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Rabbi Avraham Edelstein

Klal Perspectives, A Review of Kiruv

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE. 

The Global Teshuva Movement Continues

I.      An Overview of the Current State of Outreach

REMARKABLE, YET TRUE: The global kiruv movement expanded far more rapidly in the last ten years than it did in the previous thirty. Thirteen years ago, as the director of Ner LeElef, a training program for outreach professionals, I was skeptical that ten openings in kiruv could be found for our first ten graduates. In fact, most of these graduates went on to create their own institutions. Today, Ner LeElef places at least seventy mekarvim annually, with at least 2,000 positions having been added to the global kiruv world during this period.

The system, of course, is self-perpetuating. Each wave of Ner LeElef placements generated program expansion, accompanied by new salaried positions. The primary challenge to an exponential increase in kiruv has not been a lack of money or ideas, but as Mr. Zev Wolfson always stressed, the challenge is a lack of high quality manpower. True leaders find their own money and meet challenges with their own solutions. In 2004, there were no more than ten non-Chabad mekarevim who defined themselves as full-time campus outreach people. Today, there are over 50 non-Chabad organizations servicing approximately 100 campuses, in addition to the 178 Chabad locations around the world. This campus growth is due primarily to an enormous investment in campus kiruv by three of the most prominent kiruv philanthropists – the Wolfson family, Mr. Elie Horn, of Sao Paulo Brazil and Mr. George Rohr of Manhattan. Applying a corporate approach to kiruv, the Horn-Wolfson partnership “sub-contracted” programming to dozens of organizations, establishing 50 projects on over 100 campuses in North America in a period of just four years.

Recent kiruv expansion, however, transcends the campus. Fully half of the twenty or so Chabad centers in greater Toronto are less than five years old. Atlanta has nine such Chabad centers, most of them new. Cities that were known as “kiruv cities” are now able to attract northeastern frum families in large numbers. About twenty such families joined Beth Jacob in Atlanta in the last year, alone. In Detroit, that number is double. The Young Israel of Houston enjoys a steady trickle of new such members. This trend actually constitutes a venahafoch hu (“flipping the script”), as baalei teshuva are the ones creating the infrastructure that then attract FFBs.

In start-up communities, the biggest hurdle has been establishing Jewish day schools, and particularly high schools. But struggle as they do, schools with authentic Torah-education now exist in Palo Alto, Dallas, Vancouver and most recently in Portland. In fact, Phoenix has added a new day school, a girls’ high school and a boys’ high school all in the last six years, and the Atlanta community offers a full range of Orthodox-school choices, with yet another on the way next year. In a sense, the American baal teshuva movement has triggered a minor reversal in the otherwise global trend of Jewry being increasingly concentrated in major cities. Almost all of British Jewry is concentrated in two cities, with almost 70% in London alone. 25% of all Jews in the former FSU reside in Moscow, and Paris hosts over 50% of French Jewry. America alone is experiencing growth in its smaller cities around the country.

Kiruv in America today spans the entire spectrum of ages with many different models. School-aged children are targeted by NCSY, JET, Oorah, Shalom Torah and other schools, collegiates are addressed by national organizations like Meor and Aish HaTorah, regional efforts like JAM of southern California, and numerous local projects. Young adults are targeted by outreach communities and community kollels. Specialized kiruv organizations have been introduced for Russians, such as RAJE in Brighton Beach and Philadelphia among others, for Bucharim (Emet in Queens), for Persians, for Sephardim and for Israelis. Almost every Chabad Synagogue today is an outreach center. Each dimension of the kiruv maze enjoys interlinking components, to one degree or another..

Mekarvim can use prepared class materials, such as the Morasha syllabus online, or they can offer NJOP’s crash course in Hebrew reading. Students can be serviced on campus, sent to retreats like Sinai and Heritage Retreats, go on Morasha Israel trips or Peri or Pathways or J-Internships or Fellowships or JLE; they can take New York metro trips – exploring the city’s cultural AND spiritual offerings through Shor Yoshuv, Ohr Someach Monsey, Gateways or Aish HaTorah. Or, they can take kiruv trips to Poland or Chile or even safaris to South Africa. They can find abundant Torah classes on the web and they can arrange a telephone chavrusa (study partner) through Partners in Torah. They can move on to study in kiruv yeshivos in the United States or Israel. Increasingly, some of these explorations can even be funded by the State of Israel, thanks to the far-reaching innovation of some of our key visionaries.

