Kiruv is Kindness

I’ve taken a number of Kiruv Training Classes the past few years and one major benefit is the resulting awareness of all the kindness opportunities around us.

Kiruv can be many things, teaching Torah, serving Hashem, saving souls, but I think at its root that Kiruv is kindness. In Pirkei Avos it’s taught “Hillel said, be of the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to Torah.” From the Mishnah it’s clear that the kiruv of Aharon was the kiruv of kindness.

We believe strongly in the great importance and benefit of coming closer to Hashem and His Torah, and when we bring any person just a little bit closer, BT, FFB or not observant, it’s a great kindness.

So there I was on a Friday afternoon and the following email arrives:

Dear Mark:

First, let me thank you for taking time out of your schedule today to have a conversation with me. As we move forward, I hope that you will view our relationship as a significant investment in your career.

I look forward to working with you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me….and good luck with the running this weekend!


The only problem was that I had never spoken to Emily. This happened to be the second time that day that I had gotten an email to the wrong Mark Frankel. So I sent the following reply to Emily:


You have the wrong Mark Frankel.

Be Well

Emily quickly acknowledged:

Thanks so much for sending this back – I realized it as soon as I hit send! (Thinking about it, should have sent a note telling you that…)

Have a good weekend –

That could have been the end of it. A small kindness, followed by a gracious expression of thanks. But I did a little research and took a chance that Emily was Jewish. I thought this could be an opportunity for a small act of kindness. I sent back the following email:

or a good Shabbos.

I’ve gotten 2 wrong emails for this Mark Frankel today, is his email so close to mine?

I thought that the email might elicit a reply and sure enough in about a minute the following came streaming into my inbox:

That obvious, huh? But our four and a half year old daughter informed me in a very excited voice that Shabbat is tonight…and Havdalah is tomorrow night.

So – good Shabbos to you as well.

Wow! Talk about Divine providence. I did one final web-based kindness, the emailing of a link:

My children also motivated me to learn more about Shabbos.

If you’re interested, this is a great site.

Good Shabbos

Emily acknowledged:

Funny how that works with kids – I’ve never celebrated Havdalah before (my husband hadn’t done much of anything growing up), either.

Thanks for the link to the aish site – it’s a good one.

I don’t know what the next steps are or if there will be any next steps. I just thought this was a small opportunity to make a person a little more conscious of their Judaism.

Kiruv is all about kindness and kindness is what Hashem wants of us – the more the better.

22 comments on “Kiruv is Kindness

  1. mark, the “two people per year made frum by the kiruv orgs” on the AJOP study, like all the graphs the donors want to see, speaks only of that final winning outcome – he became frum. but if all the professionals impacted on at all was two people per year who are involved in a journey which eventually leads them closer – they wouldn’t still be plugging away. that figure doesn’t mean we can’t all help. on the contrary – it just means we have to be realistic about expectations for the quick fix, and take lesson from the professionals – even they can’t report that people are going all the way from one day to the next.

    maybe another important thing i’m reading in your posts is that we shouldn’t call reaching out “kiruv”, as if it were brain surgery that’s complicated, scary, and requires lots of training. “kiruv is kindness” might be paraphrased like this:

    just be nice,and watch for opportunities when you can help people. whether it’s by right them and there arranging a shabbos meal for them (unlikely) or simply by answering their questions about where to buy the best bagels, or going out of your way to be an extra-special mensch so they’ll see that judaism creates menschlichkeit, they’ll see they can relate to you more than they thought they would, and they’ll open up with religious questions, too… it’s a process. the first step involves creating an openness, and you don’t have to know any big existential answers or be able to debate the age of the universe to think of doing this with success.

  2. I agree that everybody should be involved with kiruv.

    The resistance I’ve seen from my friends is that Kiruv to them means helping people become frum and most people don’t think they are capable of doing that. And they’re probably right. AJOP studies show that the average Kiruv professional helps less than 2 people become frum each year.

    I think we need to rethink this and understand that if a person becomes closer to Hashem that is an unqualified success whether or not they become fully Shomer Shabbos/Mitzvos. That’s not the messaging that I hear from many Kiruv organization and I think the funding realities discussed above play some part in this.

    Another problem is that the term Kiruv has its accepted understanding (making people frum) so there may be a need to come up with a different term to get regular people like us involved.

    Perhaps kindness is a better term with a focus on helping anyone, non observant, BT or FFB come closer to Hashem. Although it’s hard to get people excited about such a general thing as kindness.

