Posts on the topic of "Aish"
Sometimes, our efforts don't go unnoticed.
The front page of today's Wall Street Journal profiles Aish.com's popular Passover videos:
Last year, the site summoned a religious hero to star in its "Google Exodus." The clip shows Moses consulting Google to research topics like "awesome plagues" and using Facebook to send messages to "firstname.lastname@example.org." With each key click audible over a light jazzy tune, he types "Let My People Go. Now." It has been viewed more than two million times and "is still going strong," says Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith, Aish.com's chief editor.
Interestingly, we received a few comments wondering why we used a rock song to tell the Passover story.
Let's answer by looking at the Passover Seder itself:
Did you ever notice that when we raise the matzah, we make the "hamotzi" blessing to thank God for "bringing forth bread from the ground"? This is odd because actually God brings wheat from the ground - and man turns it into bread!
All of God's creation exists of raw materials, which we are then enjoined to transform into positive, life-affirming products and ideas. The Talmud says that one of the questions every person is asked when they get to Heaven is: "Did you enjoy all the fruits of the world?" On Seder night, we eat a festive meal to celebrate the freedom that gives us the ability to sanctify life in all its aspects.
Interestingly, the Seder is the only one of the 613 mitzvot that is performed specifically at night. This is reminiscent of how the Jews in Egypt had sunk to the 49th level of spiritual impurity. At that moment of greatest darkness, we were redeemed. Thus the eternal message of Passover: we must work to turn the darkness into light.
It is with all this in mind that we "reworked" a popular rock song to tell the Passover story. Judging from the hundreds of positive comments, this year's "Passover Rhapsody" was a huge success.
May it be a harbinger of great things to come for all the Jewish people, and may this Passover usher in an era of true peace and prosperity. Chag Sameach!
The second annual Jerusalem Marathon is set for March 16, with 15,000 participants from 50 countries – each with his own motivation, challenge, and goal to reach.
One of these is 26-year-old David Haft, originally of Los Angeles, now living in Jerusalem. David shared with me his story:
"I grew up as the fat kid. I got picked on for being slow and fat, and was always chosen last in sports. I ate fast food almost every day and spent hours in front of the TV – a terrible combination for physical and mental well being."
Now weighing in at a healthy 160 pounds, David has been training the past four months for the grueling 26-mile run up and down the hills of Jerusalem. A daily routine of stretching, weight-training and distance runs, coupled with a healthy eating regime, has gotten him into great physical and mental shape needed to take on this challenge of a lifetime.
David’s turnaround came when he began getting more interested in his Jewish roots. “My mother is Israeli and the last time I visited I was six years old,” David says. “I thought Israel was an undeveloped, dirty place. But then I went on a birthright trip and that really opened my eyes.”
David returned to Israel to pursue his Jewish education at the Aish Yeshiva, where today he continues to study full-time. David says:
“I learned that the only way to achieve my purpose and potential is to have a strong and healthy body, which can lead to a more positive state of mind. Maimonides writes (Deyos 4:1) that the body is the vehicle for the soul – the stronger the body, the more we can achieve our purpose in the world. Our body is a gift and we have a duty to look after it."
The Jerusalem Marathon is also a forum for philanthropy. Many participants are using the run in order to raise money for good causes. David found one that really spoke to him.
"Self Discovery is an organization which inspires people to think big, get focused, reach their potential, and then positively influence others around them. They run seminars that help young people identify their personal strengths and goals, and eliminate obstacles standing in the way. It's a great cause which is making a huge difference in many people's lives. In fact it helped motivate me to run the marathon in the first place."
David is hoping to be an inspiration for other kids who grew up not feeling great about themselves. He wants to show that with focus and discipline, everyone can achieve great things.
It is poetic justice that David is making the Jerusalem Marathon a focus of his mind-body transformation. Jerusalem, the Holy City, is also well-known for its beauty and challenging terrain. The March 16 event will take runners through important historical sites including the Old City, Sultan's Pool, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, the Knesset, Mount Scopus and many more.
The Jerusalem Marathon offers five options for runners: the full marathon (42 km), half-marathon (21 km), 10 km race, 4.2 km race, and a “community jog” of 400 meters.
Richard Dawkins, the worldwide Dean of Atheists and author of The God Delusion, is not sure about all this.
Last week in a public debate at Oxford University, Dawkins clarified that he prefers to call himself agnostic rather than atheist – i.e. he lacks total certainty over whether or not there is a creator.
Though Dawkins may indeed be a long-time agnostic, that's not how the world views him. His recent statement created a big tumult and raises the question: What difference does it make whether someone is an agnostic or an atheist?
A big difference.
An agnostic remains open to the idea that God exists and is willing to pursue the evidence, wherever it may lead.
