Looking Beyond the Instant to Find Happiness

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience


By Rabbi Mark Wildes

Where the Happiest People Live

A new study surveying 20,000 young people from 20 different countries reveals a fascinating trend when it comes to people’s level of happiness. The study, conducted by the Varkey Foundation, called “Generation Z: Global Citizenship Survey – What the World’s Young People Think and Feel, reported that young people living in developing countries reported they were the happiest.

Indonesia emerged as the happiest, Nigeria came in second and India third place. Young people in developed and more prosperous nations like France, England, Australia and Japan ranked well down on the happiness scale with the United States somewhere in the middle.

How is it that people living in countries like Indonesia and Nigeria consider themselves happier than those living in the United States or England?

Factors That Determine Happiness

The simple answer is that prosperity and economic advancement are not factors which guarantee happiness.

Despite the opportunities and conveniences that science and technology has given our world, and despite the healthier, longer and more affluent lifestyles people in the West are thankfully living, our happiness levels, particularly amongst young people, have dropped. From my 20 years of working with young Jewish professionals, my strong sense is that this is due to our generation’s unfulfilled need for a lasting value system, like no generation before.

Freedoms That Trap Us

The instantaneous nature of the Western world today has paradoxically deprived us of the very activities and lifestyle that produce dedication and loyalty, values necessary for sustaining meaningful relationships. There are no longer constraints on the kind of mate we choose or how we date and pursue relationships. Moral relativism, now religiously taught on college campuses, has left us on our own in terms of how we make ethical decisions.

We do what feels right to us or simply adopt the ever-changing norms of society, but both leave us questioning whether our lives have any real guiding values or principles. We don’t want to be told what to do or what to believe in, but we know something is missing and we’re less happy.

In the West, and certainly in America, we are proud of the freedoms we enjoy and feel privileged to live in an open society, but because we lack a higher wisdom to tap into for moral and spiritual direction, we feel trapped. We’re trapped in the open with too many options, the only guiding value being our freedom to choose.

But what should we choose?

Living “Beyond the Instant”

What are the values and principles that will truly fill our lives with purpose and meaning, and enable us to lead happier and more fulfilled lives?

This question is precisely why I wrote my first book, Beyond the Instant: Jewish Wisdom for Lasting Happiness in a Fast Pace Social Media World.

Too many of us have relegated the wisdom of our religious faith to the past and locked it away. We view the Bible as a relic, an antiquated artifact that loses its relevance after one’s Confirmation or Bar/Bat-Mitzvah. I have spent the last 20 years reconnecting young men and women to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Sages, and I have devoted myself to this enterprise because I believe these works provide timeless wisdom for the very issues young people, and really all of us, struggle with in our contemporary society.

It’s a unique kind of spiritual wisdom which brings about happiness beyond the instant, which can help sustain relationships for the long run. It’s an approach that I’ve seen build confidence, character, and sense of self like nothing else can.

To me, no value system is more relevant and helpful to the issues and challenges facing Americans and Westerners than the philosophy and heritage of Judaism.

Nothing speaks more to the modern issues of consumerism, materialism, lack of meaning, and fulfillment than does the Hebrew Bible and the wisdom of the Jewish Sages. Their principles and values can afford modern men and women not simply a way to worship, but a way to live.

Beyond the Instant represents my humble attempt to demonstrate how much contemporary relevance there is to Judaism and, ultimately, how its teachings, if studied and applied, can fill our lives with the kind of purpose and meaning so many of us seek. I have been privileged to personally witness the transformative impact Jewish values can have on people, and how its profound insight and wisdom give the kind of meaning and direction so many young people are looking for today.

Religion Can Be A Spiritual Guide

Ours is a generation skeptical of religion. Its teachings are viewed as primitive and outdated, and so we’ve turned to psychology and works of self-help to find a guide. There is certainly wisdom to be found there, but why not also consult a system that has withstood the test of time and from which the great monotheistic faiths have emerged? Why let our religious cynicism deny us a perspective that has provided meaning and direction for billions of people for close to four millennia?

Adam Neumann, founder of WeWork, one of the top start-up companies (worth $20 billion at the time of writing), attributes his happiness not to his financial success, but to his turn to Sabbath observance.

Mayim Bialik, the Emmy Award-winning actress on The Big Bang Theory (the highest ranked comedy on TV), blogs about how Jewish values and observances bring great meaning to her life.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, nominated by Al Gore for vice president in 2000, consults with rabbis and Jewish scholars for spiritual guidance on the most pressing issues of his life.

