Letters to the Editor
Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum
I read the most recent edition of Klal Perspectives with particular interest, as its focal topic, kiruv, is one that is close to my heart. Though the articles were indeed thought-provoking, I was left feeling that a central component was notably absent. This missing aspect is that of the communal responsibility, achrayus, for the neshamos of our fellow Jews.
Kiruv cannot remain the purview of the trained professional. It must, if it is to be widely successful, become part of the public domain. Whether we are klei kodesh or baalei batim, each of us has a responsibility to Klal Yisroel. It is incumbent upon us to instill within ourselves and the next generation the feeling that any weakness in the chain of the mesorah is not just the responsibility of a kiruv institution, but my problem. If there is a family next door with children who don’t know an alef from a beis, it is my problem. Similarly, if someone can’t afford a day school education, or if we still have millions of our brothers and sisters who have not embraced Torah and avodah, it is my problem.
At the most recent Agudah convention, Rav Moshe Brown quoted the late philanthropist Zev Wolfson, who poignantly spoke to this point: “Do you know what Rav Aaron Kotler’s greatness was? In my opinion it was this. When you went to Rav Aaron with a problem it became his problem. It didn’t matter if it was Beth Medrash Gevoha or a Sephardic girls’ school in Morocco. It became his problem.”
I recently mused over why it doesn’t come naturally to all of us that achrayus is the fundamental ingredient for success in any klal work. I ultimately realized that the likely explanation is that an acknowledgment of the essential nature of achrayus necessarily obligates us in ways that are time consuming and often exhausting, and once we acknowledge that necessity, it is intellectually dishonest not to follow through and show achrayus in the fullest sense. And while those of us who serve the klal with achrayus know that, in fact, it can be exhausting at times, we also know that it is immeasurably rewarding, and allows for a deep sense of fulfillment and genuine happiness.
Since achrayus is so essential, what can we do to encourage greater achrayus among members of our communities? As hard as it may sometimes be, we need to step back and allow more lay involvement, particularly by the young members of our communities. Ironically, I have discovered here in Dallas that the success or failure of a given initiative often has little correlation with the quality of the initial idea, and a much higher correlation with the degree of achrayus invested in it.
Rabbi Avi Shulman once visited Dallas and told us the following story. Rabbi Shulman once asked a very successful fundraiser he knew, “How do you do it? All of your programs are great. How are you able to predict what will work and what won’t?” He laughed and said, “When someone comes to me with an idea, I listen. If they say the following words, I don’t care what the idea is. I know that it will be successful. If they don’t, I let the idea go. What are the words they have to say? ‘It’s my baby.’ As soon as they say, ‘Don’t worry Rabbi, it’s my baby,’ I know it will be successful.” This message has motivated me to allow for broader based communal involvement here in Dallas, and though the process is not always easy, it is clearly worthwhile.
This is true achrayus. When we empower our members to get involved in the community and in kiruv, I have seen that they are capable of rising to the occasion in extraordinary ways. It is not a paradigm shift that we need, rather a heightened sensitivity to the values that are already present, followed by a sincere plan of action.
It is time to change the Klal’s perspective on kiruv, and to make it clear that every Jew should perceive the responsibility as “my baby,” because it is!
Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum, Rabbi of Ohr HaTorah in Dallas, TX
Rabbi Zvi Holland
Thank you for your most recent issue of Klal Perspectives on kiruv rechokim. It was heartening to finally see a serious treatment of this subject, which pertains to so many Bnei Torah and their families who have dedicated their very lives to this endeavor. Overall this issue was, in my humble opinion, outstanding and made great strides to initiate the kinds of discussions that help us to conceptualize how we can address the challenges that always lie in the future.
In addition to measuring the success of various kiruv models in terms of their “output,” there is another issue that could have been addressed more thoroughly, and that is the relative sustainability of these models. To invest wisely in kiruv, one must certainly evaluate how effective each approach is at making a measurable impact, but one must also ask whether the organizations themselves are being developed on a path of growth according to a sustainable plan. Sustainability is not only about what kind of kiruv works on a consistent basis, it is about the continued viability and growth of the organizations, which depends on a variety of factors. Among these is developing and maintaining: active community support, positive community relations, a dependable donor base, capable administration and, perhaps most of all, talented manpower that is well-aligned with the ongoing growth of the organization.
