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Posts from the ‘Fall 2012’ Category

Rabbi Steve Burg & Dovid Bashevkin

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Stuff People Say about Jewish Outreach: Toward an Assessment of the Contemporary Outreach Movement

IN APRIL 2012, A JEWISH outreach organization posted a humorous video on YouTube portraying, quite cleverly, the reservations many Orthodox Jews harbor about the outreach movement[1]. Comical satires of individuals within the yeshiva community pose questions, laden with yeshivish jargon, about the merits of Jewish outreach. One character wonders, “You think you’re so shtark (religiously resolute) that you’re ready to work on others?” Another character, a convincing Jewish woman were it not for the beard, insists that the Jewish outreach organization, “should be paying my kids tuition before they are paying those kids.” The video has been viewed nearly forty thousand times, not an insignificant number for a viral video in the Orthodox Jewish community.

While clearly intended for entertainment and marketing purposes, the video reflects innate, yet typically unspoken frustrations felt by many observant Jews. The video’s amusing questions raise some very real and very serious questions about the focus, methodology, and future of Jewish outreach – issues in desperate need of careful analysis.

“You think by being mekarev people, that you’re “tooing uf (accomplishing)?!? You’re going to get them to become yeshivalite (yeshiva students)?! You’re going to get them to learn in kollel?!”

 – Kiruv satire video[2]

Measuring Success in Jewish Outreach

Return on Investment (ROI), cost-benefit analysis (CBA), and many other terms normally reserved for financial analysis of for-profit institutions have begun to creep into the lexicon of the more sophisticated and advanced not-for-profit institutions[3]. As not-for-profit professionals are increasingly graduates of advanced education programs in sophisticated schools, and as philanthropists increasingly seek returns on their charitable investments beyond a warm feeling or being honored at a dinner, charitable institutions increasingly conduct careful analysis of their efforts and strategy. Recently, compelled by the leadership of a few justifiably demanding mega-funders of outreach, coupled with the recent economic downturn, the scope and focus of the outreach movement has begun to be put under more scrutiny.

Investment analysis as it relates to Jewish outreach is uniquely ambiguous since, in contrast to most other non-profits, such as a soup-kitchen or a scholarship fund, its target outcome is markedly non-monetary, namely religious growth. A soup kitchen has a clear, quantifiable goal – feeding the needy. A scholarship fund measures its success primarily by the academic achievements of the students it supports. What then is the measure of success in the world of outreach? Alas, outreach suffers from certain evaluation handicaps that do not apply to many other charitable ventures. While social service agencies and academic institutions can employ objective and measurable criteria to gauge effectiveness (at least to some degree), outreach works in the elusive and esoteric realm of souls – and how can the holiness of a soul be measured?

Some argue that the prime objective of outreach should be preventing intermarriage, while others assert that merely preventing an intermarriage, without an attendant commitment by the individual to Torah observance, merely delays the inevitable intermarriage to the next generation, hardly justifying the communal investment. Others suggest that the sole legitimate objective of outreach is creating fully observant Jews, even if there are numerous intermediate steps in the process. Many find middle ground, suggesting that an increase in Jewish commitment is a major and significant accomplishment for the Jewish people, from both a spiritual and a sociological perspective.

Setting aside which criteria of success one chooses to apply, it has become increasingly recognized that choosing some criteria, with identifiable objectives, enhances productivity and effectiveness. Whichever criteria one chooses, it is critical that outreach supporters and participants be acculturated to immediately identifying the goals of each initiative and being fully committed to review and assessment of achievement and failure.

NCSY has recognized the importance of self-evaluation and data-based assessment. Over the past several years, NCSY has introduced a database for use across the country, giving its leaders the opportunity to analyze data patterns from many locations, and to weigh the relative merits and challenges of its many programs and initiatives.

In August of 2012, Dan Hazony, the Director of Information Systems for NCSY, published an honest appraisal of NCSY’s efforts at data collection to measure and improve its outreach efforts in an article entitled, “Using Quantitative Data to Lead Qualitative Conversations.”[4] Mr. Hazony, who has overseen our database since it began monitoring Shabbaton attendance and as it expanded afterwards to monitor all walk-ins, admits that maintaining such a database can be a “confusing and daunting task.” Specifically, even after overcoming the difficulties of setting up a basic infrastructure, our system still struggles with widespread acceptance and compliance by our staff. Overall, as Mr. Hazony mentions, even considering its flaws, the database has been a tremendous help for our organizational growth.

The primary advantage of data collection is that it helps distinguish realism from delusion within the outreach movement. In both for-profit and non-profit industries, there is a propensity to overstate numbers, a malady that certainly has not escaped the outreach movement. Most likely a product of the tension between objectivity and the need to raise money, many outreach professionals provide numbers that tend to be exaggerated. Data collection, aside from allowing clear presentation of actual quantitative measures, such as program attendance, helps prevent the incentive for external exaggeration from becoming internal delusion. Even when outreach professionals may “round up” when describing their attendance numbers to donors, having the actual numbers helps keep internal discussions regarding programmatic successes honest and accurate. More honest internal discussions can and should lead to more accurate and honest discussions in the marketing and philanthropic sphere, as well.

The primary disadvantage, however, relates to the shift in focus that is often caused by a data-driven outreach movement. As mentioned earlier, the readily quantifiable aspects of outreach, such as attendance, are not the essence of what outreach purports to accomplish. While some organizations use modified language such as “Jewish identity” and “engagement” to more accurately align with quantitative outreach measures, there is no true quantitative measure that can reflect qualitative religious growth. Programmatic attendance, with all of its advantages, is also a dangerous proxy for monitoring religious development. Outreach professionals, in fear of the financial repercussions that may result from an unsatisfactory answer to the all-too-ubiquitous donor question, “how many people came?,” can dangerously skew their outreach efforts to focus on quantity at the expense of quality. We may never be able to accurately quantify religious growth, but we need to be extremely cautious when using surrogate measures, lest outreach becomes more about event planning than religious education.

How much money do you need to make a baal teshuva?” – Kiruv video

Choosing the Optimum Outreach Constituency

Once criteria of success are selected, another decision that an outreach initiative must consider is what age group and what demographic is most appropriate to focus upon. Should outreach focus on teenagers? College students? Young couples? Should American children and families be the focus, or perhaps Israelis, Russians or Bucharians living in our locale? Each potential market should ideally be the subject of a thorough CBA calculating which demographic yields the most successful outreach “return.”

The sole focus of NCSY outreach is teenagers. Without a rigorous CBA evaluating each potential demographic, we could not honestly present conclusive evidence that these are the most beneficial years for outreach efforts. We can, however, present our reasoning for why NCSY has chosen, for over half a century, to focus its outreach efforts exclusively on teenagers.

Erik Erikson (1902-1994), the famed German psychologist, proposed nine stages in psychological development. He singled out adolescence as years characterized by the over-arching question of self-definition and exploration[5]. The volatility and uncertainty surrounding this stage of development have not been lost on psychologists. Dr. James Marcia, a student of Erikson’s, once remarked that “studying identity in adolescents is not a task for the methodologically hypersensitive.”[6] Nevertheless, echoing much of the consensus of the psychological community, Dr. Marcia concluded that proper resolution of the issues raised during this stage of development is crucial for long-term emotional stability. Commenting on the importance of identity formation during adolescence, Dr. Marcia wrote, “…it is an educationally and clinically useful concept. Individuals do better and feel better about themselves and others when they “have” it (i.e., a well formed identity).”[7]

The centrality of identity formation during adolescence is not underestimated by the psychological community and it certainly should not be ignored by outreach professionals. Outreach is an exercise in the presentation of religious principles and ideas, and the introduction of a lifestyle and of life values that will likely form the basis of a student’s broader identity. A married couple may have the independence to make long-term decisions, and college students often exhibit enormous intellectual curiosity. But during no period in human development is identity formation as much in play as it is during adolescence.

Identity formation during adolescence also plays a central role in Jewish thought and practice. The Jewish teenage years are bookended, by the Bar or Bat Mitzvah on one side, when a child accepts responsibility to participate in normative Jewish practice, and by one’s twentieth birthday on the other side, when one becomes halakhically accountable for one’s actions –what is called a bar onshin [8]. In Jewish law, the teenage years bridge responsibility and accountability. Adolescence is the period during which the Torah expects people to consider their values and ideals and take responsibility for their decisions. Only at the age of twenty, when the formation of one’s identity is complete, is one ready to become accountable for those commitments and responsibilities.

“You think of yourself so shtark (strong) that you’re ready to work on others??” – Kiruv video

The Positive Externalities of Jewish Outreach

Debates may rage regarding the effectiveness and productivity of the outreach movement, but we must recognize that outreach is integral not just to the Orthodox community but to Orthodox identity. A suffering outreach movement cuts deeply into the very fabric of Orthodox identity and the quality of the Orthodox personality. The community’s character is compromised, and its integral values of sensitivity, altruism, and unity are undermined.

For a moment, imagine Orthodoxy without a strong outreach movement. In such a world, in a community with no welcome center, how would the Orthodox community genuinely reflect a true concern for the well-being of every Jew? An Orthodox community without outreach is like a hotel without a front desk. While certain guests may be fortunate to have rooms, the unavailability of new check-ins will eventually result in those inside shunning and ignoring their brethren without decent lodging.

Robert Wilson, one of the pioneers of nuclear physics, was once summoned to testify before a Congressional committee to defend a recent multi-million dollar expenditure his lab had made for physics research. When pressed by congress to explain what his work had to do with national security, he famously responded, “It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”[9]

Jewish outreach, while certainly contributing to the utilitarian “defense” of Jewry, makes our community worth defending. Outreach underscores the values and character that must be endemic to a truly religious society and it embodies the sensitivity and vision of a unified Jewish community – a vitally important expression of who we are that is sadly overlooked in discussions regarding the merits of outreach in the Jewish community.

The current strength of the Orthodox community, while remarkable, can easily obscure how important it is for our community to have open doors. Many members of the community feel confident and comfortable with the size and scope of our community. But for those who doubt the actual practical advantage of a Jewish outreach movement, they must understand that a Jewish community that does not reach out to the broader Jewish world may not be worth defending.

“Here you have an organization that is going to be m’kavrev rechokim (bring close those who are far) and m’rachek krovim (make distant those who are close).”  – Kiruv video

Organizational Challenges and Future Possibilities for Outreach Organizations

Most professionals will acknowledge that much of their expertise is accumulated on the job, as well as from continuing education once they have a more direct and sophisticated appreciation for their profession and its challenges. Schooling is vital, but continuing training is equally important. A doctor spends years as a resident and fellow learning how to diagnose. A lawyer is hardly ready to stand before court after passing the bar exam. Their primary professional development comes as a result of their professional experiences and opportunities. What, then, are the professional skills and areas of expertise that are being strategically developed among outreach professional after they are fully engaged in their profession? Sadly, the answer is not enough. This is a symptom of perhaps the greatest challenge to the continued success and effectiveness of outreach – a crisis of quality in the field’s human capital.

Like other ambitious enterprises, NCSY finds it increasingly difficult to attract high quality candidates into its professional ranks. While it may initially be assumed that the absence of high quality candidates is due to the lack of interest in outreach by more sophisticated and learned candidates, in fact, that is not the case. To be sure, NCSY and most outreach professionals exhibit a great deal of passion and dedication, but as a community, we have failed at providing them the skills to develop long-term careers in outreach or in other areas of Jewish communal work.

While programs such as Ner L’Elef, Ohr Lagolah and others have made enormous strides in preparing young people for a career in outreach, once the career begins, the opportunities for further training and career development suddenly vanishes. Few organizations, if any, provide training programs and even fewer help finance higher education to advance the outreach professional’s skill set and long-term career options.

After a few years of outreach work, what new skills have the outreach professionals learned? At NCSY, the most capable develop valuable fundraising skills, some learn marketing techniques, and others grow in Torah scholarship, but too many remain exactly at the same point professionally as they were when they started. A career in outreach should be attractive to the most creative, passionate and innovative of our community’s young people – and it can be. But the kiruv community must affirmatively and deliberately introduce a career path that deems the option to be attractive and inviting.

Many outreach jobs, and particularly those dealing with high school students and collegiates, are appropriate to someone in their twenties, thirties and sometimes forties. But rare is the sixty-five year old who can gracefully dance on a table at a shabbaton, or engage a smoke-filled frat group on a Saturday night. In order to attract those who could be superstars at earlier career stages, they must be convinced that their initial job description will be followed by opportunities in other roles when they are ready to move on. Invariably, this will require investing in continuing education programs.

If we hope to create substantive baalei teshuva, we first need to commit ourselves to more substantive outreach professionals. A broad effort to service those in the field of outreach could potential result in a new generation of educators, fundraisers, and marketing gurus who would be able to present the relevancy of Torah, not only to those unaffiliated, but within our community as well.

Instead, too often, outreach professionals are cast aside once they are perceived as “too old” to relate to the overwhelmingly youthful constituents within outreach movements. Aside from breeding a regrettable amount of ill-will among outreach professionals, the movement is ignoring what could potentially be a fantastic long term investment for the Jewish community. A career in outreach is not for everybody, but we need to provide more development opportunities so it can transform the people it attracts into “somebody’s.”

“Where are all of the baalei teshuva? Have you ever saw one?” – Kiruv video

Concluding Thoughts on the Present and Future of Jewish Outreach

Despite the difficulties and limitations that force our community to make difficult decisions about educational focus and financial allocations, ultimately, within the greater scope of Jewish history, these are decisions that are positive reflections of the relative wealth, independence, and prominence of the contemporary American Jewish community. Though the spiritual stakes are very real, we owe a sincere debt of gratitude that our physical existence is no longer as precarious as it is in many other venues and as it was in previous generations. Although this physical comfort may have contributed to the spiritual difficulties that confront our community, it should also facilitate the consideration of communal problems with greater clarity and focus. The matter is quite urgent, but our conclusions must be carefully considered and deliberate.

In an ideal world, we would have a community that can focus on the entire gamut of demographics in their outreach efforts. Sadly, our world is not ideal. But a non-ideal world does not mean that we should compromise on our most essential ideals as a religious community. Regardless of our financial state or political situation, outreach must remain a part of our communal agenda in the final analysis simply because it is a part of our historical tradition. Echoing Robert Wilson’s aforementioned testimony, outreach must continue if we are to remain a broad and sensitive religious community that is worth defending.

Rabbi Steve Burg has worked as a kiruv professional for NCSY for 22 years, serving as the International Director of NCSY for the last seven. Rabbi Burg will be leaving NCSY on January 1 to join the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Dovid Bashevkin is Associate Director of Education for National NCSY.

