This past week we lost two heroes of the Aish family. Sheila Hecker a”h was the wife and partner of the first International President of Aish, Harvey Hecker a”h. Many of the Aish branch heads have told me that they would often go to retreats in the Hecker cottage outside of Toronto. They all remember Sheila’s warmth and happiness in greeting them and making sure they had everything they needed. I was blessed to have a relationship with Sheila over the last few years. She was so happy at the success and direction of Aish. She felt that we were continuing the work that she and Harvey started. Our community joins with the entire Hecker family in mourning her loss.
Rabbi Uri Zohar was a famous Israeli movie star. He was one of the most popular figures in Israel when he decided there had to be more to life. Uri spent time learning more about his heritage. He had many lunches with Aish’s founder Rav Noach Weinberg talking about Jewish philosophy and a Jew’s role in the world. Aish hosted Uri’s son’s bris milah (circumcision.) Eventually, shocking the secular Israeli world, he became an observant Jew. He went on to influence many Jews to seek out their birthright. Our community joins the Zohar family in mourning his loss.
This past week I traveled to Los Angeles to attend the gala dinner of the Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. My close friends Robin and Elliott Broidy were receiving an award. Their son-in-law Andre Oziel is one of the best young men in our yeshiva. I lived in Los Angeles for five years and my wife is a native Angeleno, so it was nice to see many old friends including the Director of Aish LA, Rabbi Aryeh Markman. I was amazed by how many times Aish was thanked at the banquet. We play such an outsized role in so many communal institutions that it was humbling to hear all the gratitude. The personal highlight for me was when Robin quoted AISHVision 2030 and said how excited she was to be a part of it. It has been almost a year and a half since we rolled out our 10-year vision to bring Jewish wisdom to 3 million Jews and it is catching on!
That is not to say that I still don’t get cynical looks from some people. 3 million is too much. It will never happen. You are not being realistic. These are some of the comments that I get when I speak to people. I want to relate a conversation that I had recently in Lakewood, NJ. Rabbi Elliot Mathias and I traveled down to meet with Michael Bauman, a wonderful lay leader and partner. There were two outstanding outreach professionals in the room. Rabbi Ahron Gruman, who I have known for many years, and Rabbi Yehuda Farber who has become a new friend.
Towards the end of the conversation one of the participants said “You know your vision is insane, right?” I immediately launched into my defensive mode explaining that it is achievable through social media etc. He then cut me off. He told me, “Don’t misunderstand me. I think it’s great that you’re insane. Only Aish can be so insane to think they can go bring 20% of the world Jewish population to Jewish wisdom. The Jewish world needs to think big. We need more insane thinking.”
Furthermore, he started to praise our Rosh Yeshiva Rav Berkovits. He said that he is clearly one of the greatest Rabbis amongst the Jewish people, a real Gadol (great Rabbi). It is so crucial that this vision is coming from such a great Rabbi. I was so moved by his words. He truly understood that at Aish we are trying to do much more than “nice things.” We have a tradition from Rav Noach to Rav Berkovits that we are responsible for changes in the Jewish people! We must move the needle on a major level. We must make sure every Jew has their heritage readily accessible.
This weekend is the holiday of Shavuos when we celebrate receiving the greatest gift ever given in the history of the world. The Almighty gave us Jewish wisdom and values. He gave us the Torah. This has kept us unified and strong for over 3000 years. All morality and ethics stem from this holy book. Take the next few days to reflect on and study Jewish texts. Then let’s roll up our sleeves and double down on our work to make AISHVision 2030 a reality.