Which organizations in which models best succeed at building a stable donor base? How did they do it? Which models grow with their communities and which eventually fall out of favor? What happens to the young families who get involved in kiruv after five, ten and twenty years? As kiruv grows and becomes an increasingly popular job description, organizations are under increasing pressure to attract talented mekarvim – not only with a livable salary for 3-5 years but with opportunities for development that will enable them to either move up or move on.
Answers to these questions, along with those presented in the most recent issue of Klal Perpectives, could help form a strong argument for which models are best applied in which situations and for what organizations – both young and old – can do to ensure a future for mekarvim, their organizations and for kiruv.
Rabbi Zvi Holland, Baltimore, MD
Rabbi Yaakov Meyer
Many of the articles in the “kiruv” issue of Klal Perspectives (Fall 2012) resonated with me on many levels. Having been involved in the front lines of Kiruv since 1986, it is clear to me that the many changes that have taken place in strategy, methodology, marketing and overall kiruv approaches to the secularized and/or non-Torah observant Jewish public, have been both dramatic and necessary.
The drop off in number of participants in classes and programs has been challenging and unfortunate. Many of the possible causes for the apparent decline in the overall effectiveness of outreach in America were addressed in this issue, as well. Aside from research and development and creating new strategies, I believe that there is something we can do that will have a direct impact on us as mekarvim, and on the world of outreach as a whole.
It really is painful to say this, yet it seems to me that a generation ago, despite the fact that there was a dislike (of the unlike) towards observant Jewry from many elements of the Jewish world, there was still a certain respect towards this Torah observant world, that may even have had a healthy mystique, that attracted people to at least take a peek into that world, thus opening the door for our outreach efforts.
However, it is possible that the mystique and a certain level of respect are now gone. Tragically, there have been so many instances of terrible and public chillul Hashem in our midst that millions of Jews (and tens of millions of non-Jews) have read about (and watched) over the last decade, that the potential candidate for kiruv might be thinking, “Why would I want to become a part of THAT world?”
It is inappropriate and wrong for any of us to try and justify and/or excuse the heinous acts of desecration of G-d’s Name and Honor, as some may try to do. This only further alienates those who are already removed from Torah and mitzvos. It does us no good to point fingers or lay the blame elsewhere and say, “it is not us. They don’t represent us!”
It is us. And, although we may not have been personally responsible (in the common use of the term) we are responsible for rectifying the situation and the ideas in people’s minds – by putting extra stress and focus on good middos, honesty, ethical and moral behavior and the like, in our classes and interactions with people, but even more so in our personal behavior and in our interactions with our spouses, with our children and with every single person we meet. We must live up to the Torah’s demanding standard for the Jew. There are no shortcuts here. It is a matter of personal responsibility.
I don’t claim that this is a panacea for all the issues that are challenging the kiruv world but I do think it is a meaningful and worthwhile place to start if we are hopeful of attracting more Jews into our orbit – the orbit of Torah – and bringing them closer to their Father in Heaven.
With G-d’s help, the strategies, programs, approaches etc, will follow with great success, and Hashem’s promises to the Jewish People about what will occur as they return to Him b’acharis ha-yomim, at the end of days, will soon be fulfilled.
Written with pain and hope,
Yaakov Meyer, Aish Denver
Like most social programs, kiruv is more art than science. This makes an individual viewpoint more subjective than objective, and thus difficult to evaluate even in terms of results, despite the training, experience, expertise or medreiga of the professional. Effort is relatively easy to measure but program evaluation – of which there is a vast literature – is expensive and often fraught with “political” challenges. Identifying specific action that leads to specific change is not easy to accomplish, as evaluating programs is often tantamount to evaluating the professionals who run them.
I was a secular Jew for 54 years, before I started to learn and become shomer mitzvos and I also know more than a bit about measuring outcomes. Perhaps a way to approach this is to fund a study of people like myself, who have become frum. What was involved in the process? What went right? How did I and others become baalei teshuva? A study methodology could easily be designed, real data could be collected and analyzed, profiles of success could be created. This might be one idea for turning what is mostly an art into something of a science.
