This hassid will surprise you

Fusing technology and God, the modest Emunah Center seeks to impact the world’s consciousness.

The center’s founder and inspirational leader, Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto (left), with volunteer consultant Avrum Weiss (photo credit: COURTESY EMUNAH CENTER)
The center’s founder and inspirational leader, Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto (left), with volunteer consultant Avrum Weiss
It’s not much to look at, but inside the Emunah Center, a ground-floor apartment in the Rehavia neigh- borhood, lives are being changed every day. Opened in August 2015 and al- ready poised to move to a larger space this summer, the Emunah Center is the beating heart of a movement bent on transforming the consciousness of the entire world.
Emunah is Hebrew for faith. In the words of the staff of the Emunah Cen- ter, emunah is “an innate conviction, a perception of truth” that God exists, and they are determined to spread that word as far and as wide as possible.
The Emunah Center and its related activities are a physical manifestation of much that has happened to its founder and inspirational leader, Rabbi Dror Moshe Cassouto since 1978, when he was born to a secular family in Jerusa- lem. As a soldier in the IDF, Cassouto witnessed miracles his secular world- view couldn’t explain. Ultimately, his search led him on a spiritual path.
An important part of Cassouto’s path is the spiritual practice known as hit- bodedut . Originally discussed by Mai- monides and popularized by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in the early 19th century, hitbodedut is a form of prayer and communion with God that is high- ly individualized and spontaneous. The practitioner of hitbodedut builds a relationship with God not necessarily through ritual, attendance at worship services or reciting pre-written prayers, but by connecting with God directly, in one’s own language. Cassouto and his team believe that the blessings they have seen as their programs grow are a direct result of hitbodedut. The efforts of the team, led by the charismatic Cassouto, are impressive. Begun six years ago as a program for English-speaking men at the Chut Shel Chesed Yeshiva on the outskirts of Mea She ’ arim, the Emunah Center is cur - rently in its adolescence, growing more confident in expressing its unique voice each day. In his earliest videos, Cassouto acknowledges that he had “typical Israeli broken English.” Six years later, his efforts to master English, stemming from his desire to reach out to people who need his help, have paid off hand- somely.
The Emunah Center is a workplace, a classroom, a synagogue and an event location – all intended to spread one central message. Smiling broadly, Cas- souto told In Jerusalem , “God exists and He loves you. That’s the secret.”
“Love is the central message. To love Hashem [God]. To love to see and help people. I see the spark of Hashem in people. I believe everyone in the world has his own spark. I want you to love your life! I want my students to find their source of life,” Cassouto enthused. “Our product is like bread. Everyone needs it.”
The Emunah Center’s companion website,, is run from its Rehavia location. The website offers articles, inspirational videos, recorded lectures, images, music, smart- phone apps and more in English, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and German. The website was built by Yochanan Delgadillo, a long-term vol- unteer from Canada who was so moved by Cassouto’s teachings that he sought out a chance to help share the message.
Rav Dror’s sample lessons:
Lesson 1
The righteous people cannot tell you who you are. They can just show you the life example of how you can become to be who that you are. We saw in Avraham Avinu (Abraham our forefather) that he was serving Hashem yitba- rach (God, may He be blessed) in midat hahessed , in the personal attribute of kindness. And Yitzhak Avinu (Isaac our forefather) had the best teacher in the world, his father. He chose a different path. He chose to serve Hashem yitbarach in midat hagevura , in judgment, in power. And we see that Ya’acov Avinu (Jacob our father) had two options. Amazing! The best options in the world to choose. You can be in kindness. You can be in power. And he chose to go in tiferet (glory). Why? Because he realized that if you want to achieve the purpose, you should become to be who that you are. You’re not supposed to imitate anyone else. You’re just supposed to be who that you are. Like we saw with Avraham Avinu, Hashem yitbarach is telling him in the prophecy, “ Lech le’cha m’beit avicha.
” Go into yourself from the house of your father. Lech le’cha. Go to yourself. Go find yourself. You cannot complete your - self in the house of your father. When your father is around, when your mother is around, when everyone is surrounding you and looking at you and they have what to say, it’s all amazing, good, halachic advice. Great advice. Advice that sounds so logical.
You cannot complete your goal. You cannot achieve. You cannot find your des- tiny. You cannot become to be who that you are. Only in the moment that a person is independent. That he trusts himself. That he counts on himself. That he believes in himself. That he’s going to do it. That he’s risking everything. That he’s choosing. That he’s saying, “I’m looking for myself. I’m going to find my destiny. I want to become to be who that I am!”
