KIRUV: EXPLORING THE WORLD OF OUTREACH
"TRAVELING IN ISRAEL"
Jews love to travel. The image of the wandering Jew is true as both a description as well as a self-image of Jews anywhere.
And so it is of little surprise that during the course of the year many young assimilated college age Jews go off to explore Europe and Israel. Some of them even decide to spend a little time on a Kibbutz or take a few courses at an Israeli university. In short, they have been smitten with old fashioned "wunderlust".
For the world of kiruv rechokim (Jewish Outreach) this phenomenon has had major ramifications. An entire outreach apparatus has evolved to provide yet another option for these wandering happy-go-lucky young people:
A traditional Shabbos meal,
or a day in a yeshiva,
or a visit to the Western Wall.
Indeed, at the Kotel, (Western Wall), there is a polished network of outreach professionals who specialize in offering hospitality, and an opportunity to learn Torah, to the previously disinterested Jewish traveler.
The most famous are Rabbi Meir Shuster and his Heritage House Youth Hostels, and Jeffrey Seidel and his Jewish Student Information Center in Jerusalem. These gentlemen and their assistants follow a simple approach, the one first applied it seems by our Patriarch Abraham: Offer a good meal and a place to rest, to be followed by some Torah "food for thought."
Thousands, yes thousands, of young Jews have been enrolled in famous Baal Teshuvah Yeshivot in this fashion. In fact, The Aish Ha Torah Yeshivah in Jerusalem recently purchased a site overlooking the Western Wall to be its world headquarters, for this reason.
The founder of Aish, Rabbi Noach Weinberg talks about how he originally started in Bnei Brak, but that there was not enough "traffic" over there, so he moved to Jerusalem. It is in this day and age that Torah suddenly has an opportunity to be made readily available at the "doorstep" of the young Jewish traveler.
Today, the Aish Ha Torah Yeshiva runs weekly Discovery Seminars in Jerusalem which has become a popular "must do" for many people touring the Old City. Fascinating lectures proving the validity of the Torah, existence of G-d, and the relevance of Judaism to modern life are presented, and more importantly, accepted by many listeners. Enough to convince them to stay on for a few weeks, or months, or years, and even make Aliyah.
The efficiency of the Baalei Teshuva movement in convincing its students to drop their travel plans and consider a permanent stay in the Holy Land, has caught the attention of the Israeli Establishment. So much so, that President Chaim Hertzog and the World Zionist Organization endorse scholarships for an Aish program called Jerusalem Fellowships that brings students from America to spend time in Israel, that could lead in the end to Aliyah (emigration to Israel).
How strange it is that the freedom of travel enjoyed by so many alienated American Jews, brings them closer to home then they ever imagined: To Israel, Jerusalem, Yeshiva, and finally building a True Home in Israel.
A greater in-depth appreciation of this amazing phenomenon in our times will be needed.
Kiruv: News and Views