Kiruv will always have an important place in the Jewish world, whether through direct outreach programs, or by creating a Kiddush Hashem by showing others the beauty of being a religious Jew.
Having the ability to feel and thus show the positive aspects of being a religious Jew is closely linked to the issues discussed in the Spring 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives, which addressed the level of spirituality and frumkeit actually felt by Orthodox Jews today. Without a true understanding of our religion, one can’t possibly portray Judaism as a beautiful religion, have convictions strong enough to create positive impressions, or pass on to the next generation a deep connection to our mesorah, our heritage. And this might result in the necessity of developing more kiruv programs to target a turned off generation.
There’s a crucial need for some portion of our kiruv initiatives to be directed towards our own frum youth, in our yeshivos and Bais Yaakov schools. Too many of our children can’t explain their understanding of Judaism, their relationship with Hashem, or their reasons for being proud to be a Jew. They can’t put into words what emunah, faith, is, or how to develop and hold onto a strong belief in Hashem and the Torah. These philosophical but basic concepts aren’t discussed in school or in many homes; on the contrary, they are often discouraged and waived away. Without allowing and encouraging thinking, questioning, and discussion, our youth cannot develop a clear understanding of, and thus connection to, Yiddishkeit and its values. They cannot maintain true convictions towards keeping the mitzvos, halachos, and minhagim. Without these crucial developments, there is greater potential for feelings of disconnect, as well as an automatic difficulty in passing down our mesorah as the wonderful privilege that it is. We all hear many stories of hidden and silent acts of rebellion, including texting on Shabbos that have been disclosed to professionals, as our children become more disillusioned with the Judaism that they perceive.
In “kiruv” schools, Judaism and its history, its details, and its customs, are explained to the students, and the beauty of Yiddishkeit is portrayed passionately by the rebbeim and teachers. The students are encouraged to ask questions and search for answers until they reach a personal connection to Hashem, the Torah, and Yiddishkeit.
Perhaps it is time for Rebbeim, teachers, principals, and administrators in the yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs to meet with professionals and people with experience from kiruv organizations to discuss different methods and techniques that can be implemented within our schools and curriculum to target our youth. I have seen firsthand the difference kiruv makes in developing ardent feelings in children and teenagers from non-frum backgrounds. Our children must also be given opportunities to experience the beauty of Torah and mitzvos in a warm, loving and enthusiastic manner, as well as the opportunity to think, ask questions and receive answers. If some of the potential kiruv leaders who have the charisma to inspire youngsters, the patience to explain difficult concepts, and the strength to maintain relationships, can be redirected toward working with the already frum youth, our children will have the opportunity to develop an understanding of, an appreciation for, and a love of the life they are expected to live. We can then be more certain that the next generation will be imbued with a strong belief and faith in Hashem, the Torah, and our religion, resulting in their ability to continue our beautiful heritage and become real-life, positive examples of a religious Jew.
Mrs. Ruchie Schwab, Brooklyn, NY
I read with great interest the enlightening perspectives on the current kiruv issues. I do take exception, though, to a central premise put forward by Rabbi Ilan Feldman (Why the Giant Sleeps, Klal Perspectives, Fall 2012) contending that our observant community is not a spiritual magnet. Yes, I agree that we have our shortcomings and even our failings, but “mi k’amchoh yisroel goy echod bo’oretz” – who is like Your people Israel, a singular people in the land? Are we magnifying our problems to the extent that they dwarf the social woes surrounding us and the misery they invite? An unbridled society which lacks intellectual motivation to seek an ultimate purpose in life is a mighty force to wrestle down, even with Torah as our ammunition.
On the educational front, secular studies are modeled after a Sesame Street approach, adjusted for the student as he advances through the system. Elementary school through college is not nearly as demanding or rigorous as it was a few decades ago. Critical thinking is in a free fall and the quest for truth is no longer fashionable or a worthy pursuit. Coupled with this is the lure of the hedonistic and materialistic society we live in. The onslaught of immorality is relentless, and no one can escape it. It is everywhere – on the billboards and at the click of the T.V. and computer, even at innocuous exchanges by the water cooler. The most entertaining and inspiring kiruv program with music, food, and even mixed company can’t compete with a night out on the town with all its offerings.
