A Brighter Future for Kiruv

Moishe Bane recently wrote an article in Jewish Action titled “Yefashpesh B’ma’asav: Post-Tragedy Introspection.”
This section on Kiruv was encouraging.

“Communal allocations to kiruv: American Orthodox outreach to secular and unaffiliated Jews has always been on the communal agenda, albeit pursued on a relatively modest scale. Adult outreach, in particular, has been limited to Chabad, and to a relatively small group of other impressive but significantly underfunded efforts. This minimalistic attitude was formulated in the mid-to-late twentieth century in an era of limited Orthodox communal resources and when Orthodoxy itself was struggling with its own revitalization. As a result, for most Orthodox leaders and philanthropists, strengthening Orthodox education and community building, not outreach, were prioritized.

In addition, the most powerful and effective kiruv efforts have been one-on-one personal interactions. But because such efforts are costly, they are limited in generating the scale that might significantly affect the escalating intermarriage rates within the American Jewish community.

With new realities emerging since October 7, perhaps we need to rethink our community’s attitude toward outreach. Post-October 7, we observe a surge of interest in Jewish identity across the spectrum of American Jewry. For example, NCSY’s JSU public school clubs throughout North America have experienced an explosion of non-observant student participants and social media is replete with unaffiliated Jews, and even intermarried Jews, expressing a desire to strengthen their Jewish knowledge and identity. Perhaps there is a rare window of opportunity to engage unaffiliated Jews and provide a path for their greater connection to Jews and Judaism.

We must also acknowledge that the financial base of our community has enjoyed significant expansion, and kiruv need not be pursued at the expense of meeting internal Orthodox needs. Moreover, social media has introduced unprecedented tools and opportunities to inspire and inculcate Jewish identity on a previously unimaginable scale.

On the other hand, if this pivot is to be seriously considered, proposals for implementation must first be designed and initial efforts implemented to evidence effectiveness. ”

How Kiruv and the Baal Teshuva Movement has Changed

Someone asked me online why it seems that kiruv and the “Baal Teshuva Movement” isn’t as popular as it was in the 1990s. I replied to this person with the following:

I can only speak based on my humble observations. I am not a kiruv professional or “in the trenches”, in fact I don’t even own a shovel to help dig the trench. I do feel that kiruv is important and I have the highest regard for those in the field, they work non-stop and often without recognition for their efforts. I think the kiruv focus has shifted over the years, at least in North America, and that is why your perception about kiruv is that there is less going on. There are probably a few reasons why kiruv has changed over time, including our attention span being less due to the internet (it’s hard for people to sit for a two hour kiruv seminar), easy access to Torah content (in print and online), and the shift to less in-real-life interaction due to more time online (for example, if more people work remotely or in a hybrid model then there are less opportunities for “lunch and learn” programs). Here is a pedestrian breakdown as I see it:

Chabad- They are still at it in the most amazing way. Shuls, C-Teen, the Jewish Leaning Institute, active Sunday school programs all attract non-frum Jews, in addition to their campus and young professional work. Chabad is often the first address people hear of when they ask about how go learn more about Judaism. If you or I are not going to a Chabad shul then it’s likely we are not seeing how successful they are in kiruv.

Shuls- In the 1990s there shuls doing active outreach and that was part of their mission statements. Pre-internet if there wasn’t an outreach kollel or an active Chabad in a community a shul was the destination for kiruv. Today that has shifted. There are more learning and kiruv opportunities outside of shuls and there is more competition for shuls to keep and service members. Unless a shul has an affiliated outreach program then the shul as an entry point for kiruv is fading fast.

Campus Kiruv- 30 years ago, aside from Chabad and some Orthodox staff at random Hillel locations “campus kiruv” wasn’t an industry. Now there are lots of Hillel locations with someone frum on staff connected to OLAMI or the OU’s JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) or independent OLAMI, JLIC, or MAOR affiliated campus kiruv programs in addition to established Chabad on campus. These programs are extremely great at attracting students in large numbers and due to some of them them being staffed by more “yeshivish” people when these students become more involved in Yiddishkeit and/or frum life they are more likely to affiliate at kollels or shuls, many of them being ones that you and I might not attend (plus in most cities the number of minyanim has also grown since the 1990s, so you or I don’t always see those new kiruv-anchored faces in our regularly attended shuls).

Kollels & affiliated minyanim- Today major Jewish cities boast multiple kollels. In the 1990s many of these were “outreach” kollels, but as time moved forward some of these kollel programs pivoted and also focused on inreach, so that means more staff to make sure outreach is taking place (I happen to be a fan of this trend). Also those kollels often give birth to affiliated minyanim for the people they attract. The long lasting effect of outreach in kollels is powerful and in some cities there are neighborhoods and shuls that are direct results of those kiruv efforts.

YJP (young Jewish professionals): This model of kiruv wasn’t nearly as active in the 90s as it is now. This is both a natural growth from campus kiruv as well as a result of offering creative social religious programming to young adults. Aside from creative Shabbas events (like a Chabad sponsored outdoor minyanim or rooftop dinners with open bars) or social events around the Yom Tovim groups or OLAMI sponsored meet-ups and learning sessions with young Jewish professionals and frum business “mentors”. These young Jewish professionals , as they become more connected to Yiddisheit are also being directed to shuls and minyanim that you might not go to. Also, as these participants get more connected to Yiddishkeit and eventually come to a shul they might already be frum and just blend in.

Internet and distance learning – The web has made if possible for people to grow Jewishly and still not have to step into a shul or kiruv program. In the 1990s programs like NJOP’s Read Hebrew America and the Crash Course in Hebrew and Basic Judaism were draws for the non-orthodox to come and learn. Aish HaTorah’s Discovery programs were brought to community after community and grew in crowds. Today those programs don’t have to be in-person. Why would someone today go to an Orthodox shul to learn about Judaism when they can watch videos or listen to shiurim/classes/lectures online? There is a non-orthodox organization that is focusing solely on attracting Jews who want Jewish content but don’t necessarily want to be confined to brick-and-mortar institutional Judaism. They are successfully attracting millennials who don’t feel a need to affiliate with congregations. They offer podcasts and online videos courses so that participate can learn on their own terms. This fills a void, but a program like this, does draw people away from traditional kiruv efforts. There is a popular online platform that does an incredible job at delivering quality Jewish digital content and even has a Daf Yomi podcast. They are a full digital ecosystem and there are seasoned Orthodox writers who help create content, however it also removes the face-to-face factor that is traditional used in Jewish adult education. If there is a way to connect Jewishly via the web, then those people will never interact with kiruv professionals. On the other hand, there is creative Jewish content from organizations like Meaningful Minute, 18Forty, Thank You Hashem, Chabad, and Aish HaTorah (just to name a few) that is attracting and enhancing the lives of Jews in multiple camps (both frum and non-frum). In addition to this programs like Partners In Torah and TorahMates connect many non-afflicted Jews with people to learn with one-on-one either by phone or by video chat. We, as frum people in our communities don’t often see the growth and commitment to Judaism that happens with participants in these learning programs.

Competition- Other denominations within Judaism are offering more Jewishly enriching educational options than ever before. There is a text-based beis midrash-style learning program in the non-Orthodox world in Chicago, so I am sure it’s happening in other places. If someone can find spirituality and intellectual stimulation without having to follow certain Torah guidelines, then why become orthodox? This is a big challenge for those in kiruv, I think.

Schools- Also connected to the last point about competition is the rise of non-orthodox Jewish schools. It used to be that there were only Orthodox day schools in cities and some parents who were not Orthodox would send their kids there because Jewish education was important to them and, by default, the Orthodox community offered the only option. This was a major entry point for kiruv and I personally know dozens of families that became frum due to sending their kids to an Orthodox day school. That’s changed over time due to the growth and demand for non-Orthodox day school options.

There is one more reason why I think the shift in kiruv has changed and might seem like there is less kiruv happening these days. It’s a reason I find difficult to write about. It’s personal and, by my own admission, I am part of the problem since every one of us has a responsibility to be ambassadors of Yiddishkeit. Previously I’ve had “Partners In Torah” and at one point I learned with a group of three passionate Reform guys my own age for over a year. I’ve also attempted to invest in my own family, I have aspired to be a good frum role model for my kids, and have tried to grow in my own Avodas Hashem. The demands of life shift over time and I chose to pivot toward my own home. I could be more involved in kiruv activism, but I am not. Here and there I try to do what I can both in real life and digitally, but I know I can do more. I hope and daven that this will change at some point.

