Dear Aish Family, Rabbi-Steven-Burg

These past few weeks have seen a tremendous influx of energy at Aish Jerusalem. As the new learning semester has started, the Beis Medrash (Learning Center) has been packed with a range of students, from beginners studying the Hebrew alphabet to advanced Rabbinical students studying Jewish law. The hallways are literally on fire with Torah!

Last night we started a fire that is catching on across all of Israel. Every year Aish Israel has had thousands of Israelis come to the Aish HaTorah Dan Family World Center to experience a program called Selicha B’Atika which means “forgiveness in the Old City”.

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Traditionally during the time of the year before Yom Kippur Jews say a prayer every day called “Selichos” where we ask the Almighty for forgiveness. Aish Israel took this prayer and made it into a production worthy of Broadway. Staring Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht, Selicha B’Atika features musicians, multimedia and actors all focused on moving the audience into feeling the holiness of forgiveness. Last night we had over 1000 Israelis attend our opening performance. To quote one participant “This is Israel’s equivalent of Hamilton!”

I just want to relate to you a moving moment that I had with one of the groups that attended last night.1

Aish Israel has been working with a large group of incredible Israeli women through a program called “Mothers with Meaning”. These women come from a secular Israeli background and have attended trips and programs with Aish over the last few years. They are, by and large, real leaders who have brought great passion and energy to Aish. Rabbi Shimon Kaufman asked me to say a few words to the group before they attended our program. I was unsure of exactly how to convey to these women their importance to the Aish family. These were the thoughts that I shared last night:
“Recently Aish HaTorah lost a strong partner in former Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres. Mr. Peres was a long time supporter of Aish Jerusalem Fellowships. The room that we are now standing in, hosted the Brit Milah (circumcision) of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grandson. A few weeks ago on the rooftop above us, Aish hosted the wedding of the Speaker of the Kenesset Yuli Edelstein….”
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“…Aish has had a connection to the highest levels of the Israeli government for the last 40 years. All of you here tonight represent a shift in Aish HaTorah. You are the grass roots of Israel. You represent every part of Israeli society. Together we will build a movement, here in Israel, of passionate Jews and Judaism. A movement where we respect and love one another.”

warren-goldstein“I recently spoke with the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the dynamo that started the worldwide phenomenon called “The Shabbos Project”. He told me that he was searching for partners in Israel and found that Aish Israel was willing and able to demonstrate the leadership needed to get the project off the ground in Israel. This did not surprise any of us who have worked with Mothers with Meaning. You are the leaders of Aish here in Israel. Thank you so much for your passion and drive”

After my remarks, I was approached by one of the women. She told me, with tears in her eyes, that she truly hated Orthodox Jews her whole life. She thought they were backward and looked down at all other Jews. She said “I have lived in Israel my whole life and have struggled with a hatred of my religion. Today, while I am not Orthodox, Aish has made me feel comfortable to be a Jew and I want to keep growing.”

By the end of the conversation, I also had tears in my eyes. Aish’s love and embracing of every Jew had truly hit home with these Israeli women. I believe that Aish HaTorah has an important role to play in the everyday lives of Israelis. Our approach to Judaism, emphasizing the study of relevant Torah while loving all Jews unconditionally, is what is needed here in Israel. May the Almighty bless Aish HaTorah and Mothers with Meaning’s efforts to unify the Jewish nation under a banner of love and Torah growth.

Good Shabbos!

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