Tales of a Modern Jewish Woman
This week marks the 12th yortzeit, the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Noah Weinberg Z"L (of blessed memory). He was the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah.
I was 25 years old when I heard him speak and he said “People who want to change the world start their own organizations”.
I had this idea of a creating an organization that reached Jews from all of the world. After his talk I went to my computer and register JICNY.com and asked a friend to design a logo.
He inspired my journey to reach thousands of Jews.
I hope you enjoy some of my stories from my book. The story below is a true account of the Rosh Yeshiva.
Tales of a Modern Jewish Woman - from the book Chutzpah Wisdom and Wine - the journey of an unstoppable woman
Same army, different units
When people walk into our Manhattan apartment their eyes are immediately drawn to what may be an extremely bewildering plaque on our wall. Encased in a gold frame is certificate of gratitude from the founder and head rabbi at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem thanking Gavin and me for our work in establishing the organization’s Australian branch.
People who don’t know us well will glance from the plaque to us to try to reconcile the dissonant information. Aish HaTorah followers are well known in the Orthodox world for their black hats and strict adherence to Jewish law. Anyone who knows Jodi and Gavin Samuels knows we are Modern Orthodox, we wear colors, I don’t cover my hair and I sometimes even wear jeans.
These details may not mean much to people unfamiliar with the inner working of the Orthodox Jewish world, but our dissonant outward reflections of Judaism makes this plaque quite surprising!
Rabbi Yisrael Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, was different.
Once I spoke to him about my wearing jeans, which was so out of place in his world.
“Jodi, God doesn’t judge his soldiers and neither do I,” he replied. “Just like an army needs many different types of soldiers and reinforcements, everybody plays a role in God’s kingdom. And you’re playing yours.”
Rabbi Weinberg saw past my jeans. He saw in me someone that could contribute even though I didn’t fit into his world and, somehow, I wasn’t fired (from my volunteer role).
Weinberg’s mission was to bring Jews closer to God. So was mine.
Rabbi Weinberg was famous for using the analogy that “the cattle cars have left the station” when comparing the loss of the Jewish people through assimilation to the Holocaust. He was very committed to see every single Jew return to the heritage.
After Rabbi Weinberg passed away in 2009, I was asked to speak at his shloshim (the observance thirty days after one’s death) at Aish HaTorah headquarters in New York. The crowd was milling with mostly men and nearly all of them black-hat rabbis. I was wearing a modest dress, but with bright colors and a V-neck, clearly not modest enough. People couldn’t believe that “she” was one of the speakers.
I texted a friend who worked there before I was to go up on stage. “There’s no way I can speak to all these rabbis! Please pour me a glass of wine,” I wrote. I slipped out to “the bathroom” and downed the wine to calm my nerves.
But going up on stage to honor a man who had been so influential and real all those years was an honor. I recounted how I ended up bringing a group of students to Aish HaTorah because I wanted a free trip to Israel, and that I arrived without a skirt. I recalled how Rabbi Weinberg, years later, encouraged Gavin and me to go to New York and that I would surely continue my mission there. I was the girl who took his advice to change the world. And my own Jewish outreach organization was born.
Even though I’m no longer working for Aish HaTorah, I remain inspired by Rabbi Weinberg’s vision that we should not rest until we bring every Jew back to their roots.
My own journey shows the vast influence Rabbi Weinberg had on me and the ability he had to get others to maximize their own potential – no matter how they dressed.
May that be a lesson for us all.