Still, reality does set in with the aftermath of broken relationships, broken commitments and broken hearts. When serial relationships and even serial marriages are the norms of society, this is where we can strut our stuff. Our observant community is, indeed, a model, a welcomed oasis of stability and respectful, loving relationships. Rabbi Feldman’s “open secret” that “to effectively inspire people to become observant, the effort must be done in isolation from the established community” was not whispered in my ear. In fact, we couldn’t do kiruv without our wonderful communities, be it Baltimore, Lakewood, Houston, or Yerushalayim. I kvell at the almost 100 mentors who give freely of their time, every week to teach and inspire at our Partners in Torah, face-to-face program at Etz Chaim in Baltimore. Maybe, that’s why I find hard to accept Rabbi Feldman’s assertion that religious communities are “united only in the consensus that the sole route to religious survival is by avoiding interaction, socially and intellectually, with anyone and anything that can be categorized as ‘other’.”
That’s not to say that we as individuals are models of perfection. Life is full of challenges. Some people hit grand slams, and some people strike out. And most of us are somewhere in between. We have to be up front and help the idealistic baal teshuvah understand the paradox: Torah is perfect, but people aren’t.
Being up front does not mean that everyone should be in the front lines of kiruv, although Project Inspire has demonstrated that the interested balabus can be effectively trained to introduce his fellow Jew to Torah and mitzvos. This then begs the question: Was our community better prepared or more attractive in the wake of the Six-Day-War when hundreds of baalei teshuva came “home”? I doubt it. It is obvious that HKB”H runs the world, and we don’t know what other catalytic event is around the corner to push our brothers back into His arms and to His Torah. That pintele Yid still glows in each and every Jew! ”Toras Hashem t’mimah meshivas nofesh” – Torah is what restores each and every Jewish soul. We have to do our part, daven (pray) and put in our hishtadlus (effort). Hashem will do His part, and may we be zochim to be His emissaries.
Mrs. Toby Friedman, Etz Chaim Center of Jewish Studies
Rabbi Tzali Freedman
The recent issue of Klal Perspectives has created quite a stir. Several of the articles, written by some of kiruv’s heavy hitters, validate what many of us have been struggling with quietly, while concerned about those in the field who are playing by the old rules in what has become a very different game. This healthy introspection is long overdue, and it would be a terrible shame if we cannot capitalize on it to generate concrete change.
The consensus amongst many seems to be that the American Jewish landscape today is entirely different from when the Kiruv Movement began in earnest. Back then, without the sophisticated infrastructure of trained college kiruv professionals, the baal teshuva yeshivas in Israel had an impressive flow of college students. Today, with increased manpower on campus, it has slowed to a relative trickle. College kids are worried more than ever about careers and are more likely to pursue advanced degrees and less likely to delay entering the workforce. Many have observed that the Baal Teshuva Movement has traditionally been fed primarily from the right wing of the Conservative Movement. Today, they are becoming an endangered species. Today, we are dealing with the first group of kids who were brought up in the Facebook generation, with more toys and distractions than ever before, and are being raised by smartphone addicted parents. In general, people are less idealistic, spiritual, or deep thinking. It is a different world and although the job may be more challenging than ever, as we are taught in Pirkei Avos, lo ata ben chorin lehabatel memena – we are not free to walk away from our responsibilities. The job can and is being done by many.
While some suggest that we scale back our efforts, others believe that we live in unique times and kiruv is one of the callings of our generation. It is definitely one of the fundamental missions of a Jew. We are araivim zeh lazeh – responsible for each other. Veahavta es Hashem Elokecha – shetehei Sheim Shomayim misahev al yedecha, means that our mitzva to love Hashem is actualized by educating and encouraging others to love Him, as well. As descendants of Avrohom Avinu, how can we sit by as people in our own backyards wallow in ignorance when we know we have the ability to bring them back? Still, we do not have a blank check or endless time, we have to do it with sechel and responsibility, not for sensational reasons or just because it feels good. Each organization needs data to determine how to maximize their impact, adjust their methodology, and put metrics in place to match these new realities and growing skepticism.