These high-profile individuals have found personal fulfillment and greater professional success by accessing the wisdom of the Torah, and so can all of us. Beyond the Instant draws upon Judaism’s unique reservoir of wisdom to answer questions like:

  • What produces sustained joy and happiness?
  • What should we be looking for in a potential mate and once we’ve found that person, how can we make the relationship last?
  • What is sex really supposed to be about?
  • How can we learn from our failures and take more control of our lives?
  • Do we have a mission in life and how can we choose values over popularity?
  • How can we be more present to enjoy life more and is real change truly possible?

The answers to these questions may not alone produce the kind of enlightening happiness our generation lacks, but I’m confident that applying Judaism’s tested values to one’s life can make a real difference. I’ve seen it with thousands of my students – the change is real and it’s the kind of change we need in our world today in order to live “Beyond the Instant.”

Marching Against Bias

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Mahattan Jewish Experience


By Rabbi Mark Wildes

Last week, as MJE has done for 20 years, we marched in the Annual Celebrate Israel Parade. The parade was watched by over 40,000 people and included officials such as New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. We found love and support all around us – in our MJE community, local NYC leaders and politicians and friends and family.

Besides the simple fun of strutting down Fifth Avenue to Jewish music while waving Israeli flags, why is marching in the parade important?

Showing Jewish Pride

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

First, there are simply not enough times when the Jewish community displays unadulterated pride in Israel or in simply being Jewish. We tend to take more pride in how honest and critical we are of ourselves (and of the Jewish State) than we do in all the good Israel and the Jewish people do for Jews and the world at large.

Being self-critical is an important Jewish teaching, necessary for spiritual and moral growth. However, this can only happen when the critique is fair and balanced with some “feel-good” opportunities. Otherwise we become overly negative and cynical about ourselves. The Israel Day Parade is one of those few opportunities and experiences left in America to feel good and positive about ourselves and Israel.

Offsetting Unfair Media Bias

The parade is also critical to offset the unfair bias to which Israel is continually subjected to in the media. Reporting on the recent conflict along the Gaza border, articles on the subject were mostly entitled: “Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the protests” (Reuters).

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any articles which read: “Israel defends herself against deadly protests.”

This spin is nothing new. It’s as old as the Bible itself. In last week’s Torah reading, before the children of Israel enter Israel, spies are dispatched to scout out the land. The spies return with a negative report, introducing doubt to the masses who now want to give up on going forward into Israel and instead return to Egypt. But what was so wrong about the report with which the spies returned? It seems from a simple reading of the Biblical text that they just reported on what they saw. Were the spies supposed to falsify their report? Nachmanides, the great medieval Talmudist and Mystic, explained that the spies reported the facts but they articulated themselves in such a way as to cast doubt and instill fear within the rank and file to support their own personal opinion and agenda. They made up their minds that going forth into Israel was not a good idea and described what they saw in that light, as opposed to simply reporting on what they saw and allowing the people to decide for themselves.

Stories the Media Doesn’t Cover

Just three years ago, I received the following email from a student of mine who is now a pediatric surgeon in Israel.

“Thursday I am doing a big operation on a three-year old girl from Gaza with a giant abdominal tumor. She came in April, malnourished, her abdomen was completely full of tumors and she was half dead-the product of a lot of neglect. We diagnosed her problem, inserted a catheter for chemotherapy and treated her with chemotherapy. The tumor is much smaller, she looks much better, is much stronger and now she is ready for surgery. Her father speaks no Hebrew or English but you can tell how happy he is. Where is the media for this story? We do this kind of stuff all the time, every week almost and there is no coverage at all…Where are you guys? At a time where Israel is being villainized daily for the “horrors” they are perpetrating in Gaza we do this stuff all the time. This story needs to get out there.

I suspect the media never covered any of the surgeries my student performed on Palestinian children for the same reason the spies in the Torah reported things in the way they did: it simply does not fit in with their narrative or personal opinion.

If You Don’t March, Who Will?

Why take the time to make it through the crowds and onto the busy 5th Ave?

Marching exercises our freedom of speech and if we don’t speak out in favor of Israel… who will? We are fortunate to live in a city that’s so accepting and supportive of Israel. However, this isn’t true universally, or even throughout the US. If we have a chance to march and express our support, we should! Past generations of Jewish people never thought they would live to see the creation of a Jewish State.

Seventy years later, we march in their stead to exercise our freedom and the pride we have in being Jewish, showing the world just how extraordinary Israel truly is.