1 Stuff People Say about Oorah (from a ‘fan’ of Oorah), OorahKR. April 30, 2012.

[2] All references are to the above-mentioned video

[3] For one notable reference, see Steve Rothchild, The Non Nonprofit: For-Profit Thinking for Nonprofit Success, Josey-Bass, (San Francisco, CA: 2012)

[4] Dan Hazony, August 15, 2012, “Using Quantitative Data to Lead Qualitative Conversations.” eJewishPhilanthropy. Retrieved November 22, 2012,

[5] See Erikson’s Identity: Youth and Crisis, New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1968. See also Identity and the Life Cycle, New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1980. See also his article “Youth: Fidelity and Diversity,” Daedalus Vol. 117, No. 3, Three Decades of “Dædalus” (Summer, 1988), pp. 1-24.

[6] James E. Marcia, “Identity in Adolescence,” Handbook of Adolescent Psychology, J. Adelson (ed.), New York: Wiley and Sons

[7] Ibid.

[8] See Talmud Shabbos 89b. A broader discussion of this halakhic principle is outside of the scope of our discussion, but is discussed by many Talmudic commentaries and Responsa. In particular, see Responsa Chacham Tzvi #49, Responsa of the Noda Beyehuda Basra YD #164, Responsa of Chasam Sofer YD #155, and Responsa of Tzitz Eliezer YD #20, who all limit the actual halakhic applicability of this principle.

[9] “Fermilab History and Archives Project,” accessed November 17, 2012,

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Getting Back to Basics

IN ADDRESSING THE QUESTIONS posed in this issue, I will begin by identifying my basic assumptions about what outreach is intended to accomplish. On that basis, we can then assess whether interim targets and programs are aligned with the desired long-term goals. To paraphrase Stephen Covey: We must ensure that our systems are aligned with our values, and remember that we can’t talk ourselves out of problems that we are behaving ourselves into.

The Goal of Kiruv

A significant portion of the Jewish people has little if any Torah knowledge and even less connection to halachic observance, the two foundations of authentic Jewish life. The result is Jewish ignorance and Jewish apathy. This is the problem which kiruv seeks to solve. As such, the solution must necessarily be built on reintroducing Torah study and observance in a manner that is engaging, meaningful, inspiring – and authentic.

Not all outreach professionals and supporters, however, share this understanding of kiruv’s goal. Often, when funds are solicited for outreach, or people are recruited to engage in kiruv, the pitch is predicated on crisis. “Assimilation has taken (killed?) more Jews than Hitler.” “If Nazis were shooting Jews in the street, wouldn’t you drop everything to save them?” “In a decade or two it may be too late.” While one can view these declarations as mere hyperbole, they are often taken very seriously, and this attitude has informed many decisions in selecting among alternate kiruv strategies.

For those approaching outreach as a crisis-management response, the goal of kiruv is nothing less than ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. Every generation – and perhaps every day – that passes without reversing (or at least slowing) assimilation is one step closer to the disappearance of Jewry. In this view, kiruv must aim to address masses of Jews. The depth, and even the full authenticity, of the Judaism being proffered is far less significant than the number of people reached. I believe this view is seriously flawed.

Assimilation is wildly different than Jews being subject to death camps and pogroms. Jews shot in the street are lost forever. In such situations, we would certainly be required to do anything necessary, as quickly as possible to save the maximum number of helpless victims. By contrast, ignorant Jews are neither dead nor helpless, and even their assimilation is not irreversible. Witness the number of formerly intermarried couples who are today full ba’alei teshuva. Witness the even larger number of children of intermarried couples who are in ba’al teshuva Yeshivas today.[1] Non-observant Jews are very much alive, and always candidates for a return to authentic Judaism. If they are not interested, they have made a choice. We might wish they were better informed before making that choice. And if possible, we should find opportunities to make them better informed. But a refusal to become informed is also a choice. No one is shooting them in the streets.[2]

There is also a serious ideological flaw in this crisis mentality. It ignores the uniqueness of Klal Yisrael and the eternal covenant between the Almighty and our forefathers regarding the survival of the Jewish people. Three thousand years of Jewish history demonstrate the immutability of that covenant. We aren’t going to disappear, chas v’shalom.[3] A couple of simple examples from the past forty years can illustrate that the covenant is as valid as ever.

No one could have imagined that the Russian Jewry of the 1970’s could ever produce the numbers who, in the subsequent decades, would reclaim their Jewish identity and, in many cases, their observance. It was simply miraculous. Similarly, no one who grew up in the Orthodox community of Los Angeles in the 1960’s (as I did) would ever have dreamed about the number of daily minyanim, daf yomi classes, and kosher restaurants with which Los Angeles is today blessed.

The pintele yid, the eternal spark that resides in every Jew, and the eternal survival of the Jewish nation should give us the confidence to calm down, assume a long-term perspective, and select realistic and meaningful goals.

The primary goal of Orthodox outreach should be to enable individual Jews who did not grow up with Torah knowledge and observance to live an authentic, well balanced life of Torah and Mitzvos. Certainly, less lofty goals – preventing intermarriage, promoting pride in Judaism, and increasing support for Israel – are also important. But many Jewish groups are already focused on these goals. Our aim should be to fulfill our obligation to teach Torah to every Jew. This is a lofty goal, but it is also an authentic, Jewish goal. Teaching authentic Torah to individuals over an extended period of time has proven the most effective way to enable a Jew to grow into a balanced, confident observant Jew.[4]

Is the Opportunity for Effective Kiruv Dwindling?

It is commonly suggested that kiruv was easier twenty years ago. The conventional thesis to support this suggestion is that twenty years ago a significant number of Jewish college students and young professionals typically had at least a reform or conservative Jewish education, as well as a strong attachment to the State of Israel. They were already “in the game,” and the role of kiruv was to introduce them to increased levels of Jewish identity and observance. Today, there is less interest in Israel and things Jewish, particularly among Jewish collegiates, which makes kiruv more difficult and less effective.

This thesis may be true. But if it is, rather than justifying diminished results, it demands that we employ appropriate kiruv strategies.

First and foremost, resources should be focused on those students who grew up with a connection to Judaism of any sort, and who maintain an interest in furthering that connection. This includes both the apparently shrinking pool of those educated in Conservative and Reform day schools, along with the growing pool of the non- or partially-observant who attended Orthodox day schools and high schools.

When we look beyond this population to target students who grew up lacking any attachment to things Jewish, we should recognize the potential created by Birthright Israel, as have many kiruv programs and funders. Conceived and financed largely by secular Jews to enhance Jewish engagement and identity, Birthright has created a pool of tens of thousands of young Jews who return from their free trip to Israel excited about Israel and aware of their Jewish identity. The Birthright Israel experience doesn’t necessarily provide a connection to the religious dimension of that identity. But the great potential for igniting the missing religious dimension has been recognized by kiruv rabbis and funders, who have developed Birthright follow-up programs to tap into this enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, in the spirit of the crisis mentality discussed above, the kiruv follow up is constituted primarily of programs that pay students money to attend classes on Jewish leadership, Israel advocacy and “relationships,” rather than authentic Torah learning. The students are then provided with yet further free trips to Israel (and, amazingly, on occasion trips to South Africa, South America, or other exotic locations).[5] The goal of all these initiatives, of course, is for these students to be “influenced” to become observant. Moreover, to attract the largest numbers of students, these programs too often include Torah content that is watered down, if not eliminated entirely. Though they successfully avoid “scaring off” participants, they fail to provide sufficient resources for those students actually interested in religious growth, while having very little impact on the participants who don’t have that interest to begin with. Consultants call this “lose-lose.”

The ineffectiveness of this approach has been exacerbated by the decision to measure programmatic success by the number of new participants a campus or community rabbi recruits each semester. This criterion of success has created a serious catch-22 for anyone hoping to enhance the long-term religious growth of each participant. The rabbi who successfully attracts numerous participants, and in awakening some interest in religious growth, does not have the time he needs to continue working with them, since he needs to focus on recruiting even more new students. And insufficient recruiting of new participants can translate into diminished funding.

This frustration is expressed by countless people in the field. Too often, rabbis have been unable to build individual relationships and encourage long-term religious growth because of pressure to bring in new people. These frustrations reflect a system that rewards quantity rather than quality.

What is less well known are the complaints voiced by some program participants, themselves. Many young Jews whose interest in Judaism was enhanced by the “initial” programs complain that as they became increasingly observant, the rabbi/rebbetzin was less responsive, and less likely to return their calls or have enough time for them.

Donors to kiruv, and particularly those making significant financial investments, are eager to realize measurable results. But time has passed and the results of current strategies have begun to be evidenced; this methodology has simply failed to produce the expected results. It is now time to change course. Kiruv can surely recapture its effectiveness and produce much better results if the focus is reverted to the individual student, and appropriate Torah study becomes a major component of the programs. We will probably never achieve the massive numbers sought in the strategy encouraged by a “crisis” mentality. But, at least we are likely to realize significant numbers of young Jews assuming a sincere and substantive commitment to growth in Judaism.

Learning From the Business World

A common refrain among philanthropists is that charities, including kiruv organizations, should learn from the business world to identify goals and measure success. They draw on business practices and experience as a source of direction. I would like to do the same.

In 2005, Sprint and Nextel merged. Prior to the merger, Nextel had the industry’s highest customer retention rate, popularly attributed to excellent customer service. Sprint, by contrast, focused on attracting new customers (and sometimes even surreptitiously extending contracts of existing customers). Servicing existing customers and solving their problems just wasn’t among Sprint’s priorities.

Within three years of their merger, Sprint-Nextel almost went bankrupt. A 2008 Businessweek[6] article analyzed this deterioration. Quotes from disgruntled employees identified the reason for high customer attrition, “The 38-year-old who worked in a call center…says the numbers-driven management approach implemented after the combination led to poor morale and deteriorating customer service. Even bathroom trips were monitored. ‘They would micromanage us like children’… In the pre-merger Nextel, she had been judged based solely on the number of customer problems she solved, regardless of the time they consumed. In fact, she would occasionally spend up to 30 minutes resolving a particularly thorny issue. After the merger, by contrast, speed was the priority. ‘They would say, ‘your calls need to be shortened.’”

The evolution at American Express was quite different. Upon becoming Amex’s Executive Vice President of World Service in 2005, Jim Bush began a program to empower call center employees to “solve the problem, as long as it takes.” “Deepen customer relationships rather than make customers’ phone calls go faster.”[7] As he hoped, this program led to increased customer satisfaction, and long term customer retention. As opposed to Sprint employees, who were judged by how many calls they were able to handle per hour, how fast they could advance to the next customer, and whether they got customers to purchase new products, Amex focused on quality and developing customer relationships. The results are in: Amex surged and Sprint almost went bankrupt.

Currently, too much of outreach is dominated by strategies designed to rapidly bring in many new “customers”, while providing little of the long-term “customer service” that would nurture a valuable customer base, albeit more slowly.

Would it not be both welcome and compelling for a kiruv funder to ask, “How will the two hundred Jews you expect to attract be serviced if you spark their interest?” rather than the more typical “How can you expand your target to touching two thousand Jews instead of only two hundred?” If it is true that the number of non-Orthodox Jews interested in Judaism is dropping, perhaps this demand would rebound if outreach programs provided more and better “customer service” to those eagerly seeking this service, rather than pursuing Jews who are just not that interested.

The Yeshiva Model

What does proper “customer service” in kiruv look like?

A ba’al teshuvah entering the Orthodox world undergoes significant attitudinal and behavioral changes, which are accompanied by emotional, psychological and behavioral challenges. Healthy adjustment requires time, and it also requires support. Kiruv strategies and tactics must allow the developing ba’al teshuvah the time to grow at a responsible pace, ensuring that each step he takes is stable and that he is equipped to deal with the challenges of family, friends and his own upbringing. Outreach workers must be well trained, and afforded the time to provide that support.

Without additional cost, kiruv resources should be reallocated, with less spent on the front-line programs to “bring people in” and more invested on follow-up – learning with, and nurturing the long-term growth of, those who are interested. Proper follow-up requires well-trained kiruv professionals who will take a long-term perspective, relating to each person as an individual, working closely with them through each stage of their spiritual growth.

Too often, I hear from communal rabbis about the difficulties faced by ba’alei teshuvah who have joined their communities with only a rushed or incomplete kiruv process[8]. If the primary goal of Orthodox outreach is to enable an authentic, well-balanced life of Torah and Mitzvos, then the Jew with little Torah background must be provided with the foundations necessary to live that life.

Having been involved for over 35 years in Yeshivas and seminaries for ba’alei teshuva, and having educated and followed the progress of thousands of our students, I am perhaps biased in my belief that the requisite foundations for a full Torah life are best acquired by spending a significant period of time in an appropriate Yeshiva or seminary. But even for those who don’t have that opportunity, avenues must be introduced to provide these foundations. Otherwise, the kiruv effort cannot ensure the long-term success of its “front-line” efforts.

These foundations include:

  • The Ability to Learn Torah: This is essential for the ba’al teshuvah’s own growth, as well as to enable him or her to raise children who are motivated to take Torah study seriously. A ba’al teshuvah who lacks basic Torah-study skills is unlikely to devote meaningful time to learning, or spend time learning with his or her children. This would be tragic, since engaging in Torah study is essential – in maintaining one’s own connection with the Almighty, for continued mitzvah observance, and as a core element of transmitting Torah to one’s children. Especially in this area, “talking the talk without walking the walk” is a prescription for raising rebellious teenagers.
  • Observing Role Models for Jewish Marriage and Parenting: The Torah’s vision for family life is absolutely vital for every family, but it can only be learned from role models. And since a high percentage of ba’alei teshuva grow up in single parent homes, they often lack role models even for the basics of marriage and parenting. Moreover, their expectations of marriage and family life are significantly influenced by secular media, by family turmoil, or simply by a vivid imagination.
  • Interacting with real-life couples in real-life situations provides a basis from which to learn a Torah approach to family life. While in Yeshiva or seminary, students observe ongoing family interactions of their rabbeim and community families, seeing how typical observant Jewish families function and respond to ordinary family challenges. They receive guidance on how to raise FFB children, since a ba’al teshuvah‘s own experiences do not include appropriate parental reactions to a child missing minyan, for example, or not wanting to stay at the Shabbos table. Feedback from our alumni over 35 years has highlighted these experiences as playing a critical role in their own very successful marriages and families. In addition, of course, ba’al teshuvah yeshivas and seminaries must have classes devoted to marriage issues that are particularly relevant to their students.
  • The Ability to Grow Slowly… step by step, in an environment that is focused on long-term growth – without any distractions, but without undue pressure (not all yeshivas follow this model, but it is a proven secret of success for the long-term growth of the students.)
  • The Yeshiva Experience of Building a Community and Growing with Others over a Significant Period of Time: Our alumni report that the friendships forged during the year or two spent in the yeshiva or seminary were critical to their growth, and also served as a long-lasting network of support. The relationships one builds with others experiencing a similar process of growth are priceless, and are invariably treasured years and decades later.

