If there is any Israeli personality who truly crosses all the religious, cultural, and social lines, it has to be “Rav Kook,” as he is affectionately known. As chief rabbi and Av Beth Din of Rechovot, his influence stretches across Israel. Over 40 years ago, he was crowned as rabbi of the greater Rechovot vicinity, and over the years he has caused a real revolution within the community, which has been considered an ideal example for other big cities. By instilling brotherly love and understanding within the different sectors of the city, especially the religious and non-religious communities, Rav Kook has bridged gaps and brought hundreds of families closer to their heritage. More recently, he was appointed as the official rabbi of the famous Churvah synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Rebuilt upon the ruins of the original building that was erected by the followers of the revered Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid, it was tragically reduced to rubble by marauding Arabs over 150 years ago. On Friday nights, Rav Kook can be seen in this historic shul lecturing to groups of soldiers on Jewish Torah values.
Drawing Jews to their heritage is the prime motivation for one of Israel’s most innovative kiruv programs, founded by Rav Kook, “Generations of Israel.” This Jewish leadership program began in the University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, where secular students were encouraged to take Jewish leadership courses, the logic being that to be emissaries abroad some fundamental knowledge of Judaism was essential. So successful were the courses that the program spread to Tel Aviv University—again incorporating totally secular students. On completing the course, a delegation of students went to America to visit high schools there and meet Jewish student leaders on campuses. All members of the delegation had served in the Israel Defense Forces, and during the intensive ten-day visit, they were able to foster new ties with the Diaspora, as well as strengthen the Jewish identity of their counterparts.
Another of Rav Kook’s activities is hosting shabbatonim with a hundred secular students at each, a large percentage of whom have never experienced the holiness of the Shabbat. This generates tremendous unity amongst the local population and it is not uncommon to see secular and religious Jews in deep conversation in the streets of the city.
Rav Kook has been known for years as the “teacher to all children,” due to his relentless pursuit in making non-religious children more aware of their heritage. Young people the rav meets on the street have been known to simply “come home” with this charismatic rav. They are thirsty for spirituality and eager to listen to Rav Kook in the warm atmosphere of his open-door hospitality. However, due to constant cutbacks in the national insurance, which directly hit the families with lower incomes, education for some children has become little more than a dream. Foreseeing the dangers involved, Rav Kook has launched a project called “Needs for the Needy,” which aims at facilitating education for all. This project is surely critical and essential for the country; Rav Kook believes in the doctrine that education is the key to solving and ensuring the future of Israel and its people in all its complexity. For this reason there is no limit to the tremendous thought, efforts and activities that the rabbi is involved in.
“Needs for the Needy” aims to fund the tuition and relevant expenses for students who come from impoverished backgrounds and are unable to continue studying in facilities of higher education. “These children are definitely not to blame for the fact that their parents can’t afford tuition fees,” says Rav Kook. Rav Kook is convinced that only this will ensure the higher level of Jewish awareness and in its wake create a generation of Jews who will lead their lives based on adherence to Torat Yisrael, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael—diminishing juvenile crime and morality problems.
Rav Kook will be in the Five Towns Sunday, May 25–Wednesday, May 28 and will be hosted by David and Barbara Martin. v