You might have seen one of Rabbi Yoel Gold’s videos – most likely “The Prayer and the Waiter” or “Little Giant Man” – on Aish.com; on his YouTube channel, Nuggets of Inspiration; or even on a secular site like The Blaze. Each short clip teaches a character lesson or a principle from the Torah through interviews and storytelling. What many Angelenos don’t realize is that Rabbi Gold makes his home right here in L.A. Recently, I spoke to him about his Nuggets of Inspiration and the enthusiastic reception they’ve received.
Rabbi Gold obtained his semicha from the Rabbanut and Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz while he and his wife lived in Ramat Eshkol, Israel. After a two-year stint at Aish Hatorah in Manchester, U.K., the Golds moved to Los Angeles two and a half years ago. He jokes that his wife – a native Angeleno herself – had tired of the cloudy English weather.
Now the rav of Congregation Bais Naftoli and a twelfth-grade rebbe at Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok (MBY), Rabbi Gold has long used storytelling while teaching. Even at home, he loves to tell stories. Over the Shabbos table, Rabbi Gold holds his children rapt with tale after tale. “There’s no better way to convey a lesson,” he explains.
“People love stories. They gravitate towards them, especially if they are true.”
Following his move to L.A., Rabbi Gold started making videos about middos development. Rabbi Gold explains that research indicates that the attention span of someone who listens to audio input is only seconds long, yet the average attention span for someone watching a video is 2.7 minutes. Thus, videos make a particularly useful teaching strategy.
Those first videos provided quick mussar lessons, usually in combination with a story, similar in style to those of Charlie Harary. While not wildly popular, they did win Rabbi Gold some fans. However, about six months ago, he had an idea for a new format. “I would interview the protagonists in these stories. It would lend a certain credibility to the story, so it would increase its impact.”
The results of his new storytelling-through-interview format are striking. In his most recent video, “Little Giant Man,” Rabbi Gold takes a story that I’d already heard – about Rav Eliezer Geldzahler zt”l of Lakewood, NJ and his regular gas station attendant, Vinny – and instead of telling us the story in his own words, Rabbi Gold puts Rav Geldzahler’s daughter and Vinny on camera. They tell their own story to viewers, and it becomes much more powerful, much more memorable than when we hear the story second- or third-hand.
“[P]eople need an image of greatness,” Rabbi Gold explains. “When people see…it plants a seed in people’s heads.”
Furthermore, sharing online can expand the influence of videos dramatically. “This is the new language – video and social media – and it’s important to use them to communicate Jewish ideas.” “Little Giant Man,” has over 40,000 views thus far, and Rabbi Gold’s most famous video, “The Waiter and the Prayer” went viral just before Rosh Hashanah. Well over 100,000 people have watched it thus far. Not only did Jews share the video widely, but many non-Jews did, as well.
In addition to stories Rabbi Gold hears in daily life or reads in books, he collects stories via his email address: email@example.com. What makes a good story, one he’d like to capture on film? “When you hear it, there’s a fuzzy feeling inside…It has to move me personally. If I’m not moved, I won’t be able to make the video.” He adds that, “When someone behaves in a big way, when no one is looking,” it makes a big impression on him. Optimal stories also promote Torahdike values and can be communicated in three minutes or less.
Even though Aish.com has given Rabbi Gold excellent exposure, he doesn’t make his videos for Aish. He has a team of people he works with to create videos for his “Nuggets of Inspiration” YouTube channel. The research process for each video – hunting down all the players in a story – can take months, even before they start to film. After they complete a video, he usually sends it to a few sites to see if they are interested in carrying it.
Amusingly, the most challenging video to create so far may have been his first, “The Waiter and the Prayer,” which features his own aunt. His aunt was initially reluctant to take part. “It took three weeks for me to convince her to participate!” he says. “My own aunt!”
Then, once they’d already travelled to Israel to film, another glitch popped up: Barak, the soldier-turned-waiter featured in the story, wanted to back out just as the crew was ready to shoot the video. Rabbi Gold had to persuade him to stick it out.
Barak is now happy Rabbi Gold convinced him to participate. “You know the restaurant featured in that video?” Rabbi Gold explains. “Since we released it, there’s been an increase in sales. The waiter we interviewed got a raise!”
Rabbi Gold has three new videos in the works, and he is currently setting up a website. On that new site, he plans to organize his videos by topic. This is especially important for educators, many of whom have welcomed his videos into their classrooms.
Hundreds of thousands of people have watched Rabbi Gold’s videos already. He’s found the response rather overwhelming. He has received hundreds of texts and emails from both Jews and non-Jews.
While inspiring so many viewers, where does Rabbi Gold find his own inspiration? “My role models are all quiet people,” he says, “maybe because I like to talk so much!” Chief among these: his teacher, Rabbi Naftoli Stern. Rabbi Gold describes Rabbi Stern as a leader who “never spoke loshon hara or even an extra word.” He also enjoys listening to gifted speakers like Rabbi Paysach Krohn.
How do Rabbi Gold’s congregants feel about their rabbi’s YouTube popularity? He says they are proud of him. “Foreign and out-of-town relatives send my videos to congregants [not realizing the connection]. And they tell them, ‘That’s my rabbi!'”