Report from The Aish Conference

My wife and I spent this past Thursday through Sunday at the Aish Partner’s Conference. The term partner in this context is anybody involved with in Aish in any way. The organization aims to be inclusive and if you want to: help bring Jews back to Judaism; avocate for Israel; or just learn Torah, then you’re welcome.

Many of the people I met there had heard of Beyond BT and the Aish people were supportive of the site. Everybody was approachable and we talked to many of the senior people about a number of issues. The speakers were fantastic and the program was packed with sessions. We attended about 15 different lectures and sessions on a wide variety of topics. They were all of extremely high quality. You can see the program here. My only complaint is that all the great videos they showed in the 2007 Accomplishment session on Moetzae Shabbos awakened my somewhat dormant taiva for Rock n Roll.

But the most amazing thing about the conference is how Aish, under Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s leadership, has taken Baalei Teshuva like you and me and empowered, enabled and assisted them in a wide array of projects that benefit Klal Yisroel. The vast majority of the key staff including Eric Coopersmith (CEO), Nechemia Coopersmith (Aish.Com head), Yitz Greenman (head of Discovery and Aish New York) and numerous others are Baalei Teshuva. Rav Noach recognizes the innovative power of Baalei Teshvua and is helping to unleash that power in signficant ways. We can all take pleasure in what they’ve done. (R’ Noach says: take pleasure, not pride in your accomplishments).

The theme of the conference was very focused on our mission as Jews, which is bringing G-d’s Torah to the entire world. The message is that each one of us can and should have a role in that mission. The conferences had several examples of individuals who have made significant impact through their efforts. Perhaps in subsequent posts I’ll share some insights from particular shiurim, but for now let me just leave you with a few of the projects that Baalei Teshuva powered Aish is accomplishing:

Aish.Com is the most innovative and comprehensive Torah oriented sight on the Web.

Project Inspire is a project to help and encourage Torah Observant Jews to share the wealth of Torah with their fellow Jews.

Aish Exploratorium is a state of the art museum which will introduce 350,000 Jews a year to Torah through the medium of Jewish History when they feel the tug of their heritage at the Kosel.

Hasbara is a program that educates and trains university students to be effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses.

Aish On Campus
brings university students across North America an inspiring, fun and meaningful Jewish campus experience.

Aish Cafe serves a new brand of Jewish learning by bringing the best of education and entertainment straight to dorm rooms on campus.

Media Central cultivates relationships with journalists in Israel and provides them with an Israeli point of view on issues and events in the Middle East.

Jewish Pathways
is for people who need to “catch up,” or who want to learn Torah in a more systematic, comprehensive way, Jewish Pathways courses are built around essential learning components like videos lectures, readings, slide shows and quizzes. Currently all the courses are being offered for free, so it might make sense to try it out today.

We’re big fans of anybody who spreads and supports Torah for BTs and PreTs, but after experiencing the conference (on my own dime) I’d have to say that Aish is firing on all cylinders.

22 comments on “Report from The Aish Conference

  1. Bob, if all that these kiruv subcultures were doing was honoring one’s past by not encouraging them to “chuck it overboard,” we wouldn’t be seeing the kind of slick “get the best of both worlds” advertisements and entirely new cultures that we do. Make no mistake that they want to eat the cake and use yiddishkeit as the icing!

    Rav E. Tauber said after the Twind Towers that it couldn’t be that such a world shaking disaster occurs in a spot considered an epicenter of world Jewry without a clear message for us. That message, he said, is undoubtedly that our attitude of Twin Towers, meaning seeking the best of both worlds, is about to collapse! As much as we need to cultivate this world to support our strife for earning the Next, NEVER should it become of equal importance.

  2. If someone gave me a pitch about how I could have my cake and eat it, too, I’d go elsewhere for inspiration.

    However, I think the pitch we’re actually discussing here is more along the lines of “Your past life has value so your improvement process doesn’t mean chucking it all overboard”.

  3. I think we’ve got a crucial, new thread here. Perhaps what speaking of “beyond BT” is truly Meant?

    Bob: The turkey story, which I know well, is a WONDERFUL myth. Dreaming of its virtual reality keeps so many of us going. It certainly fuels many a growing kiruv empire. But in all honesty, how many “turkeys” are suddenly waking up and feeling at home in their streimels?? Rather it seems to be turning a stunning amount of our nobel tradition into turkey fodder! Not wanting to slip into doing l. ha’ra on any one kiruv culture,it must nevertheless be noted that a number of the folk that are being trumpeted in this article for heroically bringing back our lost brothers are clearly into carving their personal turkey niche into the holy Torah. “You can learn and not change”?? In essence this is WORSE than Reform. You can’t even identify the enemy! As sfarim kdoishim put it abt talmud torah lo lishma: It’s giving the King’s CROWN over to the Other Side!

    Ron said:
    “There are people all over the world who learn Torah, sincerely and enthusiastically, and never change their lives. But even without the empirical fact, as a logical matter how could it not be emes? I don’t even understand the question.”

    Do you understand the question now? It’s abt quality, Ron. Spiritual integrity. I really hate to question another’s sincerity, but surely in retrospect we find that this is a serious issue for many who dive in to the Torah culture. They might have been s-i-n-c-e-r-e-l-y looking for a mate, s-i-n-c-e-r-e-l-y searching for a nobel way of life, s-i-c-e-r-e-l-e-y looking to reject their fromer culture… but are they sincerely seeking H’s Will?