All of this is input. What about the output? Is all this growth and investment in kiruv efforts producing results? How can measure the success of these efforts, and how do we know they are really effective?

II.    How Are Kiruv Efforts Evaluated? Are They Successful?

No one has yet to crack the code of how to measure success. There are certainly numerous alternative approaches to consider, ranging from the “saving one life is enough” approach, to the goal of reducing intermarriage, to counting the number of people who start keeping Shabbos and kashrus, or other milestones of mitzvah observance along the way. Some of the more sophisticated kiruv enterprises employ charts and graphs, and assess the cost-per-student…

Alas, thousands of hours of trying to get a grip on these measurements have left me more confused than ever. Moreover, despite repeated explorations for guidance throughout the years, I have found no consensus among the many significant rabbanim with whom I’ve consulted. Rav Elyashiv, zatzal, was in favor of focusing on drawing greater numbers of those furthest away, while, יבדל לחיים, Rav Moshe Shapiro has come out strongly in favor of working with the smaller numbers of nascent baalei teshuva and leading them through greater stages of growth. Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zatzal, told me at one time to focus on one of the influential Ashkenazi elite of Israeli society ahead of 100 individuals, while his brother, Rav Noach, zatzal, focused his efforts on as broad a sweep as possible. Rav Yaakov Rosenberg, zatzal, held strongly that if a subject of outreach efforts didn’t “go all the way,” then the entire kiruv effort was wasted (in his words, “You have accomplished nothing”), while the Roshei Yeshiva of Ohr Someach have clearly employed a more nuanced approach.

Even when specific criteria of success are chosen, results are often simply not trackable. For example, some posit that the success of a campus effort should be measured by the number of students who establish a frum Jewish home or send their children to an Orthodox Jews day school. In North America, however, the average marriage age is almost 29 for men and almost 27 for women. Typically, their first child will be born 4 years later and will begin school five years after that. It is, therefore, about 17 years after leaving campus that a student’s success can be measured using this criteria – certainly way beyond the practical measuring period!

As an alternative, some advocate that campus kiruv should be measured by students becoming observant. The measurement is applied annually because funding is renewed every year. But a student typically becomes frum over a three to four year period and thus annual calculations significantly distort the results. Moreover, even if these results would be calculated on a three or four year cycle, the results would then be dated and no longer reflective of the productivity of the then-current program and structure (campus programming does not tend to remain static over time). One must, therefore, balance the accuracy of the analysis with its utility.

When focusing on kiruv results, it must be clear that such results may provide little reflection on how a mekarev ought to evaluate himself. There is, after all, an enormous distinction between one assessing one’s own performance in actualizing a project’s strategy and approach and the validity of continuing to pursue such an approach. The focus on results is most valuable for those heading or funding kiruv institutions, since they should use the results as guides for future strategy. By contrast, it is important that the individual engaged in kiruv view his or her efforts purely as a form of avodas Hashem, and, as such, the mekarev’s success must be measured against himself and himself only.

The mekarev, of course, must set the highest standards for himself. For inspiration and guidance he should draw on those who have been successful, and try to establish best practices. But a myriad of factors will influence any individual’s success, including local conditions, funding levels and family issues, each of which will inevitably affect both the vision and the results (be they above or below “the market” standard). I note this critical point not to justify low productivity. In fact, I have often encouraged less successful mekarvim to move on to an alternative dimension of outreach, and sometimes to get out of kiruv altogether. But I have done so on the basis of individualized advice and not solely based upon some chart or pivot table reflecting results.

Notwithstanding all these obstacles to effectively measuring success in kiruv, like all serious investments, kiruv must be measured based on results. And so, here is my current thinking on the matter, as applied to campus and community-based kiruv, the areas with which I have been most directly involved professionally.

Outreach to small and mid-sized communities typically evolves through various significant stages. Initially, virtually all the community’s needs must be imported, including ideas, money and manpower. As a community advances through the initial stages, it starts to become self-sustaining, generating its own funding and ideas, with community members taking responsibility for identifying and filling communal needs. It begins to insure its own growth, both quantitatively and qualitatively. As religious growth continues, the community begins to approach the threshold of becoming a true Torah community. Examples of cities that have crossed this threshold include Johannesburg, Atlanta, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Paris. Cities nearing this threshold include greater Miami, Phoenix and Dallas, and not too far behind are Houston, Detroit and many others (a different dynamic is needed to explain the Torah-emergence of larger cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto, as well as the New York dormitory towns).

