Son of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz carries on his father’s mission – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on August 5, 2021

I have known Rabbi Meni Even Israel for a long time, even before he got married.

When I came to Israel at 19 for a year at seminary, I was once invited with some girls to the home of his father, the great Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. I remember we all felt a bit awkward in his presence. Such a scholar, yet so simple and fun.

What hit me the most about this incredible man was his being so modern. Rabbi Steinsaltz spoke our language. He was like one of us young teenagers and the relationship he had with his son seemed incredibly relaxed, affectionate and close. We had expected to come and meet a famous rabbi scary, serious, strict and we felt so relaxed and at ease, especially with the rabbis wife so welcoming with her French accent and lovely smile.

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The Steinsaltz home on Jerusalems Emek Refaim Street was charming, cozy, cool, not the home youd expect a Torah sage to live in.

Rabbi Meni, who was still just Meni at the time, was a relaxed, chilled, ordinary boy totally unfazed by the fact that his dad was one of the biggest geniuses of this generation.

Meni and I met again when I moved to Jerusalem with my husband and he moved with his family back to Jerusalem. He had married a lovely girl Liza, originally from LA and by now already had three children: Moshe, Lea and Elisha.

That was when he started to work in his fathers office at the Steinsaltz Center in the city, 15 years ago.

Our families and children became great friends. We spent many Shabbat dinners together and sometimes we would be so lucky to see Menis parents at the Shabbat table with us. I personally adored Rabbi Steinsaltz, his look, his mannerism, his smile everything about this man was unbelievable. So much grandness in a small frame and shy smile. When Rabbi Steinsaltz turned 80 and was celebrated with a gala dinner in his honor, I got to write one of my favorite pieces on this giant of a man. I remember we had conversed a bit at the dinner. Although he could not physically speak anymore, the rabbi listened to me and smiled. That was the last time I saw him.

A year has already passed since Rabbi Adin has left us, leaving a huge void of holiness, knowledge and magic, as I call it. His son, though, is very focused and very in charge of his current position as executive director of the Center. He is even more inspired to continue his fathers work and mission, exactly like his father had instructed him and guided him for so many years working together.

Rabbi Meni knows very well where he is going and is delighted to talk to the Magazine about his plans and future for the Center. As I make my way into his office I see him already fiddling with his phone, excited to show me the new Steinsaltz Daily Learning App, and he hurries to show me all its features. Still in beta version, its mission is to make learning accessible by creating a stress-free daily study routine for everyone at the level theyre at. This is when knowledge and technology meet harmoniously for the benefit of us all!

Amazing, but lets start from the beginning.

We had a tough year, a plague has come upon the whole world making it so complex to lead our ordinary life. At the same time, so many great leaders passed away Rabinowitch [Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, dean of the Birkat Moshe hesder yeshiva], Sacks [UK chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks], my father so the level of mourning is not only mine but global.

Three times a day you have to stop what youre doing and pray and say Kaddish, it makes you think of the departed one, its almost like a self-therapy.

I personally walked every morning throughout the whole year to the Old City to pray at my synagogue, and those early-morning walks were very therapeutic.

There is also a second part to the healing process: knowing how to let go of your loved one. Although this is not so simple for me, I work at the Steinsaltz Center and everyone refers to me as Rabbi Steinsaltz so in a way, my father never left and maybe is even more present now. I converse with him more!

My job has always been to take my fathers dreams and visions and turn them into reality. I have been running the office for the past 15 years, and this year is no different; while the boss is not physically present, the dreams and projects have to go on.

Thank God we have a lot of big foundations and private donors who are working with us and helping us turn those dreams into reality. My dad always told me he had plans for 180 years ahead!

No, maybe it used to be a little overwhelming. But thanks to the Rebbe of Lubavitch, who was very close to my dad and our whole family, he suggested we change our last name from Steinsaltz to Even Israel, which was decided together with my dad. That gave me my own freedom and independence.

I am not like my father, none of his children are like him, my dad had a brain that comes only every couple hundred years. We all try to stay on his path and work on what he left me, as the centers executive director; my brother Amechaye, as the head editor of the Mishna project.

Carrying my fathers message into the future. Let my people know is the motto of the Center and it has two sides to it.

One part is the passive way. We produce and publish all my father has left us. Creating material, which is an enormous amount of work for us to do.

Technically, we could have 80 books that are ready to go to print in the next six months!

We do an average of two books a year so as not to overwhelm the market, one in English, one in Hebrew, and every two years we publish in another language like French, Italian...

My dad left very clear instructions and we make sure to use modern language, clean and understandable to all crowds like he always did. If you read his commentary it is like reading a novel, very complex thoughts brought down on paper for everyone to read and understand.

The second part of my fathers motto and his biggest concern was how to get people interested and to care about learning.

How do we get people to use all that we are putting out there? My dad always said, God is good, Torah is sweet how do I make people come to eat from it, thats the challenge!