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

March Against Bias Israel Rabbi Mark Wildes

AIPAC 2018: Israel Stands Strong

BLOG POST: Rabbi Jonathan Feldman

March 7, 2018

Most years at AIPAC there is a crisis issue swirling around in the air:  The Iran Nuclear Deal, Israel-Palestinian Peace Negotiation, a UN condemnation of Israel…  This year there was no one issue that dominated the agenda.  Yes, all of these issue are still swirling around, and will not go away soon, but there was a feeling this year that we could be at AIPAC celebrating the great story that is Israel.  And AIPAC has been doing that for the past few years, highlighting the convergence of Israeli technology, humanitarianism and innovation:  devices that draw water from the air to fight drought, breakthroughs in medicine and science discovered in Israeli research facilities, innovations in technology such as driverless technology, and Israeli humanitarian relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Texas and many other places across the globe..   There was also giddiness over having a US administration that is unabashedly pro-Israel.  It is as if we were pinching ourselves saying, yes it is real, they are really moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  Or hearing Nikki Hayley say ‘There will be no more business as usual of bullying Israel in the UN’, or saying ‘Why shouldn’t we go out of our way to support our ally, Israel. That is not bias, it is loyalty.’

Hearing Bibi was definitely one of the highlights of the conference.  They do not announce beforehand that he will be speaking for security reasons, but people knew he was in town to ‘meet with President Trump’ so we imagined he would make an appearance as well. Being in the room with over 15 000 people all on their feet cheering the Prime Minister of Israel is in itself an amazing moment.  Just for that feeling it is worth coming to AIPAC next year.

While last year Niki Hayley rocked the house, and she was amazing this year as well (and got the most applause of anyone other than Bibi), Chuk Schumer blew it away this year.  After his usual corny joke, he sobered up and told the story of his great grandmother who was told by the Nazis in Galicia to bring her family to the front porch of the house.  They were then told to leave their house, and when she refused all 17 were gunned down.  Schumer said that the Jewish people and Israel will no longer allow the world stand by silently to enable the killing of Jews.  The Taylor Force Act, which he said he is actively pushing to be passed in the senate,  calls for the US to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority commensurate with the sums of money that they pay terrorists in jail or the families of killed terrorists.  Bibi also highlighted this important legislation, noting that the terrorist that killed the Fogel family 2 years ago will receive 2 million dollars from the PA over his lifetime, and that the PA spends 10% of their budget on subsidies to terrorists.  Strangely AIPAC did not place the Taylor Force Act on the lobbying agenda.   Why is not clear, I suspect that there is a concern that if the PA’s funding is cut that dramatically it will fall apart.  If that happens then Israel will have to run the Palestinian controlled areas, and will have to keep security themselves without help from a PA.  My personal view is that there are always good reasons of why one thing or another is not politically viable, but it is about time we hold the Palestinians accountable for their incitement to terror. They must learn to live with the consequences of their evil action.  The Western allies have enabled them for too long, always finding excuses for not doing so, and it must stop.  There were also justifications of why the US could not move the embassy to Jerusalem, and for 20 years the presidents from Clinton to Obama put a stop on a law passed by congress to move it.  Sometimes you just have to do what is right.  Vice-president Mike Pence got a rousing ovation when he announced the embassy would be moved on Israel Independence day, this May.   Which brings up back to Chuck Schumer.  He talked the talk, but unfortunately he does not always walk the walk.  I remember going to a demonstration on 40th and 7th next to Times square near his NY office to put pressure on him to vote against the Iran Nuclear Deal.  In the end he did, but he only made it known he would do so at a very late point, and did not encourage other democrats to do so.

The shadow of Iran continues to loom over the middle east and Israel, and VP Mike Pence also promised the crowd that the US would not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons and would not let Iran establish a presence in Syria.  President Trump’s plan is to put requirements on Iran to stop promoting terror and stop developing ballistic missiles, and if they do not stop then he will not sign the waiver to continue the nuclear deal.  Sanctions will then be imposed.  Will all this stop Iran?  Probably not, but one of the Israeli representatives proudly said that Israel has never and will never ask the US to fight our wars for us.  No US boots on the ground.  We receive aid from the US, joint projects to develop defenses systems, but the IDF will always fight its own wars.  I encourage you to join me at AIPAC next year, AIPAC does amazing work getting the message out to our representative in the US government about the importance of the Israel-US alliance.  You can be part of that message, just by being there and showing our representatives how much Israel means to us as US citizens.  You can also then lobby our representative on Capitol Hill and make the case directly for the important of Israel as a strategic partner.  As their tag line this year read:  Choose To Lead.   I guarantee you it is an experience of a lifetime.

A Holiday In Memoriam – To Celebrate or To Mourn?


