Rabbi Aryeh Stern was elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim on October 22, 2014. A student of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Rabbi Stern filled an 11-year vacancy that was created by the death of Rabbi Yitzhak Kolitz ז”ל in 2003. The chief editor of the Halacha Brura and Berur Halacha Institute, he is recognized as being the representative of the national religious community. He was supported by HaBayit HaYehudi party, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and many of Israel’s most respected rabbis.
“It is in my intention to serve as the rabbi of all Jerusalemites: secular, modern-orthodox and charedi alike,” Rabbi Stern said when he was elected.
On January 20 he visited the OU Israel Center to learn about the OU and its activities in Israel.
After being greeted by Rabbi Avi Berman (center), Executive Director of OU Israel and Zvi Sand (right), President of OU Israel, Rabbi Stern toured the OU Israel Center and was impressed with the number of shiurim that were in progress.
He discussed OU Kashrut with Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowkoski (left), Rabbi Yossi Turnauer (right) and Yitzhak Fund, past president of OU Israel. This included OU Israel’s Kashrut activities and how they are different from local kashrut supervision. They also discussed how OU Israel deals with Chalav Yisrael, Shmittah and Shechitah (ritual slaughtering).
The Chief Rabbi was most interested in meeting some of the OU Israel staff members and hearing about their work. Included in the discussion were representatives from the Pearl and Harold Jacobs Zula Outreach Center, Taglit-Israel Birthright, Torah Tidbits, OU Israel Center programming, Makom BaLev and the Jack E. Gindi Oraita Clubs. Rabbi Stern was interested in hearing about each program – several of which he was not familiar with.
For example, he was impressed that Makom BaLev and Oraita deal with both religious and secular youth in 22 locations from Kiryat Shemona to Yeruham.
Harel Hetzroni, founder of the Zula, told the Chief Rabbi about his own personal journey from the yeshiva world to the streets and back. He explained how he is helping this generation of Israeli youth benefit from his experience.
Torah Tidbits Editor Phil Chernofsky talked about how Rav Kook’s presence is felt at the OU Israel Center. “On several occasions people have told me that while they have learned Torah for years, it is only at the OU Israel Center that they learned to love learning.”
Rivka Segal, Director of Programming at the OU Israel Center explained that the Center offers 35-40 shiurim and tiyulim every week which makes it “the address for religious English speakers.”
To conclude the discussion about programming, Rabbi Avi Berman explained that 36 percent of OU Israel’s programming budget comes from OU Kashrut and that profits go back into the community to help Klal Yisrael.
At lunch, Rav Nachman Kahane welcomed Rabbi Stern by stressing the centrality and importance of Jerusalem. Dov Kalmanovich who represents HaBayit HaYehudi in the Jerusalem City Council assured Rabbi Stern that OU Israel can help him in one of his goals: furthering kashrut. “The OU also has an important part in furthering Rav Kook’s love of Eretz Yisrael,” he said.
OU Israel President Zvi Sand spoke about Parshat Bo. He said that this week’s parsha should reflect the idea of “going” to Pharoah, rather than “coming” (“Bo” in Hebrew). Commentators suggest that the word “come” is used because Hashem is saying, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll always be with you. Come with me.’
Sand said that OU Israel is asking the Chief Rabbi to “come” with us. “We should work together for the good of Klal Yisrael. The OU is the world’s largest Kashrut certification organization,” he said. In addition to kashrut, “we are working on furthering education and helping solve problems that we face. We want to work together with you to improve Klal Yisrael,” he said.
Rabbi Stern was clearly impressed by both the way he was hosted by OU Israel and by “the important work that is being done here.” Referring to Sand’s offer, he said, “I’m willing to take the hand you offered me. I want to partner with OU Israel to help improve Klal Yisrael.”
At the end of the visit, Sand and Rabbi Berman presented Rabbi Stern with a reminder of his visit.
“We gave him a tefillah that was written by Rav Mordechai Eliayhu ז”ל [the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, 1983-1993],” Rabbi Berman said. “In this prayer Rav Eliyahu asks Hashem to give him the wisdom only to say something is pure if it is, in fact, pure. He asked always to have the proper mind set.” The prayer was combined with a picture of Yerushalayim.
Photos by Yitzy S. Russek and Zvi Volk