Again, I am not at all a kiruv professional and those in kiruv (and chinuch) are doing an avodah that is changing lives, but I think that even with a shift in the kiruv landscape over the past 30+ years we have seen an explosion of experiential education that fuels both outreach and inreach. We live in an age when both non-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews have access to Challah Bake events, the Siyum HaShas, concerts or a kumzitz in a shul, beis midrash programs in shuls, kids going to kiruv summer camps, women learning initiatives, more organized daily learning programs, more inspirational classes, and more people wanting to connect and learn. The emphasis that our community puts on real life Jewish content offers a tangible way to live Judaism and as we promote the amazing Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chasadim in own communities the world takes notice.

Forbidden Kiruv

Why didn’t Yaakov simply pass Esav by instead of engaging him?
Why did Yaakov send Angels to his brothers rather than humans?

Yaakov sent representatives ahead of him to his brother, Esav, to Edom’s Field toward the land of Seir.

— Bereishis 32:4

The representatives returned to Yaakov and told him: “We came to your brother, Esav, and he’s also heading toward you. He has [a force of] 400 men with him.”


One who grows angry while passing by a quarrel that does not concern him is akin to one who seizes a [sleeping] dog by the ears.

— Mishlei 26:17

Let sleeping dogs lie

— Popular idiom version of passuk in Mishlei

Our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2) criticized Yaakov for this [sending representatives and gifts to Easv] comparing it to waking a sleeping dog by yanking its ears: The Holy Blessed One said to Yaakov “he [Esav] was going his own way [not considering any hostilities to Yaakov] and you had to send him representatives and remind him [of the old dormant enmity] ‘to my lord Esav. Your humble slave Yaakov says … ’”?

— Ramban Bereishis 32:4

Yaakov remained alone. A man wrestled with him kicking up dust until the darkness lifted

— Bereishis 32:25

… Our Rabbis explained (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3, 78:3) that the wrestling man was the prince (guardian angel) of Esav.

— Rashi Ibid

… Rivkah became pregnant. But the offspring clashed/ scurried inside of her …

— Bereishis 25:21,22

Our Rabbis (Bereishis Rabbah 63:6) interpreted it [the word וַיִתְרוֹצִצו] as an expression of running/ scurrying (רוֹצָה) . When she passed by the entrances of [the] Torah [academies] of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would scurry and struggle to come out; when she passed the entrance of [a temple of] idolatry, Esav would scurry and struggle to come out. 

— Rashi Ibid

Question: Isn’t it true that the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil; is not operative in-utero and that it is not within man until man is born … [if so why was Esav drawn to evil before he was even born]? The answer is that while it’s true that man has no yen and desire for evil, as part of his free-will equation, until after he is born; what Esav was doing here [when scurrying towards the temples of idolatry] was qualitatively different.  Esav was not yielding to the seductions of his yetzer hara, instead he was magnetically drawn towards his source, nature and species, as it were. For all things are aroused by, and inexorably drawn towards, the source of their intrinsic nature and self-definition.

— Gur Aryeh- supercommentary of the Maharal to Rashi Ibid

It is indeed odd that Yaakov would have awakened the sleeping dog/ giant. At first glance, what could possibly have motivated him to do so is incomprehensible.

According to one approach of the Midrashic sages the representatives that Yaakov dispatched to Esav were heavenly angels. Many commentaries have addressed Yaakov’s “need” for angels. Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer Rebbe, maintains that Yaakov was on what, in the contemporary parlance, might be called a mission of kiruv rechokim-bringing those distant from righteousness/ G-d closer.  Yaakov was unwilling to stand idly by as his twin brother degenerated deeper and deeper into the hellish depths of evil. He had hoped that the angels would prove equal to the task of discovering and nurturing Esav’s deeply buried goodness until it overwhelmed all his accretions of evil and washed them away in a cleansing wave of teshuvah-repentance.  After all, the passuk teaches us that angels are uniquely endowed with the capacity of advocating for deeply flawed individuals who possess as little as one tenth of one percent of decency and goodness: “If one has even a single angel out of a thousand advocating on his behalf by declaring his uprightness, then G-d will be gracious to him and say ‘redeem him from descending into destruction [i.e. the grave] for I havefound atonement/ ransom for him.’” (Iyov 33:23,24)

His interpretation is supported by a fuller, closer reading of the Midrash of “awakening the sleeping, vicious dog.” After citing the passuk in Mishlei the Midrash continues: Shmuel the son of Nachman  said “this is comparable to a traveler who awakened the leader of a gang of thieves sleeping at the crossroads and warned him of the imminent dangers [from wild animals]. Instead of thanking the traveler, the gang leader began beating his benefactor. The traveler cried foul ‘you cursed man [is this how you repay me for trying to save your life?]’ The gang leader then said ‘[you deserve it, it’s your own fault] I was slumbering comfortably and you woke me!’”

In this allegory Yaakov is represented by the traveler while Esav’s role is played by the gang leader. Nowhere in this allegory do we find a frightened Yaakov devising strategies and tactics to save himself and/or his family.  On the contrary, Yaakov is a selfless do-gooder trying to save the life and limbs of someone else, fast asleep and unaware of the looming, lurking dangers.  Yakkov’s good deed did not go unpunished and not only is he forced to struggle with the malicious ingrate Esav but, later, he was forced to contend with his evil guardian angel as well.

While it’s often said that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” it is still hard to grasp what occurred in this case.  Why did Yaakov’s well intentioned plan to save his twin from the wild animals of spiritual ruin go so badly awry? This is especially quizzical in light of the Zohar’s observation that “praiseworthy is he who takes the guilty/sinful by hand [and leads them along the path of repentance and tikkun]”

The Biskovitzer explains that while kiruv is a most praiseworthy endeavor it is wasted upon those whose evil is intrinsic and incorrigible rather than those whose evil is acquired through the incorrect exercise of their free-will. Echoing the Maharal’s clarification for Esav’s in-utero scurrying towards temples of idolatry and, no doubt, paraphrasing earlier sources, the Biskovitzer goes so far as to identify Esav with the primordial serpent who enticed Adam and Chavah into Original Sin.  In other words; Esav is not a good kid gone bad, he is just plain bad. He is not one who falls prey to the yetzer hara he IS the yetzer hara. Such evil is incorrigible, dealing with it in any way, even for the noble goal of its rehabilitation, is doomed to failure and to vicious, attacking ingratitude.

Read more Forbidden Kiruv

Rav Uri Zohar’s Gift

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Rav Uri Zohar ztz”l, who passed away last week, arguably had a greater impact on the Jews in Israel than anyone else in the last fifty years. When he first appeared on the talk show he hosted in 1977 wearing a kippah, the audience and all those watching at home did not know whether to treat it as part of a skit or real. Until then, he had personified the Ashkenazi secular elite that dominated the country in its first three decades.

His move toward a Torah life made teshuvah a real possibility for every single Jew in Israel: If the Torah could win over Uri Zohar, how could anyone feel safe? Amnon Dankner, who would later become editor of Maariv, wrote at that time of hearing of another old friend entering Ohr Somayach every week, and described himself as like an “apple swaying on a tree,” not knowing which way he would fall.

Uri Zohar’s “conversion” simultaneously infused the still small (by today’s standards) Torah community with newfound confidence. Nothing could explain Zohar’s sudden shift other than his conviction of the truth of Torah, for in choosing a Torah life, he put his marriage at grave risk, and sacrificed the material success and fame he had achieved.

My life twice intersected with Rabbi Zohar’s. I was privileged to adapt into English (as a junior partner to Rabbi Doniel Baron) his pamphlet on dealing with struggling children: Breakthrough: How to Reach Our Struggling Kids (Feldheim 2016). I reread it after his passing, and remain convinced that it is required reading for every Jewish parent.

His advice on building a loving relationship, based on open lines of communication, with each child long before they reach their teenage years is invaluable. That means creating time to speak — and much more important, listen — to each child every day. Be careful not to respond with pre-packaged Mussar lessons, lest our children learn that there are subjects it does not pay to discuss with their parents. And don’t live vicariously through your children. “What score did you get on the test?” should not be our most frequently asked question.

