While Rabbi Weinberg was beloved for his warmth, teaching and many other skills, strong management of the fast-growing operation was not one of them, according to several people involved with the organization. He worked closely with a small group of loyal associates, whom he trusted, including Rabbi Rabinowitz, a former student of Rabbi Weinberg, and perhaps his closest aide. When Rabbi Weinberg died in 2009, confusion reigned in efforts to understand and disentangle elements of the financial operation, which had grown to the tens of millions of dollars. It includes an advisory board of governors, a board of directors and an amutah (an Israeli nonprofit), and the disorganization went on for years, observers said.
“Aish HaTorah was the car and Rav Noach was the engine,” said Rabbi Burg, who was brought on to professionalize the operation as the group’s director general in June 2015. “When Reb Noach died, the engine fell out and the car kept on going.”
Rabbi Burg, who was given high marks for his work with the Orthodox Union, its teen program, NCSY, and later as head of the New York branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, set about establishing best practices regarding transparency in the Aish HaTorah network. He hired financial executives who confirmed long-simmering suspicions that Aish International’s operation was deeply problematic. Seeking to increase transparency within the organization about a year before Rabbi Burg was hired, Rabbi Hershel Lutch, then-chief operating officer of Aish International, presented a financial report at an Aish HaTorah board of governors meeting. According to several in attendance, the report was the first clear disclosure to members concerning the financial relationship between Aish International and Aish HaTorah. Until that point, the board hadn’t realized that Aish International was not working exclusievely on behalf of Aish Ha Torah.
“We were trying to peel back the layers” of the operation, said Louis Mayberg. “But it was opaque. It became clear to me that Rabbi Rabinowitz was being intentionally misleading.”
Most of the donors came to believe that going back as far as 10 years, there were major discrepancies between the funds raised by Rabbi Rabinowitz in North America, and the amount of those funds that reached Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem.
Lutch resigned from Aish International to work directly for Rabbi Burg as COO-North America for Aish HaTorah, having concluded that Rabbi Rabinowitz was not representing Aish HaTorah’s true interests.
Rabbi Burg told Rabbi Rabinowitz he could no longer operate solo as a fundraiser. He stressed that financial transparency was being instituted and that Rabbi Rabinowitz would be accountable for all funds raised. As for Rabbi Rabinowitz’s claim that he was owed more than $800,000 in commissions, Rabbi Burg told him the donors first wanted to see bank and financial statements for Aish International and a breakdown of charitable donations made to Aish International going back to 2007.