For newly married couples, however, spending six to twelve months studying simultaneously in a Yeshiva and seminary is especially important. The impact on a marriage of this joint experience is inestimable. Beyond all the reasons mentioned above, this experience establishes the foundations of their lives in an environment of Torah study, enabling them to grow together, and make joint commitments to Jewish growth. In the American yeshiva community, the culture of spending the first year or two of marriage in kollel has become normative, even for those who will go on to school or professions. This practice reflects the recognition that commencing marriage on a foundation of Torah learning provides a long-term religious influence on the marriage and family. This opportunity is even more imperative for baalei teshuvah, as it enables them to create a Torah foundation for their marriage.

For many people, spending time in Yeshiva or seminary poses a great challenge, especially for those in the midst of their careers, and even more so if they are already married. But it should be made a priority whenever possible, and funders should recognize the critical importance of this experience to the long-term success of kiruv.

A Final Suggestion for Campuses

One final suggestion for campus life is to foster greater interaction on campus between the Orthodox students and their rabbis on the one hand, and the outreach rabbis and their students on the other hand. On some campuses, there is currently a tension between JLIC[9] rabbis, who service the Orthodox students, and the outreach rabbis who are focused on servicing students who grew up with no commitment to mitzvah observance. Sometimes, outreach rabbis view the Modern Orthodox students on secular campuses as either not that inspired, not that observant or simply poor role models for their presently non-observant students and emerging ba’alei teshuva. Unfortunately, there are Orthodox students who fit that mold. But in the larger scheme of things, I see the Orthodox student body as a hidden resource that can enhance the long-term effectiveness of campus kiruv.

Moreover, the religious commitment of the Orthodox students can actually be enhanced through interaction with the community of those who are interested, though not observant. I base this on my experiences of the past thirty-five years, and that of our students who became ba’alei teshuvah well before there were official kiruv rabbis on campus. At that time, the Orthodox students were a natural address for non-observant Jews looking for more authenticity in their Judaism. This led to a wonderful synergy of growth. The Orthodox students became role models for the emerging ba’alei teshuva, who could see through their peers that mitzvah observance was relevant and meaningful, and who could experience through them the value of community in Orthodox life. It also allowed for the preferred process of slow, organic growth.

Today, there are some kiruv rabbis whose presentation of “authentic Orthodoxy” is naturally limited to their own personal style, one that may not be realistic or appropriate for many developing ba’alei teshuva. Facilitating interaction with a broad range of FFB’s would show a breadth of Torah Judaism, and illustrate to the potential ba’al teshuvah that the significant life changes he is considering are actually quite doable. Meanwhile, the enthusiasm and the need for increased Torah learning on the part of the ba’alei teshuvah can serve to inspire and motivate many of the Orthodox students to be more serious in their Torah observance, and to take responsibility to help fellow Jews in their Torah growth.

While much has changed on campus, I still believe that increased cooperation between these two communities would serve the interests of both groups, resulting in many more well balanced and committed Torah observant Jews.

Isn’t that the ultimate goal of kiruv?

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky is co-founder and Dean of Shapell’s/Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya in Jerusalem. He has been involved in the education of English speaking Ba’alei Tshuva for 35 years, and has over 3,000 graduates.

[1] Currently, less than 70% of the students enrolled in our Yeshiva and seminary (Shapell’s/Darche Noam and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya) have two Jewish parents. This number has been steadily dropping over the past few years.

[2] If you want a sharper illustration of my point, ask yourself the following question: Who is the victim you are trying to save from “death” (i.e. assimilation or intermarriage), and who is the perpetrator of this “murder” from whom you are trying to save him?

[3] See Sanhedrin 97b about how G-d ensures that Moshiach will come even if we don’t do the requisite teshuva. And many commentaries on the two tochachas (rebukes), Devarim Ch. 28 and Vayikra Ch. 26 about the role of tragedies and exile to ensure that the Jewish people never stray from Torah completely.

[4] And it also has been shown to prevent intermarriage, promote pride in Judaism, and increase support for Israel!

[5] The problematic nature of these “Learn and earn” type programs, paying people to do something that should be done for its own sake, has been shown in many studies to lead to diminished participation and motivation. See the books The Gift Relationship by Richard Titmuss, The Hidden Cost of Reward by Mark Lepper and David Greene, and the 2008 article “Crowding Out in Blood Donation,” by Melsstrom and Johanesson. Paying someone to do something creates the perception that there must be a cost associated with doing it. While some justify it by comparing these programs to the providing of stipends for Kollel studies, this comparison is flawed on many levels, but is beyond the scope of what can be discussed here.

[6] Sprint’s Wake Up Call, Spencer E. Ante, Businessweek Feb. 20, 2008

[7] “Can I Help You?”, Fortune Magazine, April 30, 2012

[8] Even well-prepared baalei teshuva will need ongoing guidance once they join a new Orthodox community. I therefore believe the outreach community should focus their attention on placing qualified people in every Orthodox community, with the mandate to spend time learning with and nurturing the growth of ba’alei teshuva. Community kollelim satisfy this need in certain towns, but there are not enough of them. This needs to become a top priority in our new focus on “customer service.”

[9] A program of the OU to place rabbinic couples on campuses with significant Orthodox enrollment to support these students over their four-year stay in a secular university environment. This developed in response to the significant number of students who had been through twelve years of Orthodox Day School, a year or two in Yeshiva in Israel, and were leaving university non-observant.

Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Outreach & Inreach: Casting a World Wide Net

THERE IS A BASIC FLAW in the question, “Should preferential resources be allocated to inreach or to outreach?” This implies contradictory solutions – that somehow, frum and non-frum Jews operate in separate universes.

Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, founder of Aish HaTorah, had a plan for the Jewish people that was all-inclusive and holistic: Draft the frum world into doing kiruv and accomplish both goals simultaneously.

First, for the frum community, kiruv provides a front-row view of secular Jews being drawn to Yiddishkeit. Beyond the dose of inspiration, the imperative to reach out persuades a frum person to examine his own relationship with Torah and mitzvos – adding vitality, energy and enthusiasm to his household and community.

Second, the more kiruv that’s being done, the more baalei teshuva (BTs) join the frum community. BTs bring “added value” by financially supporting schools, shuls and chessed organizations, while infusing the frum world with fresh ideas and vitality. All this continues to play a major role in the renaissance of Torah Judaism in America today.

Which makes this a win-win holistic cycle that is in many ways self-sustaining and perpetuating.

Back in the 1970s, Rav Noach developed a strategy that he called “Awaken the Sleeping Giant” – to mobilize the frum community to reach out to the masses of unaffiliated American Jews. Rav Noach knew that if left to “kiruv professionals,” the funding needed to hire the necessary army of rabbis was completely unrealistic – aside from the challenge of even finding that many rabbis. The only practical way to reach masses of secular Jews, he concluded, is to build a grassroots movement of frum Jews pre-primed with the knowledge and commitment to Yiddishkeit.

As such, Aish HaTorah’s goal was never to be an organization of kiruv professionals, but rather a consortium of “partners” – laypeople, donors, shul rabbis – empowered to take responsibility for helping to accomplish the greater mission.

Initially, the frum world was less than receptive; they simply didn’t believe that kiruv could succeed. So Rav Noach implemented Plan B: being mekarev secular Jews who – knowing the feasibility – naturally would become kiruv leaders.

After 40 years of kiruv success, the message finally sank in for the frum community. At last, in 2007, Aish launched Project Inspire with Rav Noach’s original goal of training frum Jews to reach out – i.e., to be mekarev frum mekarvim.

The plan appears to be working. Project Inspire weekend conventions have energized thousands of frum people, giving them a boost to transmit enthusiasm to their families and others. Over 7,000 people have attended a Project Inspire Kiruv Training Seminar, learning how to answer common kiruv questions and how to avoid kiruv blunders. Based on this training, many hundreds have signed up to learn one-on-one with a non-frum partner.

This has spawned tens of thousands of meaningful interactions with non-frum neighbors, friends and co-workers. One chassidishe woman has inspired a dozen people to accept Shabbos observance, while another has brought more than 100 women to learn in Israel. After attending a Project Inspire event several years ago, the “Traveling Chassidim” now visit communities across North America, sharing the beauty of Shabbos with Jews of all backgrounds.

Highly respected rabbis in America have concluded that the most effective way to do “community inreach” – i.e. to keep the frum community inspired – is to get them involved in outreach. By seeing the incredible affect that one Shabbos dinner has on a non-frum Jew, children and adults alike gain greater appreciation for their own Yiddishkeit.

Herein lies the key, self-generating mechanism: Kiruv success depends on the mekarev himself appreciating the power of Torah.

Furthermore, with laypeople volunteering the work, the entire enterprise is highly cost-effective. Today, lay-driven outreach communities in Brooklyn, Queens, the Five Towns, Monsey, Teaneck and Toronto exist with virtually no overhead. The primary “cost” is to provide these people with user-friendly tools such as “Easy Outreach Packages” that combine an inspirational message with Rosh Hashanah honey, Chanukah candles or mishloach manos. Significantly, the per-unit cost of producing such items decreases as more people get involved.

Casting the Net

When it comes to reaching secular Jews, the most potent method is to find them where they are: online.

With their higher-than-average education and income, Jews are more highly connected to the Internet than the general population. In Israel, for example, 77% of Jews have Internet access and over 50% use Facebook ( With today’s ubiquitous mobile devices, secular people are connected 24/7 – checking news, engaging in work activities, shopping and communicating with friends.

Online kiruv, however, requires a different strategy than traditional kiruv. First of all, there’s no cholent to help warm things up J. But the real challenge is that in casting a wide net, there’s no way to know precisely who’s picking up the message. Families? Young professionals? College kids? Seniors? Men or women? Is the person affiliated-but-not-frum? Unaffiliated, yet with a proud Jewish identity? Perhaps apathetic, barely maintaining a blip of Jewish identification? Or worse, negative about their Judaism?

In my 15 years at, I’ve had the unique opportunity of reaching out to all these groups simultaneously. We use a mixture of articles and videos (20,000 of them!) on spirituality, current events, dating advice, parenting advice, teen advice, recipes, Jewish holidays, Holocaust studies, Israel updates and even Jewish humor. We cast a global “inter-net” – offering something for everyone.

The net is cast widest for young, disengaged Jews with near-zero interest in Judaism. It’s a big challenge to step out of our mindset and figure out precisely “where they’re at.” In today’s media-saturated world, it’s an even bigger challenge to create a product that attracts their attention.

It is said that “the medium is the message,” and young people today rely increasingly on videos for their information and inspiration. So in addition to written content, produces short online films – creative, unique clips that are cool and entertaining. And we aim for viral power – the “wow” that motivates viewers to forward it on to their friends. Of course, all this is done with the guidance of the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah and other poskim, with whom we frequently consult.

The Almighty has blessed us, and in one year, we produced three consecutive multi-million-view films. It began with “Google Exodus,” which told the Passover story as if Moses and Pharaoh had the use of modern Internet tools. The film was a smashing success, viewed online over 2 million times. Beyond this, it was exposed to millions of viewers via the mainstream media – on NBC’s Today Show and later at a number of Jewish film festivals. The Hebrew version placed second on Israel’s list of top Internet videos of the year.

We followed up with “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem,” which showed professional dancers (dressed as yeshiva students) break-dancing around the Jewish Quarter. This certified hit (over 2 million views) was featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and on popular television dance shows, where one secular (and apparently Jewish) host declared: “A yarmulke never looked so good!”’s next music video, for Chanukah, also registered over 2 million views.

Once we achieve this point of contact, the next step is to provide a segue to an ongoing relationship in the form of email subscriptions. Currently over 400,000 people receive emails at least twice a week – plugging into meaningful Jewish content in four languages (English, Hebrew, Spanish, and French).

Although a frum person might find some of these films vapid or meaningless, they are truly inspiring for the not-yet-frum Jew. As evidenced by the thousands of comments, these films break down the misconception that Judaism is all about restriction and misery. When unaffiliated Jews see frum Jews who are upbeat and celebrating life, it is a paradigm shift – a complete revamping of their prior perception of Torah Judaism as “antiquated and irrational.”

Beyond this, we strive to inject the videos with a meaningful message. The Rosh Hashanah dance film, for example, touts the importance of cheshbon hanefesh (soul searching) and teshuva: “Taking stock is what we do tonight… Let’s all get written in the Book of Life.” Some viewers, like one fellow in Philadelphia, showed up at Aish’s High Holiday services solely on the basis of having seen the Rosh Hashanah film.

Another positive outcome: By appealing to all strata of Jews, these films help build a critically important bridge between the secular and religious. The mainstream press in Israel – traditionally quite anti-religious – loves the uplifting messages and the fact that a yeshiva cares to reach out and inspire the public. Ynet, the number one source for Israeli news, featured our Rosh Hashanah film on their home page, hailing it as “Judaism that speaks to everyone.”

Entry Point

Of the million-plus monthly visits to, we regard each one as a kiruv success. We learn this from the epiphany of Rebbe Akiva at the rock: Though it seemed that each drop of water was having no impact, in reality, over time those drops completely transformed the rock. Similarly with Torah, Rebbe Akiva concluded that every drop is significant, though the transformation takes time to manifest. Every bit we do to “move the needle” – in the direction of Jewish pride, Jewish knowledge, Jewish consciousness – is a success. As marketing guru Seth Godin says: The goal isn’t always to close the sale, any more than the goal of a first date is to get married. Rather, the goal is to move forward, to earn trust and curiosity and conversation.

The overarching goal of our website is to provide an entry point for deeper engagement. Once we get people’s attention, it’s just a click away to the treasure trove of Torah-based content, such as our introductory-level “Toras Chaim,” which consists of hot current topics with a “Jewish spin.” For example, when polarization characterized the 2012 U.S. presidential election, we offered Jewish lessons for unity and understanding. And when General David Petraeus admitted to infidelity, we used that as a launching pad to discuss the Torah concept of yichud (i.e., prescriptions about men and women being along together). The thousands who read these and other articles come away with the sense that Torah is insightful, practical, rational, relevant and compelling – providing real solutions for modern-world problems.

One of our recent innovations is online chat – what I call the “virtual shoulder tap.” A box pops up on the user’s screen, and an Aish rabbi is there to engage in one-on-one dialogue. As a testament to the power of frontline Internet kiruv, we successfully encouraged a spiritually growing Jew in Georgia to join a frum community, and persuaded a man in southern Europe to go study in yeshiva.

The kiruv jackpot is shmiras hamitzvos, and as a stepping-stone we developed the advanced learning site, offering self-paced multi-media courses on Hilchos Shabbos, Hilchos Brachos, Jewish History, Derech Hashem, mussar and more.