Rabbi Zohar wrote about struggling teens from much personal experience with his own children, and of their eventual reconnection to Hashem. The resulting sefer is at once filled with common sense and based on deep Torah insights. (He was a serious talmid chacham, with particular command of the esoteric writings of the Vilna Gaon, Maharal, and Ramchal.) The writing is clear, logical, compassionate, and succinct. The sefer can be read easily in under three hours.

A child’s religious struggles strike parents at their most vulnerable points: their aspirations for their children and their self-image. And consequently, they trigger a host of negative emotions — shame, guilt, fear, and anger — which make it difficult to think clearly, at precisely the moment when thinking clearly is most needed.

Most parents, for instance, recognize that confrontation and denigrating comments are not the likeliest tools to bring their children back. After all, they smile and try to engage their neighbor’s off-the-derech child in friendly conversation. But with their own children….

Rav Zohar showed parents how to remove themselves from the equation in order to focus on helping their child. Rule one: Don’t worry about the opinions of your neighbors. Rule two: Avoid all reactions “cultivated by institutionalized religion, but which do not necessarily reflect true Torah values.” If we obsess, for instance, over a child’s jeans or hairstyle, we may end up driving away not only the legs wearing those jeans, but the heart and head attached to those legs as well.

Some degree of teenage rebellion is almost inevitable, Rav Zohar noted, as a teenager finds himself overcome by powerful emotions and drives with which he or she has had no previous experience. Those drives go with physical maturation, and that physical maturation usually precedes the emotional maturation necessary for a teenager to regain control.

That means there is often nothing that a parent can do other than exercise patience, waiting for emotional maturation to catch up, while maintaining the lines of communication and showing one’s continuing love for one’s struggling child. Expressions of love will not be experienced by teenagers as condonation for their actions; they know very well how their parents conduct their lives and their values.

Rather parental love conveys the message that the Torah does not reject him, and that Hashem awaits his return, just as we pray every year on Yom Kippur that He show patience with us in mending our faults and failures. Exercising patience means that what we don’t say or don’t do is often more important than what we do or say.

Everyone requires a measure of kavod, respect, and none more so that struggling teenagers. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) records how Rebbi brought back the wayward son of Rabi Elazar and the grandson of Rabi Tarfon. In the former case, he began by conferring semichah on the young man, and in the latter’s case by offering his daughter in marriage if he did teshuvah.

Rabbi Zohar’s central metaphor for the role of parents in dealing with struggling children is a midrash (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 46:1). The Midrash relates that when Moshe saw the dancing around the Golden Calf, he realized he could either retain the Luchos, and the people would cease to exist, for they were no longer capable of receiving the level of kedushah contained in the Luchos, or he could break them. Even though the Second Luchos possessed far less kedushah, only they are referred to as tov, for only they were suitable to the spiritual level of the people. (See Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael 35.)

Similarly, writes Rabbi Zohar, parents must transmit Torah to their children according to their current level. “We need to shatter our own norms, abrogate our ‘nonnegotiable’ principles…. We cannot be fettered by social convention or any other social convention as we focus on how we can effectively give over Torah to our children.”

My second opportunity to interact with Rav Uri came while interviewing him for my biography of Rav Noach Weinberg. Even before Rav Uri and his wife became fully observant, Rav Noach and his wife Denah went to visit them at their seaside villa. Subsequently, Rav Noach took on the support of a kollel, which included a number of highly motivated and talented baalei teshuvah, headed by Rabbi Avraham Mendelsohn, the son-in-law of Rav Yitzchak Shlomo Zilberman. Rav Zilberman was the primary religious influence on Rav Uri’s close friend Ari Yitzchak, and subsequently on Rav Uri himself.

Rabbi Zohar joined that kollel when he moved to Jerusalem, and learned in it for over a decade. His presence was one of the major reasons for Rav Noach’s ongoing support of the kollel in the Old City. During that period, the two became very close, though they also argued frequently. Rav Noach constantly pushed Rav Uri to become actively engaged in kiruv, while the latter considered Rav Noach’s vision of returning the entire Jewish People to Torah to be detached from reality and felt that he could have a greater impact through the power of his learning.

Not until 1992, after 15 years of nonstop learning, did Rabbi Zohar agree to make five public appearances on behalf of the new Lev L’achim organization, each of which drew huge crowds. That reemergence — but now as a full-fledged talmid chacham — was of great satisfaction to Rav Noach, and he raised very large sums for Lev L’achim.

My clearest memory of that interview is Rabbi Zohar’s lament that the Torah community is filled with many who have no doubt of Hashem’s existence, but who view Hashem as “out to get them.” They do not feel that Hashem’s greatest desire is their good. That lament could have been taken straight from Rav Noach, who always made Hashem’s ahavah rabbah the focal point of his teaching.

At some point in the interview, Rav Uri must have noticed my amazement at the tiny size of his apartment. He told me laughingly that he was downsizing in preparation for an even more confined space. His body is now there. But his great soul is free to soar unfettered.

Originally published in Mishpacha Magazine – 6/15/2022

Four Top Misconceptions About Judaism

A while ago I attended an excellent seminar in Kew Garden Hills, NY from Project Inspire, a joint initiative of Aish HaTorah and the OU aimed at creating a grass-roots outreach movement. One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation by Rabbi Chaim Samson from Aish about the four main misconceptions about Judaism than non-frum Jews hava, and the four reassurances that can overcome them. While I can’t recreate the full glory of the presentation in a written summary, the ideas are inspiring enough in any format. For anyone involved professionally or casually in outreach, keeping these four misconceptions in mind is a good starting point. The presentation is also great for ba’alei teshuva.

When he was learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, Rabbi Samson and his friends would often pass backpackers hanging out in the old city. He and his friends had a running that joke that if they approached two backpackers and asked them if they’d like to spend some time in a yeshiva learning about philosophy, mysticism, ethics, how Judaism can inspire our lives, etc., they would get the same answers every time. One of the backpackers would jump at the chance, saying that he had always wanted to learn more about Judaism. The other would demur and make up a litany of excuses. Inevitably the one who is eager to learn about Judaism would be non-Jewish, and interested in comparative religions or an understanding of the development of religions, and the one who wants nothing to do with the religion would be Jewish.

Why this hesitancy? Rabbi Samson points to four misconceptions that lead to this, and four reassurances which can counter them.

1. Judging Others

First, there’s the misconception that religious Jews look down on non-religious Jews, judging them to be less holy or less of a Jew. So therefore why would a non-frum Jew ever want to walk into a room full of frum Jews, thinking that everyone in the room is judging him?

But this idea is completely contrary to Judaism! At the core of Judaism are the concepts of care, concern and love for our fellow Jews. Judaism brought the ideals of charity, kindness and respect to the world. No matter the religious beliefs of another Jew, we have a mitzvah to love and respect them.

As an illustration, Jewish law rules that if someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to kill someone else, you must refuse. This is based on the Talmudic concept that we can’t know whose blood is redder, for only G-d knows who is holier. Taking the example one step further, if you were forced to choose between killing a homeless, alcoholic bum, who never worked a day in his life, and shooting the Chofetz Chayim, one of the biggest Rabbis of all time, Judaism also would say that you cannot choose. We as humans cannot know which of the two people is holier. Each of us has a mission in this world and a potential we can reach, and we cannot know who is closer to reaching it.

Therefore this is a complete misconception, for it could be that the non-frum Jew is truly on a higher level and closer to G-d that his religious brother! The frum person can gain and learn from his less-religious coreligionist, so we can never say that one person is on a lower level than ourselves.

2. Who wants Judaism? It’s a hardship!

There’s the common misconception that Judaism is a hardship, a deprivation of all enjoyment in the world, and that a non-frum person would have to give up all that he enjoys in life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Judaism is about sucking the marrow out of life and making the most of it. While we have to temper and focus some of our desires, one of the goals of Judaism is getting the most out of this world and achieving the greatest amount of satisfaction.

One of the most important desires that any parent has for a child is that he or she should be happy. It’s the same for G-d. We are His children, and He wants us to get pleasure in this world and the next. Therefore He shows us how real happiness comes from becoming holy. Learning Torah and keeping mitzvot brings the greatest levels of enjoyment a person can have.

