Shore Ayalon Aish Hatorah 248.88.
(photo credit: Ashley Perry )
"Everyone finds their way to Tel Aviv," enthused Rabbi David Ziering last week, as Aish HaTorah Tel Aviv celebrated its first anniversary, ironically enough, in Jerusalem.
Although Aish HaTorah has long been known as one of the world's leading kiruv organizations - bringing non-observant Jews closer to their religion - until last year, the only presence Aish had in Israel was in Jerusalem's Old City. With branches around the globe for years now, Tel Aviv was a glaring omission on the organization's map, until last Succot.
Ziering, the founder of Aish Tel Aviv, explained that though Jerusalem may be Israel's political capital, Tel Avivians see their city as the country's spiritual, economical and social center, an attitude attested to by the Hebrew name for the region around Tel Aviv: the Merkaz (center).
As Ziering explained, "Tel Aviv is the city with the largest populace of irreligious Jews in the world... People talk about fighting against assimilation, but we have a significant element living here who feel alienated from mainstream Judaism."
Such a major region in Israel could no longer be ignored, he said. "We had to find our way to the heart of Israel; everybody finds their way to the heart. Unfortunately, though, Tel Aviv is a city with 500 empty synagogues," Ziering explained. "So we took over one and reopened it... we needed to reach out to these Jews, too." The new center in on the corner of Ben-Yehuda and Ben-Gurion streets.
"Aish Tel Aviv runs many programs, including communal Friday night meals in honor of Shabbat, formal and informal learning sessions on its premises and even one-on-one learning in office buildings," one of Aish's students, Justin Karr, a businessman living in Tel Aviv, told The Jerusalem Post.
As a lady in a cocktail dress passed by, Karr paused for a second, motioned in her direction and added, smiling: "A typical Aish HaTorah student - not Aish Jerusalem, but definitely Aish Tel Aviv."
Ziering explained that Aish is trying to "influence the jugular vein of Israel; get to the most influential people in Israeli society. In Tel Aviv we meet up with these people. Some are in the media, some are businessmen, etc. We have gone to the offices of well-known TV personalities and young professionals so that we can find some time in their hectic schedule to learn Torah, and also met up with people like [Deputy Foreign Minister] Danny Ayalon and other people in well-known corporations such as Citibank and Google to learn Torah in their offices with them."
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yonah Metzger, as well as Israel Beiteinu's Ayalon and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, joined Aish in the celebrations.
Ayalon said he was grateful for Aish HaTorah's work for the Jewish people as "I have been fortunate enough to spend time each week with Rabbi Ephraim Shore, [director of Aish HaTorah Tel Aviv]."
"I heard about this opportunity to learn with Aish HaTorah and I'm very happy that it's happening," Ayalon told the Post afterward. "Aish does exactly as their name suggests: They are the fire of Torah, they make sure that this fire is accessible to the Jewish people and do some tremendous work to strengthen the Jewish people."
Aish HaTorah also tries to teach Zionism.
"There are many people in places like Tel Aviv who feel that the ideals of Zionism are a thing of the past. We hope to show them that these values are still valid," Ziering said.
Recognizing Aish's presence in Jerusalem, Landau told the assembled guests, "The real battle [between Israel and the Palestinians] is over Jerusalem, but it's not a battle over territory, though. It's a battle over justice, over our rights, over our very beliefs."
"Aish Hatorah is doing some great work in defending that which we hold dear," he said.