An evening in Manhattan graced by Gedolim & philanthropists to kickoff support for Rav Aharon Asayag’s lifesaving work
By: Mordechai Tzvi Ezrieli
This past Wednesday evening in the small, yet elegant Gevurah shul in the heart of Manhattan, an unprecedented gathering took place. A gathering of gedolim, rabbonim, askanim, philanthropists and Yidden wanting to make a difference in the lives of thousands of Jews. An evening graced by the presence of a single of these gedolim or any one of the well-known philanthropists would in and of itself warrant a special evening. To have all of them in one room for one cause is truly unprecedented. But for good reason.
The emergency meeting was convened on behalf of the organization Mateh HaChessed run by Rav Aharon Asayag, more specifically the Keren Toshvei Hanegev fund dedicated to help rebuild the lives of the tens of thousands of Jews living in Southern Eretz Yisrael affected by the terrible ripple effects of Simchas Torah, October 7th. A critical and urgent gathering to kick-off fundraising efforts to help save people’s lives and livelihood before it’s too late.
To many people in the room and to thousands of Jews across the world, they are only now learning about the heroic and revolutionary work of Rav Asayag. However, he has been helping Klal Yisrael specifically in Southern Eretz Yisrael in Torah and chessed for almost two decades. After moving to the city of Netivot, Rav Asayag was asked by Rav Yissocher Meir zt”l Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hanegev to open up a much needed cheder in Netivot, which Rav Asayag did at age 26. Since then, he hasn’t stopped.
Rav Asayag is the unique combination of Torah and Chessed in one as his efforts on behalf of Klal Yisrael and the Torah under his organizations Yaadit Torah BaNegev; including two full-time kollelim, one for Netivot residents with 80 avreichim and a special kollel with elite avreichim from across the Negev. In fact, Rav Asayag has transformed Torah life in Netivot, helping to bring thousands of Torah families to the city and supporting them with various programs and initiatives.
On the Chessed front, even before October 7th, Rav Asayag oversaw and operated a gemach that lends out ten million dollars a year, his own shul, an hachnosas kallah fund, a Yom Tov fund for poor families and more.
A MAN OF ACTION
When the tragic news of Simchas Torah happened, Rav Asayag’s actions are now legendary. While the natural focus of those tragic events are on hostages and lives lost, there is another tragedy that has come about from that tragic day; the tens of thousands of people who have been uprooted, lost their income, as well as suffered and are suffering catastrophic psychological distress and many more problems.
On Simchas Torah, Rav Asayag was scheduled to celebrate a special Siyum Hashas in his shul. Instead he along with thousands of others from Israeli Southern Cities such as Netivot, Tifrach, Ofakim, Beer Sheba and others had to evacuate their homes. By Motzei Yom Tov he was handing out loans to people who could not afford to travel out of the city. By the next day, Rav Asayag had set up a call center in the heart of Yerushalayim with 40 people who handled calls for help from residents of the South. He rented apartments for those who had no place to stay, provided food, money, clothing, placed over 3,500 children into new yeshivos, toys, books and seforim, psychological help, and more. That was just the beginning, and he eventually took out loans totaling over four million dollars for other programs.
How did Rav Asayag afford to hire people and give out the initial funds and rental fees for the first apartments he rented? How did he afford the money to help all who called upon him immediately after Simchas Torah???
He didn’t afford it.
He took out a loan to the tune of over a million shekel. Although he didn’t know how he would repay it, he knew in his heart with a certainty that “we need to help these Yidden and Hashem will figure out the rest.”
One of the reasons why Rav Asayag has garnered the trust and confidence of leading rabbonim and philanthropists in America, is because he doesn’t make a single move without consulting his rebbeim, specifically Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik, Rosh Yeshivas Brisk in Yerushalayim. With his rebbe’s encouragement, Rav Asayag jumped into the proverbial fire and has become the face of what is now an heroic rescue effort that is galvanizing Klal Yisrael.
