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Inspired and Inspiring, A Conversation with Charlie Harary

Barbara Bensoussan

Words from the heart are taken to heart, and what Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra said many years ago still holds true today — especially when it comes to Charlie Harary, whose inspiring talks and videos about Torah reach thousands of people every year. But long before he became a familiar face at the Orthodox Union and Aish HaTorah, Harary’s own heart was opened in a surprising way

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

When Charlie Harary arrived atCampHASCin 1997 as an idealistic 19-year-old college student, he was pumped. This was going to be an amazing summer. He was going to change the world, help the needy, and have a whole lot of fun into the bargain.

Then they showed him what he had to do.

“My first thought was, I’m gone. I’m out of here!” says Charlie, now a world-renowned outreach speaker for organizations such as the Orthodox Union and Aish HaTorah, as well as a member of the OU’s executive board. “I didn’t think I’d last a week.”

Apparently nobody had bothered to inform the ingenuous young man what was really involved in caring for a group of campers with a wide range of disabilities. He’d be up against the actual nitty-gritty of helping them eat and get around, dealing with their personal care, helping them over homesickness, putting them to bed and waking up with them during the night. Over the next eight weeks, Charlie wouldn’t have a minute to play sports, enjoy laps in the pool, or go on a hike. The strenuous exertion of caring for the campers would frequently leave him shvitzing, but there would barely be time to grab a shower. Charlie knew he’d signed up for work, not vacation, but never imagined he’d committed himself to an eight-week sentence in a hard labor camp.

And then, to his surprise, he loved it.

“It changed my entire perspective on the world,” Charlie told Mishpacha over coffee at Central Perk in Cedarhurst (he lives in the Five Towns with his wife and children). “I realized it wasn’t a burden to care for those kids. It was a privilege.”

He was so besotted he went back again the following summer to do it all over again. Even today, as a partner at H3 Capital LLC, an advisory and investment firm, and as an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business — all of which he does in addition to his outreach work — he’s still in touch with some of his campers and remains a staunch supporter of HASC.

You might even say that Charlie’s current Jewish life and philosophy can trace their roots to those summers working with HASC campers. In retrospect, he says that experience was a paradigm for the way Judaism should imbue one’s world view.

“Judaism isn’t just about praying, it isn’t just about following rules,” he says. “It’s about how you take on challenges.”


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