly OK. We all wake up multiple times throughout the night to check our phones to see the latest hostage news. We react in horror as the world either plays down the atrocities or flat out denies them. The one thing that undoubtedly unifies us is our love and care for one another. Without that, the Jewish people would be lost.
While on the West Coast we sat with a Senior Professor in the University of California system. Our meeting revolved around our online curriculum and how we can elevate our offerings. He gave us a perspective of the life of Jewish students in the UC system which was notorious for its antisemitism even before 10/7. Jewish kids are badgered on campus. There are almost no controls placed on the violent leadership of SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine). Many times police need to be called in to escort Jewish students. Perhaps the scariest part is that most students are not antisemites. They are just indifferent to what is going on around them. As Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel prize acceptance speech, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
One Aish partner in San Diego told us about a close friend who was killed in the attacks of 10/7. Our partner was a supporter of his work and described the irony as his murdered friend was working to increase the number of work permits for Gazans to enter Israel. There were hardly any words to comfort him or to express his determination to help the Israelis of the South rebuild. The one thing that lifted his spirit was sharing with him what Aish has done to facilitate dozens of Bar and Bas Mitzvot for children that have been displaced. A week ago, our partners Kenny and Meredith Yager, helped coordinate a Bar Mitzvah celebration for ten young men at once. One of the parents shared that so many people had given them many items since their displacement. Aish finally gave their son back his smile.
I traveled from San Diego to Washington to attend important meetings set up by the IEF (Israel Economic Forum). The IEF is an amazing organization founded by my close friends Avi Jorisch and Shai Romirowsky. We had a fascinating meeting with Former UK Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss. It is good to remember that as isolated as we feel, we still have many friends around the world. I was honored to help facilitate a meeting at the White House. The Jewish Liaison at the White House, Shelley Greenspan is doing a good job of keeping the lines of communication open during this trying time.
I was asked by Avi to address this auspicious group and was honored that when he introduced me, he cited a Torah thought that I had shared with his son a few years ago. I thought long and hard about what message the CEO of Aish should be giving over to this accomplished group of activists. I chose to share words from my heart.
I said that as difficult as this period in our history is proving to be; as much pain as we are all in; as many sleepless nights as we have endured, the Almighty gave us the skills to help. The Almighty expects us to step up. The Almighty expects us to be there for our brothers and sisters. The Jews of the world must stand tall and proud. I want to encourage all of you, the Aish family, to continue to fight. There has never been a cause that has been as righteous as the current situation. We suffered the worst slaughter of innocent Jews since the Holocaust. Acts were committed that redefined the term barbaric. Yet, the Jewish people will overcome. We will emerge stronger. We must all play our role in strengthening the Jewish Nation. Am Yisrael Chai!