  3. just one more note here on this good thread: no one can make anyone frum. the most anyone can hope to do – professional or not – is to provide positive associations and opportunities for people. whether they’ll move on it or not is beyond the power of an outsider.

    yes, kiruv orgs are under great pressure to show results and how to quantify that is a matter of endless debate. it’s part of our galus, the reality that people funding it have absolutely no understanding of the growth process.

    i don’t know about all of you out there, but it takes me a LOOOOONG time to change anything that i need to work on. providing people – lay people, professionals, and donors – with realistic expectations might be the biggest tovah anyone can do at this point.

    there must be long term goals, and short term ones too. of course, we hope everyone will eventually become shomrei torah umitzvos. that’s the long term one. short term, we hope they’ll gain positive associations with torah, which can then be used by their own internal processes and supportive outside opportunities to affect change. i think the problem is realizing what “short term” means. it will usually be years. but that’s normal, and healthy, and realistic. it doesn’t mean that during those years, no changes will be seen, just that from one minute to the next, there will be no huge outward transformation, Poof! and b”h that’s fixed…a person who did not believe in G-d, who can say after one year, now i do – will regrettably not make it onto the graph of business acheivement (“is he frum yet?”) of the current donor pool, even though his movement is extremely significant, encouraging, and important. we gotta daven, not only that the uneducated see the light, but also that the donors wisen up…

    i don’t think we can blame this disconnect entirely on donors, either; i think some kiruv orgs pander to the superficial donor, and maybe in some cases even encourage him to be so superficial in the first place and look for these ridiculous results, because the orgs themselves are in torn as to how superficial they themselves should be…oy. when a kiruv org is run by someone with a mature, deep understanding of people, someone who himself supports teh long-range thing, a superficial donor who is looking for the quick fix or bust just won’t hang around. there’s just no substitute for emes that works long term.

  4. I definitely agree with you, Mark, the real distortion is thinking that only kiruv done by professionals is kiruv, or, that only professionals can and should do kiruv. You know better than most how untrue that is. As we know best, every encounter that a secular Jew has with someone in tune with G-d and Torah makes an impact. Even if the end result is not “quantifiable” the fact that he is drawn closer is a goal in and of itself. As an aside, all these un-quantifiable impacts can, down the road, result in a shomer shabbos yid. But Hashem is in charge of results, it is only up to us to do our part.

  5. I agree totally with the reality that kiruv organizations need to justify their continuing donations.

    Perhaps this funding reality has distorted the real potential of kiruv and the kiruv that us non-professionals can do.

    I’ve talked to a number of people about this recently and to them kiruv means making people frum because that’s the justifying end goal of kiruv organizations.

    The kiruv of bringing someone a little closer, of increasing G-d awareness, of increasing the bond between two Jews gets devalued in this environment.

    Does it make sense that the definition and potential of kiruv should be distorted by funding requirements?

  6. Yes, but even kiruv rabbis are funded, and the ones who bankroll all kiruv orgs want to see numbers. Every single kiruv org I know of has to justify its continuing donations this way. The quantifications range from: numbers of those: taking one class, taking 10 classes/one series of classes, coming for certain number of shabbos meals; becoming shomer shabbos/kashrus, dating only jewish, spending 100 hours in some jewish/torah activity during the school year, spending a year in yeshiva. Each of these are benchmarks that are positive and each of them count.

  7. By whether the person is attending classes or by keeping in touch with the person on a regular basis and assessing their progress. In fact this is what campus kiruv Rabbis do. Many keep in touch with 100-300 people on a bimonthly basis.

  8. Is there a way for a kiruv organization to establish fair benchmarks for its employees in the field?

    I think people involved in learning/growing as a result of the employees efforts is possibly as good, if not better, a measure than people becoming frum.

  9. All progress really is progress. But every organization that hires people has benchmarks for their effectiveness. Is there a way for a kiruv organization to establish fair benchmarks for its employees in the field?

  10. When I’ve told over this story, a typical response is that you never know what can come out of the sending of that link.

    That response bothers me a little, because it implies that only if something more comes out of it was it really a worthwhile act. If not, it’s consolation, well “you did the best you can”.

    I think we need to see chesed (and kiruv) as doing the right thing for that person at that time. It sometimes takes some thought and foresight to determine the right thing, but when we have arrived at that determination the act is a full and complete act of chesed (or kiruv).

    In Kiruv especially we seem to be very goal oriented – ie “did or will the person become frum”. But isn’t every increasing awareness of Hashem valuable in and of itself.

    Does this sound right to anybody?

  11. It’s a reverse bagel because the textbook bagel is done going from the non-frum Jew to the frum Jew. Mark, the frum Jew, was the one trying to reveal his Jewishness to the non-frum Jew, hence “the reverse bagel.”

  12. David:

    Why is it a reverse bagel? I think Mark was simply “bageling,” albeit for the purpose of Kiruv.

  13. It’s worth noting the order of the mishnah: loving people and then bringing them to the Torah. The first step is loving them (simply because they are ‘briyos’ – created things, even without Torah) and then one can bring them to Torah, not, as some might think, bringing them to Torah first in order to love them better. The proper emphasis is thus loving people and helping them with their physical needs and then later with their spiritual needs.

  14. Nice job, Mark! I can see it now…”Yeah, I sent an email to the wrong guy who sent me back the link for Aish…and now I go to Shprintzer’s Salon for my monthly head shaving.”

  15. Thanks for the reminder that the people we cross paths with are never accidental coincidence, rather opportunity for those who are awake.

  16. Mark,

    It just goes to show you (and everyone) something we already know…Hashem runs the world!


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