By Rabbi Mark Wildes, with contributions by Michelle Soffen
Dedicated to the memory of slain student Second Lieutenant Richard W. Collins III

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS Black Civil War Union Soldiers from the “4th United States Colored Infantry Regiment”


It’s 8:00pm. The world around comes to a sudden halt. Cars break mid highway as phones are put away and conversations paused. A nation unites in complete stillness, and for an entire minute, no sound can be heard for miles but the cry of a siren.

This soul penetrating ring is the official start of Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day in Israel; the national day of remembrance set aside for honoring fallen heroes who died in active duty defending the Jewish homeland, and for the thousands of civilian victims of terror. Throughout the next 24 hours, graves are visited, ceremonies held, and tears shed. By law, all places of entertainment are closed and tv stations mark the solemnity of the day. One channel screens the entire list of names of all those being remembered.

23,544 – The number of Israeli soldiers remembered this past May 1.

3,117 – The number of victims of terror in Israel also remembered this past May 1.

21 Million – the number of cases of beer purchased to wash down the 818 hot dogsconsumed per second during “peak hot dog season”, kicked off on Memorial Day in the United States just a few weeks later. This is in memory of the 1.3 Million members of the armed services who lost their lives in conflict, and the 42+ Million veterans who have served the United States during war time.

Barbecues, beer, beef, 2 for 1 sales, marathons, auto racing, and travel – this is what Memorial Day looks like for the average American. It is the unofficial start of the summer season, a day for busting out the white pants, and enjoying a day off work.

An Israeli friend of mine visiting the U.S. experienced Memorial Day here for the first time last year. “I was at first horrified,” she explained to me. “I was expecting something similar to what we do in Israel. I couldn’t understand how you are all so happy – drinking, going to the beach, having barbecues, on the day you are remembering the people who sacrificed their lives for you. But then an American friend explained to me that it is not meant to be a solemn day here – that instead of mourning you choose to celebrate the many freedoms the U.S. cherishes; the freedoms that the army fights to protect.”

She paused to think, then continued. “It makes sense; you should of course celebrate your wonderful country – but it could never be this way for us on Memorial Day in Israel. I don’t want you to think I am judging you; for us, it is just different. There is not a single person who is not directly affected by the conflicts we face. We all know someone personally in active duty, and we all know someone either in our immediate circles or extended circles who has died because of the conflict. I think until we have security and peace with our neighbors, it will continue to be an extremely sad day for us.”

My friend’s remarks got me thinking. How did the U.S. Memorial Day become what it is? How did it start? And have we come so far as a country to merit a day of pure celebration marked with little to no solemnity for the average American?


Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut Event 2017: Remarks by Rabbi Mark Wildes

Rabbi Mark Wildes delivers opening remarks at Yom Hazikaron Memorial Service


Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut Event 2017: Remarks by Rabbi Mark Wildes
May 1, 2017 | The Jewish Center


Thank you all for joining us this evening.

For those of you I haven’t had the honor of meeting, my name is Rabbi Mark Wildes of MJE and this year we are proud to combine MJE’s Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzamut event with The Jewish Center.

I want to thank my friends Rabbi Yossi Levine and Rabbi Dovid Zirkind of The JC for working so closely together with us and to especially thank Rabbi Zirkind for his hard work and vision on tonight’s program. This event, now in its 5th year has been organized by the JCC in their effort to bring together all young professionals from the upper West side including many of the synagogues co-hosting tonight: Kehillat Reim Ahuvim, Ramat Orah, WSIS, Ohav Zedek. Thank you to Rabbi Moshe Grussgot, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Daniel Sherman of the WSIS and the lay committee that have built this event over the past few years. This would not be possible without the generous support of The JCC and UJA and its UWS Celebrates Israel Initiative. Please see your brochures to learn about all the other events happening this week. Special thanks to Talia Kaplan, Matt Schwartz and the strong committee of young professionals for all the planning to make tonight a meaningful evening. Thank you to Atara Neuer from the MJE staff for proposing we join together tonight and for working on all the planning to make tonight possible. I also wish to recognize the MJE Rabbi’s here tonight: Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, Rabbi Ezra Cohen and Rabbi Joshua Klein, Educational Director Ruthie Brafman and our Executive Director Doodie Miller.

 Tonight Yom Hazikaron & Yom Haatzmaut is truly an appropriate time for the ENTIRE community to be together and as such we will recite the Tefilot –  the special prayers in such a way as to accommodate the many beginners and veterans so we can all commemorate and celebrate together on this special evening.

