If I Were Addressing the AJOP Convention

The 20th Annual AJOP Convention is scheduled to take place January 18-22, 2008. The Convention 2008 Theme is: “The Future of Judaism: Setting the Course – A Conference Examining the Relationship of Jews to Judaism”. We asked our regular contributors what they would say if they could address the convention. Here is Neil Harris’ response. You can add your thoughts in the comments.

The key issues I would bring up would be:

Social mentoring with residents in a community

This is very different than being invited to the same home week after week, which is an excellent way to m’karev someone. I think that individuals or families reach a point when they need to see less of a “local view” and more of the “global view” of Torah Judaism. In addition, a loosely structured network of Baalei Teshuva across the country needs to be formed, so that someone moving into a new community with many choices of schools and shuls can start of with a contact who know where they are coming from.

Developing an understanding of achdus and respect of other’s hashkafos

Often we, as Baalei Teshuva, become part of a shul, yeshiva, or segment of a frum sub-culture and for some reason, end up looking down on others. This is totally counter productive to promoting the achdus that we, as Baalei Teshuva would like to see.

Chizuk in times of ‘burn out’ or frustration

Advising the ‘kiruv professional’ how to help build self-esteem and persistence in learning and integration in the observant community is key. Too often, the Baal Teshuva gets to a point where they feel frustrated and people need to know that they are not in it alone.

Teaching not just the “how to” but the “this is why we do it”

Making the slow, gradual jump in a Torah observant lifestyle means learning a barrage of new things like: Kashrus, mechanics of davening, Hilchos Shabbos, laws of family purity, struggling with children’s homework, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in ‘catching up’ with our lack of background and the reasons we do things like keep Shabbos might get washed away by questions like, “Can I heat up a chicken w/ sauce on Shabbos?”

These are just a few thoughts.

3 comments on “If I Were Addressing the AJOP Convention

  1. Tzvi,
    In all fairness, I was not trying to be critical of any kiruv organization or institution. What I wrote was simply my observations from the standpoint becoming observant through NCSY, as well as a former (I really dislike this term) “kiruv worker”, and now simply an observer who sits a a desk 8 hours a day and writes a bit here and there.

    I think that the accountablity issue is key. Follow up, from something as important as Birthright, to a Rav reaching out to a newcomer in a shul is key for any type of outreach.

  2. More than on target — a brilliant summary of the critical nekudos that have repeatedly surfaced here on beyondbt.

    I doubt these issues will ever be addressed given the current organizational structure of kiruv institutions. The only thing that may offer a glimmer of hope is the raising of consciousness in the world regarding environmental issues. Corporations are being asked to be more responsible — to clean up their messes and prevent them in the future — and some are now seeing financial incentive to do so.

    We can only pray that supporters of kiruv institutions will one day require a similar level of accountability, to clean up some of the messes they have created in the course of delivering their shiny new teshuva products.


  3. Neil’s points are on target.

    On his last point: Before laying out the nuts and bolts of an important, yet possibly arcane or unfamiliar, area of Jewish practice, the Rabbi/mentor/lecturer/neighbor… should first create some understanding of its purpose and place within the grand scheme of Torah Judaism.

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