Just as a person would never drive a car without reading the instruction manual, we shouldn’t go through life without first reading the instructions. The Torah is our instruction book, our guidebook for getting the most out of life. When a non-frum Jew sees a beautiful Shabbas table with singing, a closeness among family members and true happiness, he or she gets a taste of real enjoyment. The way to do this is by sincerely showing people that Judaism, the Torah and the mitzvot hold the key to happiness.

3. It’s all or nothing.

Upon seeing the multitude of laws and customs in Judaism, many people will throw up their hands and say “It’s too great for me! I’ll never achieve it all, so why should I try?” When they realize they can’t do everything, they opt for nothing.

But it’s a fallacy to assume that we can achieve everything. There is no person on earth who can honestly say that he’s learned every item of Torah, perfected every mitzvot and learned every secret. No one achieves it all.

Instead we all need to take baby steps. We need to take on new mitzvot one at a time. A person may think it’s hypocritical to only take on particular items, but it’s really being human. We’re all constantly struggling to achieve perfection, but that’s human nature. As long as we’re focused on constantly improving and adding to our observance, taking small steps is the way to go.

For example if a jeweler put 613 precious diamonds on a table and told you to grab as many as you could in a few seconds, it’s obviously impossible to grab them all. But that doesn’t mean you should walk away from the table without trying. You need to try to grab as many as you can at once.

By showing other Jews how easy it is to do single mitzvot, such as lighting candles on Friday night, wearing tzitzit, etc., you’ll inspire them to tremendous heights. One mitzvah leads to another. It’s important to get to know a person well enough to be able to recommend particular mitzvot to them, but the most important item is that slow and steady steps helps one win the race.

4. It’s not true!

Often people outside the spectrum of Torah-true Judaism will think of the religion as archaic and backwards, a belief system for people who lack something and who are less intellectual. This probably stems from a misconception based on other religions that require a leap of faith to accept their laws.

Judaism is based on the completely opposite idea. We believe that not only is there a G-d, but that it’s possible to know that He’s out there, that it’s provable. It’s unreasonable to think that G-d would want us to pray to Him without knowing for sure that He’s there. What would be the point of it? How would we ever achieve the heights of spirituality if we weren’t sure our prayers were being heard?

Judaism is one of the only religions that encourages questions and challenges. These are the central goals of Jewish learning and the cores of Judaism. If we can constantly question and challenge, it’s a tremendous testimony to the veracity of Judaism! G-d wouldn’t encourage us to question if it was impossible to find the truth. Our eagerness to question demonstrates our supreme confidence in the truth of our religion.

Based on these four misconceptions and four reassurances, we also have four key methodologies for reaching out to people:

1. Showing care for people, to show that any thoughts that they’re being judged are incorrect.

2. Demonstrating the beauty and pleasure inherent in Judaism.

3. Taking baby steps to observance.

4. Showing that Judaism is based on truth.

These four statements are fundamental to outreach, and fundamental to our performance of our religion.

To end with my own addition, these four statements are also excellent items to work on as we prepare for the divine tribunal on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These are four areas that we need to constantly work on. By strengthening our love for fellow Jews and refraining from judging them, we become more caring and compassionate people. By making sure that our actions radiate the beauty of Judaism, we remind ourselves and those around us how beautiful our religion is and we enhance our performance of the mitvot. Taking baby steps is the best way to adopt any new mitzvah or practice, and doing so is especially appropriate during this month of Elul. By spending this month taking small steps towards our commitments for next year, we demonstrate to G-d and ourselves that we are sincere and that we will really try to achieve them next year, instead of just jumping into them without preparation on Rosh Hashanah. And by demonstrating to the world that truth is at the core of Judaism, we can inspire ourselves, our families and our communities to greater love and observance of Judaism.

Originally Published in October, 2006

Beyond College Campuses – Judaism in Cherry Hill is Alive

I had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski, director of Torah Links Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey at the Torah U Mesorah convention last week. He has clearly demonstrated that beyond College Campuses, interest in Judaism in Cherry Hill and other communities is alive and growing.

Here is an excerpt from the Jewish Action 2013 about Rabbi Serebroski’s community: (Note: that the community has grown more since this article.)

In 2000, as part of the outreach efforts of Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG) of Lakewood, Rabbi Yisroel Tzvi Serebrowski began teaching in the community of Cherry Hill. He organized classes in people’s homes and at the local Jewish community center and public libraries—basically any place that would open its doors—and offered compelling presentations such as “If You Hated Sunday School, Then This One’s for You.” He invited prominent guest lecturers and held Shabbatons in various homes. People came. “The best ambassador is a satisfied customer,” says Rabbi Serebrowski. “One host would lead to another.”

As his following grew, so did the demand for his becoming a full-time community rabbi. “I was content living in Lakewood and traveling to Cherry Hill three or four times a week,” says Rabbi Serebrowski, who was part of a commuter kollel established by BMG. “I never thought we would have a shul or that I would wind up moving to Cherry Hill.” Since the 1970s, BMG has been sending young rabbinical students to establish kollels, with the goal of strengthening Jewish communities across the country. In the late 1990s, BMG began establishing “commuter kollels” in areas commutable from Lakewood.

This arrangement worked well for Rabbi Serebrowski, until one of his students—who lived five miles away from Rabbi Mangel’s established shul—made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “He told me, ‘Rabbi, I’m all ready to keep Shabbos. If you start a minyan, I’ll never go back to work on Shabbos.’”

Rabbi Serebrowski consulted with his mentor, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, BMG’s mashgiach, and Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, founder and rosh yeshivah of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia. They both said, “You have no choice. You must move.”

He did. Rabbi Serebrowski looked for a house in a centrally located area in Cherry Hill. He started a minyan in his basement, initially recruiting friends from Lakewood to ensure he would have ten men. People said, “Host a minyan Friday night only, or just Shabbos morning; don’t overdo it.” But his determination won out. “If I’m moving because of Shabbos, there is going to be a Shabbos. And there’s going to be every minyan, every week.” Rabbi Serebrowski still recalls his excitement the first time twenty people from the community showed up at the minyan. Then twenty people began showing up every Shabbat and he no longer had to make “minyan phone calls.” It had become a solid minyan. Today, on a typical Shabbat, the shul attracts between sixty-five and one hundred participants.

Susan Lipson, fifty, grew up Jewishly unaffiliated in Cherry Hill. Today she’s an integral part of the growing Orthodox community in her hometown, which—religiously speaking—barely resembles the town she knew as a child. “I feel absolutely part of the community. I’ve met so many people on so many different religious levels, and we all get along. We have this amazing shul and don’t have enough room for people; it’s a great problem to have.”

“We have everything here that anyone could possibly need—a self-contained community where people can grow at all levels.”

Genna Landa, forty-six, is a software developer and one of Rabbi Serebrowski’s “regulars” who faithfully showed up for davening and Torah classes from the outset. “Rabbi Serebrowski exudes warmth, and that’s what attracts people. He’s a scholar, a savvy businessman and a warm, caring mensch. [In terms of doing mitzvot,] he doesn’t say, ‘You should do this,’ but [rather] ‘this is what should be done.’”

In 2010, the community purchased a two-acre property, now referred to as the Torah Links Center, or TLC, which currently houses the shul, Hebrew school and adult learning and social programs. TLC’s Hebrew school has more than thirty students and is growing. In the past year, TLC’s programs have touched over 1,000 individuals with varying levels of religious observance.

Cherry Hill’s spiritual infrastructure grows more solid each year. In 2009, Rabbi Mangel opened a community mikvah, which services fifty-five women each month. The community is also in the process of constructing an eruv, which was due to be completed by December 2013. “I see it as a tremendous catalyst for frum families from outside the area to move in,” says Rabbi Serebrowski, who was also instrumental in getting the local ShopRite to open a “kosher experience” section.

“I want to create a situation that when a family becomes frum, they don’t have to leave for a more established Orthodox community,” says Rabbi Serebrowski. Rabbi Mangel concurs. “Our goal is to build Yiddishkeit. We’re bringing a love for Judaism where, no matter what their level, people are growing.”

Why American Jews Reject Torah – Some Pain, Not Much Gain

Having been heavily involved with Kiruv and BTs for many years, it has always bothered me why we have such a low success rate of attracting people to Torah. I’m not talking about becoming fully observant, but rather about showing interest in Torah learning and practices.