Lesson 2
Every person in this world has his own purpose and mission to accomplish. A lot of people think that it’s a very hard thing to find. But the truth is that it’s very easy to find. It’s written, “It’s not far from you. Not across the sea. It’s in your mouth and in your heart to do.”
So actually it means that we can find the roots of our souls very easily. By thinking and feeling and talking to ourselves about who we are and what we’re able to do. The hard thing, though, is to believe in it. After you found it. After you know who you are and what you’re gifted at and what your abilities are. To believe that it’s important to Hashem. And that it’s precious. That is the hardest thing in the world.
When I say “hard thing,” I don’t know the way. I’m thinking how to accomplish that. This is why to believe in myself and to become to be who that the Creator made me to be, that will be and will always be, the most important thing in the process of purification, reaching high levels of faith and knowing the Creator. Because we cannot know the Creator until we know ourselves. You know a painter by his pictures, an author by his books and articles. You know the Creator by His creations. And for sure that the main one for you is you. – R.L.A.
Much of the content on Emunah- is created by students who have absorbed the emunah lessons of their teacher. In fact, Chaim Mizra- chi, director of new operations told In Jerusalem that “the entire organization is being built from people who are the product of Rav Dror’s education.” Cas- souto and his team bring the wisdom he acquired on his own spiritual journey to 20,000 to 30,000 people a month. Cassouto, affectionately referred to as Rav Dror by his students, speaks with pride about the variety of people, Jew - ish and non-Jewish, who have been touched by his message. They include a fabulously wealthy businessman from Singapore, a gay Christian Frenchman, a Muslim from Thailand, prospective converts to Judaism and Jews world- wide, all of whom are seeking a way to reach God that allows them to live authentically.
The ability to live authentically is what attracted 26-year-old Yosef Weiss- berg, who oversees the media depart- ment. Weissberg was born in a religious home in the US. Feeling that the only model of Jewish expression to which he was exposed wasn’t a match for him, Weissberg left much of Judaism behind as a young teen. “I was always searching for truth, even though I was living a secular life,” Weissberg told IJ . Watching early videos of Cassouto’s lectures on one of the four screens he used in his job in information technol- ogy, Weissberg had “an epiphany that Torah is mine too, on my own terms.” In 2012, he came to Israel to meet Cas- souto in person, and within three weeks decided to make aliya. Today, he’s an important player on the Emunah Cen- ter team. “I’m in love with technology and I’m in love with Hashem and I found a way to fuse the two.”
Avrum Weiss, a seasoned nonprofit administrator who volunteers as a con- sultant for the Emunah Center, told us how helping Cassouto’s efforts has brought blessing to his life. “Rav Dror asked me if he could use my credit card to buy mattresses for five new olim. I donated the money to buy one and he raised the money to buy the others, using my credit card to cover the purchase. When I got home that eve- ning, my wife told me we had gotten refund checks from old accounts in the US that very day.
“I made money on the deal,” Weiss laughed, while acknowledging that this kind of blessing happens frequently to people who align themselves with Cas- souto and his mission. Following up on Weiss’ line of thought, Mizrachi said, “When we need something [to move our project for - ward], we pray... and it walks through the door. All our growth, our success, has been organic. If we try to force something, it doesn’t happen.”
Arguably, Cassouto’s most well- known student is 30-year-old rapper Nissim Black. Black started his career as a secular artist, converted to Judaism in 2013 and made aliya with his wife and four children in February of this year. Black records some of his “music with a message” in the music studio that is tucked into a back room of the Emunah Center.
Beside the move to a larger location nearby, plans include the addition of a women’s department and a children’s department. First up, though, is Cas- souto’s third North American tour. This time he will visit Toronto, New York and Miami. Invited by students who follow Cassouto online, the tours include one or two public lectures a day and a gruel- ing schedule of private appointments. By the time he returns to Israel at the end of this month, Cassouto estimates that he will have met privately with 200 individuals from all walks of life. Mizra- chi said that, on each of his previous tours, a handful of people decided to make aliya as a result of meeting with Cassouto.
Although Cassouto dresses like a typi- cal hassid, he is anything but. Weissberg says about him, “He’s a very rebellious person, in a really good way. [He teaches us that] you can challenge everything and still serve Hashem.” •
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