 Last weekend Israel received three additional F-35 fighter jets from the United States. Last June when Israel acquired the first two F-35’s the following question was posed to Rav Yehuda Aviner,  the head rabbi of Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim, a brilliant halachick authority:“With Hashem’s kindnesses, the State of Israel received F-35 Stealth Fighter Jets. Should the blessing of Shehechiyan, the blessing of renewal be recited, or is it not recited because the fighter plane is a weapon of war? And Rabbi, if it should be recited, who should say the blessing?”

 In 2002,  a young man who was about to participate in his IDF swearing in ceremony, asked a similar question: At the height of the ceremony, after the soldiers have taken the oath of allegiance, the highest ranking officer calls the soldiers up, one at a time and gives each soldier two gifts: a gun and Tanach (Hebrew Bible) . The gun so that they can defend the country, a Tanach so that they can know WHY they’re defending it.

 “When I receive my gun, asked the soldier, should I make the bracha of Shehechiyanu?”

Like the F-35 it’s a good question because the blessing of  שהחיינו is generally said when you receive or experience something new and happy – but not for a sad event. A gun is carried because we have enemies who SADLY want to destroy us. Yet Rav Aviner answered that a Shehechyinau should be said when a soldier receives his gun. He should say the words: “Thank you God for allowing me to live and reach this time” That we have guns and that we have an army should not elicit sadness. אדרבה –he says: Just the opposite; it should elicit joy, that we have merited to become a free nation in our homeland, to have a Jewish government an army to defend ourselves.

 If you heard from the survivor we interviewed last week on Yom Hashoah, Dr. Moshe Avital – imagine what it would have meant to have a gun in the camps. What would he have done to for a country to flee to? To be part of an army?

 We heard how after surviving 6 concentration camps, Dr. Avital snuck into Palestine and was elated to fight in the Haganah; to be able to finally defend himself and his people.

 A Jewish soldier makes a Shehechiyanu on his gun and Rav Aviner ruled that the head of the IAF, the Israeli Air Force, should make a hatov vhamativ, the blessing that God is good and does good, over the F-35 Fighter plane. Why? Because even though these are weapons, the joy and pride in being able to defend ourselves demands these blessings

 But these blessings are not just about pride and joy; it goes deeper.

 One of the great religious Zionist thinkers Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook wrote: “Fighting to protect our homeland is a mitzvah.  It is a mitzvah binding on all Klal Yisrael. Therefore, everything connected with it, every gun and every weapon that is our response to our enemies, everything connected with establishing and protecting Jewish sovereignty, ‘Hakol Hu Kodesh’  – It is all holy.”

The chayalim/soldiers we remember tonight, They are all Kodesh and what they use to defend the Jewish people, even what they wear takes on a level of holiness. Rav Aharon Lichtinstein tz’l was once asked by a student, a soldier in Israel, whether he had to change out of his dirty military clothes before davening Mincha. Rav Aharon posed the question to his teacher Rabbi Soloveitchick who answered, “No –he doesn’t have to change his clothing because his uniform is like the ‘bigdei Kehuna’ – like the Priestly garments.”

Another great Rabbi, Reb Shlomo Zlaman Arbach was approached by one of his students who informed him that he was leaving Jerusalem to go to Tzfat to pray at the graves of the great rabbis buried there. Rav Aurbach said to him, “You don’t have to go to Tzfat to pray at the graves of the richeous, just go down the block to Har Herzl, to Israel’s national cemetery, that’s also where the tzadikkim are buried.”

Those who gave their lives for Israel, who defend our people and our land, THEY are holy people. Their uniforms are like that of the Cohanim and their weapons demand a blessing. They put everything on the line for us, their people, and so we owe them – our holy soldiers – everything. Therefore before we begin to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut/ Israel’s 69th Birthday, we remember the soldiers who gave their lives in all of Israel’s wars and we on the Upper West Side take note of the many lone soldiers, individuals from our own community who served in the IDF. Who better than they to show the honor to Israel’s fallen soldiers that they so deserve? It is my great pleasure to call upon one of those soldiers, Matthew Schwartz to now share a few words.


Removing the Mask: A Purim Lesson in the Wake of Israel Apartheid Week

Rudy Rochman blows the Shofar on Columbia’s Campus. Photo by @idost_nyc.



Megilat Esther or the Scroll of Esther is the book of the Hebrew Bible Jews will gather to read this Saturday night to celebrate the upcoming holiday of Purim. The Megilah speaks of a beautiful woman chosen to be Queen of the ancient Persian Empire who must hide her Jewish identity. Her very name, Esther or “hidden”, bespeaks the double life she is forced to lead. Esther grows accustomed to hiding her Jewish identity in the royal palace, but when the anti-Semitic Prime Minister is about to carry out his genocidal plot to annihilate the Jews of Persia, she risks her life and reveals her true identity to the King. This was no easy task for Esther, but because of this revelation, her strategic planning and courage to share who she truly was, the Jewish people were ultimately liberated.

