Aaron Raskin - Biography
Aaron L. Raskin is a religious leader and rabbi within the Chabad Lubavitch movement, an author, former radio host and spiritual leader of the only Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
Born to Benzion and Bassie Raskin, Raskin was raised in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York. Through his mother, he is related to the Hechts. Shea Hecht, chairman of the board of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, is his maternal uncle. His grandfather was Rabbi Jacob J Hecht, official translator of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Mendel Menachem Schneerson.
Aaron spent a large amount of his childhood in the home of his late grandfather. Rabbi JJ Hecht was a strong influence on young Aaron's life, leading him to decide on a rabbinical path. The fact that the young Aaron came from a long line of rabbis and all his maternal uncles are rabbis certainly did not hinder his decision. Aaron graduated from the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva and the Rabbinical College of America with a BA in Rabbinical Studies.
The young Rabbi Raskin served as a shliach (emissary) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Great Britain and was the representative on Jewish leadership on a visit to the House of Lords. He was following the footsteps of his aforementioned grandfather, who, in the United States, had served on the Ethics Committees during the administrations of President George H. W. Bush and New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
Back in the United States, and the shliach of the Rebbe to Downtown Brooklyn, at the young age of 21, Raskin founded Congregation B'nai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights. What began as a handful of local families has today grown into a congregation of more than 150 family members, with an additional 150 families attending its pre-school and other educational programs.
B'nai Abraham was in the news a couple of times in 2007 and 2008 after its premises was defaced with swastikas.
Author and public speaker
Raskin authored Letters of Light and co-authored The Rabbi & the Ceo. He also has over two hundred hours of multimedia of classes on various subjects, including kabbalah. He is currently working on another two books. The first of these books investigates striking or otherwise anomalous Hebrew letters as they appear in the weekly Torah portion, analyzing them for deeper meanings, and often tabulating their Gematria (numerical valuation). The second book tackles two of Raskin's favorite subjects, the Mitzvah ("commandment") for Jews to place a Mezuzah on their doorpost; and the mitzvah incumbent upon Jewish males to don Tefillin (phylacteries) daily.
Conversion and non-Jews
Raskin was involved at one time in conversions to Judaism. He is no longer so involved, but he continues to offer classes geared toward both baal teshuvas (Jews who are "returning" to the faith) and to potential converts.
Raskin is a strong proponent of involving non Jews in learning and following the Seven Laws of Noah ("Noahide Laws"). He adheres to the tenets of respecting the concepts of the Righteous Gentile, and maintains friendly relations with Brooklyn Heights' secular communities.
Contribution to Jewish life in Downtown Brooklyn
A charismatic and indefatigable public speaker, the Rabbi holds regular weekly classes and "learning" sessions for Jews in the local community for free on a walk-in basis. These classes, which vary in popularity (some crowded, some not) have established a sense of fixed regularity to Jewish life into the otherwise secular environs of Downtown Brooklyn, an area dominated by the many court, government, and professional offices surrounding historical Brooklyn Borough Hall. These classes include: a Monday evening lecture series devoted to topics ranging from Pirkei Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") to kabbalah; a Wednesday morning women's Weekly Torah portion class; a Wednesday afternoon class geared toward male professionals (housed, not at B'nai Avraham, but in private offices near Borough Hall), as well as short lecture sessions in Tanya (an 18th-century book of Hasidic philosophy and mysticism), Rambam (Maimonedes), and Talmud held in the early morning and late afternoon of every Jewish Sabbath (their exact times subject to the seasons of the Jewish Calendar).
Every Hannukah, Raskin oversees the placement of a giant, 25-foot Menorah in front of Brooklyn's Supreme Court building on Cadman Plaza, and lights it for the general public, reciting the traditional blessings. Local energy provider ConEd provides a cherry picker for the nightly lighting ceremony. The menorah has since been designated Brooklyn's Official Menorah by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
Raskin was recently listed as top "rising" rabbi in the USA (and fourth globally).
Mikvah in Downtown
Rabbi Raskin built one of the most beautiful mikvahs in B'nai Avraham, based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe's philosophy that mikvahs should be aesthetically pleasing.
The Rabbi was featured in an article in the February 2006 National Geographic magazine about the Chabad Lubavitch movement.
Rabbi Raskin is also known for his hilariously crazy Purim costumes.
He is married to Shternie, who directs Kiddie Korner Preschool, located at B'nai Avraham, and a new preschool and daycare on Clinton and Montague, which opened its doors in September 2009. They and their children live in Brooklyn Heights.