Rabbi Yehuda Appel, co-director of Aish HaTorah of Cleveland, said he’s amazed at how the organization has grown since its inception 25 years ago.
“I came to Cleveland expecting to find a couple dozen people who would study with me,” Appel said. “Now when you take in the whole scope of programs, in all different aspects of Aish HaTorah, we have about 600 people who learn with us in any given year.
“The Almighty gives you the blessing. If you do the right thing, it falls into place.”
Appel and his wife, Channah, and co-director Rabbi Chaim Feld and his wife, Barrie, will be honored when Aish HaTorah of Cleveland celebrates its 25th anniversary with a gala event at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights.
Charlie Harary, a motivational speaker, radio show host and television personality, will be the featured speaker. He co-founded H3 & Co., a venture capital and advisory firm based in New York.
There will also be a special tribute to Irving I. Stone, a philanthropist and founder of American Greetings Corp. who brought Aish HaTorah to Cleveland, according to Rabbi Appel. Stone died in 2000.
“Celebrating 25 years is really the theme of the evening,” Rabbi Feld said. “It’s right before Chanukah, so it’s about having gratitude and that taking responsibility creates miracles.”
Aish HaTorah of Cleveland was founded in 1990. Rabbi Appel, a New York native, is the founding director, and Rabbi Feld, who grew up in Springfield, N.J., joined as co-director about a year later.
It’s one of more than 50 North American branches of Aish HaTorah International – an organization dedicated to reawakening Jewish pride and promoting Jewish unity through education – based in Jerusalem.
“We really try to meet various needs within the community,” Rabbi Appel said. “We try to provide opportunities for study and Jewish learning across the spectrum.
“We’re also concerned about the citizens of Israel. We partner with Hasbara – which literally means ‘explanation’ in Hebrew but refers to explaining Israel’s position to the world – in teaching college students to advocate for Israel on college campuses.”
Aish Cleveland also has a program that sends people to Israel, “to strengthen the ties between Jews and both their heritage and the land of Israel,” Rabbi Appel said.
“We’ve sent over 800 students and over 200 adults to Israel over the last decade,” he said.
“We also have a specific outreach to the former Soviet Union Jewish community and a very extensive outreach program on several college campuses. We provide over 4,000 Shabbat meals every year at the colleges.”
Aish Cleveland also has a chesed (kindness) department, headed by Channah Appel, that provides clothing for people in need in the community. Channah Appel, who grew up in University Heights, is also director of Aish’s Russian outreach program.
Barrie Feld, who grew up in Wilmette, Ill., is founder and head of Aish’s Chayil, Aish Cleveland’s women’s division, which is dedicated to bringing women from all backgrounds together through learning, acts of kindness and social events.
Over the past six years, Aish Cleveland has sent about 250 women to Israel through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, Rabbi Feld said.
“Last year we did a unity mission where we partnered with the (Mandel Jewish Community Center) and the Jewish Federation (of Cleveland) to take two busloads of women – 81 people, about 95 percent moms – to Israel,” he said.
Feld said a personal highlight for him in the 25-year history was launching a national anti-loshon hora (anti-gossip) campaign. He started the campaign locally in 1999 and said it was so successful, it went national.
“I was interviewed by Peter Jennings (on ABC News), and it was written up in over 200 newspapers,” he said. “It’s really gone beyond my expectations.
“The inspiration to do it came from being an educator. (Anti-gossip) was my most impactful class; it really resonates with people.”
Rabbi Feld is co-founder of Words Can Heal, a national campaign to eliminate verbal violence, curb gossip and promote the healing power of words to enhance relationships at every level, and co-author of the “Words Can Heal Handbook.”
The first classes for Aish Cleveland were held in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, Rabbi Appel said. It has been headquartered in South Euclid for more than 20 years.
“We have a responsibility to reach out to everyone in the Jewish community,” Rabbi Appel said. “For the community to thrive, we need to further amplify our efforts to join with other groups, as well as to engage as many people as possible in Jewish learning and Jewish identity.”
Rabbi and Channah Appel live in Beachwood and have eight children. The Felds reside in University Heights and have six children.
Co-chairs of the 25th anniversary event are J. David and Rebecca Heller and Dr. Dan Simon and Dr. Marcy Schwartz. Honorary co-chairs are Richard and Erica Hartman Horvitz and Robert and Susan Hurwitz.
Funds raised from the event will be used toward sending more students to Israel, hiring new staff and ensuring Aish Cleveland’s next 25 years.
WHAT: Aish HaTorah of Cleveland 25th anniversary gala event
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2
WHERE: Executive Caterers at Landerhaven, 6111 Landerhaven Drive, Mayfield Heights
COST: Program, including keynote speech by motivational speaker Charlie Harary, is free. A dessert reception for sponsors will follow.