    But even if we assume you’re right, sincerity can also pave the path to you know where. You speak of “logic.” Is it really logical to assume that one who has has been mired in plenty of criminal pleasures, can simply roll out of bed one day day and start chumming up to the judges of the supreme court?

    Pls don’t mistake my pt, chevreh. Everyone says we must make Torah more accessible. But a MAJOR chunk of that must happen by showing how by definition this must happen via refinement of our lower selves.

  4. I think that the Aish movie might be defining “change” differently than you, David. “Change” is a vague word. To those very reluctant to learn because they think they will be “brainwashed” and have to don a black hat like those kollel guys they see, it says, “don’t worry, you don’t have to change outwardly.” Which is the truth. No one has to look a certain way to be following instructions for living. In addition, I and countless others would not be where we are today if we felt threatened about having to give up our lives and everything we strove for up until that point in order to learn Torah. Most stable people are not looking for change, they are looking for internal enrichment. However, as we all know, the power of the Torah’s capacity to internally enrich leads to change inevitably.

    We bristle because we have experienced that and know that learning does lead to change. But the newbie hasn’t, and it isn’t our place to threaten him when he is not ready. It is like how you’re not supposed to tell someone a halacha if he is not ready to hear it. Is that emes? Yes, because that’s what will ultimately bring him to follow it in the future.

  5. YY:
    “they make the point that learning Torah does not mean you have to change your life”

    Ah. THE Aish selling point. But is it EMES??

    But even without the empirical fact, as a logical matter how could it not be emes? I don’t even understand the question.

    I had the same visceral reaction to the statement that YY had. I’ve heard Rav Noach Weinberg thunder on hundreds of occasions: “Torah has to be learned al m’nas la’asos (in order to do)!” “The essence of Torah study is Toras Chaim—instructions for living.” So how can you turn around and tell people that “learning Torah does not mean you have to change your life”? Isn’t that hypocritical?

    The answer, I feel, lies in the way you introduce someone to Torah study. If you tell him that the Torah doesn’t require him to change, then you’re making a mistake somewhat akin to Reform Judaism. You’re remaking the Torah to suit yourself.

    Most emphatically, the Torah is saying in every word, syllable, and letter: Internalize this, make yourself into a better person, change yourself!

    People are reluctant to learn because they’re afraid that if they know something they’ll have to do something about it. But you can explain: God understands your situation (after all, He created you). He’s been patient with you for some decades already. Doesn’t He want you to make an effort to draw closer to Him by learning Torah, even if you’re not ready yet to change in the slightest? Yes, there’s an ultimate goal — perfecting oneself in the derech Hashem, observance of all the mitzvos, and rectifying our middos. But every tiny step along the way is inherently valuable and absolutely necessary before advancing to the next step.

    As Hillel said: The rest is commentary–go and learn!

  6. Of course it’s emes. There are people all over the world who learn Torah, sincerely and enthusiastically, and never change their lives. But even without the empirical fact, as a logical matter how could it not be emes? I don’t even understand the question.

  7. I think for step one it is the Emes and I think it is the first step for a number of Kiruv organizations that I know.

    It’s possible that Torah over time will make you see life in a different way. But at step one, just learn.

  8. “they make the point that learning Torah does not mean you have to change your life”

    Ah. THE Aish selling point. But is it EMES??

  9. The Jewish Pathways courses look really interesting. Hopefully at some point they could put subtitles/captions in the videos so I could follow along, then I’d jump right in. Maybe you could pass that along at the next conference.

  10. Mark,

    True! We are all part of the “wonderful mosaic” that make up the Jewish people. Individually, we all have our unique talents and abilities. Put together, what a site to behold!


  11. I knew I should have left out the Rock N’ Roll reference.

    But seriously, the sub-theme of this post is that BTs have unique strengths that can be used to make a major impact on Klal Yisroel.

    Are we doing enough?

  12. Guys,

    “Time after Time” would be classified as Adult Contemporary (not true “Rock” to me)…neither would “Strangers Like Me”. I don’t know how the 1st song could be used, but I do see how the 2nd could be…how a soon-to-be Frum person wants to fit in with those who are Frum at that time.

    BTW, the Bee Gees, on their last album (in 2001) had a song called “Loose Lips (Cost Lives)”, which is a perfect Lashon Hara song!


  13. “Don’t be so Midakdek with the Loshon. Would you prefer Secular Music with Lyrics?”

    Sorry, I was seated at a Bar Mitzvah over shabbos across from my nephew who is a musician and another fellow who was a bit of a music snob, so maybe that rubbed off on me a bit.

    Love the “nerd cap” appellation.

  14. Don’t be so Midakdek with the Loshon. Would you prefer Secular Music with Lyrics?

    On the subject of cool, Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser had a great line calling the Yarmuka – the instant nerd cap. His conclusion was that being a nerd is better, because it takes so much needless effort to keep up the false image of coolness and he was talking from experience.

  15. Hi Marty,

    This one was Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper but now is played by some male group.

    The videos with their soundtracks are tremendously effective and are a necessity for Aish’s target audience.

    They premiered a new one called Blueprint which shows a lot of cool prominent people talking about the pleasure of learning Torah L’Shma (for its own sake). At the end they make the point that learning Torah does not mean you have to change your life.

  16. Mark,

    When you mentioned rock, I thought of a song on a Gateways video from 2 years ago…”Strangers Like Me” by Phil Collins (from Tarzan)!


Comments are closed.