There are many, many documents my father wrote throughout his life that have never been published. In addition, correspondence with world leaders as well as well-known writers, philosophers and other important figures. Everything my father left is located in a locked cell at the Steinsaltz Center, with a woman named Fruma also known as the dragon lady guarding the door. Only my wife and I have the keys. There are 60 boxes there and another 60 are coming from the US.

Aside from the writings he left, we have almost 5,000 hours of video of him and 10,000 to 12,000 hours of audio. Slowly, with the help of the State of Israel and philanthropists, we will make it available for everyone.

Knowledge made us survive as a nation. Talmud was the key, we are known as the questioning people. The more we ask questions the more we move forward, we need to ask questions to gain knowledge.

Not only Steinsaltz books of course, but the Torah in general. We want to get all the Jews to love Torah and care, indifference kills it. We want to access people and get them to be part of what we do and what they need to do! We want to get them involved.

In order for us to do this, we work with the best publisher, Koren, with the best typesetting ability to make it appealing to the readers. We want to create a system that is so appealing to the public it becomes part of an everyday conversation among all types of people.

We want to make Jewish knowledge real and vibrant.

Chassidut teaches us that if you know aleph, teach aleph. The Lubavitcher Rebbe started the whole idea of mivtzaim [mitzvah campaigns], and one of the many campaigns the Rebbe launched was to buy Jewish books. Our job is to make people use them. When we received the Torah over 3,300 years ago we said Naaseh venishma,; we have been doing for so long now we need to focus more on the nishma part. To listen and learn.

So this is our big new surprise, we have launched the Steinsaltz app, which is literally all of our publications just a click away on your phone. Its fun, easy to use, enjoyable and has all kinds of cute features, like when you complete a page you get confetti thrown on your screen, and little prizes when you complete a learning cycle.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was such an innovator and pushed us to use technology for the right purpose.

Technology is a very powerful tool; my father was very interested in and embraced innovation. In fact, he started using a PC for his translation of the Talmud long before it became popular in the workplace. He was enthusiastic about using modern technology to reach new and younger demographics.

We use social media to spread learning. We are very active on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Tekoa, my fathers hesder yeshiva, is always working on new projects for learning and connecting people. They now have Beit Midrash Shalhevet, a chevruta program where you are paired up with a study partner from literally anywhere in the world who matches your interest and knowledge.

My father was not very available, he worked hard and we hardly saw him, but I have this sweet memory of him very close to my heart. I once woke up in the middle of the night in our house in Emek Refaim; I must have been eight years old. Our house had a long corridor that separated the night area from the salon and kitchen. It must have been very late, probably like 2 a.m. I saw a light coming from the salon and I saw my dad was up, with two big books on his desk. One book was what looked like a Talmud, huge with thick writing, the other book was science fiction.

This was my dad, he was interested in everything.

A sweet father who loved us kids very much and loved his wife. They had a beautiful relationship. My mother, who also is extremely intelligent, literally gave up her own career to stand behind my dad. They loved to travel and go to art galleries; they could literally sit in front of a painting for hours and discuss why one line is on the right and not on the left, for example. They completed each other.

I am very lucky too, to also have a wife who is my working partner and my best friend Liza. We have four amazing kids, Moshe, Lea, Elisha and Ariel. My kids grew up knowing of the amazing luck of having such a special grandfather, but they were also much more free than me for their last name is only Even Israel, so it gave them their own identity and lessened pressure on them.

I dont have time to miss him and anyway, he is always here! But when I do miss him I make sure to work as hard as I can to fulfill his wishes.

In Israel it used to be when you turn on the TV or radio in the early morning when they would start programming, first they would say Shema Yisrael, and at night when the programs would end they would recite the holy verse of the day.

This is Israel, the Holy Land; we have so much treasure passed on to us from generation to generation, we need to take it and spread it as much as we can. It has to become part of our daily conversations. My father managed to make very high and complex thoughts easy to grasp for everyone. He spoke to everyone from a king to a simple man on the street in the same way.

He was curious and funny, his mind was a gift Hashem [God] gave us and we must treasure it, use it as much as we can, pass it down to our children, and so on.

OUR CONVERSATION has ended.

Rabbi Menis wife Liza appears at the door offering us coffee. I take it, my brain feeling like it needs a break just from listening and learning of the incredible knowledge and unique mind of Rabbi Steinsaltz.

I take out my cell and download the new Steinsaltz app. Its free for now and looks easy to use and colorful. I create a login/password and in seconds am granted access to so much information. I can create my own study pattern, whether its daily Chumash, Rambam, Mishna or Tanya.

One can get really addicted to this, but it is one of those good addictions!

The app is almost like a game where you get points and medals as you finish your day of learning.

Let my people know, I whisper to myself as I make my way out, and it feels good. This phrase has meaning and power and brings me right to the feeling of redemption, which should come now and bring back all the big scholars already with Moshiach.

Amen.

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Son of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz carries on his father's mission - The Jerusalem Post

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