Some Thoughts On Kiruv By Non-Kiruv Professionals

I was recently asked how likely it is that a non-Kiruv professional will help a non-observant person become observant?. Well, after a Shabbos afternoon (3 hours) of watching my 6 yr old daughter and her friend at the park, I have a few thoughts.

My view is that helping a ‘person become more observant’ doesn’t always mean that the person will become frum. I know that this is a very unpopular view, but with intermarriage out of control, and plenty of bad press in the news about Torah observant Jews, any positive connection or view of our Torah lifestyle is a major ‘win’. I know that the pressure of being able to help someone shomer Torah u’Mitzvos, is in fact, the major reason that most non-kiruv ‘professionals’ don’t think that they can ‘do kiruv’. Perhaps that’s one of the goals of the current kiruv seminars (from Project Inspire) that were scheduled in the NYC area.

When I worked for 7 yrs for NCSY, there was always this inner-debate about quality vs quantity of NCSY advisors. One opinion was that only certain people had the ‘skills’ and ‘sechel’ to really be ‘good advisors’. The other view was that because different NCSYers had different types of personalities, we need a larger staff so that each NCSY had an opportunity to connect with someone they might make a kesher with.

As I look back today the advisors who were viewed as having kiruv ‘skills/sechel’ were sort of the ‘kiruv professionals’ and everyone else were the ‘non kiruv pros’. I think that each has their place.

Whenever I read or end up taking about kiruv I always think of a great story about the Chofetz Chaim and one of the early Aguath Israel meetings. It’s online here:

Many years ago I was privileged to hear the ‘Magid of Yerushalayim,’ Rav Shalom Shwadron Shlit’a. When he began to speak, he said over a Moshol of the Chofetz Chaim, which he had heard from Rav Teitelbaum zt’l, who heard it from the Chofetz Chaim.

The Chofetz Chaim was speaking at the K’naisia Gedolah – The Great Assembly (of Agudas Yisroel, where the Torah leaders of the generation gathered together to discuss the spiritual status of Klal Yisroel). The Chofetz Chaim spoke once in the morning, and then strangely enough, he requested to speak again later. Naturally, they let him speak. He pointed out that he spoke in the morning requiring everyone to spread Torah in different places, but that he was not happy with the reaction. The people were saying that of course the Chofetz Chaim is right, but who am I to go and spread Torah among others? I’m far from perfect; The Chofetz Chayim’s address was referring to those who have already have perfected themselves; they have a right and obligation to work on others. As chazal say (Baba Basra 60b) ‘First adorn (work on) yourself, then adorn others.’

The Chofetz Chaim continued, ‘I want to tell you a moshol – a parable about the feudal system. During that period the lords of the manor had the power of life and death in their hands. One of these lords came for a visit, and naturally they made a big reception for him. At the end they gave him a glass of tea, but since the water system wasn’t so clean, the tea was very muddy. When the lord tasted it he spat it out. They explained to him the problem of the water system, so he made a new law. From now on no water may be used unless it was sterilized and cooked first. Some time later the lord heard that this town burned down. When he came to see why they couldn’t put out the fire, they told him that they tried, but as the new law required, they had to cook the water first, and by that time the fire had burned down the town. The lord was furious, and he told them, ‘You fools, when you want to serve tea then you need to sterilize the water first, but when there is a fire burning, you are not choosy as to what kind of water to use; you use any kind of water.’

‘So too, when are you choosy about who should spread Torah? When there is no fire of ignorance burning, but currently there is a fire raging out there, this is not a time to be picky. Anybody who knows something, even if he is not perfect, should try to give it over to others.’
Rav Shalom said that even though he is not worthy to speak, he uses this moshol of the Chofetz Chaim as a license to speak. I too certainly have to rely on it to be able to speak.

This is the situation today (I should really post that story online). We are losing Jews left and right everything from inter-marriage to, sadly, very effective marketing by both the reform and conservative ‘movements’.

To return to the question, I think anytime a Torah observant person makes a Kiddush Hashem we are, at least, planting a seed in the mind and eyes of a non-observant person that our lifestyle isn’t so bad. Being honest in the workplace, a mensch on the subway or LIRR, sending Rosh HaShannah cards or calling your non-frum relatives (something that I really don’t do as much as I should), or being the token ‘Frum Jew’ in the office that people ask questions to brings others closer to the Emes of Torah. A network and community, like that described on the website, has that potential. As you know, there are many things that can light a spark (as Rabbi Shafran wrote) within another Jew. If a kiruv minded person (professional or non-pro) keeps their eyes open, opportunities do come up.

It would only make sense in an age where you don’t need a recording contract to put out a CD, a contract with a national newspaper or publishing house to get people to read what you write (I’m still floored that anyone even ends up reading anything I write), a degree in film making to get people to watch a short video you make, that a ‘grass-roots’ counter kiruv “professional” movement would, and should start up. Aish HaTorah and Chabad have always been at the forefront of outreach, especially as the world has gone digital. Aish seems willing to accept the power of the lay person, and rightfully so.

As most people write, being sincere and non-threatening (yet religiously anchored), is key. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers and being able to consult those more experienced in Kiruv than us is also key. Ultimately we have to realize that we are merely a k’lei, vessel, that Hashem is using to bring another Jew back and, as R Simcha Wasserman z’tl said (and I actually asked R Akiva Tatz about this a few months ago in Chicago), fullfill the mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah, returning a lost object to its’ owner. In the case of Kiruv, the lost object is a neshama that yearns to be reunited with its creator.

7 comments on “Some Thoughts On Kiruv By Non-Kiruv Professionals

  1. Ymr, probably through shul Rabbonim, Talmud Torah teachers, NCSY was already making headway in the late 60’s, too.

    “Kiruv” was most probably more individualized back then.
    The need to reach out has been around since Avraham.

  2. Neil, with or without “Cons”, aren’t we normally supposed to take the day of Tisha B’Av off from work?

  3. I agree, Bob. I “kiruv pro” who as spent years in an institutional setting doesn’t always know what it feels like at the company holiday party or what to say when you show up to work on Tisha B’Av wearing Converse All Stars.

    That’s why I find this relatively ‘new trend’ of Do It Yourself kiruv a big shift in how things have previously been done and welcome weapon against the growing number of Jews that are more and more disconnected with Torah Judaism.

  4. The “amateurs”, in addition to having the right personal manner and sincerity, have to know enough to discuss and represent real Judaism fairly.

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