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On Being Aish'd

On Being Aish'd

What is the secret of Aish HaTorah's success?


What does it mean to "be Aish'd," a term recently discussed in the Jerusalem Post ("You've been Aish'd...," July 17)?

With the Jewish world experiencing rampant assimilation, intermarriage and apathy, it's hard not to be surprised by the phenomenon of hundreds of thousands of secular Jews getting turned on to traditional Judaism through one of the myriad of programs offered by Aish HaTorah and similar organizations. What is the secret of their success? For starters, let's look at the wide variety of Aish HaTorah's programs and ask: What is the common denominator?

Since 1983 ― long before Birthright came on the scene ― Jerusalem Fellowships has brought thousands of college students to Israel on subsidized programs to tour the land, learn about Israel and get a taste of the depth and meaning of their Jewish heritage.

Hasbara Fellowships, which started in 2001 in partnership with the Foreign Ministry to combat anti-Israel propaganda, has become one of the leading pro-Israel networks on campuses in North America, bringing 1,450 students from over 200 campuses to Israel.

Honest Reporting, the popular media watchdog organization, was initially launched by Aish HaTorah (it is now an independent organization).

The SpeedDating phenomenon was started by an Aish rabbi and students to promote Jews meeting Jews.

Some 100,000 people attend live Aish HaTorah programs in hundreds of cities, and, the world's most popular Judaism Web site, attracts 2.5 million monthly visits and has 260,000 unique e-mail subscribers.

What's going on here? Actually, it's simple. Aish HaTorah and other outreach organizations have the most powerful "product" in the universe ― the Torah. Torah is the Almighty's instructions for living. The Torah teaches us how to maximize our pleasure and potential in life. It's the owner's manual, the blueprint of creation and the most revolutionary book in history. As the Talmud says: "Turn it over, turn it over ― everything is in it."

Judaism does not endorse leaps of faith or disengagement from the world.

Torah sells itself. For the first time in their lives, many young Jews see Judaism as a basis to answer the most important questions: How can I live a meaningful life? How can I build successful relationships, deal honestly in business and fulfill my personal potential? How can I really make a difference in the world?

Who knew that Judaism was dealing with such important questions? Everything Aish does stems from this. Give Jews who haven't had the opportunity to explore the relevance of Torah, to grapple with Judaism's approach to some of life's thorniest issues, and they will come away from the experience with a newfound pride in their heritage. Many of them will want to continue expanding their knowledge and nurture their commitment to Jewish values and practice. Aish's approach is that every individual must go at the pace that is comfortable.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Jewish people is apathy about Judaism and Israel. Apathy stems from ignorance: Can we expect intelligent men and women to care about something they know nothing about, except negative stereotypes, misconceptions and "Holocaust Judaism"? Only with an understanding of the meaning of being Jewish can a Jew make his or her own choice about their Jewish identity. It can't be made in a vacuum.

The Torah emphasizes building a rational basis of belief, to engage one's mind, stimulate the intellect through questioning and debate, and thereby nourish the soul. It does not endorse leaps of faith, all-or-nothing decisions or disengagement from the world. Jewish life requires both the mind and heart, but the mind must lead the heart.

Aish HaTorah gives Jews from all backgrounds, in a language they can relate to, the chance to deepen their education and taste the beauty and meaning of their heritage. While Judaism introduced its values to the world millennia ago, young Jews today realize that Judaism isn't about archaic ritual but about profound wisdom that is important today as ever.

Most of all, being Aish'd means to love being Jewish.

Young Jews are attracted to the idea of tikkun olam ― the Jewish people's history and destiny to serve as a light unto the nations. Once inspired, they become motivated to take an active role in tackling the main challenges of the day and bettering the world.

So what does it mean to be Aish'd? It means to become educated, to strengthen one's Jewish pride through knowledge and understanding. It means to grow Jewishly, one step at a time. It means replacing apathy with idealism. It means standing up for Israel and respecting every Jew. It means taking responsibility for the world, using the Torah as our guide, because that is the mission of the Jewish people. And most of all, being Aish'd means to love being Jewish.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

August 2, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Ephraim Shalom, July 17, 2011 10:13 PM

I'll never forget my first Aish experience

Without having read the JPost article, all I can say is that my first Aish experience STILL blows me away! Several years ago, I attended the Discovery! at UCLA (with opening remarks by Jason Alexander). I was completely floored by the wealth of information that I learned during that class, and I haven't experienced a class like it before or since. To anyone who hasn't had a chance to take it yet, by all means do so - highest possible recommendations!