Of course, nothing can ever substitute for personal contact. That is why we constantly try to connect people with phone chavrusas (study partners) and Shabbos placements. We’ve benefited from the presence of Aish branches and kiruv kollels in so many cities worldwide – facilitating our ability to elevate people beyond the online experience into a personal relationship with a rabbi or rebbetzin who can follow up carefully and guide their Jewish growth. also benefits from the appreciation – shared by secular Jews – that Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish world. It is no coincidence that the baal teshuva movement – its great yeshivas and most rabbinical training – has historically been centered in Jerusalem. In that way, is uniquely positioned, with our offices located directly opposite the Western Wall and a 24-hour “Wall-cam” that has registered 33 million visitors. Nothing quite matches the impact of learning Torah at the center of Jewish destiny, and the spectacular new Aish building allows us to extend invitations to come learn overlooking the Kotel – a place that touches every pintele Yid (i.e., the spark in every Jewish soul).

Winning the War

Since we rarely meet face-to-face with our readers, it can be challenging to get a sense of the impact we’re having. I recently ran into a friend in Jerusalem who introduced me to the woman he was with. She surprised me by saying: “I have to thank you. I was living in Iowa, far from any Jewish community. I started visiting and got more interested in Judaism. I began keeping kosher and Shabbat, and now I’ve moved to Israel to pursue my studies full-time.”

Thank G-d, our efforts appear to be paying off. In a reader survey, 86% said that has inspired them to more Torah learning, and 75% said that has led them to increased synagogue attendance and/or Jewish affiliation.

One of the most exciting aspects of our work is reaching Jews in far-flung places. One reader visited a synagogue in Mumbai, India for Shabbat services, and found parsha sheets being distributed and used as the basis for group discussion. We receive frequent emails from teachers (both Jew and Gentile) who use our Holocaust section as their high school curriculum. And I can’t even count the number of times someone has told me that their Reform or Conservative rabbi quoted in a sermon.

Still, there is so much more we can do. For example, “TED” is a hugely popular online series of riveting 10-minute talks, proving that Internet users are willing to invest real time to watch something of quality and substance. Yet where is the Torah version? We already have an array of truly unforgettable speakers who are able to masterfully articulate Torah content. Bringing them together in a top-tier Jewish version of TED could be a real breakthrough in our efforts to reach intelligent, discriminating Jews.

Other untapped markets are waiting to be filled such as a comprehensive women’s site and a 20-something site driven by mobile-friendly video content.

Implementing these projects requires money, manpower and thinking out of the box. Rav Noach always said: If we’re serious about winning this war, we need to come up with a $20 million game plan and a dozen home-run ideas. He compared our challenge to someone whose child, G-d forbid, is terminally ill. Since the parent loves that child so much and is desperate to save him, highly experimental avenues will be explored. The parent stays up day and night, pursuing every possible avenue, stopping at nothing. Rav Noach said: “Even if people call you crazy, it’s crazier to just stand by.”

People are drowning spiritually right before our eyes, and even those of us involved in full-time kiruv have a tendency to get “comfortable.” Rav Noach would pound his fist and say: “If we’re concerned with the Almighty’s honor, we must care for his children. There’s a holocaust going on!”

It’s not so easy to live with that as a constant reality. So in 2006, Rav Noach took a group of sixty Aish rabbis to Poland, to confront the physical Holocaust of the last generation in order to become more real with the spiritual holocaust of the current generation. Rav Noach implored us – and wrote in his tzava’a (ethical will) – to sit on the floor for 10 minutes each day and ponder what else we can do to protect kavod Shamayim (the honor of Heaven).

Kiruv Army

The sad reality is that kiruv is operating in a vanishing market. Sixty-nine percent of children in intermarried families are being raised as non-Jews (Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011), and only 15% of children of intermarried couples marry Jews (1990 and 2000 National Jewish Population Studies).

Are we doing enough to counteract this crisis? There are approximately 1,500 kiruv professionals in North America (“The Need for Community-wide Outreach,” Binah magazine, 2008). Assuming that each of them touches 100 people in a significant way, reaching 150,000 Jews, there would still be over 4 million unaffiliated Jews in North America not being reached. Even with some 30,000 frum people actively involved with Project Inspire, the output is still far short of what’s needed.

I once asked Rav Noach: “How do we keep on fighting if we’re losing the war?” He responded: “What is lost is lost. We need to learn from that, keep looking forward, and focus on those we can still save.”

In the face of the Jewish genocide during World War II, it took years of pressure to arouse the American government out of its complacency. Yet nobody thought to suggest, “Let’s give up because Polish Jewry has already been murdered.” No! In the final year, the War Refugee Board was created and a few hundred thousand Hungarian Jews were saved.

Today, assimilation and intermarriage cause tens of thousands of Jews to be lost to Klal Yisrael each year. Yet these tragic losses do not exempt us from the responsibility to do whatever we can to reach those Jews who remain. The Jewish people are one and we don’t give up on anyone.

Which brings us back to the frum community, who recognize the magnitude of the chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) of 90% of the Almighty’s children who are “off the derech.” Of the many available tools for reaching out, is perhaps the simplest and most effective. Every click in the right direction creates a synergy whereby frum people turn on others and as a consequence themselves.

All Jews are Hashem’s precious children, and every drop in the effort to save even a single Jew is a success.

Rabbi Shraga Simmons, originally from Buffalo, New York, is a journalist, educator and filmmaker. For the past 15 years he has served as Senior Editor of

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

A Unified Theory of Kiruv

Kiruv. The word conjures up images of the scraggily, long haired backpacker who, after traversing the globe in search of spiritual truths, finds his life changed by a tap on the shoulder at the Western Wall. While this scenario has certainly played out countless times, it hardly reflect the scope and breadth of the outreach movement.

Outreach has gone through significant changes in recent years. While religious defection from Judaism has occurred throughout history, its pace has accelerated substantially over the past two hundred years. Much of this was due to the Haskala (enlightment) movement, which gave birth to alien forms of Judaism, as well as the emancipation of Europe, which helped point the way to the exit.

It was not until the 1960’s, especially in the aftermath of the Six Day War, that we as a people were emboldened to start reaching out to our wayward brethren. In the mere forty-five years since, we had evolved from a people struggling to survive, to one dynamically growing in confidence and numbers. That certainly was a good time to reach out!

What started as a fringe movement that was relegated to legendary personalities and idealistic individuals had, in a mere forty years, become a national cause, as well as a legitimate career choice. The heroes are many and the players are organized and professional. Chabad, Aish, Neve, Ohr Somayach, NCSY, Project Inspire, Community Kollelim, Arachim, and many more, have all contributed admirably to the worldwide outreach movement. This has resulted in every demographic and age bracket being touched and effected. It is safe to say, that outside of large and established Jewish cities such as New York and Lakewood, kehilos (communities) throughout North America are significantly represented by active returnees. The movement has breathed life into communities near and far and infused skilled and talented professionals into our ranks.

Perhaps most importantly, a feeling of freshness and vitality has descended upon the faithful, affirming that one who lives a Torah lifestyle can stand proudly and confidently, regardless of which way the ideological winds blow.

Given kiruv’s success and impact, it may be surprising that some question its ongoing value. However, the Jewish community’s growth and expansion has introduced new challenges and exacerbated others. Marital harmony, kids at risk, job stability and the cost of raising and maintaining an Orthodox home are all serious challenges facing Orthodox Jewry.

So the question is, simply put, has the time come to put kiruv on the back burner and focus on other issues?

I recently presented this question on my weekly radio show (Hidabroot 97.5FM) to the listening audience, expecting to hear a firm if disappointed “Yes, it’s time to work on the more immediate issues that afflict our community.” After all, my audience is largely comprised of frum listeners who are painfully aware of the many communal concerns we have mentioned. In fact, we often use one or more of these issues as the show’s weekly talking point, with call-ins and text messages passionately debating their solutions.

To my surprise, the response was quite to the contrary. Our listeners felt strongly that there is no justification to abandon kiruv. The drive to reach out should be a natural expression of living a good, solid Torah life and our community must remain committed to it. Many listeners themselves felt that, with minimal effort (a Shabbos invite here, a friendly hello there), even they could help reverse the tide of assimilation, and they were fully supportive of intensive efforts to accomplish much more.

The response to that show taught me three things:

  • As a nation, we still believe in the validity of Kiruv.
  • We believe that everyone can be involved in reaching out on some level.
  • Outreach need not be left to professionals working outside the framework of the community. Rather, our community is beginning to view it as an organic expression of its values, and of its dedication to Judaism done correctly.

This was all fascinating to me, given the fact that I am a mekarev by profession!

But, if kiruv (the unaffiliated returning) is a natural response to their exposure to a Torah lifestyle, why isn’t outreach much more effective than it has been? Are outreach professionals failing to bring people in, or is something lacking in our Torah lifestyle that is repelling people instead of attracting them?

I believe that we intuitively know the answer to this question. Non-observant Jews are generally unimpressed by our lifestyle, and many are turned off by it. This is not because of outreach efforts – it is because of us.

This suggestion is a scary indictment of Orthodox Jewry. Perhaps it is too harsh. But the question remains -What is missing? Why, do we not enjoy the respect and admiration of the non-observant community? Perhaps we should start off by exploring how it is that Torah is supposed to be naturally attractive and compelling. Perhaps most of all, it is a function of how well a Torah community reflects the true definition of what Judaism is and how well it carries out its core mission.

Historically, Judaism too often has been defined incorrectly, and the damage has been immeasurable. Although Judaism is often listed amongst the great “religions” of the world, the Torah categorically avoids the designation – and even the word – “religion.” In its place, the Torah always insists on using a completely different construct: a metaphor for relationship.

Judaism is a Relationship

Relationship is not religion. They are not the same and they are not alike. When Hashem asked the Jewish people if they want to accept the Torah, they answered “Naaseh v’nishma,” we will do and we will listen. Hashem then rhetorically asked “Who revealed to My children this secret used by the heavenly angels?”

What is this great secret? The fact that they reversed the order and didn’t respond, “Nishma v’naaseh” – we will listen and then we will do? Is the order of their response the great secret? In reality, the order of their reply is quite noteworthy. In considering a religion, one first listens, hears, judges and then commits to act. We weigh the proofs, survey the evidence, and if all checks out, we commit.

A pledge of to “do” first before listening is something else entirely. When a loved one asks for a favor, the typical response is “Sure! What would you like me to do?” This reflection of trust and eagerness to please is the very hallmark of a loving relationship. And this was the “secret” known by the angels. Hashem wants relationship with us!

In the Temple’s Kodesh Hakadashim (Holy of Holies), perched atop the Aron Kodesh (Ark of the Covenant) stood the keruvim, one with the face of a boy and the other with the face of a girl, lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes. Metaphorically, one represented Hashem and the other the Jewish people. In fact, when Hashem was upset or disappointed with the Jewish people, the keruvim would turn their backs to each other like a quarreling couple who have ceased communicating.

The analogy couldn’t be clearer! The Torah presents Judaism as a relationship hundreds and hundreds of times. Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs), the quintessential love song, is described by Rabbi Akiva as “kodesh kadashim” the holiest of holies!

The ramifications are tremendous. Each mitzvah, as well as its meaning, morphs when seen through the eyes of relationship. Shabbos is no longer a ritualistic day off. Rather, it is romantic special time with the One we love, complete with flowers, a bottle of wine, and a candlelit dinner. We call out “Boi kallah, boi kallah” imploring our beloved bride to come and join us.

Even the Challah has romantic overtures, reminding us that Hashem braided Eve’s hair so she should be attractive to Adam. B’samim (spices) during havdalah remind us of the scent of our loved one, in the same way a lover dabs her perfume on a letter she is sending to her solider on the front lines. She, like Hashem, is imploring him to remember her and return home soon. So we say, “hayom yom rishon l’Shabbos” today is one day towards my special time with my beloved.

Shmini Atzeres becomes a moving farewell to a loved one, when we echo Hashem’s words to us – “koshe alay praidaschem” (it is difficult for Me to part from you). Tefillin turn into a love locket where we engrave our allegiance to Hashem Echod (one G-d) and He, wearing his celestial tefillin pledges back to us, “Umi k’amcha Yisroel goy echad ba’aretz”, there is no one like you Klal Yisroel!

When one is in a meaningful relationship, it becomes a deeply personal, moving experience. Happiness and a sense of bliss descend upon us and all is right with the world.The definition of Judaism as relationship and not as a religion makes all the difference in the world.

Unfortunately, many of the contemporary issues that plague our communities result from the steady numbing of the disconnected soul. The happiness in our relationship, which is supposed to be a catalyst to shmiras hamitzvos (mitzvah observance), has seen its passion dulled. Perhaps this is due to the burden of exile, or perhaps due to its creature comforts. But for many, Torah, while meticulously observed, no longer sets their souls on fire. Our children see this, and they go elsewhere to find joy. Our spouses see this and they lose respect and appreciation for us.

It is no wonder that a depressive monotony can set in. Worse, what should be a source of inspiration becomes a burden we must bear. Like soldiers, we religiously follow our marching orders, extracting pleasure from Judaism’s trappings (a nice bowl of chulent followed by a Shabbos nap), rather than its substance as an eternal relationship with the Divine.

My family is involved in outreach, and we are frequently joined on kiruv Shabbatons by FFBs (“frum from birth”), who are invariably thrilled by the joy they experience. I have often heard the refrain, “the religious need this as well.” The truth is that we all need it. Happiness is the lynchpin of Judaism – the key to success in our relationship with Hashem. Already we were warned in the Torah about “not serving Hashem with joy and goodness of heart” (Devarim 28:47).

Is it any surprise that Carlebach minyanim are proliferating? Is it really a mystery why 50,000 people a year head to Uman for Rosh Hashana? The Jewish people are begging to rediscover the simcha (joy) in Yiddishkiet. Our children, our homes and kehilos are striving to recapture the essence of a loving and vibrant relationship with our Heavenly Father. When a non-observant person witnesses the true happiness of Judaism manifested in the Jewish home, this becomes the greatest reason to give it serious consideration. No kiruv expertise required!

But when the joy of a relationship is absent, no intellectual argument or outreach seminar will be convincing or compelling. A loveless relationship is simply hollow and burdensome.

The “Great Mission”

Aside from the need for a Torah community to reflect the true definition of what Judaism is, it must be focused on its core mission.

The Almighty has a vision for all of mankind and has chosen the Jewish people as His faithful ambassadors to carry it out. While the world was steeped in immorality and corruption, our forefathers were building a people whose destiny was to be the “Light unto the nations.” Our enslavement in Egypt prepared us to deliver the message, that there is a better way to treat people and that we are all created in His image. We learned empathy by experiencing abuse, and we reinforce this lesson yearly by eating the “bread of affliction.”

