By Sharon Rapoport
In July, Aish San Diego made an exciting announcement. Rabbi Nisso Palti had joined the congregation, to lead its members in numerous educational and religious events, starting with this year’s High Holiday Services.
Even if Aish San Diego is still a budding community (this is only the second year they will hold High Holiday services), it is part of the larger Aish HaTorah organization, respected as a world leader in creative Jewish educational programs and leadership training. It is also highly recognized for reaching Jews of all backgrounds and awakening a profound pride in their heritage
Rabbi Nisso Palti is one of the most prominent and beloved teachers of Torah in Latin America. He attended school at Ner Israel in Baltimore and married (in his own words) a “a born and bred New Yorker,” Mrs. Yaffa Palti.
Yaffa is a teacher and a sought-after public lecturer known for her charisma, depth and humor. She is also a singer/songwriter who often blends lectures and melodies to create unique experiences.
L´Chaim had the opportunity to talk with Rabbi Palti about this new chapter in San Diego´s spiritual life, and this is what he said.
L’CHAIM Magazine: In 2015, over 400 people participated in the Rosh Hashanah services. It was inspiring to see such numbers, given that it was the first year of Aish San Diego. To what do you attribute this success?
Rabbi Palti: I believe people are looking for something different. They are looking for a more meaningful experience, one that truly allows them to connect to their deeper self, to each other and the Almighty. They are looking for inspiration that can make a difference in their lives, and that’s what the High Holidays at Aish felt like.
L’CHAIM: What is the Aish approach to Judaism, and why do you think it is resonating so loudly with Jews all over the world?
Rabbi Palti: I think Aish has a phenomenal capacity to speak about Jewish values in a different language. Aish’s language is a language of reason, of humanity. It’s a message that is at the same time authentic and true to our millenary traditions but also modern, relevant and livable. It’s an idea that appreciates the complexity of the human reality and therefore is nonjudgmental.
L’CHAIM: I was part of the High-Holidays services last year, and was inspired by the shiurim (classes). What is the idea behind providing the congregation with the option of taking a shiur during services?
Rabbi Palti: Let’s be honest. For many of us, sitting for hours, listening to a language we don’t really understand or connect with, is difficult. On the other hand, we don’t want to change the tremendous power and depth of the original Hebrew prayers. So, we can get the best of both worlds by keeping the service in the original language while simultaneously offering shiurim that can teach the life transforming ideas hidden within the prayers. This creates more of a connection with Judaism and each other.
L’CHAIM: You have a great reputation as a scholar and a speaker. What are your goals as a spiritual leader here in San Diego?
Rabbi Palti: We are taught by our Torah teachers that we have a responsibility to share with others the talents, gifts and treasures that God has bestowed upon us. Our intention in coming to San Diego to join the amazing project called Aish San Diego is to share, to the best of our ability, the knowledge and passion for Judaism we were gifted, allowing each one of us to reach our true potential.
L’CHAIM: Do you expect to face any particular challenges here in San Diego?
Rabbi Palti: Oh, certainly! There is nothing more challenging and rewarding than working with people! You can never know for sure how people will react to the wisdom and inspiration you try to offer them, but we will certainly give it our best effort, trusting the power of our Torah and the inner beauty of all Jews.
L’CHAIM: You relocated your family from Mexico to San Diego. Are they excited? Nervous? Happy?
Rabbi Palti: All of the above! There is certainly some nervousness about all the changes our family will have to go through- new job, new schools, new friends, new everything. But we are very excited about the new opportunities for growth and achievement that Aish San Diego is offering, and we are happy to live in such a wonderful city surrounded by such wonderful people.
L’CHAIM: Talking about new beginnings, what do you consider is our greatest challenge as human beings on Rosh-Hashanah and You Kippur?
Rabbi Palti: Change. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are there to encourage us to break out of our self-imposed limitations and bad habits and discover our better selves. But the power of inertia that prevents us from changing is strong, and we often tend to fall back into our lower selves. Let’s hope this year we can inspire one another and join to help each other reach the next rung in the ladder.
According to the Aish San Diego Board, “Aish is here because we believe that San Diego needs an exciting, innovative organization focused on connecting all Jews to Judaism and each other so that they experience the most pleasure from life. We will contribute to Jewish education, tradition and pride for anyone in our County.”
Following Aish HaTorah’s mission of providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage, it is Aish San Diego’s goal to offer different programs that help achieve these lofty goals. Aish San Diego will provide innovative programming that demonstrates the beauty, relevance and wisdom of our Jewish Heritage to all.
“The opportunities include seminars for different ages, singles events, executive learning groups and community building events. Aish will also hold Kabalat Shabbat and Jewish holiday programs where everyone is welcome.
“For the near-term schedule we have reached an agreement with the San Diego Jewish Academy to use some of their facilities for High Holiday services. In fact, we expect well over four hundred people to attend.”