In a sweeping rejection of the discussion, skeptics on the sidelines tend to dismiss objective perspectives together with the editorialization. This is a mistake. Such wholesale disregard diminishes the credibility of critical thinkers and jeopardizes healthy innovation. Jim Collins, who wrote the book Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (HarperBusiness 2011), which analyzes great enterprises that thrive in turbulent times, would suggest that we can benefit from healthy doses of what he refers to as productive paranoia, empirical creativity, and fanatic discipline.”
Many in the kiruv world move the goalpost to match their particular results. They argue: It is not about how many actual baalei teshuva, but the untold numbers of intermarriage that we are preventing; we are investing in the next generation or we are making a Kiddush Hashem; they may not be observant now but they know the truth, etc. All that is very nice but should we settle for that and expect that our donors won’t prioritize elsewhere?
Nobody can put a price on a baal teshuva. Many of the current and future leaders and supporters of the Torah community come from the BT ranks. Who can possibly decide a fair “price per head”? However, just because kiruv is priceless does not mean that we can justify prioritizing it over other pressing needs. It is a fair question to ask if you can justify a full-time kiruv salary plus expenses when (after you are well established and in addition to all the immeasurables) your efforts on average do not result in at least two baalei teshuva a year.
When making our cheshben hanefesh (self evaluation), some – like NCSY – must recognize their unique blend of chizuk and kiruv. What percent of coed yeshiva day school kids are on a path to be fully observant, i.e., wearing tefillin six days a week or observing the laws of taharas hamishpacha down the road? We not only can but must do our part to educate and inspire them to live halachic lives. Some may argue that enriching the lives of the insiders is a greater priority than reaching the outsiders; this aspect although not easily measured must be considered.
We must continue to struggle with these issues but also recognize that the human capacity to talk ourselves into our own successes is not to be understated. A conscientious person must find tools, independent of one’s own biases, to self-evaluate.
Only if we adapt and properly harness the resources will healthy market forces prevail, enabling communities to support the programs with the most promise.
Rabbi Tzali Freedman, Director, Central East Region of NCSY
The most recent issue of Klal Perspectives offered much food for thought – and gave cause for both celebration and hand wringing – on the subject of kiruv.
I make no claims to be an expert on the topic, but my involvement in kiruv spans more than three decades, always as a volunteer. That perspective as an “outsider” – albeit one who, as board member of a kiruv organization who is involved in both programming and oversight, intimately knows the administrative side – may be one worth sharing. As I see it, kiruv is alive and well, thriving and growing. It’s a different style of kiruv than some are used to, and perhaps it’s better than ever.
This piece is being written in the spirit of Klal Perspectives offering a venue for an open and honest discussion between friends, and I certainly intend to offend no one. I am simply sharing what, from my vantage point, seems to work. I beg your indulgence and consideration.
The way my rebbeim taught it to me, the Torah itself reassures us of the continuity of the Jewish People, and that Torah will remain with us forever (e.g., see See Vayikra 26:44, Devarim 31:21, Shabbos 138b). Thus, when we do “outreach,” we aren’t doing G-d a favor.
The purest reason to do kiruv is as an outgrowth of one’s love and concern for his fellow Jew, to the point that he wants his fellow to be inspired and uplifted by the truth and beauty of Torah.
To illustrate, Rav Chaim Mintz, founder of Oorah, didn’t set out to start an organization. What he did, out of his love for other Jews, was to knock on doors of homes with electric menorahs to try to get people to send their children to yeshiva. Before Pesach, he walked the aisles of supermarkets, striking up conversation with those who had matzah in their carts. It was, and continues to be, a labor of love.
Another one of the most effective mekarvim I know is my brother-in-law, a shy chassidish yungerman who speaks with a stutter, earns a modest parnassah (living) and has a large family, ka”h. He never took a kiruv course and is affiliated with no kiruv organization. One Shabbos morning, he saw some Jewish kids playing hockey on his Boro Park street. His love for Jews led him to overcome his natural reticence and he approached them to talk. In the nearly twenty years since, he and his wife have opened their doors and their hearts to hundreds of people who have become (or returned to being) frum through their efforts. He has no pulpit. No experience. He has sechel and he has love, and that makes all the difference.