Empathy is the great tool that the Almighty uses to teach us how to advocate for a better world. V’ohavtoh l’reacho kamocha (love your fellow as yourself) works because I love myself. This is the reason that immediately after we left Egypt and received the Ten Commandments the Torah launches into the laws of how to treat a slave (see the beginning of Parshas Mishpatim): because we have been there and we have done that. Says the Almighty, “It wasn’t pleasant, was it? It was difficult and degrading, correct? Now go forth and teach the world by example that there is a better way!” Thus, morals and values that many assume were always universally accepted norms actually originate in the Torah.

We have a great mission, and the world depends on Jews to complete it. Everything we do or say reflects this mission and its fidelity. When we fall short, we reflect poorly on the Creator, because we represent Him on Earth. We are the teachers of morality and the world is our students.

Absent this understanding, Judaism devolves into slices of ritual and custom that, while obligatory and significant, bypass the overarching motive behind the Jewish people’s raison d’être. This is why the Rambam states that chillul Hashem (misrepresenting G-d and his vision of goodness) is the greatest of avairos, atoned for only by death.

This thesis is no new age Judaism. L’saken olam b’malchus Sha-dai (to fix up the world under the Almighty’s kingship) has been a constant yearning, fervent prayer and our ultimate goal since the beginning. It is the normative understanding of Judaism dating back to its founder, Avraham Avinu (our forefather Abraham), whose life’s mission was to teach the world about Hashem through acts of lovingkindness.

Over time, our focus on this assignment has faded. Not only is the concept of ohr lagoyim – a light unto the nations – rarely mentioned in our schools and homes, we have come to see the nations of the world as a threat to be avoided, lest we learn from their ways. We isolate ourselves, living comfortably in our own insular bubble, blocking out the problems and difficulties that face the world. Hardly the makings of a healthy teacher/student relationship!

Of course, Judaism does not advocate proselytizing to gentiles. It is through our kiyum hamitzvos (mitzvah observance) that the world is meant to see and learn. When we embrace our mission, it injects meaning into our otherwise mystifying rituals and observances. In the right context, everything begins to make sense. At the same time, our way of life becomes far more accessible and compelling to our non-observant brethren, who will naturally respect how sensitive we are and how much we care.

Certainly, there is a balance that must be found between our role to be an influence and our vulnerability to being influenced, and each community must struggle to find its path. Even so, the mandate remains and it must animate our actions as well as our interactions with the nations of the world. When we lose this focus, we live smaller lives, with less meaning and significance to the world and history. It is not compelling to join (or rejoin) a nation that looks down on the rest of mankind. But when we heed its call, the nobility and actions of the Jewish people lights a path for the world to ultimately recognize the rulership of Hashem over the universe.

Am I advocating doing away with kiruv? While perhaps one day I will happily be looking for other employment, we are not there yet. We have some work to do as a nation before the product is so desirable that it attracts the unaffiliated all on its own. Meanwhile, organized kiruv is vital to help us get to where we need to go. It is especially through kiruv today that we have the opportunity to discover our divine relationship through fresh and excited eyes. With its infusion of energetic and motivated neophytes, kiruv offers the best hope for us to become reacquainted with the Judaism of old.

When we ultimately right our ship and infuse happiness and responsibility into our Judaism, the world will quickly take note. Positivity is contagious, and can be shared across the globe in seconds. Our actions will reflect a nation with a divine mandate, who are joyfully changing the world for the better.

Definition and mission. Its why people will choose the Chosen People.

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko, a musmach of Mir Yeshiva, is a leading figure in campus outreach, a renowned speaker, and founder of the world’s largest Jewish social network,

Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Kiruv versus Outreach: Making a Lasting Impact

IF THE PERIOD IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the Six-Day war was a boom time for Jewish identity and affiliation, the current period is something of a recession. But just as economic fluctuations do not eliminate certain constant axioms, efforts to increase Jewish affiliation and commitment must recognize certain constant principles. I fear, however, that efforts in America to reach the unaffiliated have strayed from certain fundamental ideals, and this change has deeply affected the effort and its results.

My concerns center on the distinction between activities that I will distinguish as kiruv on the one hand and outreach on the other. I use the term “kiruv” to reference efforts designed to facilitate a Jew’s sea-change commitment to Torah and yiras shomayim (fear of Heaven). By “outreach”, on the other hand, I refer to general efforts to provide non-observant Jews with positive experiences of traditional Judaism. The two approaches work best in coordination, with initial exposure coming through outreach, and kiruv efforts guiding those who are interested in taking the next step. Currently, however, these two objectives are often muddled, leading to obfuscated goals, an inability to measure success, and – often – ill-prepared Jews entering the observant community.

The confusion is made more acute when one gives “outreach” the prestige of “kiruv.” The effects of outreach by itself are fleeting. They might raise the standing of traditional Jews or Judaism; or they might lessen their “strangeness,” thereby making them more accessible. But they rarely result in a sustainable uptick in spiritual growth, i.e. in choices that will bring people substantially closer to an observant life. Given the assimilation pressures buffeting a contemporary Jew, we cannot afford to be satisfied with such evanescent gains.

With far fewer resources and far less personnel than they have today, yeshivas in Israel and America were opened in the 1960’s and 1970’s that aspired to teach authentic Judaism to a small but highly motivated subset of young Jews. Aided by a conducive environment, including the enthusiasm generated by Israel’s emergence as a modern dynamo, an eager cohort with raw but powerful Jewish instincts were drawn to these yeshivas and were mentored by a small cadre of gifted and deeply motivated kiruv pioneers. The focus of such institutions was to help the student evolve into a Ben or Bas Torah (i.e., live a Torah-oriented life), despite beginning the journey with little more than an inchoate sense of Jewishness and Jewish literacy that often ended with the Aleph-Beis. The goal was wildly ambitious and, the herculean efforts were wildly successful. In an era in which the radical was not rare, such changes were both fathomable and often achievable.

Alas, society’s current cultural environment is far more pragmatic, less idealistic and certainly less radical. The Jewish youth of today is not only less prone to idealism and inspiration, but also has drifted further from Jewish roots and Jewish identity. The reaction of the Jewish outreach professional to these trends, and to the more pragmatic environment, is to assume a strategy that is far less ambitious and imaginative in aspiration, with goals too often limited to corralling young Jews into doing almost anything Jewish at almost any level (i.e., outreach). While these activities would be valuable if pursued in conjunction with follow-up efforts designed to guide the Jew towards a commitment to Yiddishkeit, this happens much less frequently than it should. Most striking, however, is the blind support of many philanthropists, despite the ineffectiveness of their investment. One would have hoped that the very pragmatism that dulls radical aspiration would, at least, mandate a more focused strategy and an emphasis on more measurable results.

Contemporary Jewish Youth

Young Jews today possess a far more tenuous relationship to their Jewish identity. Their parents’ relationship to Judaism is often weaker than the generation before, and connections to more traditional grandparents or great-grandparents can be very distant. Moreover, the likelihood that Jewish inspiration will be drawn from a connection to Israel is no longer axiomatic. Tragically, for many youth, Israel is actually a toxic topic. And perhaps most significantly, contemporary Jewish youth, like its non-Jewish peers, is less moved by idealism or inspiration than the parents’ generation.

Perhaps influenced by the perilous economic times, though the trend was evident even beforehand, the searching Jewish neshama (soul) prepared to take a few years away from the rat race to explore spirituality is almost an endangered species. Getting sixty uninterrupted minutes of religious focus in a deeply wired world is tough; six uninterrupted months seems like a pipedream. An additional factor that must be addressed in any exploration of the viability of ongoing kiruv is the fact that a large segment of the “Jewish” population is simply not halachically Jewish, a trend that is inevitably expanding and that is making outreach something of a minefield.

Not only is the nature of the Jew changing, but the manner by which relationships are formed and sustained has changed. Young people live in a world of weak associations. Social media have created a massive array of facile ways to conceive pathetically weak ties. These trends affect marriage dynamics, family relationships and communal structures. Social ties born of electronic connections have only a passing resemblance to true relationships, and they are hardly the strong bond that offers the hope of sustainability. Making introductions has become almost comically easy but that’s where such ties typically end. Connecting the Jew to his Torah heritage, however, requires deep and authentic relationships – whether across the teaching podium or across the dining room table. The ability of the non-observant Jew to engage in these types of relationships, however, is at risk.

Though the situation does not augur well for reaching out to teens and twenty-somethings, they certainly cannot be abandoned. As hard as it is to reach young Jews, they are just beginning to think about the world in independent and meaningful ways, and it is our obligation to ensure that Judaism is part of their nascent, and fresh, framing of the world.

The Outreach Response

In reaction to these trends, enormous resources are being poured into reaching the dwindling numbers of non-observant yet accessible Jews. Using the terms I identified above, these efforts are often called kiruv, but in actuality they are usually merely outreach.

The wide world of outreach is much bigger, much more diverse, and more vibrant than when I walked into Yeshiva for the first time in 1982. This army of professionals is doing undeniably valuable work. They are representing the Torah world in all kinds of tricky situations, and on the whole they do so admirably, performing a kiddush Hashem in a world that desperately needs it. They sometimes recruit young Jews to join a pivotal trip to Israel that could challenge and even inspire them. Or they simply reach Jews who would otherwise never have a chance to encounter an authentic traditional text, or a traditional Jewish meal, or even a traditional Jew.

But very few of those mining the fields of outreach are charged with the task of bringing people to true commitment to Torah and Mitzvos. And though perhaps this ”Judaism lite” approach is necessary as a first step in the kiruv process, there is typically no “next step” in place to build upon the momentary inspiration that may be triggered by the initial inspiration during a beautiful trip to Israel, in a meaningful class, or at an exciting event.

Introductory-level outreach efforts directed toward young and unattached Jews are shallow in their aspirations and fleeting in their effects without coordinated follow-up. By their very nature they are incapable of transforming someone into a committed Jew. Spiritual growth for baalei teshuva is no different in certain regards than the religious growth of an observant Jew. The frum parent and the classical yeshiva rebbe both know that the child of an observant home becomes integrated into the religious community through a deep bond with Yiddishkeit that involves deep social relationships, deep educational involvement and deep cultural bonds. Many of the earlier generation of Kiruv pioneers understood that kiruv is no different. Encouraging a Jew to perform a Mitzvah here or to adopt a custom there is simply insufficient. It is all about bringing people to a way of life devoted to Torah and to Mesora, a life that will transmit to their progeny a fighting chance to live a fully-observant, fully-actualized Jewish life. If kiruv has done its job, the children of baalei teshuva will be able to pursue such a life because of their parents’ choices, while most contemporary Jews would be willing to embrace such a life only despite their parents’ choices.

A clarification: Although much of what I am saying holds true in analyzing any outreach endeavor, my emphasis is on efforts aimed at younger Jewish singles. Couples and families, who are often unable to make radical changes in their lives for other pragmatic reasons, have always been a large segment of the Baal Teshuva population. They present, however, a different dynamic. Their progress is often made in fits and starts, and is not easily measured. Such populations make up the challenge faced by kiruv-oriented shuls and, if a city is blessed to have one, a community kollel. Together, they are best positioned to support and guide these families.

Battling Intermarriage is Simply Ineffective

An oft-repeated justification for broad-based though shallow outreach is that the effort stymies intermarriage. Tragically, however, simply preventing intermarriage is an almost meaningless and typically short-lived victory, which I do not believe justifies the allocation of precious communal resources.

Without a deeper commitment to Jewish custom and theology, many Jewish marriages can be called Jewish in sociological terms, only. When the Jewish basis of their union is simply the circumstances of their partner’s birth, there is no evidence that they will be any more motivated to pursue Jewish spiritual growth. Absent a decision to pursue a strong Jewish education for their children, the next generation will be no closer to Judaism than their parents were, usually calling for a repeat struggle to avoid intermarriage.

The sole argument in favor of battling intermarriage without deeper Jewish meaning is that such efforts will, at least, retain the possibility that the next generation will become more Jewishly involved. But this is the same hope one would have if a Jewish woman married a Gentile – namely, at least there is a possibility the Jewish child could become more attached to Jewish tradition. There was a time when delaying the hope for another generation seemed harmless. But the forces of assimilation are overwhelming now, and we do not have another generation to wait. Basic logic dictates, therefore, that this goal justifies an allocation of resources only if it comes at no cost to true kiruv, which is providing non-observant Jews with access to the meaning and understanding of authentic Judaism.

The Preferred Approach

The proper allocation of communal resources – both financial and human – needs to be an initial allocation to broad-based outreach, but only to the extent that such outreach is directly intertwined with true kiruv follow up.

What are the components of this true kiruv?

• Emuna: Integral to any true kiruv effort is the communication of emuna (religious faith) to the non-observant Jew. Jews are a creative and immensely talented people, and there is much pride in belonging to such a tribe. In addition, Judaism is built upon an intellectually rigorous oral tradition that continues to beguile and enchant even the most sophisticated newcomers. But in addition to peoplehood and letters, Judaism must also be understood as a religion. That means kiruv must be upfront about G-d, Torah and Mitzvos, and the centrality of belief in Hashem and in the mesorah (the chain of tradition). Contemporary outreach tends to sidestep this basic point. The very mention of G-d is often avoided, and Jewish identity and pride are often pursued in place of spirituality. In the context of true kiruv, this serves no one well.

Kiruv must provide intense one-on-one attention, addressing a person’s questions but also his or her situation. Some people need significant assistance before deciding to become observant. Certain Jews are troubled by academic challenges to authentic Judaism, with searching questions about Biblical Criticism or other conundrums posed by the university study of Judaism. Others only need to learn the fundamentals of spirituality and the principles of Torah thought. But avoiding the core vitality of our religion is not only dishonest, but also ineffective as a kiruv approach.

• Individuality: Each Jew’s journey is different, and his/her needs are unique. Some will discover the elegance of learning while others the tranquility of Shabbat. Some will find the holiness of Judaism in action, and others in self-improvement. People’s familial and social backgrounds will also significantly influence their proper integration into Judaism. Some will bear the burden of intermarried parents or non-Jewish fathers. Others may face difficult career transitions when readying themselves for marriage or the creation of a Jewish family.
True and effective kiruv requires an intensive approach that demands a lot more attention, a lot more teaching, and a lot more individual face-time. A long period in Yeshiva, which remains an elite experience, is not an absolute requirement, but it remains imperative that those who seek to join the Orthodox community are provided ample opportunities to attend high-level teaching and that they have access to constant doses of guidance.

After all, the Jew needs to feel the empowering sense of connection to Hashem and to know that the transformation from a secular lifestyle to one of Torah and Mitzvos is doable, and that it fits them. They need to be sure that they will land softly, that their life’s dreams and aspirations won’t be stifled, and that their actualization as people will be enhanced, and not retarded.

