The Courage for Kiruv

I am still not sure if it was a ruach shtus (foolish impulse) that motivated me to take the afternoon off from my Kollel yesterday or if it truly was a proper and appropriate decision. Whichever it was, I told my chevrusa what I planned to do (he told me I was absolutely meshuga) and I headed off to the old city.

The old city is a place where there are always secular American or English Jews touring around so I figured that it would be the best place to go. My goal was to emulate Rav Meir Shuster for the afternoon, ‘the man at the wall’ who has approached literally tens of thousands of secular Jews at the Kotel and around the old city and offered to let them stay for free at Heritage House or take them to a class. I personally know quite a number of yidden who are now rabbonim who became frum because Rav Meir approached them and made sure to connect them to a yeshiva.

I have been considering for a while now that perhaps HKB”H wants me to remember my estranged brothers and sisters who are leading secular lifestyles and see if I can help them just as Avraham, Elkana and Rav Chiya were praised for doing in their days.

My chevrusa actually said to me “Who do you think you are Avraham Avinu?! You have an achrius (responsibility) to me and the shiur and anyway our learning will help the secular Jews!” I replied back “First of all it says ‘Ask yourself every day when are your actions going to be like Avraham Yitzhak and Yaacov’ in Tanna deVay Eliahu 25. Secondly, don’t I have an achrius to try and help teach secular yiddim the truth? And thirdly would you be relying on the zchus of your learning if your sister was going off the derech, or would you take a little time off your schedule and talk to her?” With that I left.

I arrived at the old city at 2:30 and immediately found a secular Jew standing in the Kotel plaza. I said to myself, “O.K. here’s my chance, I should go over to him and talk to him.” But I found that I couldn’t. I stood there for over 10 minutes trying to talk myself into going up to him, but I couldn’t find the courage.

“Oh no! He’s leaving” I exclaimed to myself as I saw him head off towards the stairs. “I don’t want to lose him!” I quickly made my pursuit, following him up the stairs, through the rova and all the way to the pizza shop.

He stopped to buy a slice of pizza, sat down and began to eat. I sat down near him and again tried to muster up the courage to go over to him and start a conversation, but I couldn’t. “Hashem, how does Rav Meir do it? What am I supposed to do? Can You help me?” I dovened under my breath.

“Oh no! He’s on the move again!” I panicked to myself. “I’ve got to start a conversation with him or I‘ll lose him and my afternoon to boot!” Again I followed, just as before, but then to my shock, horror and dismay, he suddenly stopped, turned around, looked me straight in the eye and said to me “Are you following me?”

“Uhm” I said. I was caught off guard. What was I going to say. Then I don’t know where it came from but I found myself saying “I want to introduce you to G-d.”

He stood there, starred at my face and said nothing for a long while. He was summing me up.

“Go on then” he said.

That caught me off guard too. Again I didn’t know what to say.

“What’s your name?” I asked


“O.K. Craig – meet G-d.” I pointed to all around. “He’s everywhere.” I explained.

“Are you a Rabbi” he asked.

“Yeh I guess so” (I have done a few of Rav Zalmon Nechemia’s smicha tests.) He started to ask me hashkafic questions about G-d and Judaism that he told me he had always wondered about. An hour later when he had to go, he thanked me for the discussion, left me his email address and told me that he had hoped that when he came to Israel he would meet someone that he could ask his questions to.

That evening I told my chevrusa what had happened and he told me that in his opinion the time that I had lost in learning was too high a price for any good that I had done, if indeed I had done any good. “One can not be mvatel Torah to do a mitzva if there are others who can do it instead. If not you he would have found someone else. There are kiruv professionals trained to do this kind of stuff and they can do it a lot better than you.”

I am beginning to see that there are two types of Jews. Those who have faith that if they continue to learn for themselves and keep Shabbos and Kashrus etc, they are being good Jews and nothing more should be expected from them. Then there are those who believe that perfecting their little world isn’t enough. They believe that it is their duty to open their eyes to the whole world and help others who weren’t brought up to live their heritage. My little ‘experiment’ yesterday opened my eyes more to the second way of thinking. I do not think that Craig would have started to ask his questions if he wasn’t approached first. How many others will go through their whole lives and never ask the questions that they must have thought about at one point because they were never offered the opportunity to do so?

20 comments on “The Courage for Kiruv

  1. Great job! I think all jews can do Kiruv. I went to see Matisyahu, In my nurmal frum black pants white shirt kollel costume and before during and after the show I was asked tuns of questions. We will either dod kiruv or some other religion is going to do it for us. Once again good for you,and good for Craig. With hashem’s help Craig will be on this site soon!

  2. Reading this post, I couldn’t tell if it would have a happy ending. I thought, he’s going to try to do kiruv and someone is going to get very angry and tell him to jump off a bridge or something. Or worse. But, that’s not what happened. You had an impulse to find someone to talk to about being Jewish, and you found someone who seemed to be, in some ways, looking for it. He talked to you, you got his email address, and even if things don’t progress much farther than that, he had another Jewish experience in his life because of what you did.

    One afternoon when you were supposed to be in Kollel, you went to try to do kiruv. It seemed to me like some kind of experiment, and it turned out to be worth it for you and for that guy that you talked to. I think it might, however, be a good idea to work out something for your chevruta if you end up doing something like this more often. Or, now might be a good opportunity to see if you can get some training in kiruv, so that it can be a little less clumsy next time (following someone may not work as well next time…)

  3. Jewish atheist-Learning is the province of every Jew, and not just for those who want or think that they will become Talmidie Chachamim.In fact, the highest form of learning is soley because of the mitzvah to learn, as opposed to learning to becone Talmid Chacham or rav. It is the portal into how one thinks, celebrates and enhances ehis or her life as a Jew.

