Dear Aish Family,

This past week I had the opportunity to spend time with our outreach colleagues from across North America. I traveled to Baltimore to attend the AJOP (Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals) convention. I have attended AJOP many times but this was my first as the head of Aish.

Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun, the Director of AJOP, is one of the most creative personalities in Outreach and a long time friend of mine. The convention was chaired by Aish alumnus and Birthright phenom Rabbi Dave Felsenthal. Even though it meant traveling to Baltimore from Los Angeles, where I am spending the week, I thought it was important to be there.

I gave two sessions on the topics of Management and Strategic Planning. It was terrific to see the talent that is up and coming across the Jewish world. These are topics that I have spoken about many times for AJOP. Then came the big change from years past….

Rabbi Lowenbraun asked me if I would speak at the main plenary session on where the Outreach movement is headed. What he failed to mention when he asked me to participate is that I would be sitting and speaking along side of two of the Gedolim (Torah Giants) of our generation. I am certain that I received this honor because of the love and respect that the world has for Aish HaTorah.

As I went to sit on the dais I stopped to speak with Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky. Rav Shmuel has been the main Posek (authority on Jewish law) for the outreach movement. I met with him before I came to Aish HaTorah. At the time he gave me his blessing and encouraged me tremendously. I updated him on Aish and he was very happy with the progress we have been making.

I also greeted Rav Aharon Feldman, the head of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College. As Rav Noach Weinberg’s brother Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg was the Rosh Yeshiva (Head Rabbi) of Ner Israel, there is a long history of connection to Aish. It was wonderful to see the closeness that Rav Kamenetsky and Rav Feldman obviously felt for one another. Both were very vocal when they spoke about their commitment and support of outreach.

In this atmosphere, it was very daunting to get up and speak. In spite of my trepidation, I felt it necessary to lay out what I felt the vision for Aish and the greater outreach world ought to be. I have three points that I felt were needed to ensure the future of the Jewish Nation.

1) The Jewish world must understand that outreach is not a nice thing to do. It is the heart and soul of our religion. Abraham built Judaism on the foundation of bringing others closer to the Almighty. That, in turn, strengthens us all. Jewish mainstream leadership across the world must understand this and place outreach on the top of their agendas.

2) The outreach world must unify. We must all come together and work together. Whether it be Ohr Someach, Machon Shlomo, Shapell’s or Aish HaTorah (four significant outreach schools) we must function as one. Aish HaTorah has started moving in this direction and I encouraged all in attendance to come together. We are and must function as ONE NATION!

3) Every outreach convention I attend, everyone is discussing the next big idea. So many have burnt out chasing this moving target. I believe that we need to go back to basics. We need to focus our efforts on getting every Jew in the world to study and learn Torah. I have made this the number one priority at Aish HaTorah. To come to love the Almighty is to know him. Torah is the path to embracing Him.

I told the holy assembly that Aish will be concentrating on coordinating missions to Israel that are filled with Torah study. I emphasized that we would do this not only for Aish but for EVERY outreach organization across the globe. If Jews agree and are willing to travel to Israel to learn Torah AISH WILL SUPPORT THEM. It was at this point that the crowd erupted in applause. This adulation was not for me. It was for Aish HaTorah. Aish must lead the way. We must assist every Jew and every Jewish organization. It is our mandate and our legacy from Rav Noach. Jewish politics has no place in true yearning for the Almighty. In light of this commitment by Aish HaTorah, I ask that all of you spend thirty minutes this Shabbos thinking about how you can help a Jew close to you learn Torah and come close to the Almighty. In unity, there is nothing that Jews cannot achieve.

Warm regards and good shabbos!

Rabbi Steven Burg’s Speech from the AJOP Convention
Rabbi Steven Burg at the AJOP Convention

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