In Honor of Yom HaAtzmaut and Israel’s 75th Anniversary, with Scholar-in-Residence Rabbi Dr. Ari Lamm

There are people who are so brilliant, knowledgeable, and articulate that one would go out in the pouring rain and walk many blocks to hear him or her speak. This is what happened twice on Shabbos Acharei Mos-K’doshim (April 29) when, despite the fact that it had been pouring for hours, flooding the streets and sidewalks, and continued to rain all day, dozens of people who do not usually attend the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills joined a very large number of shul members to hear Rabbi Ari Lamm, Chief Executive of the Bnai Zion Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that produces media that introduces Israel and Jewish ideas to audiences around the world, speak during a special Shabbos in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut and Israel’s 75th anniversary.

One member of the Young Israel said, “Under normal circumstances, I would not have left the house yesterday, but the program was worth two trips to shul in yesterday’s storm.” Another participant stated that the lectures were so intellectually exciting that she felt she was back at graduate school.

The theme of each of Rabbi Lamm’s three talks was how the Jewish understanding of the Torah and Talmud became a model for 16th-18th Century European gentile political thinkers on how to organize and govern a people. “Israel and the Nations of the World,” Rabbi Lamm’s drashah after the Torah reading, brought together Shakespeare, King Henry VIII, and the t’shuvah on Yibum and Chalitzah of Rabbi Jacob Rafael, a 13th century Italian rabbi, showing how the rabbi’s t’shuvah ended up changing the course of European history.

“The Zohar and the American Revolution,” his talk before Minchah, brought together Johannes Reuchlin, Benjamin Franklin, Ezra Stiles, Yale University, and Rabbi Raphael Haim Isaac Carigal, a rabbi from Hebron who spent nine months in North America during 1773-1774. The final talk, at S’udah Sh’lishis – “(How) Should Jews Do Politics?” – noted unusual wordings in the books of Daniel, Kings 2, and Esther that link those stories to the story of Joseph, and spoke about the lessons on relationships between Jews and gentile kings and rulers that can be derived from them. All of Rabbi Lamm’s talks began with warm, amusing stories about his grandparents or parents.

Yasher koach to Rabbi Stuart Verstandig, President of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, for organizing such an interesting program for the shul and community.