• Mentors: Authentic kiruv requires many mentors. A single source of guidance and influence is both ineffective and dangerous. Consequently, a city with a kiruv-minded community kollel is so much more effective than a community with merely a solo, kiruv-oriented community rabbi. These multiple mentors must function as more than mere cheerleaders. The Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer begins with a tearful Eliezer ben Horkenas pining to learn Torah. The episode ends with him paired up to learn birkas hamazon (Grace after Meals) with no less than the leader of the Jewish people, Raban Yochanan ben Zachai in Yerushalayim. Could there have been a more inspiring learning experience? For bentsching! Training for outreach professionals does not always emphasize the need for an encounter with this kind of teacher. And great talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) must not feel that working with baalei teshuva is beneath them.

And how many teachers are really needed? A visitor to a successful kiruv retreat once remarked to the head of the program, “There’s a lot of staff here,” to which the program head responded, “Ever been to an operating room? Two doctors, three nurses, and an anesthesiologist – all for one patient. Sounds like a lot of staff.”

The Role of the Philanthropist

The emphasis on quantifying the numbers of baalei teshuva resulting from kiruv endeavors undermines all of this. Demanding high volume is no more productive than employing an assembly line to create great art. A neshama is Hashem’s handiwork and it must be connected to its roots with individual loving care. Most baalei teshuva have career paths and life experiences which require specialized guidance. There is no room for cookie-cutter approaches or speedy pit stops. Too often the emphasis on numbers seems to assume that this work can be done like an oil change.

Outreach may be measured in numbers but kiruv cannot. In Jewish communal life, a partnership must be forged between the communal professional and the funder. While communal professionals are relied upon to make proposals regarding communal initiatives and to lead in their implementation, the donor is tasked with not only providing the financial support but also serving as a check on the efforts of communal professionals. This is intended to ensure that resources are employed thoughtfully and responsibly, and that efforts do not merely reflect the visions and inclinations of the visionary communal activist but are also effective and necessary.

In the kiruv world, as in other areas of Jewry, donors are most generous with their funding, but many are too deferential and inattentive. For example, few supporters focus on the need to balance outreach with kiruv, or the simple ineffectiveness of seeking to avoid intermarriage when not followed up with adequate kiruv efforts.

According to Thomas Tierney and Joel Fleischman in their book Give Smart, philanthropy should proceed through three essential steps –get personal, get clear, and then get real[1]. A funder must begin by identifying where his or her personal passion lies. The next step, getting clear, is about settling on clear goals. Funders must decide: Is the goal outreach or kiruv? Lastly, getting real means being realistic about how to successfully implement one’s vision.

The greatest struggle seems to be to “get clear,” as fuzzy-headedness about goals is pervasive. Also challenging is to “get real.” For example, we must be realistic about the fact that kiruv programs are expensive. All labor intensive endeavors are expensive, and this one requires a lot of person-to- person interaction. Starving such programs of money is not clear-headed thinking, and neither is imposing number quotas on them. In the end, sustainable human choices are involved, and no formula or approach can guarantee what anyone will choose.

Measuring success needs to be focused on making sure outreach efforts effectively coordinate with kiruv programs. Then at least they will be held to account for giving young Jews the chance to choose.

Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman is the rabbi of Congregaation Emek Beracha in Palo Alto, CA.

1 Tierney, Thomas and Fleischman, Joel, Give Smart: Philanthropy that Gets Results. Published by PublicAffairs (2011). Professor Fleischman’s name will be familiar to many readers because of its appearance in the first few pages of every Mesorah Publication from the Artscroll Siddur to the Schottenstein Shas. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Mesorah Heritage Foundation, chaired by R’ Dovid Feinstein, Shlit’a.

Rabbi Eli Gewirtz

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Outreach is In

OUTREACH TO UNAFFILIATED and marginally-affiliated Jews, while by no means a new phenomenon, has taken on a higher profile in recent years. Professionally-staffed organizations offer a wide range of programs, from free trips to Israel and “crash courses” on everything Jewish, to volunteer-driven chavrusa programs and assorted other projects that aim to share the beauty of Judaism with fellow Jews. Outreach is clearly on the community agenda – as is fundraising to support these efforts.

With tzedakah dollars in short supply, however, there are those who question whether the community can afford to allocate funds to outreach when there are so many other pressing communal needs. Even without the proactive efforts of the various outreach projects, there exists a palpable thirst for Jewish knowledge among Jews of all ages, affiliations and levels of observance. Whose obligation is it to quench the thirst for Jewish knowledge and increased Jewish involvement sparked by Birthright, for example? Should it be left to the Federations? What about the thousands of Jews who search the Internet each and every day seeking opportunities to connect with their heritage? Who will be there for them if not us?

Still, questions about outreach remain, even for the outreach enthusiast. Here are a few:

Consider for a moment what constitutes success in outreach. Is it a feeling of Jewish pride? When someone decides to become fully mitzvah-observant? When parents enroll their children in a Jewish day school? When someone decides to date only Jews?

Suppose someone previously impacted by an organization’s efforts becomes committed to Judaism only after being involved over a span of years with a variety of rabbis and organizations. Can it perhaps be argued that some of the organizations along the chain were superfluous or redundant?

Finally, consider the following typical scenario: An organization with a staff of ten professionals successfully attracts hundreds of people each year to its events, but develops a strong bond with only a small number of these participants. The cost of running these events is considerable and in some cases prohibitive, but they do reach large numbers of people. Should they perhaps consider running fewer events aimed at complete beginners, and focus their primary efforts on individuals who have demonstrated a sincere interest in Judaism? This approach would minimize the number of people exposed to Judaism, but offer the regulars a greater degree of attention, likely improving the program’s long-term impact. Or does the positive exposure afforded to the larger numbers provide sufficient justification for its larger scale scope and budget?

What follows is a personal perspective expressed with the goal of generating discussion. The reader is invited to disagree, and I assume that many will. Here are my thoughts:

Stating the seemingly obvious, organizations dedicated to outreach should be focused on making an appreciable and lasting impact[1]on the majority of their participants. As acknowledged, there may be no novelty in this idea but, at the risk of stating the obvious twice, the reader is asked to note three of the words used: appreciable, lasting and majority.

Making an appreciable and lasting impact is an objective – not a guaranteed outcome. It is dependent on each and every participant’s individual choice and personal circumstances. That said, certain factors seem to be universal among those who’ve chosen to become more Jewishly committed: a) Commitment evolves over a period of time, usually a considerable period of time. b) Commitment occurs after having had numerous positive Jewish experiences and almost always as a result of being involved with a variety of mentors, programs and organizations. c) Commitment almost always involves a substantive, ongoing, personal relationship with at least one Jewish role model over a one-to-two-year period. This role model is in addition to the organization’s staff who, while stellar role models themselves, simply do not have the time to offer the time-consuming, weekly attention, that each person requires.

The necessity for a long-term relationship with a role model cannot be overstated. In addition to serving as mentors for students as they navigate through their initial questions and struggles, this role model is often the primary, and sometimes the only, source of support for students, long after they graduate from the status of ‘student’. This is especially true for baalei teshuva, who in many cases make significant changes in their lifestyle only to discover that the teachers who always seemed to be readily accessible are no longer nearly as available. In contrast to long-time Jewish community members who enjoy extensive support from family and friends, these brave men and women suddenly find themselves without families to go to for yomim tovim and without a network of support – just when they need it most. One can only imagine the pain experienced by someone who effectively turned their life upside down to become more observant only to sever their religious ties in frustration after feeling unsupported in their everyday life. This phenomenon is unfortunately not uncommon.

Having established that making an appreciable and lasting impact ought to be the organization’s driving objective, organizations would do well to a) clearly define their objectives and hoped-for outcomes, and b) have a system in place for evaluating whether they are achieving their objectives. Without a clearly articulated goal, it is impossible to accurately gauge their success. Without an objective system for self-evaluation, they can’t possibly know what they’re doing right, and what needs to be tweaked, fixed, or completely revised. A survey of all participants conducted by an independent entity is an excellent way for organizations to accomplish this goal. It’s also a good way to demonstrate the organization’s effectiveness to donors and potential donors. Anecdotal “evidence” will only go so far.

Funders of outreach projects need to be careful not to confuse ‘numbers’ with ‘impact.’ On the surface, an organization that can attract many hundreds of people to its events can appear to be more successful than those that reach fewer people. Such thinking however, can place an unhealthy emphasis on reaching ever greater numbers of people, effectively ensuring that even fewer numbers of the participants receive the individualized attention so critical to their growth.

Finally, while many, if not most, organizations make an appreciable and lasting impact on many of their participants, few are equipped to make an appreciable and lasting impact on the majority of their participants. Nor should they be expected to. Why not? A medical analogy may be useful here. An expectant woman with a heart condition must be seen by her cardiologist throughout her pregnancy, but it would be foolhardy for her to expect the cardiologist to deliver the baby. It would be equally foolhardy for her to expect her cardiologist or obstetrician to personally provide the tender, ongoing homecare she’ll require once her child is delivered.

By their nature, outreach organizations have a limited number of professionals. To be sure, their staff is likely more versatile than most medical specialists and can simultaneously wear many hats. Yet, with only seven days in a week to work their magic, they simply can’t offer a full range of services for every one of the multitude of people who come through their doors each year. Unsurprisingly, the one service which tends to suffer the most is the matching of each student with a role model that can potentially develop into a long-term personal relationship. Even when offered, not every student will take advantage of such an opportunity. However, failing to offer such a provision practically guarantees that the majority of their participants will eventually drop off the map.

A number of organizations do have one or two staff members whose responsibilities include “follow-up.” This generally means that someone will reach out and “stay in touch” with the program’s alumni, and, where appropriate, inform them of events or programs in their area. Well-meaning as such efforts may be, they invariably fail to have any staying power. In some of the better-case scenarios, the follow-up person may arrange for participants to be matched with a family that will hopefully adopt the student and cultivate the necessary long-term relationship. Though certainly beneficial, such endeavors often fall short of meeting their objectives. Unmonitored as they are, these families may or may not follow through, the student may or may not ‘click’ with the family, and the relationship may or may not continue with any regularity over an extended period of time.

The discerning reader may detect a personal bias– that organizations work strategically and cooperatively with others, such as Partners in Torah, that have the ability to simultaneously offer ongoing, personalized attention to thousands of people.

With budgets nearing, or in excess of, a million dollars for the typical organization, it seems only logical for each organization to do what it does best – offer a meaningful Jewish experience to as many men and women as possible, effectively demonstrate the beauty and vibrancy of Jewish life, and engage participants in learning and other Jewish activities. The time-consuming and long-term relationship building, on the other hand, should be left to dedicated volunteers that are professionally coordinated and monitored on an ongoing basis. Consider the efficiency of this model: one paid coordinator can effectively manage 250 volunteers! In simple dollars-and-cents terms, that’s an additional 250 devoted staff members for the price of one. Seems like a pretty good deal.

To be sure, not every outreach student will be attracted to the idea of studying. While a surprisingly large number of people will opt for this when it is diligently promoted (and only if it is diligently promoted), some will require a different type of ongoing personal relationship which organizations such as Partners in Torah cannot provide. Nonetheless, the burden on the organization can be drastically reduced if they outsourced at least those who would benefit from this very personal and effective weekly studying experience.

Several organizations agree. After experimenting with a number of other models for follow-up, two national organizations and a handful of smaller organizations have partnered on some level with Partners in Torah to ensure that their follow-up will be properly managed and monitored. Some have created their own Partners in Torah face-to-face program to service as many people locally as possible, and refer the rest to Partners in Torah’s national office to be matched with an over-the-phone study partner. Both groups, those who are serviced locally and those who study over the phone, are entered into a database to which the individual organizations have full access, allowing anyone whose “partnership” dissolves to be quickly matched with a new mentor.

Another invaluable benefit of being part of a larger database is that the organization can then learn about Partners in Torah’s former and current participants in its area, giving the organization access to numerous, and in many cases hundreds of, ‘warm’ leads.

If such a solution exists, one wonders why others have not yet jumped at the opportunity.

One explanation might be the fear of another organization encroaching on their potential fundraising prospects. Petty as this may sound, in the real world, organizations struggle mightily to meet their budgets, and such thinking can enter the equation. The following anecdote illustrates just how this may play out in real life:

Some time ago, I made a fundraising call to someone who had been learning with Partners in Torah for over 10 years. After I introduced myself to him, the gentleman spent several minutes extolling the virtues of Partners in Torah and how he considers it one of the most valuable services offered by the Jewish community. He continued to describe how his family’s life had been forever changed by Partners in Torah and how proud he was that both his children were now attending a Jewish day school. I then asked him to consider making a donation of $1,800. Without hesitating, he responded that although he loves the organization, he could not make a contribution at this time. He explained that he and his wife had donated a building to the local day school and a Sefer Torah to their shul that very year, and they could not afford to make an additional charitable contribution. I thanked him for what he had done for his community and hung up the phone wondering whether we had somehow failed by not doing a better job of holding onto him so that we too could benefit from his largesse. How is it, I wondered, that the day school and shul benefitted so greatly from our efforts while we wouldn’t even receive a relatively minor contribution? I then realized (okay, maybe not right away) that while we may never enjoy his financial backing, this was a major success story.

As this story demonstrates, success can be determined by the net gain to the Jewish community. If so, then maybe, just maybe, outreach organizations (dare I say, all Jewish organizations?) would do well to start thinking about how we can all work towards the common goal of making an appreciable and lasting impact on the Jewish community. Furthermore, as noted earlier, increased commitment to Judaism generally happens only after having been involved with a variety of mentors, programs and organizations. As such, for an organization to accomplish its goals, it needs its students to connect with other Jewish organizations. Taking this a step further, any barometer of an organization’s success should include an assessment of the existence and the quality of its involvement with other organizations.

Overly idealistic though it may sound, the question of how organizations can at least begin to work together should be on the agenda of every outreach organization. While the idea may never be realized in its fullest sense – and will likely encounter some resistance – funders of the various outreach initiatives have an opportunity to nudge this process along by making it clear to outreach professionals that they consider the creation of inter-organizational partnerships an indication of the organization’s strength, rather than a sign of weakness. This small step could go a long way in addressing some of the questions raised earlier and in ensuring that we collectively make an appreciable and lasting impact on the Jewish community at large.

Rabbi Eli Gewirtz is the National Director of Partners in Torah.

1 The term “impact” is intentionally vague as organizations have different ways of defining the outcomes they hope to achieve. Whatever the definition, it should measurable and at the end of the day, appreciable. It should be noted as well that this article focuses on organizations. Individuals who choose to share the beauty of Judaism with fellow Jews should not be focused on making a measurable impact. For reasons too numerous to spell out here, such a focus is almost always counter-productive.