My experience interacting with BTs and non-observant chavrusas, friends and relatives drives my thinking. I have also discussed this for countless hours with others involved in kiruv. I would like to share some of my thoughts on this matter.

I think the main reason Torah is rejected is because most non-observant Jews come to the conclusion that increasing their Jewish knowledge or practice will not significantly increase their pleasure or happiness and is therefore not worth their effort. They come to this conclusion largely from their observation of Torah observant Jews.

Let’s dig deeper using the four human dimensions: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

In the physical dimension, Torah requires us to limit our physical pleasures in the areas of food, sensuality and sun and fun activities. Most non observant people enjoy their restaurants and vacations, and even with the tremendous increase in kosher restaurants and resorts, it doesn’t compare. In regards to financial stability, the higher costs of Torah living, specifically tuitions, gives an advantage to the non observant.

From an emotional vantage point most non observant people seem to control their anger, envy and desire for honor on a level with the typical observant Jew. Although Torah provides the prescription for great relationships and emotional maturity, the typical secular person also has decent relations with their spouses, children, friends and relatives. Regarding happiness, the growth of the positive psychology movement with its focus on happiness has provided more paths for non observant Jews.

In the mental domain, non observant Jews find meaning in their jobs, communal activities and political discourse. Although Torah learning and mitzvah observance provides additional avenues of meaningful activities, this is not always observable.

The spiritual domain is one in which Torah provides a tremendous advantage. However, belief and connection to Hashem is difficult to measure. In addition our davening and observance of mitzvos performance often lack observable degrees of spirituality and purposeful living.

In summary, I think the secular lifestyle provides an advantage in the physical sphere and can approach the typical Torah life in the emotional well being and happiness areas. Regard meaning and the mental dimension, Torah has the potential to provide advantages. In the spiritual and purposeful living arenas, Torah is clearly superior.

So why do most observant Jews think a life of Torah is better, while most non-observant American Jews are not convinced? I think the reason is that most people are more focused on the lower realms of physical pleasure and happiness than they are on the higher ones of meaning and purpose. Torah observant people experience all the realms so they typically live a more fulfilling life, while the non observant experience more physical pleasure and decent degrees of happiness.

Perhaps if we were even more focused on living a Torah life of purpose and meaning, it would lead to more demonstrable contentment and happiness. If the non-observant could observe the clear advantage of Torah in three of the four human dimensions, they would to want to find out more.


It was my third month at Ohr Somayach, and I had only recently come around to acknowledging the truth of the Torah and recognizing my obligation to keep the mitzvos.

Shabbos was easy; after all, eating, singing, and sleeping didn’t put too much strain on my impulse-control mechanism. Kashrus was easy; I had little money and ate exclusively in the yeshiva cafeteria and by my Shabbos hosts. Mincha and maariv weren’t too challenging, although I still davened in English.

Shacharis was a different story. After four years of college, my body clock had long been set for 9:00 wakeup, and rousing myself for 6:45 seemed downright fanatical. At that point in my Torah observance, I wasn’t even motivated to try.

My new roommate was motivated, but his body clock wasn’t any more cooperative than mine. He dealt with his problem by placing a smoke-alarm style alarm clock on the other side of the room. It took about 15 minutes of ear-splitting buzzing for him to get himself out of bed to turn it off. It took me about three weeks to move out.

I was just settling into my new room when Norman arrived. He didn’t want to be there, and he had no interest in Torah. In fact, he seemed to have little interest in anything at all … except girls. But his grandmother had offered to pay him a thousand dollars (or was it two thousand?) if he attended yeshiva for six weeks. So there he was, serving his time and sharing my room.

It was one of the most exciting periods in my life, challenging Rav Dovid Gottleib as he articulated the fundamentals of Torah philosophy, trying to pick apart his arguments and proofs, struggling to integrate my past into my present, and vexing over how much of my former life could be salvaged and how much would have to be discarded.

Norman wasn’t vexing over anything. He was just doing time.

Which is not to say that he was not engaged. He argued, he debated, he listened to our rabbeim present their ideas and their proofs and tried to rebut them. But never for an instant did he seem to seriously consider the possibility that he might some day become Torah observant himself.

I remember the day he packed up to leave. I asked him what impression six weeks in yeshiva had made on him. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his answer.

“The rabbis are right,” he said. “They’ve answered all my questions. Their proofs are all sound. I can’t refute anything they’ve said.”

“So what are you going to do?” I asked.

“Nothing. I like chasing girls.”

I still can’t understand his answer. He could have said that the concept of an infinite G-d is too grand and abstract for him to accept. He could have said that he believed that rabbinic logic was polished sophistry, and that the rabbis’ arguments were smoke and mirrors. He could have said a lot of things that I might have understood. But his essential rejection of mitzvah observance boiled down to this:

“The Torah is true. But I don’t care.”

How is it possible not to care? Perhaps this question is particularly poignant for ba’alei tshuva. Why else would we have recast our entire lives and worldviews, except because of the compelling magnetism of Torah? We can’t help but take the indifference of others personally, for it seems to negate everything we have done and everything we have come to believe.

After many years in chinuch, I’ve become adept at explaining answers to the same questions I posed to my rabbeim half a lifetime ago. I can teach ideas. I can teach information. I can teach skills. Sometimes I manage to inspire my students, and occasionally I can even get them to think. But the question that still haunts me the most, the one I still haven’t begun to answer, is this:

How do you teach someone else to care?

Maybe there is no answer. Maybe the only answer is that those of us who do care have to push ourselves to care even more.

Originally Published 02/13/2008

R’ Noah Weinberg’s Lakewood Seminar

Download the 6 part mp3 series from R’ Noah Weinberg’s Lakewood Seminar.

Kiruv Training Seminar by Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l

This 6-talk series was presented to the advanced rabbinical students of Lakewood Yeshiva, New Jersey. The sessions focus on the full array of issues raised by today’s questioning youth. This is probably Rabbi Weinberg’s most comprehensive explanation of the principles of kiruv – and is considered his most brilliant performance.

Outreach Leading to Inreach at the JHC

Times have changed in the 25 years since kiruv reached its first peak. The Orthodox community has grown stronger in numbers, in learning, and in observance. That growth has caused a dislocation to some members of the community, which in its most extreme manifestation has lead to some of our youth diminishing their Torah Observance.

One kiruv organization has leveraged their experience and knowledge of what excites Jews about Judaism to shine a light on some of our disconnecting youth. That organization is the Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island.

Since 1987 The Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island’s mission has been spreading the value and relevancy of Judaism to Jews of all backgrounds. The JHC has offered a full array of free lectures and classes, hotel retreats and educational and social programs designed for Jews with little or no formal background in Jewish Studies. In that time it has reached tens of thousands of Jews and has significantly impacted upon the lives of thousands of them.

Three years ago the JHC expanded its services to include inreach, strengthening the emotional and spiritual development of disenfranchised Chassidic Youth while at the same time providing prevention based programming to mainstream Yeshiva High School students.

In the last three years alone, the JHC has brought in hundreds of new young families and thousands of new young students and participants. The JHC has hired five new young dynamic Rabbis to take the organization to even greater heights.

From Monday, March 21 at 1:00 pm, to Tuesday March 22 at 1:00 pm, you have an opportunity to voice your approval and support for efforts such as this.
Click here to follow and help the JHC try to reach there $400k fundraising goal. They have benefactors who collectively will quadruple your donation. That means that for every dollar that you give, the JHC will get $4.

Support outreach that leads to inreach – which benefits the entire Jewish community.

Giving Birth to Baalei Teshuva – Love Us, Just Don’t Leave Us.

Originally Published on The Baal Teshuva Journey blog.

I have a lot of older single baalei teshuva friends. Most went to seminary. Most loved it. Most moved out and moved on.

And what was left? Often times, a feeling of isolation. Many say “They brought me in but left me out”. Some seminaries are better at others at creating a net but most aren’t great at it. The baal teshuva doesn’t have frum family to turn to, and not everyone is able to build a close enough connection with their seminary Rebbetzins and Rabbis. What’s left is each other. Many baalei teshuva cling to each other for support when they feel ‘the system’ has let them down. It’s a beautiful support network, but it’s not enough.

