A few years ago I was to meet the Jewish head of a national television network. The producer who had arranged the meeting with a view toward the executive buying into my idea for a television show said to me, “The man you are meeting is very influential and very secular. He’s going to be weary of you as a Rabbi so whatever you do, don’t mention anything religious.”
I had my marching orders and was fully prepared to focus the conversation exclusively on my TV show idea. But as soon as I walked in the executive said to me, “Do you watch Joel Osteen? I watch him every Sunday morning. I think he’s terrific. Do you think we can make a commercial venture out of a religious show like that?”
Here was one of America’s most influential members of the media, a Jew, telling me that every Sunday morning he watched a charismatic evangelical preacher who talked mostly about life lessons derived from the Hebrew Bible. Yet America had not produced a single rabbi successful in doing the same.
It is for this reason that I firmly believe that American Jewry’s foremost priority is the creation of an institute, modeled on, say, Oxford’s Rhodes scholarship, that will bring together the most talented, charismatic, and articulate Jewish men and women from around the world and train them to be spokespeople for our nation so that Jewish light can illuminate the dark spaces of human ignorance.
Over the next few months I will be endeavoring, with God’s blessing, to bring about an institution with this focus.
It may still be a while before a Jew wins the 100 meter dash in an Olympic stadium. But we can still prevail in the longer race to have Jewish wisdom and values positively affect the much more vital arena of life.