The 13th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week is taking place all around the world this month. In hundreds of cities, through lectures, rallies, and demonstrations featuring “apartheid walls”, IAW participants attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel. According to their website, “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness of Israel’s settler-colonial project and apartheid system over the Palestinian people and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

Last week was Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) at my alma mater, Columbia University. Anti-Israel sentiment at Columbia definitely existed when I was a graduate student in the early 90’s, but it has grown increasingly worse over the years and Israel Apartheid Week, which has spread to 225 cities as of 2016, plays a huge part. Many Jewish students at Columbia and other campuses feel intimidated or lack the knowledge and confidence to stand up to the BDS and SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) activists, and as a result the slander and lies of their campaigns often go unchallenged.

This year was different.

A student group at Columbia called Students Supporting Israel (SSI), under the leadership of Jewish Israeli student Rudy Rochman, launched “Hebrew Liberation Week”. I went with a few members of the MJE Staff and some of my students to show my support and see what all the buzz was about. What I found was both moving as well as effective Israel advocacy, setting a wonderful example for students all over the country.


Chanukah and the United Nations

David Silverman / Getty



The irony of a UN resolution condemning the Jewish settlements during the holiday of Chanukah is pretty incredible. Chanukah celebrates the establishment of Jewish political sovereignty over the land of Israel, including the very areas the United Nations now claims no longer belong to Israel! Besides the spiritual victory of Jews refusing to abandon their faith in favor of Greek Hellenism, Chanukah celebrates the successful Maccabean revolt against the Greek Seleucid Empire, resulting in more than 200 years of Jewish political sovereignty over the land of Israel. That Jewish sovereignty lasted for two centuries until the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 CE and exiled our people.

Although Jews always continued to live in Israel since the Roman exile, it wasn’t until the creation of the modern state in 1948 that political sovereignty and independence was returned to the Jewish people. As we know, this happened through a majority vote taken by the General Assembly of the United Nations. 19 years later in 1967 when Egypt and Syria were about to simultaneously attack Israel in an unprovoked war and Israel was forced to strike preemptively, she not only defended herself against annihilation, but in six days reunited Jerusalem, captured the Sinai Dessert, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. That defensive war gave Israel the legitimate right to govern and once again exercise political sovereignty over those lands.


David Friedman: An Ambassador with Skin in the Game



What ultimately makes for a good Ambassador? A good Ambassador is someone who possesses a deep knowledge and concern for the history, politics and future of both the country he or she represents and the one to which he or she serves as liaison. David Friedman, whom I have had the honor of knowing for the last several years, fits the bill. He is a proud and patriotic American, never taking for granted the opportunities this country has given him and his family. He is also extraordinarily knowledgeable, in a real and practical way about Israel, and for his entire adult life has been personally invested in the American-Israel relationship. Friedman travels to Israel several times a year, owns a home there, supports many wonderful Israeli charities and has had a number of his own children studying abroad in Israeli schools. He’s got what you call “skin in the game”, unlike most career diplomats who certainly have more experience in international affairs, but are often less knowledgeable and invested in the host country.  American interests in Israel can be better represented by someone who speaks the language, understands the culture and more importantly has a personal stake in the outcome of the relationship between the two countries.


Allies in Humanity: What We Can learn from the U.S.-Israel Relationship

To see all of Rabbi Wildes' posts, click here -> Rabbi Mark Wildes' Blog

Featured on: TIMES OF ISRAEL


MK Michael Oren Speaks at MJEWATCH: Michael Oren gives a fascinating and entertaining lecture about the history and current status of the U.S./ Israel relationship.

For more on the evening, check out this The Times of Israel blog post by Rabbi Mark Wildes on what we can learn from Michael Oren and the U.S./ Israel Relationship:

Posted by Manhattan Jewish Experience on Sunday, November 22, 2015

“As a historian, I am always humbled by our general inability to predict which moments in time will or will not become turning points,” said Ambassador Michael Oren last Saturday evening, as he addressed a crowd of 500 people at the annual lecture Manhattan Jewish Experience hosts in memory of my mother, Ruth B. Wildes of blessed memory. (See video above). “We can never truly know how any event or phenomenon will shape history, but we know one thing for certain right now. As of the horrendous attacks last night in Paris, the world will never be the same.”
His words hit me deeply. READ FULL ARTICLE

Day 4: Why Does Jerusalem Make Us Cry?

