This past Shabbos my wife and I had the pleasure of celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) of Queens & Long Island with 300 people at a Shabbaton in Sommerset, NJ. Many of the people there have been close friends over the years. Some have moved from the JHC’s home base of Kew Gardens Hills, to other BT centers like Passaic, the Five Towns or West Hempstead, but on Shabbos it felt that we’re still all together. Twenty five hours of Shabbos was way too short to appreciate and enjoy the bonds we’ve built over these past 25 years.
The JHC was initially the idea of Dov Wollowitz. He wasn’t hampered by resource allocation questions, to him it was clear that bringing people back to Judaism is something that must be done, and he convinced three of his friends to pony up some serious money to bring that idea to fruition. He approached two young Smicha graduates from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Moshe Turk and Rabbi Naftoli Portnoy to co-direct the endeavor. And as they put it, the rest was just not normal, event after event, miracle after miracle, Hashem clearly shined His countenance on this holy endeavor.
When I looked around the dining room at the couples and families, who are only a fraction of the 1800 people the JHC has worked closely with over the years, it became even clearer that there is no way to measure the ROI (return of investment) that the founders, and the JHC staff, who have dedicated their lives to helping people like us, have received. When it comes to matters of the spirit, and the spiritual accomplishments of entire families, there is no measure. There is no exchange rate from the physical to the spiritual.
On the BT side, this BT crowd had no buyer’s remorse. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Everybody has had trials and tribulation in at least one of the major areas of finance, health or raising children. And the lack of a family support network and the inevitable plateuaing has made things even harder. But as a close FFB friend said during Shabbos, it’s not really a sacrifice that we’ve made, these struggles themselves are essential to our spiritual accomplishments.
A final point that became clear is to step back when evaluating our Kiruv coaches and mentors. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to encourage more pro-active follow up, or treatment as true first-class citizens, or more resources for later stage BTs. What it does mean is that we have to look beyond the less than perfect aspects, and see the individuals who have literally invested a piece of their souls in us. They have often sacrificed their own growth to water ours. They care about us more than we will ever know and for that we owe them a spiritual debt which can’t be repaid in this world.
So on behalf on my wife, myself and the collective souls of any BTs that wish to participate, WE GIVE THANKS TO THE JHC and ALL THE KIRUV PROFESSIONALS for all you’ve done and continue to do for us!