Rabbi Leo Dee speaks at the OU event
Rabbi Leo Dee speaks at the OU eventCourtesy

An evening of inspiration for Yom Kippur for English-speakers took place last week in Modiin. Prominent personalities included Rabbi Avi Berman, OU Israel Executive Director; Stuart Hershkowitz, OU Israel President; Rabbi Leo Dee; journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir; and many others. The event was themed: "The challenge is – how do we reignite the spark?"

OU Israel’s pre-Yom Kippur Torah Modiin Conference in memory of David and Norma Fund took place last week Wednesday at the Kehilat Shaarei Yonah Menachem synagogue, led by Rabbi Shlomo Sobol, who began the evening of inspiration with words of blessing. English-speakers traveled from around Israel to join this evening of inspiration.

In attendance were Rabbi Avi Berman, Stuart Hershkowitz, Rabbi Leo Dee, Gush Etzion Regional Council Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir, and hundreds of English-speakers in Israel.

OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman welcomed everyone to the program, saying, "It was an honor to stand outside and greet people who came from near and far, from over the country, to attend tonight’s program in order to be inspired before Yom Kippur. Tonight is very special for all of us. Our lives are constantly busy. We are constantly running from one thing to the next with no time to rest or take a break and think deeply. This evening, right before Yom Kippur, we stop to learn Torah for several hours. We focus on our values and priorities and who we truly are."

Afterwards, Rabbi Leo Dee, who lost his wife Lucy and daughters Maia and Rina in a terrorist attack in the Jordan Valley in April, gave the opening keynote. Rabbi Dee spoke about the ability to cope with moments of crisis and understanding that life is not in man’s hands.

"There are two ways to remember the girls," he began. "Either to cry or to remember their characteristics, smile and be happy. Tonight, let’s smile at their memory together."

He spoke about a gemara relating an incident during which Rabbi Akiva and his fellow rabbis saw a fox leave the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The other rabbis cried while Rabbi Akiva laughed. Rabbi Dee continued, "We are living with an unexpected reality, a reality which is constantly changing and out of our control. Yet, we live and act as if things are in our control. If we fill our lives with prayer, Torah and faith, these tools will accompany us during times of crisis and feeling that things in our lives are out of our control."

Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, Rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and Rosh Yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), referenced the public internal Israeli debates over the past year: "It is necessary to listen to what the other side says and not just how to respond to him. Knowing to understand means taking off your own glasses and putting on the glasses of the person on the other side. To think about what is bothering him and why he thinks the way he does."

"This does not mean that you agree, but you understand the other side. This way the argument will switch to one that is empowering and moves things forward. Arguments can be meaningful. Every argument can help raise things to a higher level. If the Jewish nation learns to argue in a better way, we will succeed at being in a better place, a higher place. In order to get there, we need to work on our character traits."

Journalist and author Sivan Rahav-Meir expressed, "Everyone is talking about personal repentance before Yom Kippur. I think true repentance has to be with two words: 'let’s sit.' This is how I encountered Judaism when I was 15, and I fell in love with it. Jewish light shines, sparkles, and belongs to everyone. Judaism belongs to everyone, and nobody has ownership of it or the ability to stop its tremendous influence. One of the challenges we face today is assimilation, the lack of inspiration. The challenge is: how do we once again ignite the spark. Each of us has a reason why we came into the world and the reality around us, especially social networks, may overshadow it. It is incumbent upon us to renew the meaning, excitement and inspiration."

Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Breitowitz presented the closing keynote at Torah Modiin and spoke about repentance. "The goal is not for G-d to leave my soul alone. Rather, it is to desire a relationship with G-d. We want repentance and forgiveness. Most of us view repentance as something which will influence our future, but repentance is capable of changing and reshaping the past. Despite the facts of the past which are behind us, their meaning can change at any moment and turn things around. This is repentance, where we create the foundations for future growth from the failures of our past. We control our destiny."