The Heritage Group Arrives in Jerusalem

Brett Fishberg in Israel for the first time, commented on our arrival in Jerusalem yesterday: “I was surprised, I just didn’t think I’d get this emotional”.

Why does coming to Jerusalem for the first time, and specifically praying at the Western Wall evoke such powerful feelings and emotions?

There is of course no one reason, and the experience is always a unique and personal one. For some the emotion comes from the knowledge that one is standing in the closest proximity to where the Temple of old once stood. For others, the impact of seeing so many being outwardly, openly and proudly Jewish viscerally connects them to Am Yisrael – to the nation of Israel. They feel part of a people and become overwhelmed with pride, comfort, and a sense of belonging. Some cry when they internalize that for the first time in modern history, we are able to visit our beloved Jerusalem, and recognize in their core the importance of the State of Israel. This trip to the Kotel (Western Wall) I realized one more potential reason some become so emotional. As Michelle, another of our trip participants shared, for those who struggle with God and prayer, seeing so many other people opening up and surrendering to something greater, somehow gives permission to be more open and vulnerable to a relationship with God.

Another participant from our trip was walking away from the Kotel crying. When asked about her experience she answered: “I just had so much to say to God”. I realized she probably feels that way because admittedly she doesn’t pray regularly but the holiness of the place coupled with seeing so many others pouring out their heart, makes it that much easier. It was as if she gave herself permission to have that relationship with God for the first time in a long time – as if she hadn’t seen a loved one for many years – hadn’t visited, hadn’t called. Then upon reaching the Kotel, it was like she reunited with her loved one, got a hug and just let go of all she had been holding in. The physical proximity to such a holy place and all the others around allowed her to experience that closeness.

The challenge is maintaining some semblance of that feeling when not in Jerusalem, when not at a place as holy as the Kotel. By definition it can’t be the same because God’s presence, or “Shechinah,” is truly strongest there. But perhaps having this experience of spiritual catharsis in Jerusalem can help us keep the channels open for greater communication between ourselves and the Almighty, on a more regular basis.


Name: Brett Fishberg

Profession: IT Tech Sales

# trips to Israel (including this): 1!!!

Jewish Background/ affiliation: Grew up a Reform Jew who belonged to a Conservative Synagogue in California. Now lives in NY and only goes to services for High Holidays.   

In his words…

How did you get on this trip?  My brother who lives in NY but is not affiliated with MJE forwarded me the link about the Israel trip and it just so happened to fit in my schedule for work.  

What are your brief reflections on the day (or the trip overall)?  Being that this is my first trip to Israel I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Everyone told me that I would have that “Aww Haww” moment and for me it was our first trip to Jerusalem.  Rabbi Ezra Cohen, Rabbi Mark Wildes, and my roommate Rich started playing the song Jerusalem of Gold (‘Yerushalayim Shel Zachav’) as we approached the Overlook of Jerusalem and at that moment I understood what everyone had been telling me. I instantly felt that I belonged and a sense of pride for my religion came over me. That feeling was even intensified later that night when I visited the Western Wall for the first time.  As the MJE group started praying and inserting their personal notes and messages into the crevices of the wall I began to get a warm feeling and real sense that I was finally home. Overall, I have had an amazing experience with MJE filled with new friends and memories that I will never forget. Thank you very much for the opportunity and new appreciation for my religion and life. 

Fun fact about yourself…
Even though I know I can’t sing I still find myself singing in the shower.


MJE Edidin Heritage Trip To Israel 2020

Tentative Itinerary Below

20s & 30s Heritage Trip to Israel: 50% off stipends available!

Join us August 1 – August 10, 2020 and experience your home like you never have before!

Whether you have been before or it is your first time, MJE’s summer trip to Israel is the perfect way to see our country and connect to our homeland. From Jerusalem hot spots to the mystical Tzfat, volunteering and a Shabbat spent with locals, join other 20’s & 30’s for this meaningful experience!

50% off Stipends available for qualifying participants who attend 12 classes! Classes include any MJE class, dinner, educational event as well as Shabbat services. Holiday services and retreats count as 2 classes! Attendees will be responsible to keep a personal log of 12 classes + dates attended to be presented to MJE in exchange for stipend.

Email for more details about stipend and to learn more about the trip.