In organizational kiruv, the ability to inspire others to do kiruv properly must come from the top – the leadership of an organization must live with that love. In my own experience, Rav Mintz has been a role model.
Not only is his obvious sincerity and focus evident to the mekuravim, but it informs the entire kiruv structure of the organization, “trickling down” through the staff to the thousands of volunteers.
Watching Our Step
When I was in yeshiva, “professional kiruv” was much disdained, and certain kiruv groups were viewed with suspicion. Kiruv was often viewed as the refuge for a ben Torah looking for room to make compromises – a field in which those who couldn’t make it in the Torah world could become hot shots without knowing very much.
Community kollelim, the vanguard of much of the “new world of kiruv,” have helped change those notions, as has AJOP. But bnei Torah – potentially the most idealistic and effective mekarvim – still need reassurance.
Kiruv groups need to – in real life, not just on letterheads – consult with accepted rabbanim and gedolim to guide them. True, those decisions may not always find favor with all the detractors, but the respect earned from Roshei Yeshiva and serious bnei Torah will be a source of inspired and motivated volunteers.
Kiruv is More Than…
Engaging someone to attend classes or to have a study partner is a wonderful accomplishment. Getting a child into a Day School is fantastic. But that can’t be where it ends.
To be most effective, kiruv must take a holistic and long-term approach. There is a need for individuals and organizations doing kiruv to ensure that the entire family unit is being worked with, and their needs are being met for them cradle to grave.
School, camp, children’s programs and parental study should all be integrated into a single whole, with ongoing mentoring to ensure that the religious and social needs of the family are being met. These families need to know they have people to whom they can turn for guidance and who can help them overcome hurdles, and ultimately to become successfully integrated into the Torah community.
Not every person or organization can do all this on their own, so it is generally necessary to develop partnerships and linkages with other groups, so that the “client’s” needs can be met. Programs offered by larger, national kiruv organizations can be leveraged by smaller, local mekarvim, immeasurably amplifying their ability to impact their clientele.
For instance, Partners in Torah and Oorah’s Torah Mates chavrusah programs have the resources to provide study partners that can not only provide book education, but who can also become friends and mentors, exponentially expanding the scope of the kiruv work.
While idealism is vital to both the kiruv mission and motivating volunteers, running an effective kiruv operation is vital to ensuring that resources – both human and financial – are used most efficiently.
Ideally, there should be a system in place so that all those involved with a family compare notes so that they can better understand the dynamics in play and synchronize their efforts for the best results. Programs should be regularly reviewed, analyzed and tweaked, ensuring that the most benefit is accruing from everyone’s dedicated efforts.
The Nasty Issue of Funding
How can one fund all these programs, while doing kiruv at the same time? I don’t have all the answers, but the best suggestions I can offer are: use volunteers, be creative and stay committed.
Most organizations reach out to people for money with a pitch about what they do. But 30 pieces of mail arrive every day, each with a similar message. So how do you stand out? Think out of the box! Do something different. No, don’t knock off another organization’s ideas. Come up with new ones.
Those who are not creative should seek out people within their community and orbit of friends, inspire them with a sense of mission and dedication, and ask them to lend their talents to the cause.
There are other opportunities as well. One kiruv organization started a company that was run like any other efficient corporation: Services were sold, advertising was tracked, and some of the revenue was reinvested in the business. But money wasn’t squandered and there were no high salaries. This enabled the profits to be dedicated to the funding the organization’s master plan.
There is No Magic Formula
Every kiruv program and organization has its own unique character and culture, but the underlying principles and tools for success remain the same.
I’ve shared some insights borne of my own experience in the hope that others may benefit from them, speaking on my own and not representing any organization. Because it’s all about helping our brethren, who we love so dearly.
Avrohom Biderman, Staten Island, NY
Rav Ahron Lopiansky
My rav, Hagaon Rav Zelig Epstien, once remarked to me, “What a remarkable world that we live in. So many people are concerned with Hashem’s well-being, yet so few are concerned with people’s well-being.”