In the first 45 days alone since the war began, Rav Asayag raised and distributed close to $6,000,000 in critical provisions including, housing, meals, shopping vouchers, counseling, transportation, utility payments and more. However, the work is only now truly beginning, over double that amount of money is needed and above all timing is critical to raise the money now.
“Families are falling apart. They have had to endure the difficulty of uprooting themselves from their homes and even upon their return, they have no way of making up the money spent. Stores have been closed for months and many people have lost their source of income. Children are suffering psychological and emotional trauma unlike they have ever experienced. People are sleeping in their shelters. The sound of a siren, and there are many of them, triggering fear and deep trauma. Families are on the brink of collapse. The goal is now to be able to provide a monthly stipend to around 3,000 families who need it the most.
“Raboissai” continued Rav Asayag. “If these families don’t receive the critical care now to keep them on their feet, then in six months we will have a catastrophe on our hands unlike anything Eretz Yisrael has ever experienced. Additionally, funds are needed for almanas and single parent homes, support for kollel families that are suffering, counseling is so sorely needed, and depending on the amount raised, more projects to help the Jews of the South survive now so they can thrive later.
AN EVENING OF UNPRECEDENTED SUPPORT.
Anyone who attended the emergency gathering in Manhattan was simply blown away by the sheer magnitude of support for Rav Asayag and his efforts in helping thousands of Yidden live a life where they are not worried about how they will put food on the table or pay the next electricity bill.
The uniqueness of the event was who was behind it and pushed for the gathering. None other than today’s leading Roshei Yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael including Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik of Brisk, Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch of Slabodka and Rav Aviezer Piltz of Yeshivas Tifrach. In fact the Roshei Yeshiva themselves called upon many of the attendees to attend.
On the American side, some of the “hosts” of the evening, urging Yidden to attend included: Rav Malkiel Kotler, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rav Elya Brudny, Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky and Rav Yaakov Bender
Yidden from all walks of life came to support this new fund established specifically to help the Jews of the South for the upcoming months. The campaign is being entitled “Operation Acheinu Bais Yisroel: Urgent Aid for War-Stricken Families in the Negev”
Noted Satmar Philanthropist said to me at the event “I know Rav Asayag for 15-20 years. I met him years ago and he helped bring hundreds of Avreichim to Netivot and helped revitalize Torah in the area. I’ve been fortunate to help him throughout the year and have a room in memory of my mother in one of his Talmud Torahs in Netivot; of course I had to come.
I spoke to noted philanthropist R’ Reuven Wolf who spearheaded the gathering along with R’ Yossel Tabak and Baruch Jeremias. When I asked R’ Reuven what motivated him to get so heavily involved in a mossed and cause that he just learned about, he said “Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik called me and asked me to arrange this event. Because the need is big and Klal Yisrael needs help during these difficult times. Rav Asayag has a real koach to help the Yidden in a way that they are truly receiving the help they need.”
When the gedolim call, we answer their call. Rav Uri Deutsch similarly told me that his rebbe, Reb Avraham Yehoshua told him that this cause is “one of the most important tzedakas in Klal Yisrael right now.”
Rav Eliezer Herzka from Khal Meor Hachaim, who was in attendance at the meeting, recently held a gathering in his home for 25 Lakewood rabbonim to tell them of the importance of supporting “Operation Acheinu Bais Yisroel”
The evening began with a meet & greet followed by the tzibbur gathering together in the main shul.
The main event began with words from R’ Yossel Tabak who explained that while Rav Asayag is the general behind the campaign, the gedolim and askanim have put together a committee of trusted people who will oversee and review every request before any money is distributed. In fact, pamphlets were handed out detailing the oversight committee to the attendees.
Rabbonim in attendance included: Rav Elya Brudny, Rav Yeruchim Olshin, The Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Baruch Soloveitchik from Eretz Yisrael as well as Rav Meir Kessler, Rav of Kiryat Sefer who flew in specifically to deliver a few words.