The evolution of a city into a Torah community may be viewed as a kiruv success but, alas, this process typically does little to alter the massive intermarriage that otherwise continues apace. Viewed in this broader context, the nagging question remains: Can such an effort truly be considered a success?

The key to evaluating the success of kiruv must begin with determining whether halting intermarriage trends is truly kiruv’s objective. There is a strong argument to be made that eliminating community-wide intermarriage is simply not the true objective of kiruv. Kiruv is rather the effort to afford as many Jews as possible a connection to their spiritual and national heritage and the issue is then how to measure and evaluate growth in Torah and mitzvos.

In fact, I have a confession to make. While I know of many programs and organizations that prevent an individual intermarriage here and there – and some that prevent maybe even hundreds – I have never seen a realistic plan that would actually reverse the American intermarriage rate. And since altering the tide of the community’s intermarriage rate is not our ultimate goal, preventing individual intermarriages, without attendant spiritual meaning and growth, seems to be a hollow goal, as well. After all, without altering the overall assimilation trend, convincing a Jew not to intermarry will do little to prevent the intermarriage of the next generation, unless that Jew has also assumed a far more intense relationship to Judaism.

For this reason, much of kiruv, and campus kiruv in particular, is all about the individual student. Since campus kiruv is transient by its very nature, as students come and go, elevating a campus community may be valuable, but it cannot really be a goal. With at most four years to work with any individual student, the campus kiruv worker necessarily assumes a mindset of the quick turnover. In running the Horn-Wolfson funded North American campus projects, Rabbi Menachem Deutsch established the annual goal per mekarev of seven new students either becoming frum or attending Yeshiva for six months or longer. While assigning stark numbers to Jewish neshamas may be extremely distasteful to many, there is little alternative if the goals are to maximize impact and efficiency.

Notwithstanding these observations regarding community building and campus efforts, numerous other dimensions of kiruv raise yet-unanswered questions regarding measuring success.

For example:

  • Should resources be allocated to those demographics more likely to become religious? For example, efforts to be mekarev Bucharian Jews have proven more successful than those geared towards Russians. Should resources be allocated accordingly, or should the success of each respective effort simply be measured differently?
  • Should the goal be mitzvah observance or Jewish literacy? Should our responsibility be to urge observance, or simply to expose Jews to authentic Jewish learning coupled with some Shabbos and Yom Tov experiences, and empower them to make their own decisions? After all, we don’t ‘mekarev’ anyone by our efforts alone. We can merely facilitate.
  • In general, should the kiruv net be cast more widely and shallowly, or more narrowly and intensely?
  • Should kiruv resources be reserved for those who have not yet become frum, allowing us to stay true to our core mission of engaging others who remain distant, while others step in to service the needs of our baalei teshuva? Or, should the ongoing growth, adjustment and integration of baalei teshuva be considered part and parcel of what kiruv is all about?
  • Is the “ripple effect” of students’ future achievements a legitimate criterion in judging success? For example, should the fact that a significant proportion of one program’s graduates reaches leadership positions in the broader society be a factor in evaluating success? We tend to be cavalier in exploring the balancing of quantity (number of people) versus quality (depth of commitment) – are we also prepared to measure quality in terms of personality, wealth, educational level and potential influence on others?
  • Within a single spectrum of outreach programming, is it appropriate for each organization to select the criteria by which it chooses to define success?

Solid answers to each of these questions are elusive, as they all tend to require a balance that is delicate and that tends to shift over time. But each is no doubt deserving of further serious attention.

III.     Has kiruv in America runs its course due to the combination of (a) decades of assimilation that has diminished the number of accessible, non-observant Jews who are halachically Jewish, and (b) the rapidly diminishing sense of Jewish identity among younger, secular Jews?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV.   What are the New Frontiers in Outreach that May Yet be Explored?

At the outset of this article I described the enormous growth of the kiruv effort, and the many projects and resources now available. But there is yet a vast range of unmet needs that will drive further expansion. We need to tap into the potential of female mekarvim and to capture funding from the growing wealth in the hands of successful women. We are missing out, in the main, on the benefit from the professionalism and insight that can be provided by the many successful Orthodox professionals, including lessons in setting targets, developing business plans and analyzing staff dynamics and productivity. We lack endowments, as we do centralize resources to facilitate greater success in realizing grants from the increased funding available from large private foundations.