Of course there’s the responsibility of the baalei teshuva learning how to fly on their own. But I dare you to consider that the love many feel in seminary, the incubator of dreams, is only the pregnancy. It’s the supply of nutrients, the inception of ideas, and the warmth needed to be born. But, once the baal teshuva is born they need just as much, if not more, care. They are still dependent. While their independence grows and they balance out everything they learned with everything they experience, that’s the time of the deepest questions and the most confusion. The baalei teshuva journey does not stop when we leave seminary or yeshiva. It only begins.

In birth the newborn moves from one carer to many. This is true of baalei teshuva. We go from the softened single-minded nest of the seminary to, hopefully, a welcoming community. I was so blessed to have this beautiful support network in Melbourne, but many struggle to find a real community to be part of, where they feel accepted and loved. From personal experience, true frum life is learned outside the seminary and inside the community. It is there that we learn to crawl, and then to walk.

It is this stage in the baalei teshuva journey that truly cultivates a frum Jew. It is not the time of chesed, but of gevurah, when the real challenges set in and the greatest outside support is needed, that one truly is able to grow and step into a life of emes.

As a society we need to stop thinking of ourselves as a kiruv factory. We can’t inspire and then spit out, manufacture and then sell. So many baalei teshuva rebel or leave all together after 7-10 years of becoming frum. So many feel rejected, abandoned. Stop and consider. Have you ever noticed that there’s so many kiruv organisations, from 2 day seminars and trips, to hosting Shabbat meals around the world. Where are the community organizations reaching out to those they brought in? It’s a lot easier to conceive and carry a baby then to raise a child. It’s a longer commitment and carries more responsibility. Isn’t there even a saying: “It takes a village to raise a child”?

The baal teshuva needs you from conception to adulthood. Once you start, please, don’t stop. Reach out and make baaltei teshuva a part of your homes, your shuls, and your communities. Maybe that’s what the Torah means about extra effort to look after orphans…even if they’re wealthy, even if they are only without one of the parents. Indeed, Hashem Himself is called ‘the Father of orphans’, and the Torah addresses society as a whole, warning not to make the orphan feel weakness in their predicament.

Sheryl Sandberg Illustrates New Directions in Kiruv

On June 3rd, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, posted her thoughts and feelings after the accidental death of her husband Dave Goldberg. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.

A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.

Please read the entire post as a merit for Sheryl’s late husband.

I think that Sheryl’s post highlights the new face of kiruv going forward. Non religious people are very interested in learning about God and the Torah’s view on purpose, meaning and happiness within the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences in our lives. However if they feel like they are being proselytized to a fully Torah Observant way of life, they will probably back away and lose some interest in learning.

As Rabbi Avraham Edelstein wrote in December 2012

“Kiruv is the communicate of timeless Torah through contemporary vessels and idioms. As such, the kiruv movement is always in a certain state of transition. We are dealing with a moving target, a rapidly changing generation, and almost daily technological innovations. Woe betides the kiruv organization that thinks that it has found “the formula.” Today’s successes are tomorrow’s failures. Methodologies, goals and targeted age-groups need to be constantly reassessed and often reformulated. The kiruv world by its very nature is engaged in transformation. For us, creative breakthroughs are a part of our basic avodas Hashem. Given the enormous implications of this movement in world history, I remain with boundless optimism that we will make the breakthroughs that are necessary to take us to the next level and beyond.”

The Grand Unification Theory of Kiruv

I’ve previously written about three models of Kiruv:

– The Chabad like Point Kiruv, where the focus is on performance of single mitzvos.
– The widely practiced Circle Kiruv, where the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
– The growth oriented Line Kiruv, where the focus is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

What unifies all these models is the fundamental unit of the mitzvah. The Mitzvah is the focal point of the Grand Unification Theory of Kiruv. Point Kiruv says to just do them. Circle Kiruv says do them all. And Line Kiruv says to do them better.

If you look deeper, you’ll see that all three models believe that a person should aspire to continually grow in the performance of all the mitzvos. The difference is the emphasis and therefore the guidance they provide to newcomers to Torah Observant Judaism.

Regardless of the approach, bringing getting closer to Hashem is what Torah Observance is all about and the Kiruv organizations are extremely dedicated to helping other achieve this goal.

On Tuesday, February 17th there is a crowdfunding effort to raise $1 million in one day for kiruv.

Click on this link to find out how you can participate in this great project.

A Baal Teshuva’s Letter to His Parents – Part 3

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here

There are many different levels of observance. Take kashrus for example.

The lowest level would be a Jew who eats pork, shellfish, and meat and milk cooked together, in his own home. Next would be someone who buys kosher meat, but isn’‘t choosy about other foods. A higher level would be buying only types of food that are kosher, but not necessarily with rabbinic supervision. Yet a higher level would be keeping everything separate, and buying only “supervised” foods. Even among the kosher foods, some people hold by “cholov Yisroel”, dairy products that are specially supervised.

As you can see, there are many different levels of kashrus observance. People are inherently different, and so are their standards.

Our biggest area of potential conflict is going to be food. (Think for a moment about the grief that so many kids give their parents nowadays. Drugs, alcohol, AIDS, trouble with the police, running away from home, pregnancies out of marriage, etc. It’s amusing that we, the Chosen People, should argue about food.)
I am now holding on a higher level of kashrus than you provide in the house. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, because I do. I am writing this letter in the hope that you will understand that I am not rejecting you, but merely want to keep a more demanding level. I am like the problem child who decided to become vegetarian.

(The ideas that have changed his life are presented in a subjective, not doctrinal, tone. They are meaningful to him, and this is what he wants his parents to appreciate.

If, on the other hand, he would write in a doctrinaire and confrontational manner- “these ideas are the absolute truth, and that’s why I’m committed”- his parents would be cornered! They would become defensive, to justify their own level of observance both to their son and to themselves. The purpose of this communication would be lost.)

I won’t be able to eat even fish or salad in a non-kosher restaurant. I will, regrettably, not be able to eat your food. I also will not be able to eat off of your crockery, or use your cutlery, pots, pans, etc. I can therefore not eat your wondrous culinary delights. You know how much I love your cooking, so you can therefore understand that I must be sincere and committed, if I am denying myself.

You essentially have four choices.

1. You can kick me out of the house;
2. You can fight me every step of the way, yell, scream, and cry until you realize that I won’t budge;
3. You can say “good luck” and let me keep my own stuff and eat my own food. If you did this I would be very content, and would even be able to sit down for the occasional Friday night dinner;
4. As you are 60% kosher already, you could go the extra 40% and kosher up. During the interim I would be very helpful and supportive, and would keep level 3 above.

Kashering a kitchen is a lot of work, and keeping it kosher is even harder. I don’t expect you to do it just for me. I will be perfectly happy with level 3.

(He has made it clear that he’s not being manipulative, by playing on their parental instincts to get his way, i.e. get the home kashered. Whatever they are comfortable with is their decision, and he will adjust accordingly.)

To finish this letter off, I would like to give you an idea as to what my lifestyle is going to be like. This is however difficult, as I am not entirely sure. I doubt that I will ever look like one of the cast of Fiddler on the Roof.
(Much of the anxiety a family feels is that their child has become totally alien to his upbringing. They need to be reassured that despite becoming religious, he still can acknowledge the parameters of what always seemed “normal” to his family.)

At the moment I would put my money on living in England. I hope to be married within the next few years. As regards a livelihood, I probably will start up some sort of business at the end of next year. I will give large sums of money to charity, but will certainly provide for my family.

I fervently hope, and actually expect, that you will be proud of your son and, G-d willing, your grandchildren.

Your loving son,

(It may interest the reader to know the impact which this letter had. When it arrived in England, his parents were so proud of their son’s open and mature approach that they showed it to the shames (sexton) of their synagogue. They then asked the shames to assist them in making their home suitable to the standards of their son. Soon the home was kashered, the dishes were toiveled (immersed in a mikve), and the homecoming, instead of beginning a pitched generational battle, initiated a process of growth for the entire family.)

Yakov’s Kiruv Dilemma

By Arieh Bauer

There is a Rashi in Vayishlach that fascinates me so much. Yakov hid his daughter Dina in a box to protect her from Eisav – and he got punished for it. Why? Because she could have approached Esav from “within”, getting married to him and to pull him over to the “good side of the force”.

