Happenings Around the OU
By Sara Goldberg
NCSY Reissues Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s Writings
In December, NCSY’s annual Aspire: Yarchei Kallah—a five-day learning retreat for public school teens—celebrated Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s legacy with the launch of the NCSY Aryeh Kaplan Library, a reissuing of the entire Kaplan opus. The ten reprinted volumes contain new introductions, redesigned covers and updated content, so a new generation can be introduced to the majesty of Jewish ideas and the beauty of Rabbi Kaplan’s prose. This project, in collaboration with ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, was made possible thanks to the gracious sponsorship of The Tannenbaum Foundation.
“Few, if any, have had a greater impact on the Jewish spiritual awakening often called ‘the teshuvah movement’ than Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, zt”l,” said Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, NCSY Director of Education, who initiated the project. “Rabbi Kaplan directly and personally impacted an almost unfathomable number of Jews through his prolific writing.”
Rabbi Kaplan’s writings were initially commissioned by NCSY in the 1970s, sponsored by Mr. Joe Tannenbaum. Over the years, many volumes of Rabbi Kaplan’s work have gone out of print, and some needed important updates and edits. Since Rabbi Kaplan reintroduced the eternal ideas of Judaism to the public, NCSY embarked on this ambitious project to reintroduce the public to Rabbi Kaplan.
All Mishnah App Launches with New Mishnah Yomi Cycle
December marked the start of a new Mishnah Yomi cycle, where participants learn two mishnayot a day to complete the Shishah Sidrei Mishnah in five-and-a-half years. Preparing for the new cycle, the OU Torah Initiatives’ All Torah Team, which created All Daf and All Parsha, launched All Mishnah, a free mishnah learning app containing shiurim, learning aids and a convenient tracker for Mishnah Yomi progress. In addition, the OU partnered with Mishna Rishona to provide phone-in mishnayot shiurim for children and collaborated with ArtScroll Mesorah Publications to create an All Mishnah edition of Masechet Berachot. These sefarim were distributed for free to children in grades six to eight who are taking part in the Mishnah Yomi cycle. As of the beginning of January, over 1,000 kids from Teaneck, New Jersey and the Five Towns on Long Island, New York have signed up to do Mishnah Yomi through programs at their schools, using the All Mishnah app.
“All Mishnah will open a path for learners of all levels to make daily Mishnah learning part of their lives.” —OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer
Download the All Mishnah app today at allmishnah.org/landing.
New Energy Efficiency Act Provides Grants to Nonprofits
Following a decade of activism by the OU Advocacy Center, in November President Biden signed into law Congress’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes a key piece of legislation for nonprofits: the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act. This legislation, crafted by OU Advocacy, allocates $50 million to the Department of Energy to offer grants of up to $200,000 to nonprofit organizations to upgrade their infrastructure and purchase more energy-efficient equipment, such as heaters, generators and air conditioners. Energy costs are one of the most significant expenses of shuls and day schools.
The Act was introduced in Congress by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) in 2012, and was reintroduced twice since then before being passed by both houses of Congress.
“The OU is immensely appreciative to the Senate for including this legislation,” said Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the OU Advocacy Center. “It provides a long-awaited boost to the faith community and nonprofit sector alike by enabling them to allocate greater funding to programs and services and less to energy bills, ultimately decreasing their energy footprints.”
This program will become a reality in the coming months, and applications will become available at that time. OU Advocacy will be working with the Department of Energy as it sets up this program, and the OU will provide information and guidance to shuls, schools and other nonprofits once the applications become available.
OU’s SPIRIT Initiative—Not Just for Seniors
As more and more people are living into their nineties, retirement means a second adulthood for many. The primary challenge: how to make one’s older years enjoyable and meaningful. Enter the OU’s SPIRIT (the Stimulating Program Initiative for Retirees that Inspires Thought), though as Senior Director of the OU Department of Community Projects and Partnerships and SPIRIT Coordinator Rebbetzin Judi Steinig will tell you, it’s not just for retirees. “This program is for retirees, not-yet-retirees, Baby Boomers, empty-nesters, ‘sandwich generation’ parents, and seniors—anyone who is looking for educational, intellectual and spiritual growth.”