We ought to be engaging the kiruv opportunities provided by charter schools. We need to explore more combinations of yeshiva study with degree options. We have to keep exploring that (imaginary?) pot of programmatic gold at the end of the rainbow – the Internet. We have to regroup to learn more interactive styles of teaching, and to understand that the mekarev‘s blog is not just a weekly essay, but something which weaves in the live interactions and pedagogy of the week.

How far does this go? Do we maintain authenticity when we ask the mekarev to become an interesting personality that students will want to follow on twitter? Can he do all of that while maintaining a real connection to his own ruchnius (spirituality)? Those who teach must also realize their own potential.

Our professional salary scales are designed to choke any growing family into despair and submission. We will have to take the difficult plunge of realigning salaries with current costs of living.

Yet, even if these various needs would be met, they would merely provide incremental improvements to an already successful effort. I would like to suggest several factors that could lead kiruv to an entirely new league:

Operations of Scale: The mindset of the kiruv movement has been incremental and modest. As noted above, no one has ever posited a credible proposal to battle widespread assimilation, and there have been few efforts to realistically introduce kiruv on a massive scale. The budgets of even the largest kiruv organizations are only mid-sized when compared to secular Jewish organizations like the Federations, the JDC, Hadassah Women, Federations of Jewish Philanthropy, AIPAC and the Jewish Agency. And not only is there modesty in size, but also in creativity and innovation. We think of ourselves as cutting edge, but Limud, Moishie Houses and Birthright surely rank as recent initiatives that put us to shame. We have no equivalent of the Jewish Funder’s Network, Hadassah Women, AIPAC or Bnei Brith, nor have we broken into the mainstream of the United Synagogues of England or the Consistoire of France. We are dominated by medium-minded parochials, fretting about intermarriage, but failing to mobilize the necessary resources and ingenuity.

The kiruv community has shown signs, however, of contemplating increased scale. When the initial, historic Lakewood kollels were introduced (in Toronto, Los Angeles and Chicago among other cities), the incubation period was five years. That has not changed. But, by comparison to earlier periods, fourteen new outreach kollels were introduced globally in 2004-2005, alone. Last year, the Morasha students and affiliate organizations had 30,000 continuous students in its global network. By contrast, merely ten years ago, I (and likely any serious mekarev) would have declined funding for an effort seeking to identify and activate so many students. We would not have believed ourselves capable of achieving such a goal – and we would have been correct. But G-d is capable of – and apparently willing to do – much more than we expect. Rav Tzadok Hacohen says that the teaching that בעקבתא דמשיחא חוצפא יסגי (in pre-Messianic times, there will be great chutzpah) applies to חוצפא דקדושה (“holy chutzpah”) as well. We of the kiruv world may be small people, relative to the greats of our generation, but we are given permission to have the chutzpah to do great things.

The grandeur of what kiruv can be is not limited by the absence of resources, but only by the movement’s failure to access the massive resources that already exist in the philanthropic community. Such philanthropists, however, tend to be uninterested in anything less than truly inspiring, global initiatives, and the kiruv world has yet to step up to the plate.

Consider: The first 40 multi-billionaires to sign on to Bill and Melinda Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s pledge to give at least half of their wealth to charity represented $17 billion in new Jewish money. In the two years since it was launched, the pledge has recruited 92 billionaires including the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Only 2 of the 14 initial donors identifiably Jewish had special Jewish sections of their foundations. Kiruv is not limited by resources, but rather by the absence of a mindset necessary to reach them.

Great Leaders: Many of the larger kiruv organizations, led by outstanding and visionary people, find it challenging to locate the right manpower for their senior management positions. They lack organizational depth – sufficient high level middle management, such as the COO types who could blow projects out, taking them national or global to the benefit of all. The economic downturn produced dozens of high level Bnei Torah who found themselves unemployed, sometimes from major corporate positions. Kiruv was not an option for most of them because it did not provide people of this ilk the tools to get started at the high level they were used to from their professional lives.

What we would need for these is: (a) A venture capital fund, (b) Mentoring by leading, experienced mekarvim who will expose them to a graduated measure of opportunities and (c) Fundraising consultants.

Notwithstanding the visionaries who created the primary kiruv organizations and some great Roshei Yeshiva who invested enormously, the kiruv movement lacks visionaries sufficiently inspiring to articulate a vision that will get us to transcend individual institutional considerations. Great leaders make great things happen. While many Roshei Kollel and others have admirably assumed broader responsibility for the Jewish growth of their cities, there is now a need for a national if not an international vision.

