A new Aish branch just opened in my city, and I went to Google to find out who you are. I landed on your Ask the Rabbi page, so here goes: Who is Aish?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Thank you for asking!
Aish HaTorah is a Jewish outreach organization started in Jerusalem by Rabbi Noah Weinberg in 1974. Aish HaTorah’s goal is to revitalize the Jewish people by providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage in an atmosphere of open inquiry and mutual respect. Aish HaTorah is regarded as a world leader in creative Jewish educational programs and leadership training.
• Aish HaTorah operates 26 full-time branches and on 5 continents
• 100,000 people attend Aish programs annually
• Aish.com receives millions of monthly visits and has 300,000 unique email subscribers
• 50,000 hours of Torah tapes and MP3s are listened to each year
• 4,500 people attend Aish learning programs in Israel every year
• 200 people have graduated from our rabbinic ordination program
Aish is famous for reaching unaffiliated young Jews and awakening them to a profound pride in their heritage. Worldwide, Aish HaTorah operates 27 permanent branches on 5 continents, providing Jews with a warm, non-judgmental atmosphere to explore their heritage at their own pace. Each year, over 100,000 people attend Aish seminars, events for Jewish singles, executive learning groups, Shabbat and holiday programs, and beginner-style synagogues.
Aish has been described as a “billion-dollar asset to the Jewish community.” Aish Jerusalem has graduated hundreds of rabbis who are now working in 100 different communities around the world. In England alone, 140 Aish alumni have decided to devote their professional careers to improving Jewish life.
With most Jewish communities facing dwindling affiliation, Aish's efforts bring thousands of committed Jews back into the communal sphere. By increasing people's affiliation with the Jewish community, and by teaching the importance of tzedakah, Aish is creating a stronger support base for every Jewish cause. An independent research study showed that in England, where close to 50% intermarry, 97% of Aish alumni have married Jewish.
Aish.com, the largest Jewish learning site, receives millions of monthly visits and has 300,000 unique email subscribers. Aish.com operates a 24-hour live webcam from the Western Wall, and spin-offs in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Russian which are leading websites in their respective languages.
Aish HaTorah's headquarters is in the Old City of Jerusalem, where the government of Israel awarded Aish a coveted piece of land – 40 percent of the frontage facing the Western Wall. The centerpiece of Aish’s educational efforts in Jerusalem is Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, featuring beginner’s programs straight through rabbinic ordination.
In 2010, Aish dedicated the Dan Family Building, a hi-tech outreach center that features a spectacular rooftop vista overlooking the Temple Mount. Also slated for the new building is the Explorium of Jewish History, a major attraction designed to accommodate 300,000 people annually, giving individuals and tour groups a deeper and more meaningful experience at the Western Wall. The climax of the Explorium is a powerful film to be shown in the Kirk Douglas Theater. The Explorium is expected to open in 2012, and dedication opportunities are still available.
Beyond Jewish education, Aish HaTorah is known as a staunch defender of Israel, and has launched various Israel advocacy programs. Aish celebrates Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, and proudly flies the flag of Israel above its World Center at the Western Wall. Aish operates Hesder Army and Machal Volunteer programs, where students combine their military service with Torah learning. Hundreds of people have made aliyah directly through their involvement with Aish HaTorah.
Aish also operates two women’s programs in Jerusalem, Jewel and Eyaht, which offer comprehensive, multi-level study programs for university and professional women from all backgrounds.
Aish operates the Jerusalem Fellowships program, which brings thousands of university students to Israel for a three-week program that strengthens commitment to Judaism through an exploration of Jewish philosophy, history and Israeli politics. Founded in 1980, the Fellowships has been called the precursor of the Birthright Israel program. Fellowships also sponsors get-away trips to London, New York and Chile.
Hasbara Fellowships, co-founded by Aish and Israel's Foreign Ministry, has trained over 1,000 students on 100 campuses to lead one of the largest networks of pro-Israel activism in existence today.
HonestReporting.com was founded in the wake of the Second Intifada, when a group of Aish students were looking for a way to fight back against anti-Israel media bias. One year and 150,000 subscribers later, HonestReporting was established as an independent U.S. non-profit organization (501c3).
In 2009, the Jewish world suffered a great loss with the death of Aish founder Rabbi Noah Weinberg. Leadership of the organization was passed to Rabbi Hillel Weinberg and Rabbi Eric Coopersmith. The organization has a 7-member steering committee and an active Board of Directors.
The name Aish HaTorah, literally "Fire of Torah," was inspired by the talmudic story of Rebbe Akiva, a 40-year-old shepherd who could not even read the Aleph-Bet. One day, he came across a stone that had been holed out by a constant drip of water. He concluded: If something as soft as water could carve a hole in solid rock, then how much more so can Torah – which is fire – make an indelible impression on my heart. Rebbe Akiva committed himself to study Torah, and went on to become the greatest sage of his generation, with 24,000 students learning under him at one time.
As Elie Weisel said: "Aish HaTorah means to me the passion of teaching, the passion of learning. The study of Torah, the source of Jewish values, is the way to Jewish survival."