(9) Elisheva, August 6, 2008 12:24 PM

I''ve been AISHed and I''m aglow!!!!!

Shalom Rabbi Coopersmith:
I am a new person since AISH appeared on the screen of my computer mysteriously a year ago. I had never heard of AISH, so i know HASHEM put it there. I am thrilled at how well you expressed exactly how i feel about TORAH and have often told friends what they notice in me now that makes me a new person is that I found out who I AM TRULY MEANT TO BE. I owe AISH much gratitude that all of you are doing such a titan''s job bringing TORAH TO A LEVEL WHERE AN ASSIMILATED JEW CAN JUMP IN AND START LEARNING WHO S/HE IS RIGHT AWAY. NOW, ONE THING I WISH YOU WOULD HAVE TOLD ME IN THIS ARTICLE. WHAT DOES AISH mean? I don''t speak ivrit.

(8) Anonymous, August 5, 2008 8:53 AM

Wow! I am blown away, too! BAM!

I just read the article on the Jerusalem Post site, "I've been Aish'd". There is definately something wrong there. She definately did not take what was meant for her to receive. I ,too, was secular and had attended a few Aish functions and classes and was received with open arms. In fact, I attended a lecture given at Neve by a wonderful human being- Rebbetzen Tzipporah Heller, and she opened me up for studying Chumash. How? Rabbi Zev Leff let me attend a class at Neve when my husband and I went on a pilot trip to Israel many years ago to see if we were going to make aliyah. Rebbetzen Heller gave a talk to her class on the importance of tzniut(modest dress) and she mixed in with it an article from a modern American magazine. She infused both sensitivity, humor and the Torah perspective so well that SHE literally gave me the incentive and self esteem that built me up to study Torah from a chumash that I thought would be too difficult for me to take on. Can you imagine all of this from just one teacher? She frequently writes for Aish and is so inspiring.
I could cry for the writer of the JP article because she sounds so bitter personally and thru her ignorance does not realize that she sounds emotional, not factual as well as when you speak badly about Torah environments and organizations that are trying to help-and are making tremendous strides you bring down those vary institutions and cause others to put off or not at all attempt to learn about there own heritage.
Yes, she deserves attention and I hope that she allows herself to be able to receive it and makes good use of it. May Hashem help her to grow positively.
There may be people who will respond to this and other posts on this article that we "all have to respect" others opinions and "respect" where they are coming from. No, we don't have to respect the opinion. There is no respect required for the actual opinion if it is incorrect. It's the PERSON whom we have to respect. Their self worth we have to respect. It is for THESE reasons even more that we must guide them with sensitively and toward a Torah understanding in order to strengthen them in their own beautiful heritage of THEIR Torah.

(7) Ruth Housman, August 5, 2008 5:18 AM

being Aish'd

I wouldn't be commenting this much if I wasn't receiving as much as I am getting and I do believe that dialogue is how we advance ourselves, because it is through respecting different perspectives and through learning that we all do move forward. I also believe that conflict and diversity often provides the divine fire that moves us forward and it's all about "the fire" or passion. It's also I might point out that fire itself was the visible manifestation of the divine, the voice through fire, the bush that was not consumed.

The biggest pitfall I can see in Aish is that we must realize, in being Jews, or in that deep identification, for those who do "feel it" at the deepest levels, that there is not an arrogance of we have it and others do not. Why? Because God created diversity. God created, creation itself and we are truly all of us in this together. To examine other spiritual beliefs is to realize that the underlying well, that water, is what we're all of us drawing from, namely it's all one. So I am very careful about distinctions involving "the other" and yet, I am very much a Jew. You might look at the word JEWEL, which does contain in addition to JEW and EL, which is the ancient word and current for God, something perhaps that is deep. And ewe for lamb of God. I must believe, truly, that we are all of us in this together, then meaning that language itself carries a deep, deep story, that was perhaps written from the beginning of time involving us all, and what I am doing, in deconstructing language, this gift, is bringing me to some profound realizations.

To love being Jewish is then to love this world in its entirety and to work for tikkun olam and we are ALL of us in this dance, together. It's about LOVE.

(6) is it bad to be brainwashed?, August 4, 2008 10:29 AM

I dont see anything bad with being brainwashed. If you have a dirty shirt, wont you wash it? And if your brain is dirty, from all the dirt of the world, isnt it important to wash it? Aish hatora just takes out the garbage of our heads. They like all the tora places help us to think. I dont see anything bad with it!!

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