Leadership for Mainstream Organizations: To date, the kiruv movement has thrived on being external to the broader organized Jewish world. In the main, it has given up on tapping into the significant resources and legitimacy of this (often unsympathetic) world, often leaving kiruv with a stigma of being sectarian and parochial. This approach was fully justified. But the time may have arrived to not only engage this broader community, but to actually serve as its leadership.

Many major American organizations have either a current professional vacuum or have no succession plan. The American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (Presidents Conference) are currently headed by talented professionals, all of whom have reached or are approaching retirement. As reflected in the difficulties that confronted International Hillel and United Jewish Communities (national Federation) in finding a leading professional, there is much talk about the shallow pool of candidates for top jobs in Jewish organizations. And while most of these organizations have a sign that says, “Chareidim may not apply,” the kiruv movements have produced talented baalei teshuva of all stripes, many of whom would be ideal candidates. In particular, these organizations are open, in theory, to the advancement of women, who occupy too few of the top jobs.

The career life span of a campus mekarev is typically 5 to 10 years, and few subsequent kiruv jobs will even match their salary. Perhaps the most qualified members of this cohort would be well positioned to move on to leadership jobs such as these. We ought to be nurturing the leadership that would allow inspired examples of Orthodoxy to begin to take responsibility for the greater Jewish world through these broad-based institutions. This will require some change in our mentality. But it would also lead to a Kiddush HaShem, to exposure by secular Jewish leaders to inspiring examples of Orthodoxy, to access to increased funding, and to a whole new range of opportunities.

The Conservative Movement: Strong anecdotal evidence indicates that most baalei teshuva grew up within the Conservative Movement. This movement is plunging. It went from 43 percent of affiliated Jewish households in 1990 to 33 percent in 2000. It has gone from 693 congregations in 2001 to 652 in 2010 losing about 15 percent of its members (from 241,300 families to 204,200). In the Northeast, the drop is 30 percent!

Traditionally, Conservative Jews who belong to a congregation were much more highly engaged than those who do not. But that might be changing. As the Conservative movement continues its downward spiral in its race to be ever more accommodating to contemporary trends, there is an increasing number of Jews who leave the movement because of its failure to provide substantive meaning and spiritual fulfillment.

We will have to create new models to attract those disaffected by the Conservative Movement’s failures and to identify the loci of concentrations in which they are residing. The dominant trend is for these Jews to reject any formal framework, and to embrace non-affiliated and self-run groups in their stead. Kiruv must accommodate this need. The open and welcoming attitude of Chabad to all comers makes Chabad a natural refuge for many of these Jews. The balance of the kiruv world also needs an urgent mobilization of resources to address the needs of those from the Conservative movement who continue to have a strong Jewish identity and will not be satisfied with weaker alternatives. If there would be a wave of family-orientated start-up communities that were informal and non-judgmental and that were not part of a formal network, it is possible that we could access a substantial portion of this disaffected population.

Professional Development: While we ought to recognize the kiruv movement’s great successes, we also need to focus on closing the gap between performing adequately and living up to a standard of excellence. We respond to the urgency and enormity of our task with dedication and brawn but not always with sophistication, depth and strategic planning. We are constrained by time, professional training resources, and the natural turn-over of staff. Whereas the Westbury Group, for example (a group of philanthropies that give to European Jewry), provides capacity-building specifically for start-up organizations in Europe targeting one region at a time, and the JDC’s LeAtid organization out of France has a dedicated staff of differentiated specialists, the kiruv world is still dominated by amateurs advising amateurs. We have good student training programs, and we have some excellent field people doing house-calls across America. We have ever more polished conferences with a shmorgasbord of various pickings, and AJOP (and previously AFIKIM) provides one day training seminars on management, fundraising and other professional needs. However, kiruv has little sustained professional training and mentoring in specialized areas. Should such resources be introduced, professionals would more likely remain energized and engaged, as well be far more prepared to fulfill their missions. We ought to be developing some super-specialists within our own ranks and send them on a circuit to train people on site. We don’t just need this help in fundraising, but in how to structure our organizations, how to create the right social environments, how to balance first- with second-phase learning, how to deal with shalom bayis, and more.

V.    Do We Lack Coordination?

The Baal Teshuva Movement has a decent track record of attempted coordination but it is woefully inadequate in certain areas. While technologies such as social networks are being introduced to recruit new students, such technology is not being utilized to effect strong coordination among kiruv efforts. Hence we are weak at handing off our students to other organizations that address differing needs and stages. further depleted our supply excuses by showing how easily a national data-base and referral site can be set up, especially when the students themselves become motivated to continue their Jewish exploration.