Indeed, there are very few atheists (is it possible to prove that God doesn't exist?). Those who call themselves agnostic should, by definition, be actively examining the evidence and weighing both sides of the debate. In the absence of this, “ignorant” is a more accurate term than "agnostic."
This all reminds me of the true story that Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l loved to tell about a self-described atheist named Jeff whom he met at Aish in the Old City of Jerusalem.
"Fantastic! A real atheist!” said Rabbi Weinberg. “Tell me – what are you doing here speaking to a rabbi?"
Jeff said he had been in Europe, visiting his Norwegian fiance. And he decided it was now or never: either he would come to Israel or he'll never make it.
So he headed for Jerusalem and figured he would stop by the Western Wall to see some old stones. Yet upon his arrival he was amazed. He felt something heavy. He was moved.
Jeff stood before the Wall, and made up an atheist's prayer. He looked at the stones and said:
"God, I don't believe in You. As far as I know, You don't exist. But I do feel something. So if I'm making a mistake, I want You to know, God, I have no quarrel against You. It's just that I don't know that You exist. But God, just in case You're really there and I'm making a mistake, get me an introduction."
Jeff finished his prayer, and one of the yeshiva students who happened to be at the Wall, saw Jeff and thought, "Perhaps he'd be interested in learning some Torah."
He tapped Jeff on the shoulder, startling him so much that he jumped three feet in the air. Jeff whirled around: "What do you want?!"
"I'm sorry. I just want to know if you'd like to learn about God."
The question hit Jeff like a 2-by-4 right between the eyes. He had just finished asking God for an introduction, and immediately someone was offering to introduce him to God.
Jeff learned at Aish for the next six weeks. He was a very serious student, and went back to the States with a commitment to continue learning. A year later, Jeff came back to Israel and told Rabbi Weinberg the end of his story.
During that previous summer he had been meandering through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City when he saw a pretty, sweet, religious girl walk by. He said to himself, "Look at the charm of this Jewish woman. May the Almighty help me meet someone like this."
One Shabbat morning during the next year, Jeff attended a synagogue in Boston. Standing there was the same young woman he had seen in the Old City. He made his way over to her and said: "Excuse me, but I believe I saw you last summer in Jerusalem."
She answered, "You're right. I saw you, too."
They’re now married and living in New Jersey.
King David said: "The Almighty is near to all those who call unto Him, to all those who call unto Him in truth." (Psalms 145:18)
The power of sincerity is so overwhelming that even an atheist can get God's attention. If you're in a genuine search for truth, remember Jeff's prayer.
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Produced in the Spring of 2011, “Google Exodus” became an instant hit in three languages (English, Hebrew, Spanish) and was viewed online over 3 million times, along with an appearance on NBC’s Today Show.
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which continues through February 29, 2012, is the second largest Jewish film festival in the United States.
“Google Exodus” has also been selected for the Robinson International Short Film Competition, as part of the 19th annual Pittsburgh Jewish Film Festival. The winning films will be screened on May 1, 2012.
What’s next for Aish.com? A cool animated version of the Purim story, and a rockin’ out-of-the-box version of the Passover story. Stay tuned!
Of the six closest Super Bowls of all-time, the New York Giants have won three of them, and this year was spectacularly close. But the real buzz in the news grinder is M.I.A.’s finger malfunction. The rapper’s impromptu salute during the halftime show has got the Parents Television Council and others up in arms about indecency during family programming.
I'm not a TV watcher, but something tells me that children today are exposed to a lot worse than an errant finger gesture. Of course, this doesn’t mean that watching an episode of Glee will turn a child into a social delinquent. But in Judaism we have a saying: “You are what you see.” Images that enter the mind have a lasting effect – at the least, subconsciously desensitizing us to whatever “indecency” we’re exposed to.
And yes, it can escalate. In the Aish.com article, “The Truth about TV,” Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen cites research that posits a clear correlation between the viewing of “indecencies” like violent crime, drug use, marital discord – and the rate they occur in the real world.
Mussar, the Jewish character-building system, speaks about the idea of Shmirat Einayim – lit: “guarding one’s eyes.” When it comes to inappropriate images, we have the ability to make a choice. Just because something is out there (think of an Islamic beheading video) doesn’t mean we have to watch it.
Making discriminating choices is a value – a skill, actually – that we need to teach our children. And the need for this is growing, with the increasingly constant bombardment of images and information on the Internet, billboards and smart phones. Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l offers some practical tools here.
Maybe this Super Bowl incident will draw much-needed attention to what seems to me a genuine educational priority for today.
P.S. Now is a good time to say "hats off" to Rabbi Yaacov Deyo, who invented the concept of SpeedDating in 1998 while teaching at Aish Los Angeles. SpeedDating has garnered dozens of TV and film mentions over the years. On Sunday, before an audience topping 100 million, SpeedDating made its Super Bowl debut in this hilarious commercial for e-Trade.