Rabbi Shmuli Rosenberg
Kiruv: Marketing Judaism
The past few summers, Oorah ran a kiruv program for college-age boys. The program, called Discover U, is a division of TheZone, Oorah’s summer camp. We provide boys with a great blend of fun and learning to ensure the best summer experience geared for their age. At one of our open forum sessions, one participant asked a question that really got me thinking: “Is life really just a bowl of cholent?” he asked. “When I first got involved in kiruv programs, they made it seem like everything is just fun and excitement. But once I started making progress, they slam us with all the 613 mitzvot and then we’re stuck. It’s false advertising!”
There are many angles from which to approach this question. However, the premise challenged by this young man is the very foundation of kiruv. Whatever our goals are, and whatever metrics define success, we are trying to facilitate a change in lifestyle. We want people to give up something for something else. Yes, what we are selling is better. It is in their best interests. Still, it entails sacrifice.
What Exactly is Kiruv?
Webster’s dictionary defines marketing as “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” Isn’t that what we are all doing? We promote and distribute the greatest product of all time – Torah. Kiruv is marketing yidishkeit.
The mekarev regularly employs many of the tactics and concepts of marketing in his or her outreach activities. These range from the basics, such as creating brochures and flyers, to promoting programs to more complex branding feats. We are concerned with our image and our brand. We work on creative and intriguing class titles.
By analyzing kiruv through a marketing prism, there is a lot we can learn.
When does Kiruv Begin?
Larry D. Woodard, CEO of Vigilante, a New York-based advertising agency, in an ABC news story in December of 2009 writes: “In 1992, marketers spent about $8 billion targeting kids; this year that number is more in the $15 billion to $20 billion range.”
He further analyzes that, “It is a known fact in the advertising and marketing world that “pester power,” i.e. the power kids have over your pocket book, is huge. According to studies, children influence as much as $180 billion of spending each year – a sizable portion during the traditional holiday gift giving season. [But] savvy marketers know it isn’t always enough just to influence junior; time must be spent educating parents, usually mom, about the values of a particular toy or game.”
If we were to apply this marketing concept to kiruv as we do with others, it would follow that a very significant amount of kiruv resources ought to be focused on this demographic. Surprisingly, a focus on kiruv for children was something missing from the Fall 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives. There are many great models for this type of potent outreach. Out of convenience of familiarity, I would like to focus on Oorah’s model for this type of work.
Each summer, hundreds of children from all over the country come to Oorah’s camp, TheZone. Featuring separate boys and girls camps staffed by b’nei and b’nos Torah, the children are given a genuine Torah experience in a fun, non-threatening environment. This is in effect an immersion program for children. Many of these children, joined by others in over 30 different locations visit their local ChillZone, Oorah’s weekly learning program.
Aside from the successful results realized with many of these children as they grow up, their parents often increase their level of connection to their Jewish roots, as well. In particular, we have found that many parents want to learn more once their children join a Yeshiva or Day School. Involved parents who want to be a part of their children’s lives will want to understand more of what their children are learning. We have coined our successes in this area “FFK’s” (Frum From Kids).
Many organizations do this type of work, such as NCSY and JEP. I write about Oorah not because I suggest it is better in any way, but because that is what I am familiar with.
Children hold a great power of persuasion. We all know how our children ‘convince’ us of things even when we promise ourselves we will not give in.
Children are also less tainted by the ills of society and are more fertile ground to plant the seeds of authentic Torah values. In our chinuch system, we regularly take young boys and girls with very little Torah knowledge and bring them into yeshivos. We teach them the basics of reading Hebrew, the beginning of Chumash, the ikrei ha’Emunah (principles of faith), the basics of the yomim tovim holidays), etc. Is this not kiruv?
By reaching Jewish youth we can accomplish great things. As it says, Veheishiv leiv avos al banim ve’leiv banim al avosam (and he will return the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers – Malachi 3:24).
When does Kiruv End?
In sticking with the marketing theme, one very important part in customer retention is customer service and support. When translated into kiruv terms, this would mean upkeep and continued support through complete integration.
In observing the outlook on kiruv of our rebbe, Rav Chaim Mintz, I find it inspiring that he treats every kiruv family as he does a talmid (student) of his from Yeshiva of Staten Island. Once a talmid, always a talmid is his mantra, no matter where the talmid is from.