To Learn More:
To Apply:

For more information about packages and stipends please contact:

Posted by Manhattan Jewish Experience on Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Whether you have been before or it is your first time, MJE’s summer trip to Israel is the perfect way to see our country and connect to our homeland. From Jerusalem hot spots to the mystical Tzfat, volunteering and a Shabbat spent with locals, join other 20’s & 30’s for this meaningful experience! Email for more info!

 BeFunky Collage Israel 2

Visit victims of terror

Bring supplies to soldiers


Private security briefing with Israeli Members of the Knesset & defense experts


3 nights at a Hotel on the Sea of Galilee

Tour of the Golan Heights, battle sites of the Yom Kippur War

Dinner at restaurant overlooking the Sea of Galilee

Nighttime campfire with live music

Kayaking on the Jordan River

Visit Amuka, place of prayer to find your soul mate

Tour of mystical Tzfat with Kabbalah seminar

Visit Kabbalah artist studio

Hike the Golan Heights and see Israel’s highest waterfall

Final program in Tel Aviv Park overlooking the Mediterranean

Final dinner at Tel Aviv Grill restaurant

4 Nights in Jerusalem

Visit the Western Wall and Tunnel Tours

Meet with Chief Rabbi

Visit Hebron and tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs

Musical evening in the garden of a Jerusalem villa

City of David excavations and water tunnel

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Night on the town in Jerusalem

Tour of 19th century Jerusalem

Volunteer at the soup kitchen

Talk by solider who fought in the battle for Jerusalem



50% off Stipends available for qualifying participants who attend 12 classes! Classes include educational programs and events! Attendees will be responsible to keep a personal log of 12 classes+dates attended to be presented to MJE in exchange for stipend. Email for more details about stipend and to learn more about the trip.


Last Year’s 2019 Israel Heritage Trip Itinerary


Leave JFK NY 11:30PM Saturday July 27th

Day 1 – Sunday, July 28:

Ben Gurion Airport 17:00 – Arrive – EL AL # 008

Dinner at Don Vito

Meet with 2 Israeli soldiers

Hotel: Nof Ginosar (Deluxe Rooms)


Day 2 – Monday, July 29: Golan – with Tuvia

Overlook over Syria in south Golan and visit army base with Captain Yaakov

Katzrin (Talmudic Village Schule) and Lunch

Back to the hotel for swimming in the Kineret

Dinner at Decks

Kumsitz on the beach

Hotel: Nof Ginosar (Deluxe Rooms)


Day 3 – Tuesday, July 30: Mystical Tzfat – with Tuvia

Wear rafting clothes; bring change of clothes to enter Synagogue

Rafting on the Jordan River

Tour of Tzfat and Lunch –The city of mystics

Yosef Caro (Abuhav) Learning

Visit Kabbalah Artist studio

Shop in Artist Colony

Dinner at Hotel

Hotel: Ginosar Village


Day 4 – Wednesday, July 31: Galil, Jerusalem

Bring packed bags to breakfast

Wear hiking clothes with swim clothes underneath, bring water shoes & bring change of clothes for bus ride back to Jerusalem

Hike Golan at Jilaboon (Water Hike)

Pack lunch from Ginosar eat at Mount Gilboa

Bus ride to Jerusalem

Check into Hotel

Walk to Churva Square Dinner

Kotel tunnel tours – Site Guide and Guard

Hotel: Shani Hotel in Jerusalem


Day 5 – Thursday, August 1: Yehuda – with Guide and Guard and Protected Bus

City of David

Breakfast and walk to the Old City

Aish HaTorah and Overlook

Lunch at Vineyard Restaurant – with guest speaker

Hevron – Machpelah

Dinner in Baka and Kumsitz

Hotel: Shani Hotel in Jerusalem


Day 6 – Friday, August 2: Jerusalem, the Holy

Lone Soldier Volunteer

Bus to City of David

City of David. Henyon Givati Tunnels/Southern Wall Excavations

Lunch (Overlook Cafe)

Shuk Shop

Return to Hotel Prep Shabbat


Netiv Aryeh Dinner

Kabbalat Shabbat

Hotel: Shani Hotel in Jerusalem


Day 7 – Saturday, August 3:


Davening at Hotel

Hospitality in Jerusalem

Walk to Yemim Moshe

Third Meal

Drinks in town/Shuk

Hotel: Shani Hotel in Jerusalem


Day 8 – Sunday, August 4:

Rabbi Benji Levine (Nachlaot)

Eat lunch in Shuk

Har Herzl

Save a Child’s Heart

Closing on Beach

Dinner at Maganda with guest speaker

9:30 pm- Leave for Ben Gurion Airport

12:30 am Flight leaves

6:30 am Arrive at JFK, August 5th Mon.

Check out these incredible photos from 2018!