Jonathan Rosenblum

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

The Mitzvah of Kiruv Does Not Change

I WRITE FROM A DIFFERENT perspective than most of the contributors to this symposium – not from the point of view of the kiruv professional, but as a beneficiary of the kiruv movement that first began to flourish in the early ‘70s. My wife and I came to Israel in 1979 on our honeymoon and found our way to Ohr Somayach, where I learned for over two years, which were followed by nearly a decade of full-time kollel learning. I am also currently at work on a biography of Rabbi Noach Weinberg, the great visionary of the early ba’al teshuva movement.

Apart from a lack of Yiddish – which in America can give one away as a ba’al teshuva – my wife and I would appear to be well-integrated into mainstream Torah society: We have both held public positions, our children’s shidduchim do not seem to have been adversely affected by any stigma attaching to being ba’alei teshuva and we function comfortably within Israeli chareidi society (or at least our particular subgroup of that society).

Yet it would not be fully accurate to say that we have ceased to be ba’alei teshuva. Many of our closest friends are those with whom we have shared the journey, including, in my case, three siblings. And we continue to interact on a regular basis with a variety of ba’al teshuva institutions. I am a frequent visitor to both Ohr Somayach and Aish HaTorah, and a few years back had a morning chavrusah in Darchei Noam, another ba’al teshuva yeshiva, whose rosh yeshiva is my next door neighbor.

We regularly host guests from the two ba’al teshuva yeshivos in our Har Nof neighborhood – Machon Shlomo and Machon Yaakov, where my youngest brother teaches – and from Neve Yerushalayim, the ba’al teshuva seminary in Har Nof. In addition, I’m often struck by how many of the mainstream yeshiva and seminary students who join us for Shabbos are themselves the children of ba’alei teshuva.

On my travels, too – at least those outside the New York metropolitan area – I’m acutely aware of the large number of ba’alei teshuva whom I meet. Nearly a quarter of the Johannesburg community today is shomer Shabbos, the highest percentage of any Jewish community in the world, outside Israel. Yet until the early 1970s, there was scarcely a shomer Shabbos community at all in South Africa, apart from a small German-Jewish kehillah. Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein is himself a product of the wave of teshuva that swept South Africa from that time, and despite his relative youth, is fast emerging as one of the most dynamic and articulate spokesmen for Orthodox Judaism in the world.

I spent a Shabbos a few years back in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody, in a congregation led by Rabbi Binyamin Friedman. Fifteen years ago, there was not a shomer Shabbos Jew in Dunwoody. Today there is a vibrant Orthodox shul, which began as an outgrowth of an adult education series under the auspices of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel (ASK). On a recent visit to Cincinnati, I heard about a suburban Conservative synagogue that was taken over by a dynamic young Orthodox rav, who started with an Orthodox minyan in the basement. Rabbi Yaakov Meyer in Denver has created a thriving shul in a neighborhood that was previously without any shomer Shabbos families. And for good measure, I can easily rattle off another dozen shuls in which I have spent Shabbos in which the majority – usually a large majority – of the mispallelim did not grow up in shomer Shabbos homes or are geirim.

The four founders of the Dallas Kollel (DATA), all of whom learned in kollel under Rav Tzvi Kushlevsky while I was there, literally transformed the Dallas Jewish community, as detailed by Rabbi Benzi Epstein elsewhere in this issue.

Last winter, I spent a week speaking for Aish HaTorah – U.K. I was astounded by the dedication of the team of rabbis to changing the face of Anglo Jewry. On a Friday afternoon less than two hours before Shabbos, there were still ten people working in the London headquarters. Over a week in England, I managed only a partial glimpse of the organization’s overall approach, which included a distinct action plan targeting every demographic of Anglo Jewry – from high-flying yuppies and Oxbridge students to the rundown neighborhoods in which most London Jews once lived. Over the last decade, Aish – U.K.’s manifold activities have resulted in a statistically demonstrable decline in the British intermarriage rate.

WHAT IS MY INTENT with this pointillist presentation? It is simply to point out how much kiruv is going on today and how much energy and creativity many mekarvavim devote to the task. To one for whom ba’alei teshuva are real life individuals, and not just statistics – admittedly a small percentage of all American Jewry – the question of whether too much time and money was devoted to introducing them to Torah takes on an entirely different perspective.

Kiruv is not just something that happened in the halcyon days of the ‘70s among back-packing hippies picked up by Rabbi Meir Schuster at the Kotel. It is happening today as well, even if those coming to ba’alei teshuva yeshivos are more likely to be Wharton grads than spiritual seekers fresh from the Himalayas.

Kiruv was always a frustrating enterprise, and it always will be. Every ba’al teshuva is at some level a miracle. The odds are always against someone thoroughly reexamining the default assumptions with which he or she was raised. Ba’alei teshuva cannot be “made” (as in the ugly phrase “I made so-and-so frum”) or mass produced. Even in the imaginary golden age of kiruv, not more than one out of ten who entered the doors of Aish HaTorah or Ohr Somayach stayed for any period of time.

About thirty years ago, a close friend of mine from Ohr Somayach who was then a congregational rabbi in the South, remarked at an AJOP convention, “It’s so hard to influence someone to become a ba’al teshuva.” Bracha Zaret, who founded JAM (Jewish Awareness Movement) on the UCLA campus together with her husband Rabbi Moshe Dovid Zaret, responded, “It’s not so hard. You just have to care enough.” (Anyone who doubts the impact of present day kiruv should take a look at the JAM photo album of recently married graduates of its programs at UCLA and other Southern California campuses.)

Rebbetzin Zaret’s insight remains true today. And that is what I was attempting to demonstrate above. Those who come to the task with passion, the ability to show genuine concern for their fellow Jews, and a solid base in Torah learning will have a positive impact on Jewish lives. Some will be more productive and some less, but over time they will all witness “miracles” they can point to with pride.

Sometimes the seeds they plant will only take root years later and may be watered by others in the interim. And sometimes their impact will only be charted by a Divine calculus, as even those Jews who appear to find their way to Torah through pure serendipity may well be the Divinely ordained beneficiary of the efforts of some determined, selfless kiruv worker half way around the globe.

The nature of kiruv does not remain static. The field is not the same as it was forty years ago. The rapid decline of the Conservative Movement, in particular, and of Jewish identity among the young, in general, are real challenges. So is the uncertain economic future facing many college graduates, which makes them less willing to take off a year or more for full-time study in Israel.

But contrary to what we may think, the environment for kiruv has improved in many respects. The resources available for kiruv – both human and financial – dwarf what was available then. In the early days of the modern kiruv revolution, virtually the only ones available to go out into the field were themselves ba’alei teshuva, often relatively freshly minted. Today, the field is as likely to attract those who have spent their entire lives in mainstream yeshivos. In the London branch of Aish HaTorah, for instance, all but one of the ten senior staff members are the product of a mainstream yeshiva.

In the early ‘70s, there were almost no English-language works available for a Jew whose curiosity about Torah was piqued at any level. Today, top quality translations of Gemara and Chumash (with Rashi and Ramban) exist, and much of the classic Torah literature has been translated as well. The number of English-language works available – both inspirational and explanatory – many of them produced by ba’alei teshuva – has increased exponentially. The Internet has made it possible for a Jew in the most isolated outpost to access an almost endless supply of shiurim on any topic he chooses, as well as a dozen Ask-the-Rabbi sites.

And perhaps most importantly, the recognition is growing in the Orthodox community, through organizations such as Partners in Torah and Project Inspire, that kiruv is too important to leave to the professionals. It is an obligation incumbent on the entire community. That recognition greatly multiplies the available manpower, and makes possible much more of the crucial informal kiruv done at the Shabbos table.

I DO NOT MEAN TO ARGUE that everything is so hunky-dory in kiruv that we need not bother measuring the success of various kiruv efforts. I do believe, however, that a great deal of energy is currently wasted massaging numbers to satisfy donors, and that many workers in the field ignore their own best instincts in favor of programs that generate “measurable outcomes”.

There is virtually no area in which the Torah world would not benefit from a great deal more hard data, and kiruv is no exception. It is not a static field. The opening of the gates of the FSU in the early ‘90s, for instance, brought into play an entirely new demographic and mandated a reallocation of communal resources. It did not take a weatherman then to know which way the wind was blowing. But there are more subtle shifts in the responses of different population groups to kiruv efforts that require more sophisticated statistical analysis. (I, for one, am convinced that kiruv efforts in Israel offer greater potential return on the kiruv dollar.)

There are also more talented and less talented kiruv professionals. Though the difference may not be easily discerned in one year or two, over time it likely will be. Identifying those who possess the requisite chemistry is clearly a desideratum, and it makes sense to direct greater resources in their direction. (It is possible, however, that someone who was only minimally successful in one institutional structure will be much more successful in a structure more suited to his particular talents.)

My guess is that those who receive little positive reinforcement from the targets of their efforts will leave the field of their own accord, simply for the lack of satisfaction. (Unfortunately, even some who do have that positive feedback may leave the field for other reasons, such as the lack of suitable schooling for their children near their university campus.)

THE QUESTIONS POSED by the editors of Klal Perspectives implicitly ask whether the results from current kiruv efforts justify the amounts currently being expended, and whether money now spent on kiruv would be better directed to other communal needs – the most often mentioned of which is kiruv k’rovim.

With respect to the comparison between kiruv k’rovim versus kiruv rechokim, I would argue that the two go hand-in-hand. A community that does not hold its own young will of necessity be less attractive to outsiders. (That contradiction makes frequently heard calls for a major proselytizing effort among gentiles by rabbis in the hemorrhaging Conservative movement so pathetic.) For instance, college students from non-Orthodox homes are unlikely to be positively influenced by their Shabbos observant friends’ rapid flight from Torah observance as soon as they arrive at college.

Conversely, an Orthodox community whose members give more thought to why they feel fortunate to have been born into a Torah observant family and how to convey those feelings to those not so privileged would be better equipped to hold its young. Young people who toss off observance at the first opportunity – not because of any familial or personal dysfunction, but because they have never found mitzvah observance to be anything other than a set of unwanted restrictions – have likely never heard their parents express much excitement about being an Orthodox Jew or demonstrate that excitement in their behavior.

I DO NOT BELIEVE that the claim of kiruv rechokim to communal support can be evaluated by any specific metric – e.g., how much was spent last year per college student who went to study in yeshiva or a seminary in Israel – without adding a lot of other factors to the equation, many of them difficult or impossible to measure.

Among those factors is what the ba’alei teshuva bring to the Torah community. Here I write as a ba’al teshuva partisan who is convinced that the contribution of ba’alei teshuva has been considerable. Even if the numbers entering were merely equal to those leaving the Torah community, I would argue there has been a net gain in quality. Let me just mention a few of those contributions.

Just as Orthodox-educated university students in full flight from observance send a negative message to other Jewish students, so too do those becoming powerfully attracted to a Torah life send a positive message to Orthodox students. On a personal level, I remember the decision of a brilliant college friend to undergo a halachic conversion, after much learning, as a powerful impetus to look more deeply into my own Judaism.

Ba’alei teshuva have brought energy and enthusiasm, as well as many skills in short supply, to the Torah community. Those coming from sophisticated secular backgrounds helped create an audience for some of the deepest Torah thinkers of our time, such as Rav Moshe Shapiro. And they have also used to their command of contemporary intellectual idiom – Rabbis Akiva Tatz and Jeremy Kagan come immediately to mind – to make the Torah of those thinkers available to a broad audience, including those without an extensive Torah background.

The ba’al teshuva movement has pushed the Torah community to live up to its own highest ideals. Because ba’alei teshuva were often attracted to Torah observance through contact with some of the most exemplary figures within the Torah world – my own list would start with Rabbi Aharon Feldman and libadel bein chaim l’chaim, Rabbi Nachman Bulman – they demand that the Torah world live up to its own highest ideals, and are less willing to accept certain failings as “normal.”

Members of the Torah community involved in kiruv are acutely aware that their actions can have a powerful impact for good or bad on the perception of Torah life of not-yet-religious Jews. The greater the communal involvement in kiruv – which is by definition outward-looking – the greater the incentive to behave better. (As a general rule, the more isolated and self-enclosed a Torah community is the worse will the behavior of its members be, particularly with respect to mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro.)

Finally, ba’alei teshuva, who have personally experienced the difference between a life of Torah and mitzvos and one without, still tend to bring the greatest passion to kiruv work and constitute a disproportionate percentage of those active in the field.

NO LESS IMPORTANT than what the ba’alei teshuva bring is what the Torah community would lose by making a strategic decision to retreat from kiruv. That retreat would constitute a betrayal of some of the most fundamental Torah values. At present, the Torah community is the last bastion of Klal Yisrael consciousness. Only those who believe in a Divine mission given to the Jewish People at Sinai can offer a coherent account of what binds Jews together. Knesses Yisrael is the corporate identity of the Jewish People, of which each individual Jew is a part. Halachically, that concept is expressed as areivus – e.g., no Jew has fully discharged his halachic obligations, such as Kiddush, until each Jew has done so.

To turn our back on kiruv would constitute denial of Klal Yisrael – of the shared destiny of the Jewish people and the mutual concern incumbent on each of us. As a sometime apologist for the Torah community, I’m frequently asked whether Torah Jews care about anyone besides their own community. I always point to the tens of millions of dollars raised each year in the Torah community to support kiruv work – e.g., the entire SHUVU school system, which boasts superior secular studies and an enriched Jewish education, supported to the tune of over ten million dollars a year by American baalebatim. Shuvu was founded at the request of the late Rabbi Avrohom Pam, to serve children from Russian-speaking families in Israel. (Yes, I do understand that non-religious Jews might not consider that form of concern benevolent.)

With respect to the shared fate of all Jews, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe frequently pointed out that Mashiach will not come until all Jews do teshuva (see Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva 7:5), and therefore everyone who is able must help his fellow Jews come close to Hashem. Failure to attempt to bring other Jews back is thus tantamount to giving up hope in the coming of Mashiach.

Kiruv rechokim is an obligation touching on some of the strictest mitzvos both in the area of bein adam l’Makom (between man and G-d) and in the area of bein adam l’chaveiro (between man and man). The Ramchal, quoting Tanna d’vei Eliyahu, writes that the lowly state of the Jewish people – e.g., prolonged exile, the Bais HaMikdash in ruins – constitutes a chillul Hashem. So too is the near total ignorance of Torah and mitzvos of the vast majority of His Chosen People.

In a pamphlet written in 1905 called Chizuk HaDat, the Chofetz Chaim quotes the Sifri on the verse, “And you shall love the L-rd, your G-d,” which refers to Avraham Avinu as “the one who loves Me.” From here, the Chofetz Chaim derives that the essence of the Love of G-d is to “call others to Him.” And similarly, when one does not devote himself to combating the disgrace to Hashem that results from widespread alienation from His commandments, one demonstrates his indifference to Hashem’s honor.

