By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA
Director: Jewish Professionals Institute. Formerly: Director Sinai Heritage Center (Wall Street) and AJOP Trustee.
Part of a series devoted to Kiruv Rechokim
There are many varieties of “diving into the deep end” in Kiruv. One way is to introduce intellectual beginner secular Jews to any one of a variety of serious Torah texts that can range from Talmud to Tanya and everything in between with no holds barred. There are also very attractive other ways to accomplish this without actual texts or formal learning! That is by welcoming secular Jews into solidly Frum communities on a Shabbos or even casually.
One needs to understand the mind-set and lifestyle of modern secular people. They are very individualistic and see themselves as having a goal of furthering their careers at all costs. The longer they spend in college and at work, the less connected they become to their past. Often they move around in jobs that offer little job security due to the volatility in today’s ruthless modern economies. They usually live alone in small cramped apartments, sometimes called “little boxes” and live in an environment where they call life a “dog eats dog” world where “big fish swallow little fish” and where everyone is always “out for number one” having to perform to meet the thankless work and production requirements of “what have you done for me today?” Not surprisingly this engulfs the secular Jewish singles where they become “workaholics” who often then pay little attention to close family and past friends. They go to bars and clubs to “unwind” as they live isolated and personally less fulfilling lives even as they make more money and climb up the various “corporate ladders” all around them.
It is what has been called a lonely existential existence disconnected from any real life experience of a true JEWISH community, let alone a religious Torah Kehilla, and to deep family life. At this point it is not uncommon for such people to meet Frum Jews, especially if they live in large cities and metropolitan areas where there are many Jews and Orthodox Jews in the same workplaces who are living in thriving Torah communities such as in New York City with huge surrounding Frumcommunities in Brooklyn, Queens, the Five Towns, nearby New Jersey, Monsey and Upstate New York etc.
One thing that all Frum Jews need to know is that they are always being watched by their fellow non-Frum co-workers, Jewish and non-Jewish, and as everyone knows they will always be asked questions by the curious “outsiders” about Yiddishkeit and Jewish customs that are puzzling them. When a secular Jew asks questions of his or her Jewish religious co-workers it is one of the greatest Kiruv opportunities that exists!
Once working relationships and casual acquaintances start to grow it is a wonderful opportunity to invite your secular Jewish co-workers with whom you have built up a friendly relationship to experience the warmth and unity of a Torahdikka Jewish family or of a Jewish community on a Shabbos, Yom Tov, or a family Simcha like a wedding or Bar Mitzva. It can also be an invitation to a home Melave Malka or a Sunday lunch or barbecue. Purim and Chanuka are especially attractive because one can drive and do all the regular weekday things and enjoy the specialness of Hadlokas Neiros and Latkes and donuts on Chanuka or enjoy a Purim Seuda and Mesiba. In past years I used to host many such Purim and Chanuka parties in my home where the people could meet my wife and children and see us as at home as a family, and I would try to have a live musician play Jewish music, with lots of good food and an opportunity to show the students the surrounding community.
If you are not able to do this yourself then contact a local Kiruv organization and ask for help. The Chabad movement in particular are great experts at this type of thing and they have Shluchim-rabbis and and their very capable wives-Rebbetzinsand families with Chabad Houses in all states and all over the world as is well known. It is not just Chabad that excels at welcoming secular Jews into their homes and communities to experience the warmth of Yiddishkeit but virtually all Chasidic groups have some connection with outside secular Jews through business contacts and sometimes just through chance meetings that can and are used as springboards for Kiruv Rechokim.
For seven years from 1988 to 1995 I was the full-time Director of the Sinai Heritage Center in Manhattan that was fully sponsored by the Belzer Chasidim under the leadership of the Belzer Rebbe Shlit”a in Yerushalayim. During that time over the years we had hundreds of people who worked in the Wall Street area and all over Manhattan come to our Lunch Hour Lectures and evening Shiurim and guest lectures. Dozens of students, meaning the attendees of our programs, were invited to special events we held in in the halls of the large Belzer Shull in Boro Park such as for Sheva Brochas and similar events with great success.
I know that the Skver and Bobov Chasidim in the New York area have Baalei Teshuva who have joined their communities. The Sker Chasidim of Square Town welcome groups of secular Jews on all levels to their special Tishen held over Shabbos and Yom Tov. I have spoken with non-religious and recently religious Jews from secular and non-Orthodx backgrounds who have become inspired to keep more in Torah and Mitzvos by participating in inspiring events like this. In Israel it is easy to spot many secular Israelis who come to enjoy a special Tish or Farbrengen at various Chasidic Courts and their impressiveChasidisha Rebbes and become inspired in their Jewish observance.
Not everyone needs or is looking for inspiration through texts or deep logic. For many people they may be looking for some sort of deeper community or spiritual connection that they can get from the world of Chasidus and from Torah Kehillas and families.
To be continued…