We have mentioned above that we can only access some of the mega-funding with global visions. No one organization is in a position to submit a proposal that is sufficiently comprehensive to inspire these givers. At one stage, the kollels were organizing themselves into a broader umbrella body (just as Rabbi Shlomo Noach Mandel organized schools in the FSU under the rubric of Shema Yisroel), though difficulties arose in sustaining it. Such thinking is good, but it is too tentative and too parochial (e.g., the focus only on kollels) to make the kind of breakthroughs that are required. There is no reason why a group of highly motivated people (mekarvim) that number in the several hundreds cannot become a very powerful body with respect not only to funding, but to all kinds of policy issues, as well as acting as instruments of change within the Orthodox community. We have yet to find our voice beyond our own circle.

Lastly, our efforts are not necessarily reflecting today’s Jewish demographic distribution. We are struck by the “exotic factor” of doing one project in each new city, but we lack any sense of proportion of projects per percentage of the Jewish population. We don’t yet have a single outreach kollel in Manhattan, yet were we to make a proportionate number of outreach kollels in Manhattan based on the populations where we now have such things, we would need one at least every ten blocks! The San Fernando Valley of LA has about 200,000 Jews, just as San Francisco does. In both, kiruv is far and few between. Southern Florida has two counties with Jewish populations of 300,000 and one with 200,000, and yet there are only sparse projects throughout these areas. New York has a sixth of the Jewish population but it certainly does not have a sixth of the money going into kiruv.

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

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the Director of Ner LeElef.

[2] While it is true that there was a general search for spirituality at that time, the dominant trend was away from organized frameworks and rule-orientated religions. American church attendance rose steadily from the Depression until it peaked in 1960 at 69%. By 1970, as the Baal Teshuva Movement was first gaining strength, church attendance had dropped to 63.4% – and it kept dropping (Roy E. Eckhardt, quoted in Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, pg. 839). Thus, the Baal Teshuva Movement was operating against the sociological trends, not because of them!

[3] See Devarim 30:2 (וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ:) The Ramban learns that the pasuk ושבת עד ד’ אלקיך (דברים ל: ב) tells us that there is mitzvah to do teshuva. Rav Aaron Soleveichik (פרח מטה אהרון על הרמב”ם, הל’ תשובה פ”א הל’ א ) asks why the Ramban needs this pasuk, when he already learns a pasuk telling us the same thing (כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא). He suggests that the pasuk ושבת refers to national teshuva. Even the Rambam, who learns that this is a promise and not a Mitzvah, talks of national teshuva as an obligation on Yom Kippur or when we are in trouble. See רמב”ם, הל’ תשובה, פ’ ב, הל’ ז:

יום הכפורים הוא זמן תשובה לכל ליחיד ולרבים וגו’. ולשון רבים אינו יכול להתייחס לריבוי של יחידים, כל זה כלול בלשון “ליחיד” ויותר מזה היה לו להרמב”ם לכתוב ” יום הכפורים הוא זמן תשובה לכל” ותו לא.

Tanach is replete with examples of the nation as a whole being exhorted to do teshuva. And, of course, all commentators understand that we will all do teshuva in the Messianic era:

רמב”ם, הל תשובה, פ”ז ה”ה: …. וכבר הבטיחה תורה שסוף ישראל לעשות תשובה בסוף גלותן ומיד הן נגאלין שנאמר והיה כי יבאו עליך כל הדברים וגו’ ושבת עד ה’ אלהיך ושב ה’ אלהיך וגו. רמב”ם, הל’ תענית פ”א הל’ א: מצות עשה מן התורה לזעוק ולהריע בחצוצרות על כל צרה שתבא על הצבור שנאמר (במדבר י’) על הצר הצורר אתכם והרעותם בחצוצרות כלומר כל דבר שייצר לכם כגון בצורת ודבר וארבה וכיוצא בהן זעקו עליהן והריעו: הל’ ב: ודבר זה מדרכי התשובה הוא ….וכתב הפרח מטה אהרון שלשיטת הרמב”ן צריל לומר שיש שתי מיני תשובה בשביל העם, אחד מיראה בעת צרה ואחד (מאהבה).

[4] Rambam, Laws of Teshuva 7:5

[5] See the end of his introduction to Sefer HaMidos.

[6] As Rav Hutner explained it, it is the overflowing into our generation of the teshuva that we will all do in ימות המשיח.

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