The Chovos Halevovos writes that even one who has perfected his soul to the level of perfection of the prophets does not enjoy the reward of “one who shows others the proper path and turns the wicked around to the service of Hashem” (Sha’ar Avodas HaElokim 5:6). And in Sha’ar HaBitachon, Chapter 4, he goes even further and writes that even one’s good deeds do not entitle him to reward in the World to Come unless he also teaches “others about the service of G-d and guides them in doing good.”

In the above-mentioned pamphlet, the Chofetz Chaim describes the failure to act to rescue one’s fellow Jew from ignorance of Torah as transgression in bein adam l’chaveiro – a form of “don’t stand idly by on your brother’s blood. Therefore, he writes, if one cannot save one’s fellow Jew himself, he is required to hire others to do so.

Just as lack of effort to bring Jews closer to Hashem reflects a lack of ahavas Hashem (love of G-d), so too does it reflect a lack of ahavas Yisrael (love of one’s fellow Jew) and of belief in the “genetic” connection of every Jew to a life of Torah and mitzvos.

Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist, author, biographer and lecturer.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

It’s not Your Mother’s Kiruv

THIS IS THE STORY of how I, as one of the editors of Klal Perspectives, lost my place in kiruv Paradise, and how I found my way back again.

As I dove into the submissions we received for this issue, little did I realize that I would find it similar to beholding what used to be an angelic child who has turned into a teenager. The experience can age a person beyond his years. I found myself traveling back to memories of another time in kiruv, and comparing the outreach of old with descriptions of the current version. Soon I was longing for an era that seemed to have passed without our realizing that it had slipped by. How had things become so….different? I began to fret. Could this work? What would the future bring?

As an editor of Klal Perspectives, I had hoped that this issue would offer a change of pace after the ponderous topics of previous issues. Here was a topic, I thought, that would elicit a plethora of completely upbeat responses. Every article, I expected, would bring a smile to readers’ lips.

Many readers will react that way, and I am happy for them. We did, after all, gratefully receive a good number of thoughtful responses from highly competent practitioners of kiruv.

I, however, could not manage a broad, cheek-to-cheek grin. I found myself discomfited by some unanswered questions and challenges. We had posed some very specific questions to our potential contributors. Some were particularly difficult. I am an enthusiastic kiruv booster, but I am painfully aware of the new-fangled skepticism about kiruv, and I wanted the authors to convince us that the outreach enterprise remains one of the crown jewels of contemporary Torah living. I was hoping that the authors would make an effective case that kiruv should occupy a position of prominence on the hierarchy of community priorities. I wanted to feel good, but did not want to receive self-congratulatory testimonials.

We had issued a challenge to our writers: show us that kiruv pays off. Justify the expense in time, talent and money. Show us that kiruv has not stalled out. Demonstrate how it is cost effective. Hit us with cold facts and figures – the case you would make to reassure an efficiency-oriented donor. As I started reading the contributions, I grew concerned. I was learning a good deal about some genuinely exciting new strategies and programs, but I was not getting the reassurances that I was looking for. Almost unanimously, contributors simply avoided answering the questions, or explained why they could not provide the requested facts and arguments. Some explained why it is difficult to provide a metric for kiruv success. Nonetheless, they confidently insisted that kiruv was a worthwhile endeavor. (I was already convinced of that.) Most of the other articles seemed to say, “You asked us to hit one out of the park. We are not sure we can do that in regard to numbers and cost-efficiencies. But we can nail a line drive just over the head of the shortstop – at least our particular organization can – and that will get a player to first base.” My hope – shared by some of my colleagues – is that the contributors, after reading the other pieces in this issue and hearing some of the critique by their fellow kiruv professionals, will respond with follow-up articles or letters, which we will be happy to publish.

This, however, was not altogether reassuring. In first reading the submissions, I found myself looking at something very different from what I had committed myself to some decades ago. I was used to passion and exuberance on the part of kiruv professionals – dreamy visions of an idyllic future, couched in superlatives. In the kiruv I knew and championed, it was taken for granted that vigorous outreach would both change the face of the frum community, and lead the rest of Jewry back to observance. All Jews back then were divided into three categories: FFB’s, BT’s, and NYBT’s, the last acronym indicating Not Yet Baalei Teshuva. The new realities that now stood before my eyes weighed heavily upon my mood. So much had changed from the kiruv of yesteryear!

What changed? Here is a quick inventory of the differences.

  • Who is doing it. Kiruv had come of age since the time that our impressions of it were created. It had once been the peg upon which a small number of souls on fire hung their visionary hats. Once a small number of impassioned souls heeded a call to rescue their brothers and sisters from impending doom. They were an expeditionary force sent into a war zone, trudging through the mire of cynicism and rejection, and carrying huge burdens of fundraising in their backpacks. Today, kiruv is a job description. For a yungerman on the cusp of leaving kollel to earn a living, and without any specific career training, one of the options for consideration is kiruv. (This does not imply that such people will not do a good job. Clearly, many rise to the occasion once they learn the ropes. They deserve credit and appreciation for locating themselves in communities that some of their peers will not consider. Nonetheless, what used to be an expeditionary force has become a regular army.) In earlier times, mekarvim boldly proclaimed that they could turn around a generation. Those they would inspire would in turn inspire their families and friends, and an entire people could be turned around. It didn’t quite happen. To be sure, across North America, baalei teshuvah have increased the numbers of mispallelim in shuls and children in the classroom. They have introduced new skills and a renewed enthusiasm to Orthodoxy Judaism. Like most revolutions, however, by the second generation they had become establishment. Today, kiruv is similar to a rescue effort after an earthquake. You tend to the victims you think you can still save, aware that most will remain buried under the rubble.
  • Who is open to it. Kiruv used to be looking to a different audience. The spiritual seekers of the Sixties and Seventies – the low-hanging fruit at the Kotel on the way back from Tibet, waiting to be plucked by R. Meir Schuster (may HKBH send him a refuah bekarov) and ably directed to a Shabbos meal or a yeshivah – are nowhere to be found. The number of mekarvim has dramatically grown, but enrollment in kiruv yeshivos has shrunk. Young people are no longer eager to put their life plans on hold for a few years while they explore their heritage or find themselves; the career marketplace has turned much more competitive, cruel and demanding. Hence, the debate about focus. Should it be college students? Couples starting families? Back then, the issue was triage. With so many to help, whom do we help first? Today some of us are questioning whether a much larger number are beyond help, at least bederech hateva (absent a miracle).
  • The sources from which it draws. Rabbi Buchwald charges in his contribution that kiruv never really “made” baalei teshuvah. For the most part, the numbers came not from the spiritually unwashed, but from people with some religious background, primarily through the Conservative movement. That movement, however, is now in its death throes, closing its schools and temples and moving towards a merger with Reform. It failed miserably in its long-term goal of conserving halachic practice for future generations. Those future generations they were anticipating are the young people of today who are marrying out without flinching, or who have dropped out of Jewish affiliation altogether. The inexorable slide of the Conservative movement into spiritual oblivion will mean even fewer kiruv candidates from their ranks in the future.
  • How Orthodoxy’s coming of age drives down the numbers. Orthodoxy itself has changed. It once had a certain mystique of being sort of other-worldly, a counterculture of cholent rather than weed. It was relatively unknown to the outsider, except for its reputation –known only from a distance – for authenticity. Its faults were hidden from public view. Being Orthodox was presumed to demand sacrifice and discipline in the pursuit of spiritual rewards.

Today, we are in the public spotlight often, but not to receive adulation and admiration. We cannot even count the number of front-page scandals that have marred the image of the Torah Jew. We are viewed, on the one hand, as harboring abusers, banning books and women’s faces, as intellectually rejectionist and primitive, judgmental and xenophobic, and perpetuating the cycle of dependency that Senator Moynihan observed in other communities. On the other hand, we are depicted as materialistic and self-indulgent, spending far in excess of what we earn. The outsider looking in (and the media help him do it with the click of a mouse) sees greater variety in eateries, wine labels, designer sheitels and Pesach orgies of consumption than in ways of connecting with Divinity. In a word, as we have exploded in size, we have become a less inviting community to join.

Rabbi Avrohom Edelstein’s piece set me on the road to recovery. He answered each of our questions with facts and figures. Where he had none, he evidenced that the inability to respond was due to the inherent ambiguity of the question, not for lack of trying. As the head of Ner L’Elef, he has placed hundreds of mekarvim in all sorts of positions and places. Many of our other contributors are good examples of the Rambam’s ba’al melachah achas: they are expert and passionate about their own bailiwick. Rabbi Edelstein, however, observes the entire landscape­­ – the successes and the failures, the traditional and the novel. He is convinced that the number of people interested in Judaism is growing rather than shrinking. His treatment of the topic was nothing less than magisterial.

Rabbi Ilan Feldman was also magisterial, but in the realm of hashkafa (perspective). He speaks to our hearts and minds, reminiscent of the idealism some of us heard in a different generation. Perhaps that is because he is part of that generation that heard the exhortations of Rav Nachman Bulman, zt”l, and watched the unflagging energy Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt”l personally brought to the avodah of kiruv. By taking us back to an earlier time, he gives us the clearest mandate for the future.

Rabbi Feldman’s thesis is powerful. The greatest asset we possess is the presentation of a Torah-based community that is so attractive as to be irresistible. Kiruv has slowed because we no longer are that community. We may be an observant community, but we are no longer a model community. “Fifteen or twenty years ago we were pretty confident in asserting that being frum was not only a fulfillment of G-d’s will, but that Orthodoxy represented a lifestyle that would provide a family with tranquility, healthy relationships, proper values and meaningful spirituality. Over the last two decades, however, there has been an undeniable recognition that a morass of social, familial and religious challenges have crept into our families… The mindset of an ‘Observant Community’ is fearful focus on the threat of secularism and its enticing allure, with little attention allocated to the power and grandeur of Torah. Strangers are suspect. The wagons must be circled… The first step in the outreach’s agenda must be the transformation of the frum community. We must recognize that many non-observant families are led by emotionally and financially secure and successful educated parents who respect wisdom, consider weekend volunteerism to be an exalted way of spending one’s free time, and view wholesome family activities on Saturday afternoon as a healthy way of building character. We cannot possibly expect such parents to join a society in which routine Shabbos table talk favors disparaging secular wisdom rather than exploring subtleties and ethical messages in Torah.”

Rabbi Feldman’s prescription gives me hope because it ties the future of kiruv to the very future of the Torah community. With HKBH Himself guaranteeing the latter, the former will surely follow as well. Count me as a returnee to kiruv Paradise.

The Paradise that I returned to, however, is still not the unspoiled place it was before Man left his imprint. My enthusiasm for the kiruv enterprise may have been reignited, but uneasiness with some of the contributions continues. I remain convinced that our asking direct, pointed questions of the contributors was the right way to go. It is disappointing that many contributors did not care or were unable to respond with even the most basic data. While several of the articles make a good case for the difficulty in defining success in kiruv, surely any organization needs to operate with some sort of operational definition of a mission accomplished, and ought to be compiling data on their performance. Surely every kiruv effort can set goals and expectations, and measure how well they are being achieved – and even compute the costs.

In so many areas of Jewish communal life, we cannot make informed decisions without real data and real analysis. As difficult as it may be, all institutions in Jewish life need to become more transparent and more accountable. If, for example, two tzedakah solicitations for fairly comparable causes confront me on my desk, and there is money left for only one, I would like to know which one delivers more with less overhead. With finite resources available, it is simply not good enough to tell me that each one of them performs a wonderful and vital task. Similarly, without gainsaying the value of many forms of kiruv, I would like to know which ones deliver more – and why. I can learn from and appreciate many of the thoughtful arguments offered in these pages, but if a particular variety of kiruv “costs” X number of thousands of dollars, we need to know that and factor it in to our communal thinking, particularly when we are facing in parts of the country a meltdown of our day school chinuch system.

It will also make a better community. We are far too forgiving when we give people a pass simply because they are involved in something positive or holy. Too many things can be allowed when we argue that X is doing a fine thing, so leave him alone.  Since the Editorial Board began mulling over the issues and challenges that we face as a community, we have spent many hours looking for patterns and themes. Speaking only for myself, one conclusion that can be drawn is that much that ails our community boils down to not setting up expectations, and not demanding accountability. This applies not only to individual kiruv organizations, but to other parts of the communal cholent. Schools don’t show where their monies are going, or justify the level of expenditures relative to others. Tzedakos may be doing a good job, but some spend an inordinate percentage on overhead, PR, salaries (for relatives), etc. Individuals learn for years in yeshivos and kollelim without any monitoring of progress, retention, or accomplishment. (One colleague argued for compassion. It is not the fault of the kiruv organizations, he said. The years of learning that nurtured them also knew no measurement or assessment. Kiruv workers were simply performing according to the same rules that governed their years in yeshiva! Indeed this might be true. But all the more reason why “laissez-faire” should not be the words describing our expectations from our professionals, and why the questions we posed seemed like a good place to start asking for more).


Keeping perspective is crucial. My hesitations about some of the articles amount to nothing more than a mum oveir – a temporary, passing blemish on a body of kiruv that is healthy and vital.

Chazal tell us that Herod’s beis hamikdosh (Temple) displayed uncommon beauty. Its stones were staggered, creating the visual impression of undulating waves.

Why waves? Rav Hutner, zt”l, explained beautifully, according to a report that I received orally. Each wave, heading towards the shoreline, evidences strength and power. At its closest approach, the wave crests to its fullest height and fury. A few seconds later, all that remains is water meekly trickling towards the toes of the observer standing a short distance away.

The beis hamikdosh would not last very long after Herod’s renovations. It was destined to become a pile of smoldering rubble. Was it worthwhile investing in a dying enterprise? Chazal tell us that the last decades of a beis hamikdosh had to resemble the might and majesty of towering waves, even if they would all come crashing down a short while later, and become a memory. Until the very end, Klal Yisrael had to put all their strength and passion into the avodah of the mikdosh, regardless of what the future was going to bring.

In fact, those last decades produced a transformation in the way Torah was learned and propagated. The products of that revolution sustained and continue to sustain the Jewish People through two millennia of galus.

We do not know whether kiruv is slowing down, as many contributors conceded, or speeding up, as Rabbi Edelstein and Rabbi Eliezrie maintain. By assembling this issue, it has become clearer in my mind that we must rouse ourselves from our lethargy and recommit ourselves to kiruv with zeal and enthusiasm. We must reconnect to the mission HKBH entrusted to us – bringing Elokus (G-dliness) to the world. In so doing, we will not be saving souls as much as saving ourselves.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a professor of Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School and the Founding Editor of