Founded eight years ago as an in-person program, SPIRIT was brought back as a virtual program at the start of the pandemic and has grown tremendously over the past two years, from an average of thirty participants per session to often 300 or more. To date, the program has reached more than 6,000 individuals in countries around the world. The weekly live classes cover a smorgasbord of topics, from mental health concerns to finances, exercise, relationship-building and halachic matters, presented by engaging speakers with expertise on the subject.
“This is an educated group—over 90 percent have college degrees, and many have advanced degrees and doctorates,” noted Rebbetzin Steinig. “Often, we’ve had presenters come from the ranks of our audience.”
SPIRIT’s most popular programs include presentations on memory enhancement, destigmatizing mental health issues, and the importance of relationship building, as the stresses of the pandemic can cause strain on familial and spousal relationships.
“When we brought SPIRIT back, I did not envision success on this level,” said Rebbetzin Steinig. “I’ve had participants tell me that this program is ‘the one good thing that came out of Covid.’ It’s extremely rewarding.”
To register for a SPIRIT program, or to access SPIRIT’s archive of classes, visit ou.org/spirit.
Accelerator Members Are “Jews You Should Know”
Three member ventures of the OU’s Impact Accelerator as well as Director Jenna Beltser were interviewed on Rabbi Ari Koretzky’s “Jews You Should Know” podcast, highlighting how their programs are positively impacting the Jewish community.
“This was an exciting opportunity to promote our organization, create a buzz around Jewish startup ventures and to publicize the critical work Ani Tefillah is doing in the Jewish world,” said Tamar Nusbaum, Founder of Ani Tefillah, who was interviewed on the podcast. Ani Tefillah was a member of the Impact Accelerator’s second cohort.
Founded in 2018, the Accelerator identifies and advances promising Jewish nonprofits through education, mentorship and collaboration. Applications for Cohort IV opened in November, and the finalists will be announced in May.
To listen to the Accelerator member interviews on the “Jews You Should Know” podcast, visit jewsyoushouldknow.com/.
To learn more about the OU’s Impact Accelerator, visit ou.org/accelerator/about-us/.
Seminary Students Level Up on Kashrut
With some of their usual programming unavailable due to Covid restrictions, Sha’alvim for Women in Yerushalayim was particularly concerned about the Shana Bet students, who typically study for only half the school year. To enrich the curriculum, Sha’alvim partnered with OU Israel’s The Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education to create a new program exploring the ins and outs of kashrut through the lens of OU Kosher, the largest kashrut organization in the world. This past semester, twenty-seven young women participated in the weekly shiur, given by Rabbi Ezra Friedman, Director of The Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education, which explored the halachot of consumer kashrut. Topics included pat akum, bishul akum, kashering methods, checking for bugs, the differences between dairy and dairy equipment, specific rules for factories, restaurants and hotels, and more.
“Rabbi Friedman was an incredible resource for our students,” said Rabbi Gershon Turetsky, Menahel at Sha’alvim. “His extensive knowledge of hilchot kashrut and his technical knowledge of how hashgachot—particularly OU Kosher—operate was eye-opening for our students.”
“The Sha’alvim course was an amazing opportunity to teach Torah and kashrut on a whole new level,” said Rabbi Friedman. “The education center was founded on the belief that the greatest way to help spread kashrut is with in-depth learning, tools from the field and a personal connection to OU Kosher staff. The young women at Sha’alvim merited all three. Special thanks to Rabbi Gershon Turetsky for making this amazing dream become a reality.”
