Michael J. Weisz’s interest in giving back stems from the idea that the United States was built on a bedrock of religious heritage and hard work. His volunteerism has entailed decades of hard work building up Central Ohio's Jewish institutions and enabling the next generation to have a strong, vibrant religious community. Just a few of his accomplishments involve founding Columbus Torah Academy High School, Columbus Community Kollel and Columbus Eruv Society. Now, he wants to see younger leaders take the reins to ensure community power and connection continue to grow.
What inspires you to give back to the community?
It is easy for me to get inspired by a cause I truly care about and it’s rewarding to see the direct impact I can have on my own community. Unlike so many other aspects of life which I may not be able to control, giving in a communal sense allows me to choose where and how to make a difference. There is a special line contained in the “Ethics of the Fathers” which states: “It is not your duty to complete the work ... but neither are you free to desist from it.” If we don’t get involved in our Jewish community, who will?
Was there ever a turning point or shift that made you change how you approach ,community service or become active in the Jewish world?
Approximately 28 years ago, my wife and I met with the inimitable Rabbi Mordechai Gifter (of blessed memory) a true Torah giant with incredible insight. The specific question we posed was whether it would be in our children’s best interest to move to a larger Jewish community that had more social and educational opportunities and options or to remain in Columbus. Rabbi Gifter stated unequivocally that my wife and I should remain in Columbus and get involved as much as we could in order to strengthen the Jewish environment and community in Columbus.
Is there any particular cause, issue or organization you are especially passionate about? What have you done to address it?
As the son-in-law of Rabbi David Stavsky (of blessed memory), I have always been intimately involved with Beth Jacob Synagogue. I have seen how a synagogue can serve as the primary hub for Jewish life, the home for all major lifecycle events and the anchor for families in both good times and in bad. As such, I am a big believer that the stronger our religious congregations are, the stronger our overall community will be. My wife and I, therefore, had an idea to recruit young families from out of town into our shul and specifically to the Berwick neighborhood. In the past five years, we launched a program called “Beth Jacob Thrive,” where we have assisted more than a dozen families from outside of Columbus to move to our neighborhood and shul. They have brought energy, vibrancy and vitality to Beth Jacob Synagogue and the entire Columbus Jewish community.
Did you have any mentors? If so, what was your relationship to them and how did they impact you?
My father, George Weisz (of blessed memory), an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor, lost most of his family members in the Holocaust. My father, after having endured the horrors of the Holocaust and without speaking a word of English, without having a dollar in his pocket and without having any safety net to fall back upon, came to America and courageously began a new life and family in Cleveland and became a successful business entrepreneur, while still emphasizing the importance of his family and faith. Throughout his pre- and post-war life, my father remained Sabbath observant.
It is rare to also choose one’s father-in-law, Stavsky, not just as your mentor but also as your rabbi, adviser, teacher, role model and even your neighbor. These two individuals in my life, who I have most looked up to and tried to emulate, both enriched my life with their knowledge and upon their passing, my families’ lives were left bereft of two noble princes amongst men.