Integration of baalei teshuva is an everlasting challenge, and Oorah provides a cradle to grave set of programs, complete with guidance and support. We have a Rebbitzens program to assist with shiduchim (finding a spouse). Our Yom Tov programs provide our families a haven to experience a Torah-true holiday experience.
How is Kiruv Accomplished?
To answer this, we must answer how selling is accomplished. Undoubtedly, the most effective form of sales is a great product demonstration. Steve Jobs was a master at this. His keynote sessions were greatly effective is selling his products. He convinced millions of people that they need every song in their music collection readily available at any given moment in their pocket. He then convinced people that they need not only 1,000 songs, but over 10,000 songs.
Most kiruv is not accomplished through debate. Most people don’t become frum because they become convinced by deep intellectual arguments. Most kiruv is accomplished by example. When we set an example of what it means to live a happy and productive life, filled with meaning and purpose, others are drawn to it as well. This is the ultimate product demonstration.
Here lies the answer to the question with which I began. In all relationships, there is a certain excitement at the beginning. The same is true with a new job or project. We begin with freshness and enthusiasm. Once the stardust settles, however, the picture before us seems very different, and the task at hand seems more difficult. In other words, reality sets in.
This phenomenon is not by chance. This is G-d’s way of showing us a flash of light at the initiation of any new undertaking in order to demonstrate to us what it can become. It is like a flare illuminating the darkness momentarily, displaying a stunning scene you never imagined was there. Once the flash fades away and we know what we can accomplish and what things can be like, the light disappears and we are tasked to uncover it on our own. What came as a gift and lasted briefly can be made to last forever when earned on our own accord.
When introducing someone to Yiddishkeit, we make their initial experience one of pure fun and excitement, because that is the reality. However, just like all beginnings, the excitement can only last forever when earned. We show them what Shabbos can become and what learning can become. Once they make the commitment, it is for them to strive and recreate that exhilaration once again. It is not false advertising. It is a product demonstration. Just like when you see a product demonstration, it is understood that there is a manual full of instructions and that it may take time to master the product to recreate what was seen as part of the demonstration, the same is true regarding a Torah-true life. We demonstrate what it really is, but it takes time and effort to master it.
Who is Kiruv For?
Who should be involved in kiruv as a mekarev?
Rabbi Steve Burg and Dovid Bashevkin, in their essay “Stuff People Say about Jewish Outreach,” (Klal Perspectives, Fall 2012), discusses several important aspects of kiruv utilizing a viral satire video “Stuff People Say About Oorah.” As the producer of the above video, I thank and commend the authors for a wonderful and insightful piece. In response, I would like to comment on one point in their essay.
In the original video, the character said, “Here you have an organization that is going to be mekarev rechokim (bring close those who are far) – and merachek krovim (make distant those who are close, i.e., those who reach out)!”
The authors then delve into a discussion on training for outreach professionals. As the producer of the original video, I would like to clarify what issue I intended to bring up, and expound on it.
Being involved in kiruv has its dangers. In the interview with Harav Sholom Kamenetzky, shli”ta, the Rosh Yeshiva emphasizes this point strongly: “No one should go into kiruv imagining that he will always be able to preserve ‘West Point standards’ in the field.” Being in the kiruv field will require “engaging in activities that he never imagined himself doing in Yeshiva or Kollel.”
There are those who are very wary of such involvement and would even go so far as to criticize others for being involved in kiruv. They condemn those for purportedly sacrificing their own spirituality to save others. I do concede that there are those who will be affected strongly, and are not cut out for outreach work. But, for those that can withstand the trials involved, this holy work mustn’t be ignored.
Rav Chaim Mintz always tells our volunteers that the best way to combat these negative influences is by accepting on ourselves additional areas of increased holiness. It is crucial to constantly be reminded what you are in this for. You are not in kiruv in order to become ‘one of the boys.’ Of course you must be ‘with it’ and down to earth, but you must never lower yourself to their level. You must maintain your values, and for this you will be respected, admired and ultimately emulated. This is what a successful product demonstration for Torah is. When you understand your roll as a marketer of Judasim, you are only mekarev rechokim.
Every marketers dream is to sell a product so great that it sells itself. We have that. We have Torah that sells itself; we just need to do our little part in helping our brethren see its beauty.
Rabbi Shmuli Rosenberg is The Director of Marketing at Oorah, as well as Program Director for DiscoverU. He is also weekly columnist for Yated Ne’eman. This article represents his own view, not that of any organization.