Although I am not in kiruv professionally, I have taught for many years at Aish Hatorah, host many wonderful mekarvim in our area who use our yeshiva as a “charging” station, and have much personal contact with many in the field. I would like to outline some of the issues related to the well-being of mekarvim that I have encountered in my personal experience, having been consulted about them in different variations over the years.
I have read all the submissions to the kiruv issue of Klal Perspectives, which shed much light on the “state of kiruv,” but none on the “state of the mekarvim.” I have also attended meetings of high powered gvirim (donors) and askanim (activists) at which “kiruv pieces” were moved around on the board with the alacrity of a chess master seeking that perfect move that will win the tournament. Spreadsheets were unfolded and decisions were reached. The only problem with this scene is that the “pieces” are not plastic pawns, but rather real human beings, bnei Torah and idealists, at the most fragile juncture of their lives: within the first few years of their marriage, with several young children.
In some ways, there is an obvious, common denominator between kiruv professionals and all klei kodesh: low pay, uncertain future, incredible expectations. But there are challenges facing kiruv professionals that are more difficult than a day school rebbi, for example, and I have yet to hear the voice of the one who cares.
Here are some of those challenges:
- A day school is seen as an absolute need for a community, and can expect to survive as long as there are frum families. Not so a kiruv enterprise, which often depends on a few primary donors. When the interest of one of these donors flags orhe becomes excited by another idea or there is economic hardship, substantial funding may suddenly vanish overnight.
- The job of a rebbi is portable. A good rebbi in Scranton will be a good rebbi in Minneapolis or in Phoenix. Kiruv, however, is very individualized, and success in one venue does not have that strong a correlation with success in another.
- A rebbi becomes a natural member of a community. If he loses his job, or has a special hardship, members of the community will usually feel a moral obligation to help. Not so the kiruv professional who often has little connection with the local community.
- As a rebbi gets older, his enthusiasm and energy may mellow, but he is seen as having gained wisdom, chashivus (importance) and experience, all prized in the world of education. In kiruv, youth, charisma and enthusiasm are the almost universal criteria for success (naturally, with some notable exceptions).
- A rebbi commands respect in the community. While it is difficult to deposit this “kavod” in the bank, somehow, it does provide a badly needed emotional compensation. On the other hand, kiruv personnel come in two versions: (a) the famous superstar, or (b) just a “kiruv rabbi,” the term kiruv being seen as a significant qualifier of the title “rabbi.”
There is another area in which I have sometimes been involved, which seems to have its own set of challenges in the world of kiruv, and that is “intra-organizational relationships.” In every social structure there is bound to be friction between various members of that organization, but the challenges of kiruv organizations pose unique difficulties. Let us consider some of these:
- The hierarchy of a school, and the obligations and privileges of each rung on that ladder, are fairly constant. There is a “norm” of sorts, to refer to. Nothing like that exists in the kiruv world. Thus, when a successful [or unsuccessful] mekarev takes on an assistant, there are usually two very divergent perspectives on the assistant’s role. The assistant may see himself as a full partner to the enterprise, while the mentor may view him as an apprentice (or, perhaps, a serf). In short order, each one feels that the other is exploiting him.
- The affairs of a school are public, and if teachers haven’t been paid there is public knowledge and pressure to rectify the situation. If the leadership of a kiruv center is not paying its employees properly, there is no public knowledge, and consequently no public pressure to right the situation.
- If there are problems in a school, the local Rav or rabbonim will feel the mandate and responsibility to see that justice is served. Kiruv centers tend to work out of the community framework, and the local Rav may feel no inclination or obligation to get involved.
Even kiruv centers that are affiliated with large organizations tend to gloss over these issues. The pressure to perform and to raise stupendous amounts of cash often relegates personnel problems to the back burner, or better said… to the freezer. The head of a center may be a difficult and controlling person; he may renege on promises and agreements; he may be inept, and yet those can be perceived as relatively minor issues back home, as the “lshem shamayim” outweighs all else.
So let us remember that if our community encourages our most idealistic and vulnerable young people to sacrifice for Klal Yisroel, inspiring them to “save the world”, we must recognize that every yachid (individual), too, is an entire world – including these mekarvim. It is our responsibility to see to it that they have the safety net they need for their private concerns, honest advice to guide their personal lives, and an available structure through which they can address any possible wrongs they may face.
Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky, Silver Spring, MD
Rabbi Hillel Weinberg
[Note: This letter was added to this web page after initial publication of this issue, and will appear as well in the next issue of Klal Perspectives]
On the topic of kiruv, many important points have been discussed in Klal Perspectives. I would like to add a few ideas that I learned from my father, the legendary Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, HaRav Noach Weinberg, zt”l.
My father viewed the Jewish people as being in a Holocaust – with no exaggeration. Although many don’t like this comparison, when I went to HaRav Elyashiv, zt”l, and asked him if the spiritual loss of today’s generation could be compared with the physical loss of the Holocaust, he agreed to this comparison in every sense of the word.
Chazal tell us: “Greater is he who causes his friend to sin, than he who actually kills him.” If so, today’s spiritual Holocaust can be considered worse than the physical Holocaust of 70 years ago, rachmana l’tzlan.
When I spoke with HaRav Moshe Shapiro, shlit”a, about the subject, he offered a mathematical calculation based on the following illustration: In the America of seventy years ago, there were 5 million Jews and 10 million African Americans. Today the number of African Americans has quadrupled to 40 million – yet there are still only 5 million Jews. We may have lost 15 million Jews in America alone; what about worldwide?
It is said, perhaps apocryphally, that Hitler’s, y’mach shemo, master plan to wipe Judaism off the map was to “deal with” the Jews of Europe himself, have the Arabs take care of the Jews in the Middle East, and let American Jewry take care of itself. To our great misfortune, this vision for American Jewry was in some ways prescient.
If the trains are rolling into Auschwitz, it is ridiculous to stand around debating whether we are “succeeding” in our kiruv efforts. Would we throw up our hands in surrender because we are only able to save a few? No! We would be roaring like a bear trying to save each and every Jew possible.
Of course, we must work with wisdom and strategy. But we must never surrender, chas v’shalom, based on the “number” of those saved. We must stay focused on the reality that Jewish souls are being lost.
Lending a Hand
Rav Shimshon Pincus, zt”l, once asked my father (who was his uncle): “How do you succeed in being mekarev hundreds of people? We know how hard it is to change even one thing within ourselves – so how do you get people to change their entire lives?!”
My father answered with a mashal (analogy): At a construction site, a crane will maneuver a 10-ton wall, with a worker positioning the wall into place. An onlooker could be amazed that someone can be so strong to support a 10-ton wall! But if you look up and see the crane, it’s not so amazing. The person is only moving his hand to direct the wall to its proper place.
My father concluded: “Hashem promises us that at the end of days, the Jewish nation will return to Him. Hashem is the crane and he is supporting the Jewish people. Nobody can say ‘I was mekarev so and so.’ All he can say is, ‘I lent a hand.’”
This idea is found in Pirkei Avos: “Whoever is involved with the public should deal leshaim shamayim (for the sake of heaven), for the merit of their fathers is helping them.” This means that every Jew has a grandfather or grandmother in shamayim who cried so their children would keep Torah and mitzvahs. As Chazal say, every prayer – even though it may not be answered then – is never turned down. There comes a time when the prayer is answered, and though we are not really doing anything at the time, the Mishnah goes on to say that if we have the right intentions, Hashem considers it as if we did it.
I was once at a gathering of more than 100 baalei teshuvah. The organizers asked everyone to describe what caused them to turn their life around and become frum. I thought these answers would give me great insight into kiruv strategy, but among those 100 baalei teshuvah, there were 100 different reasons – and some were complete opposites.
Surely we need to apply all of our resources to finding the best solutions. But at the end of the day, we are not the ones doing the job. Hashem does it. What is incumbent upon us is to take responsibility and care about Hashem’s children.
If some of us see, chas v’shalom, a decline in the success of our kiruv efforts (thankfully, at Aish we are constantly encouraged by the numbers and impact), I believe it is because we don’t see this as a Holocaust, and we don’t realize how much Hashem thirsts for his sons and daughters to return. If we continue to strengthen these points, we will succeed. And we will, b’ezras Hashem, be privileged to see the salvation of the Jewish nation, speedily in our days.
Rabbi Hillel Weinberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Aish HaTorah