As BTs we have a very similar dilemma regarding our kids. As we have a special role and the abilities to approach not frum people from within, by speaking their language, understanding their mindset and way of life, we might ask us the same question, that Yakov asked himself: Is it worth “risking” your children to bring back somebody else to Judaism?

And it is especially a question regarding our kids. We think about this question, when we have to decide in which school to send them. With which neighbors they are allowed to interfere. And what kind of guests we invite for Shabbos.

We know that the kids have a monumental power to do Kiruv, because of their untouched souls and their innocent natures. The kid’s strong believe in G-d, can touch an adult from “within”. Somehow BT-Kids are born into Kiruv and one of the toughest warriors to spread Hashems light. Still, even the BT understands that there are indeed risks that he has to avoid regarding his kids. But its not like he hides his kids in a box!

Interestingly, Yakov – the FFB – took a very “Charedi” approach: He closed his daughter off, hid her from the “not frum side”. But he ended up being punished for it! Didn’t Yakov know any better? A man, who spoke to G-d frequently and the biggest Talmid Chacham on earth in his time?

Seen from the perspective of a BT’s daily life and the small and big dilemmas he faces every day regarding this question, it is hard so understand his decision. Dina could have been a superb “Kiruv-Rebezin” and turn Eisav over into a Tora-true BT! And this would be the best thing that could happen! Because Torah is the best thing that could happen to anybody, even to Eisav. And nobody knows that better than a BT.

But from Yakovs FFB-perspective, it is highly understandable why he had to act like that. He didn’t see Eisav as a potential BT. He saw him as an enemy, as someone who goes against his core values and touches the inner nerve of his spiritual being. His daughter was his “capital”. He invested in her Chinuch, in her Yiras Shomayim and her Torah education. Why spilling out this treasure and risk her for a plain “Rasha”? Sending out a girl for “Kiruv”? Unthinkable!

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to make the point “you see, he got punished for it… the BTs are right…”. Because its not our calculation why Hashem does something to someone – even when Rashi explains it explicitly, its just not our “Cheshbon”. And if you want, you could argue, that it was a certain “Mesirus Nefesh” of Yakov to protect his daughter, even though that he knew that he will get punished for it.

But what really seems to be the case here is, that the scene with “Dina in the Box” has something to do with our times, the times of “Chevlei Mashiach”.

As the Parsha develops there are several hints in the scripture and in the commentaries, that the two brothers – Yakov and Eisav – will meet once again in the future. They will meet again, when Mashiach comes and “Yakov will conquer the mountain of Eisav”.

So maybe this whole issue with Dina is Mashiach-related as well. One could even argue that when Dina will “jump out of her box”, it will finally lead us to the Ge’ula.

For sure, one always has to weigh the risk and the profits of exposing his children to not frum people. But closing us off seems not to be the right, Torah-oriented approach, in a way. We have to get “out of the box”!

Arieh Bauer, born 1978 in Vienna, Austria (Europe), is an almuni of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem and author of the book “Der Leiner” about the Parshas HaShavua published in February 2014 in German. It is the first book in German of its kind. Bauer also publishes a weekly Parsha-Sheet “Der Leiner” in German in its fourth year. It is availabe at the israeli portal www.ladaat.info. He also mainains a website in German (www.derleiner.com) with a Parsha-Blog and Parsha-Archives. A rabbinic endorsement of his book is available at his homepage under Endorsement Der Leiner.

Successful Kiruv Begins With Getting In Line

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Circle, Point and Line Kiruv. Here’s a summary:

In the widely practiced circle Kiruv, the focus is to move people inside the Circle of Torah Observance.
In the Chabad centered point Kiruv, the focus is performance of a single mitzvah.
In line Kiruv, the goal is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem.

Instead of looking at the ups and downs of each of these models, I’ve decided to focus on the benefits and necessity of Line Kiruv, to encourage people to start thinking about this mindset.

At its root line Kiruv is about growth, and we all need to work on growing. If we’re not constantly working on growing in our relationship to Hashem, than we’re missing the main message of Torah Observance. And if we’re missing the main message, we’re in no position to encourage or inspire others to take spiritual growth steps.

One of the main remorses BTs express is disappointment with the people in the community. When we don’t make it clear that we’re all works in progress, and we have a long road to grow, then BTs lose faith in the power of Torah when they see our glaring imperfections. If we can find the courage to admit we’re far from perfect, then the non-observant will try to accept us in the same way we should accept them, with imperfections and all.

I do believe that we all need to get involve in Kiruv, but not before we are on a growth path, which means consciously focusing on taking the next small steps in improving our Prayer, Torah Learning, Mitzvos Performance, Character Traits, and Acts of Kindness. Successful Kiruv begins with the Observant actively getting on the growth line.

Circle, Point and Line Kiruv

In September 2014, Mishpacha published an article called “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” which is summarized here.

In a recent response, four kiruv and Chabad professionals wrote articles stating that the reports of Kiruv’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Points made included:

-There is good growth in some measures of Kiruv.
-Measuring success just by the numbers is insufficient.
-The focus of Kiruv efforts is always changing and that’s to be expected.
-Kiruv has always been difficult.
-The success or failure of Kiruv is our collective responsibility.

For me the series of articles highlighted three models of Kiruv.

In circle Kiruv, which is widely practice, the guiding assumption is that living within the circle of Torah Observance is good. The goal of circle Kiruv is to move people from the outside, to the inside of the circle where the Mekarev is standing.

In point Kiruv, which is used by Chabad, the guiding assumption is that doing an individual mitzvah, a single point is good. The goal of point Kiruv is to get the individual to do a single mitzvah, like the Chabad Mekarev does regularly.

In line Kiruv, which is practiced by a few, the guiding assumption is that moving along the line from distant to closer to Hashem, is good. The goal of line Kiruv is to get the individual to take the next step in getting closer to Hashem. In the case of line Kiruv, the Mekarev should also be moving along the line taking their next steps.

In the future we’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of each of these models of kiruv.

10 Points from “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv?” in the Latest Mishpacha

The latest issue of Mishpacha had an article titled: “Is the Door Closing on Kiruv”. Pere are some points from the article

1. A recent Klal Perspectives’ article claims that half as many young Americans became BTs as compared to ten years ago.

2. A Kiruv activist estimates that the American Kiruv budget is $30 million, eight times the amount in 2000.

3. The intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox is 71.5 percent.

4. Intermarriage makes is difficult to identify halachic Jews.

5. The ‘searcher for answers’ in no more.

6. Anti-Israel sentiment on campus makes involvement appeals based on pride in the Jewish state difficult.

7. Attachment to cell phones has made it difficult for people to become distraction-free at Shabbatons.

8. Spending time in yeshiva is rare because people are hesitant to put their career on hold.

9. The increasing attention that donors pay towards kiruv numbers has pushed some people out of kiruv.

10. Lack of post Teshuva support have hurt those who have taken steps towards observance.

Longing For His Children

By Rabbi Meir Goldberg.

More than 100 years ago in the city of Kiev, Ukraine in Czarist Russia, Mendel Beilis was accused of murdering a 13 year old gentile boy and using the blood for matzos. The viciously anti-Semitic government used the trial as a way of not only prosecuting Beilis, but the entire Jewish people as gentile hating murderers who deserved no sympathy. Not just Beilis but the Torah itself was put on trial for its attitude towards gentiles.

Jews from around the globe, religious and secular alike rallied around Beilis and pleaded with western governments to pressure the Czar’s government to stop this travesty of justice.

The chief Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh, a gifted orator and spokesman, was called upon to defend the Torah’s teachings vis-à-vis non-Jews.

“The Talmud views non-Jews as sub-human,” charged the prosecution. “Yevamos 61 states ‘You are called Adam but non-Jews are not called Adam’.”

“You are misunderstanding the Talmud,’ countered Rabbi Mazeh. “The Talmud means to say that the Jews are called Adam, meaning that they are all like one person and not many disparate peoples who just happen to comprise a nation. When one Jew is in pain, we all feel that pain. This trial proves it. Here we have one Jew in Kiev accused of a crime he did not commit and Jews around the world rally to his side. Would non-Jews around the globe care about a non-Jew in Kiev who was falsely accused? They are not Adam – a single entity, but rather a group of individuals.”

