KIRUV: EXPLORING THE WORLD OF OUTREACH
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Director of J.P.I.
They say that today there isn't a Jewish family around that doesn't have at least one member married to a gentile and one member that became a Baal Teshuva, (returnee to Torah Judaism).
If this truism isn't valid in our immediate family, it's true in our extended families. In the midst of massive Jewish assimilation and intermarriage, there is also a "Baal Teshuva Movement".
It is the events, personalities, history, and literature of this latest movement that we will explore and present to the ever curious readership of this publication.
The scope and success of the Lubavitch movement in bringing back Jews to authentic Yiddishkeit are legendary. No Jew anywhere in the world is out of range of the emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is perhaps the single most remarkable outreach movement today and needs to be understood. It is all about Jewish outreach, Kiruv rechokim, and the miracle of Jews returning to Judaism in the latter half of the twentieth century.
But it is still only part of the total picture made up of multiple layers of large and small organizations trying to achieve the same goals: Bringing Jews and Judaism back together again.
And who are they?
Some are well known, others less so, but they all boast a record of success:
The National Conference of Synagogue Youth (N.C.S.Y.) of the Orthodox Union has succeeded to bring the vibrancy of Torah and its ruach (spirit) to tens of thousands of adolescents.
The Aish HaTorah Yeshiva in Israel and its growth in America's major cities is another striking example of Kiruv's coming of age.
The Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem has established branches in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Johannesburg, Monsey and Brooklyn. It must mean that "business" is picking up.
For years Lincoln Square Synagogue under its outreach Director, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, set the pace for making Orthodoxy relevant to the Manhattan set. Now he has established his own National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) to teach crash courses in Hebrew and Judaism in five easy lessons. This has caught on like wildfire as hundreds of congregations attract tens of thousands of Jews to study alef-bet for the first time! (Something must be happening!)
The Hineni movement of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis has achieved major acclaim for its inspirational message in lectures and in the media.
A sure sign of the maturation of any field of endeavor is when a professional organization with annual conventions is convened. Now Kiruv workers who are not members of any particular group, can join "AJOP": The Association For Jewish Outreach Professionals, established several years ago, and serving over 600 (yes, six hundred outreach) organizations.
Worldwide stories come flooding in of Russian Jews rediscovering their heritage, Israelis turning to become chozrei beteshuva. American college students and professionals rediscovering their roots, with more reports in a similar vein coming from Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Latin America.
There are books, articles, discussions and more. In future columns we will explore this exciting world of Jewish Outreach in all its variety.
Kiruv: News and Views