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Dream Big, Work Hard

Esther Teichtal

If Rabbi Naftali Schiff, CEO of Aish UK, learned one lesson from his mentor Rav Noah, it was to think big, to know that each of us bears responsibility for the Jewish People, and to realize that everyone can change the world. For the last two decades, Rabbi Schiff has taken up his rebbi’s challenge and planned his strategy: to reach every Jew in England.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The epiphany struck him on the last night of the program. A crowd of jean-clad, multi-ringed, guitar-strumming youngsters sat cross-legged in a circle, enjoying the unique camaraderie that develops while on an organized tour. Someone passed around a microphone, and participants were asked to articulate what they had gained from the buzz of recent weeks. “A month ago,” admitted one young man, somewhat haltingly, “I could barely admit to myself where I came from, let alone to the world. Today I can honestly say — I feel proud to be Jewish!” The microphone advanced through the room, and each shared confidence revealed an impact. Someone else told of daily letters he had been receiving from his non-Jewish girlfriend throughout the summer. He now carried home a strong resolution, he said, only to marry Jewish. Sitting on the edge of the circle, program director Rabbi Naftali Schiff imbibed the words with a growing thrill. “Growing up frum, I had never before mixed with unaffiliated youngsters whose idea of a Friday night out was so far removed from the concept of Shabbos,” he says. That first summer of the Jerusalem Fellowship program he saw the problem, and the potential, clearly. “As much as that summer was a wake-up call for the students, it was a turning point in my life. Every single student who described how the program affected him made me realize this was something I had to do. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility. There was no turning back.” A quick glance through frum publications of the past few years will tell anyone who wants to know the sad, alarming truth. Journalists, outreach workers, frum-from-birthers, and baalei teshuvah alike appear to be united in their view: Kiruv is a slowly dying enterprise. Increasing techno-gadgetry, diminishing attention spans, and an alarming descent into moral relativity are all chipping away at what once seemed invincible — intellectual truths and their power to inspire a Yid. But a meeting withRabbiNaftaliSchiff, CEO of Aish UK and founder of the Jewish Futures Trust, an incubator of dynamic, cutting-edge projects whose goal is to spread innovation throughout the Jewish Diaspora, indicates otherwise.

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