Rabbi Mazeh’s words have never been truer than in these past weeks as Jews from all walks of life, Sefradi and Ashkenazi, Dati Leumi, Charedi and secular all cried out in the pain of our three boys, their parents and families. Our nation, desperate for achdus, banded together as all of klal Yisroel turned as one towards our Father in Heaven, beseeching Him to return the boys home safely and after their murder, crying out in their memory. While we may fight and bicker with one another, even bitterly, we are fundamentally one people, one heart, one soul.

So what can we as a zchus for the memory the three boys?

The agony of the parents of the kidnapped boys, even prior to the discovery of their murder, was unimaginable, waiting up nights, longing to hear from them. The terror of having a child snatched from us is too much to bear. To a great extant, Hashem is missing so many of His children, ‘kidnapped’ by lives of secularism, far from living lives of purpose, meaning and closeness to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. According to one study, 71% of non-orthodox American Jews will not marry Jewish. Yet during this time of beautiful hisorerus, we witnessed ostensibly secular Jews, seemingly far from Yiddishkeit, daven and perform mitzvos in their brother’s zchus and they continue to do so in their memory.

​Rabbi Shay Schachter of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, was sent as a shliach on behalf of his shul, to be menachem avel the families of the three boys. He writes the following,

“​In the middle of our flight, the stewardess began to speak with me, and we got into a very pleasant conversation. She then inquired when I was planning to return back to the States, and I said I would only be staying until until after Shabbos, and I would then be returning home. She said “just four days? What kind of trip is that?” And I proceeded to tell her that I was sent by our shul to visit the three respective families, to deliver our beautiful letters, and to let them know that the affection of their beloved brothers and sisters in America, knows no bounds.

She immediately began to cry uncontrollably, and said, this kehillah of yours is something unique and something incredibly special. For you to get on the flight is no big deal; but this speaks volumes about your kehillah, that this is what they feel is important. This is where their hearts are, and this is what is occupying their minds – how incredible!

So the stewardess proceeds to make an announcement in tears, to a plane filled almost to capacity with Birthright groups; “Rabotai! We have on our plane, a shliach Mitzvah! Come meet a Rabbi who was sent by his Kehillah to perform the great mitzvah of nichum aveilim, for those whom they feel are their own brothers and sisters! Our plane is safe because we have a shaliach mitzvah on board with us!”

This led to a whole pandemonium, and after I finally got to sit down again, the young man next to me informs me that he is 26 years old, from Seattle Washington; he works in a national zoo, and is going to Israel for his first time. He then proceeds to tell me that he was so inspired by our kehillah, and that he would like to borrow my Tallis to do a mitzvah that he has not done since his Bar mitzvah celebration (at age 16) in memory of the three precious neshamos.

I gladly gave him my tallis and then proceeded to ask him if he knew how to recite a bracha. He said “sure I do”, and went on to take out a small piece of paper from his pocket, and recited the “Tefillas Haderech”. This was the one and only Hebrew Bracha that he was familiar with, so he decided to recite it as well on the Tallis.

He then asked to borrow my Tefillin as well, which was followed by a long conversation with the other members of the plane, who were all taking pictures of this highly unusual scene.

But that wasn’t it; after a few minutes he turns to me and says “Rabbi, I am so inspired, but in Seattle Washington we don’t have these boxes. But I want to continue to do something special for these three precious souls, even after I return home. So what would you suggest I do?”

I was in complete shock, and overwhelmed with emotion, so the Satmar Chassid in the next row turns to this tattood and pierced young man and says, “Sweet Jew, if you promise me you will try and wear these Tefillin each and every day, I promise I will have a pair sent by FedEx to your home in Seattle Washington by the time you get back from Israel!” They then exchanged phone numbers and information, and the deal was done.​”

This is an incredible time in Klal Yisroel.​

It would behoove us to seize these precious moments of national unity and reach out to our not so distant brethren with bonds of love in order to draw them nearer to their Father.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the director of Rutgers Jewish Xperience (www.rutgersjx.com). He resides in Lakewood with his family.
Originally published in The Lakewood Scoop

G-d’s Divine Plan and the Teshuva Movement

By Rabbi Avaraham Edelstein
Reposted from Klal Perspectives Kiruv Issue – Winter 2012

There are many pessimists who suggest that the opportunity for American kiruv is rapidly dwindling. They cite decades of American intermarriage and the decreased familiarity of Jews with Torah and Jewish values and tradition (including the decline of Conservative Judaism, discussed below). But, though perhaps it is counter-intuitive, as I evidence elsewhere in this article the numbers of those interested in Judaism have been growing not decreasing. The average community mekarev is showing around three to five baalei teshuva a year, while the average campus rabbi is achieving five to six. And there has been a much larger number coming to learn on a weekly basis and making progress in their mitzvah observance. With the total numbers of mekarvim exponentially greater than it was twenty years ago, the cumulative efforts are highly significant.

Some have observed that English-speaking baal teshuva yeshivas are struggling with enrollment. However, this does not reflect decreased kiruv success – it simply reflects a different model of achieving success. For example, data reveal that 530 previously non-observant students became frum on North American campuses in the 2010-2011 academic year alone, and that figure rose nominally to 552 in 2011-2012. These are significant increases over previous years and previous decades. Moreover, there are entire new communities of baalei teshuva that have only recently mushroomed – in places like Tucson, Arizona and for sub-groups such as Bucharim in Queens, NY. This encouraging trend requires an understanding of the true roots of the Baal Teshuva Movement.

Contrary to the simplistic view of many, the movement was not simply a function of sociological phenomena, such as the shirayim (leftovers) of the Sixties’ generation looking for meaning (America), or the miracles of the Six Day War (Israel), or the arrival of a special kollel (South Africa), etc., etc.

According to Rav Yitzchak Hutner, zatzal (as told to Rav Moshe Shirkin, shlita, who reported this to me) the kiruv movement rather began as part of G-d’s guiding hand in history as we entered a pre-Messianic age. The elaborate teshuva prophesied for the Messianic era was beginning early, the influence flowing “backwards,” as it were, from the powerful inspiration of that anticipated age.

That the baal teshuva movement must be attributed to G-d’s guiding hand alone is evidenced by the fact that it began in multiple countries more or less simultaneously, without any human coordination – with most initiatives not even knowing of the others’ existence. Just as remarkable, although there were noble efforts at kiruv prior to this time, those early initiatives bore comparatively little fruit (I expect loud protests reminding me of Young Israel, Torah U’Mesorah and maybe even Torah Vodaas). For example, the same Rav Nachman Bulman, zatzal, who had many hundreds of BTs as his students by the time of his death in 2002, hardly made a dent before the time was ripe. In fact, after the advent of the BT movement, even those with relatively mediocre tools were able to realize significant achievements[2].

There has always been a Torah requirement that we do a national teshuva,[3] which is not the same as simply each individual in the nation doing teshuva. National teshuva was destined to be the central phenomenon of the Messianic era – אין ישראל נגאלין אלא בתשובה (the People of Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva).[4] And while the Nesivos Shalom[5] suggests that the teshuva of our generation draws from the past (specifically, the holiness generated by the experience of the Holocaust), this is no contradiction to the consensus of gedolim that it is a pre-Messianic phenomenon[6]. In other words, Messianic kedusha (holiness) begins to “peep from the cracks” – מציץ מן החרכים (Song of Songs 2:9) – in the generation of עקבתא דמשיחא (pre-Messianic era), when a teshuva movement becomes one of the defining phenomena of the age.

In Messianic times, not only do all Jews do teshuva, but we will be led by a descendent of that most illustrious of baalei teshuva, Yehudah. It is so destined, for Mashiach must be a composite of every fragment of kedusha in the world.

Predicting Jewish demographic trends is a risky business at best, especially since it is totally incapable of predicting the future of a meta-historical process like the baal teshuva movement. Social scientists simply lack the tools to anticipate G-d’s Divine plan to envelope history into one grand גילוי יחודו (revelation of His Oneness). The Baal Teshuva Movement cannot be explained as merely another religious awakening, subject to the ebb and flow of trends and social influences. We will not find ourselves running dry, with the next generation of Jews simply too distanced to be brought closer, chas ve’shalom (G-d forbid). On the contrary, kiruv will gather steam right into the Messianic era, when all Jews will do teshuva. We are but seeing individual examples, in whatever numbers, of what will become an across-the-board national phenomenon at a later stage.