By Yehudis Litvak.
The 24th annual OU West Coast Convention took place over the December 13/14 weekend. The theme of the convention was Bringing Light to a Darkened World. “We aim to make the OU Convention exciting, meaningful, and inspiring every year,” said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, director of OU West Coast. “This year’s event was very special.”
The convention began on Thursday night with the keynote address by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. Rabbi Pini Dunner of Young Israel, welcomed the attendees and expressed his hope that everyone would walk away having truly experienced the joy of Torah. Then Mr. Allen Fagin, OU executive vice president, introduced the keynote speaker.
Rabbi Weinberger is a musmach of the RIETS rabbinical school of Yeshiva University and the founding Rav of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY. He received an MA in Jewish philosophy from YU and an MS in educational administration from Columbia University and studied under Rav Soloveitchik. Recently, he was appointed as Mashpia at RIETS at YU and is a leader of neo-chassidus that is becoming increasingly popular in the Modern Orthodox community.
Rabbi Weinberger discussed the concept of light or “the inner light of Torah” — a topic frequently mentioned in Torah sources but rarely understood. He described light as the soul of a person, including the love that binds a couple together. In contrast, a home may consist of two spouses that faithfully fulfill their responsibilities, but miss the light that makes it a pleasant place to live.
Rabbi Weinberger described a scenario he encounters frequently when a married couple comes to him for counseling. The husband recites a long list of what he contributes to the marriage – making a good parnassa, fixing things around the house, buying his wife flowers. The wife doesn’t deny that he does all these things, but she feels that something fundamental is missing in their relationship. She did not marry a repairman or a florist. She married her husband because she felt that there was a shared light and the potential to build something wonderful together, and that light is now missing.
The same scenario could occur in the relationship between a Jew and G-d. A Jew may faithfully fulfill all of his or her obligations that were part of the marriage contract with Hashem, but the light that was present at the giving of the Torah is now missing, and there is no joy in such mitzvah observance. Rabbi Weinberger said that he has observed this sad phenomenon across the spectrum of the frum community. Yiddishkeit that is meant to be alive and vibrant and bring simcha beyond words, descends into a lake of Jewish life that is boring and tedious. At the same time, there are many young people in this generation who are searching for a deeper relationship with G-d.
Rabbi Weinberger spent Shabbos in the Pico/Roberson neighborhood, where he led a Chassidic tisch on Friday night, attended by 150 people. The attendees found it a moving and inspiring experience and were hesitant to leave. Other shuls throughout the greater Los Angeles area hosted other convention speakers as scholars-in-residence. The scholars included Mr. Allen Fagin, Rabbi Steven Weil, Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Goldfeder, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, Rabbi Dr. Hillel Goldberg, and Rabbi Hershel Schachter. Each received an enthusiastic and positive response.
Mr. Fagin, who was attending the west coast convention for the first time, was impressed with the achdus and sense of community that permeated all the events. The convention is always open to the public free of charge, and every community member is invited to participate. Some local schools also had the opportunity to hear from the scholars.
The OU Convention concluded with a Sunday session at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, with sessions for women’s Torah learning, a rebbetzins’ seminar, legal ethics session, and a closing plenary session which discussed, “Is Social Orthodox the New Reality?” followed by a discussion by Rabbis Weil and Schwarzberg and moderated by Mr. Fagin.