New Positions and Promotions
. . . Dr. Michelle Shain on her promotion to Director, OU Center for Communal Research (CCR), replacing Founding Director Matt Williams. Dr. Shain came to the OU after more than a decade at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and has served as the Assistant Director of the CCR for the past three years. She was a key analyst for the ongoing evaluation of the impact of Birthright Israel and for the Jewish Futures Project, the only longitudinal study of American Jews of the millennial generation. Dr. Shain has published more than a dozen articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and more than two dozen research reports. She holds a bachelor’s in Near Eastern and Judaic studies and anthropology and a doctorate in social policy, both from Brandeis University. She also holds a master’s in contemporary Jewry from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
. . . the six “Points of Light” awardees at the OU’s annual Employee Appreciation Luncheon. These six individuals were nominated by their peers for their exemplary service to the OU, particularly during the challenges of the past two years. The honorees are:
Project Manager, Marketing and Communications
Rabbi Gavriel Price
Rabbinic Coordinator, Ingredients Department, OU Kosher
Assistant Director of Operations and Development, OU-JLIC
Rabbi Simcha Smolensky
Senior Rabbinic Field Representative,
Help Desk Technician, IT
New From OU Press
Summarized and annotated by Arnold Lustiger
On Yom Kippur, after reciting the piyut Mareh Kohen, which describes the splendor of the Kohen Gadol, we say, “Ashrei ayin ra’atah kol eileh, How fortunate was the eye that beheld all this.” The performance of the Yom Kippur service by the Kohen Gadol left an indelible impression upon all those who witnessed it. Much closer to our own time, those who attended Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s annual teshuvah derashot attest to the lasting impact the experience made on their spiritual lives.
In this volume, Dr. Arnold Lustiger, a devoted follower of Rav Soloveitchik who has done so much to bring his Torah to a wider audience, presents readers with annotated summaries of a selection of the Rav’s teshuvah derashot. The ten derashot contained in this work (including two new ones included in this edition) address the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, the shofar, Selichot, Erev Yom Kippur, Kol Nidrei, the essence of Yom Kippur, the Avodah and, of course, the many facets of teshuvah, with the Rav’s characteristic insight, depth and creativity. In addition to notes highlighting parallels to the Rav’s other writings, Dr. Lustiger has included links to recordings, where available, of the Rav delivering the derashot on which the volume is based. The publication of this important work brings both those who themselves heard the Rav and those who never merited to do so a step closer to understanding the message of the Days of Awe: “Before Hashem you shall be purified.”
By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
OU Press and Maggid Books
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ essays on the weekly parashah, published in his Covenant and Conversation series and its companion volumes, have already become a classic of our time. In what tragically was to be his last series of essays on the parashah before his untimely demise, Rabbi Sacks chose to focus on the spiritual dimension of the Torah. He explains the reasoning for his decision in the introduction to this volume:
There is, undeniably, something of a crisis in Jewish spirituality today. This is sad, because for many centuries Jews were the G-d-intoxicated people. If there is a single sentence that sums up Jewish history, it is surely the statement of the prophet Zechariah: “Not by power and not by might but by My spirit, says the L-rd of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). Jews never had much power despite what the Protocols of the Elders of Zion might say. That always was a fantasy. Nor did they have might. Christianity and Islam built massive, monumental empires. Jews never did.
What our ancestors had in full measure was G-d’s spirit. They felt G-d close. There is something moving about the word Jews used to describe this. They called it the Shekhina, usually translated as the Divine Presence, but which actually means something more striking. A shakhen is a neighbor, the person who lives next door. That is how close Jews felt G-d to be. Yes, He is more distant than the furthest galaxy, but He is also closer to us than we are to ourselves. The G-d of Abraham is not a distant G-d. He is enthroned in majesty in heaven. But He is also parent, partner, neighbor, mentor, friend. So it was for many centuries. Then something changed . . .
[M]any lost that sense of intimacy with G-d that resonated so powerfully with our ancestors, giving them their sense of hope and courage and singularity . . .
We will need spiritual strength even more than military, economic or technological strength in the years ahead. For it is spirituality that teaches us that life is sacred, that there is more to happiness than the pursuit of wealth, power, success or fame, and that though life is short we can, at blessed moments, experience the transformative power of joy giving us a sense of eternity in the midst of time.
Rabbi Sacks, whose ability to convey the universal truths of Judaism was unparalleled, and who was and remains universally revered by all who encountered him, is the ideal guide to lead us out of the spiritual crisis of our times.