Is Kiruv Out of Style?

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

Elisheva Maline
Image result for esther jungreis
   Esther Jungreis Z"L founder of Hineni 
While my friends' parents reminisced about Woodstock, my mother told me about how the 1960's led to the Kiruv Movement (drawing fellow Jews back to their spiritual roots) in America. Esther Jungreis, one of the movement's major advocates, opened a program called Hineni (Here I Am) as well as starting a globe-trot that would last decades. She was also given a half hour slot where she told over the weekly portion once a week on television. She sang the praises of Judaism and exhorted her fellow brothers and sisters to come back home. Where did her life long passion come from? After experiencing Bergen Belsen, Rebetzin Jungreis was "determined to devote her life to combating the spiritual holocaust that was occurring in the United States." Other Jewish pioneers, like Rav Noach Weinberg, founder of Aish Hatorah (fire for Torah) and Rabbi Dovid Refson (the founder of Neve college, a school for women to learn about Judaism) were also among the special few who opened up centers of learning which, today, are dotted all over the world.  

One of the more popularized mitzvot in the Torah (probably due to its relevance and the warm, fuzzy feeling it imparts) is the mitzvah of returning a lost object. "You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying and ignore them. [Rather], return them to your brother. And if your brother is not close to you (geographically), or you don't know him, bring it into your house and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out. Then, you shall return it to him" (Deuteronomy 22:1-2). The Or Hachaim Hakadosh, a commentator on the Pentateuch, gives these verses an allegoric spin. He calls the lost objects people who have assimilated, people who are, essentially, lost among the nations. This holy Moroccan Rav then begs the tzadikim (holy ones) of every generation to gather these lost souls, whose hearts are far away from knowledge of the Creator, and teach them Torah, "Bring them into your homes i.e. centers of learning." 

"And if your brother is not close to you," is a reference to galut (exile), "it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out." When will G-d, the owner, seek us out? During the age of the redemption, may it be soon. 

So, what can we do to speed up the process? After all, these are somewhat difficult times (feel free to fill in the blank with your own host of issues). The foremost question on many Jewish leaders' minds is, "In an age like this, how can we bring people close to G-d? It's hard to reach out to today's population. Religious, not religious, people's hearts are barely alive. How do we resuscitate?" The Or Hachaim suggests striking up a conversation, starting a learning session and connecting

While kiruv comes in all shapes and sizes, one does not have to found a yeshiva in order to be a participant. Just one small act of determination, or the stubbornness (coupled with a good attitude) to not take no for an answer, can have major impact on someone's life. My grandfather was one such success story. Until the age of fifteen, my zeidie's connection to Judaism was basically zilch. He knew what Shabbos candles were and his family ate matza on Pesach but, aside from the bare minimum, he really didn't know much. One Shabbos afternoon, in the late 1930's, he went to go see the flickers (old fashioned lingo for movies) when a strange boy grabbed him by the arm. "Come with me," the boy urged. My grandfather recognized his assailant as one of the local boys from his neighborhood. Since they weren't friends, my grandfather wasn't interested. He pulled away, "No, I've got plans already." However, this religious fellow wouldn't give up, "The guys and I are going to a kumzitz (a gathering where people sing spiritually moving songs), and we really want you to come." After a little cajoling, my grandfather caved and accompanied his neighbor out of the theater. The songs and feeling of achdut (unity) that he witnessed at the kumzitz inspired my grandfather to join Yeshivat Chaim Berlin in East New York. 

In fact, up until recently, August 6th marks the 30th day since his passing, my zeidie never stopped learning. Almost an entire century later, this young neighbor's efforts are still bearing fruit. My grandfather has a huge, and growing, family of children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren with a deep connection to their Judaism and Torah. How's that for a butterfly effect?

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