Rav Kessler said “The work that Rav Asayag is doing seems simply beyond comprehension. It’s atypical to see someone take upon themselves so much.
Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch spoke on video from Eretz Yisrael and further explained the uniqueness of this campaign, which is under the guidance and oversight of gedolei Yisroel.
Rav Hirsch said “It was determined, and decided, that it’s necessary to make a gigantic campaign, to take care of all these people who are in such need. Very often, when you have these very big campaigns, a lot of money is made for it. And a lot of money is wasted.
“People feel very frustrated about that. They give me a tremendous amount of money, and the money’s not going to where it had to go. Here in this campaign, there will be tremendous oversight. There will be an exact accounting of where the money is going to, how much money is going to where.”
The Rosh Yeshiva then wished his personal bracha for all who support this campaign that merit to have success, nachas, parnassah and health in their life.
Rav Asayag then delivered a ten minute passionate plea for the Yidden of Southern Eretz Yisrael. He explained how the current campaign is divided into divisions with directors who are responsible for every different branch of chessed needs.
“Yidden went through weeks of such intense fear for weeks. A fear that a terrorist is hiding under their home, something that came true in many instances as terrorists were found throughout the South. A child with trauma destroys the entire family. The father can’t work, the mother has to stay home.
“Most of the families in Netivot all sleep in one room because of the fear in their home. Yesterday alone more than 50 rockets flew over Netivot. One rocket exploded a building. Besides the physical damages, what damage has it done to the neshama of these poor people? The Gemara says that someone who was bit by a snake, becomes afraid of a string. Imagine being bitten by three snakes? Or ten?
“I know of many families that are on the brink of divorce. Over ten percent of families lost their entire source of income. Even before the war, the poorest families in Eretz Yisrael are in the South. Rabbosai!! There are children right now in the South that are opening their refrigerators and they are empty of the bare minimum!
“Klal Yisrael finds itself in a case of tremendous difficulty. When faced with such a situation whether a personal one or one of the tzibbur, one has two choices. Either to fall apart completely or to figure out a new way to get through the problem. The biggest things that happened in history came through people persevering through a difficult time.
“We are currently at the crossroads and we have the wheel. Will we let the wheel fall to the left and let Yidden fall apart or will we forcibly turn the wheel to the right and help save the lives of the Yidden of the South?”
Rav Asayag, having lost his teenage son to cancer, understands all too well the emotional trauma difficult times can cause. His dedication to helping Yidden rebuild comes from a deep place within, a desire to help every Yid live normal, happy lives.
Every request is documented and followed up upon with care and dignity. Some of the request descriptions were heartbreaking, including: “Emergency situation with 7 children, in desperate need of financial assistance.”
“They don’t have a shelter or a safe room. The daughter suffers from anxiety. They are currently in another city, moving between family members.
“They don’t have a bomb shelter, causing anxiety, and the children are very scared. They are looking for a place not in the area close to Arabs.”
“An elderly person living alone in Netivot is in need of hot meals every day.”
“If it’s possible to help us with money to buy medicines, food, and pay ongoing expenses. The husband is currently not working, and the woman has a disability.”
Rav Elya Brudny told me personally at the event that the people that are being helped “Are in Golus. Rav Asayag knows what he’s doing. The Ribbono Shel Olam says “Lavua Alai V’Ani Poreiah” This man swiped his credit card to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars. Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik told Rav Asayag “You did what my grandfather Rav Chaim would have done. That’s a statement! Rav Asayag knows what he is doing!
A CALL TO ACTION
Although several million dollars was raised at the event, at least another 15 million dollars is needed to help thousands of Yidden survive the next ten months. Basic financial support so that they can rebuild again.
As mentioned, the campaign is being called “Operation Acheinu Bais Yisroel”. Indeed let us show our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael that we are all one family and family takes care of each other.