  4. I heard Rav Alter of Chicago once say that Avraham spent so much time in kiruv — how did he take care of his own learning? He answered that Hashem increased Avraham’s abilities & efficiency in learning in direct correlation to the time he took out for other people (I guess not other yidden since he was the first). In other words, Hashem allowed him to accomplish his goals in learning in less time, due to the zechus of his spending the rest of his time attending to other people’s ruchnius. Hashem should bless you the same way.

  5. Two Things –

    1) In one of his lectures to the ‘Beit Mussar’, Rav Wolbe said that every person who is learning full time has an obligation to take some time every week for Kiruv.

    2) Having spent some time working at the Heritage House, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be truthful and real with the people you meet. It means you have to be working on being mekarev yourself more than anyone else. You may find (as many of us did and do) that the people you are working to be makarev end up being mekarev you.

  6. Of course, The Chasam Sofer wouldn’t suggest picking the middle of the day when a person has a chavrusa that is unhappy about this to venture out. And let’s not forget about whoever is paying the (meager) kollel stipend…

  7. Tell your chavrusa to look at the Chasam Sofer on Kiruv:

    I think he would change his view on the matter after reading it.

    I had a similar situation with a kid I randomly walked up to here in Israel. He ended up at a BT yeshiva and two weeks later told me “this” is what was missing in my life. You could say “If Hashem wants someone to be frum they will be frum.” I think the Rambam as well as many others would strongly disagree. The Rambam would say it is 99% you and 1% Hashem. Some people fail in business and say “oh… it is all from Heaven.” The Rambam would say “you were lazy which is why you failed.”

    The responsibility is on us to make things happen. Don’t take my word for it… check out the Chasam Sofer!

  8. Thank you so much for doing what you did and for listening to your intuition. It’s people like you who can inspire one (like me) to learn more.

  9. What amazing hasgacha! You had the idea and he was hoping to meet someone to ask his questions to! I love that exchange of introducing him to G-d!

  10. Kol haKavod! Surely learning should not always be considered an end in itself. The Jewish people has a responsibility for one another – that is why tzedakah is so highly prized. Surely sharing some of the mitzvah of learning is both an extension of the mitzvah of tzedakah AND a fulfillment of our achrius to our fellow Yidn (whether frum or not). What does anyone else think?

  11. How I wish other Jews who are learning full time would take at least a few minutes a week for this sort of thing! Bring some of your light out where there is so much darkness and the effect could be blindingly beautiful.

    Personally, I always thought what you did was a mitzvah directly linked to studying Torah! Pirkei Avot 6:6 “Torah is acquired by … learn(ing) in order to teach….” Teaching only Jews who already think like you? Israel is one! “All Israel has a share…”

    And doesn’t 1:1 say, “…develop many disciples…”? ‘Develop’ also means that they weren’t disciples before you came along and made them so!

    I’m always surprised by religious Jews who actually have to discuss, and somehow justify, talking to non-religious people! I’m glad you went out and did it.

  12. The thing most people seem to miss is that kiruv does not have to be anything complicated. You do not have to chase somebody around Yerushalayim to talk to them, you do not have to go to youth hangouts or college campuses, and you don’t have to walk around handing out brochures if those are not things you feel comfortable doing. Sure, it can make a huge difference (and people that can do that are amazing), but I know that in my experiences, the biggest pull has simply been seeing people in thier daily lives, and simply watching the religious communtiy as a whole. Sometimes just a smile or a hand when needed can bring somebody in or start a conversation.

  13. I have never heard the word yiddim before. I assume this is Hebrew for Yidden?

    Is this word commonly used? Coinsidering all of the Yeshivish in the post, the Hebrew-sounding yiddim was kind of incongruous.

    Anyway, just curious if it’s a commonly used word.

  14. With Craig’s permission you should probably also forward his email address /contact info to a Kiruv institution in his geographical proximity and recommend a book that might open his eyes and heart.

    Have you ever thought of joining Lev L’Achim? With so many Gedolim backing their activities it’s hard to imagine your chavrusa criticizing you or feeling abandoned.

  15. Very interesting day you’ve had!

    I think if you haven’t already, Craig would benefit greatly by you emailing him and explaining the thought process that brought you to meet him. Let him know about your discussion with your chavrusa before going. He might be very amazed at the fact that this was your first such attempt, and it “just so happened” to be him.

  16. As conflicted I am about the idea of kiruv (having left frumkeit myself) there’s got to be more to religion than learning. If your path is to be a great scholar, then go and learn. If your path is elsewhere, go elsewhere. And it’s not all or nothing, of course.

  17. …and can probably have a huge impact.

    [After seeing some people in action recently, I can see just how hard it is to really do so – there are plenty of stages after that first opening conversation. Yiasher Kochacha!]

  18. Heh. You’re right: It’s amazing what effect the question “Are you Jewish?” has on many secular Jews. OTOH, there is the argument that not everyone can be constantly involved in Kiruv.

    The hardest part of Kiruv is making that first approach – and the next hardest is making sure to be honest and forthright about everything, especially if you don’t know an answer. If you can do both (and well), have personality, and be willing to make some sacrifices, you probably have a future in Kiruv.

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