Over 800 Attend Project Inspire Convention Dedicated to Reaching Out to all Jews


project-inspire1 As we approach Shavuos, we know that we were “k’ish echad b’lev echad” when we received the Torah.  These many years later, do we honestly sense that the word “achdus” and “Am Yisroel” are synonymous?  Are we striving to increase Achdus Yisroel?   The increasing loss of Jews to assimilation and intermarriage has got to be stopped, and the barriers we’ve erected between this Jew and that, between “us” and “them” have got to come down.   Now!

In an ongoing effort to empower observant Jews to act effectively to accomplish these goals, Project Inspire held its inaugural convention at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut this past weekend of Behar/Bechukosai.  Project Inspire is one of the youngest in a growing galaxy of kiruv organizations.  One of the things which make it stand out from the others is its underlying mission – to awaken a grass-roots kiruv movement, powered by lay people in communities around the world.  Their objective?  To restore achdus between the frum and not-yet-observant Jewish worlds, based on the recognition that not only is Klal Yisroel one neshama, with one Tatteh  in Himmel, but also that we must demonstrate by the way we live that we believe in these principles totally and completely, and live and act accordingly.

So, how do you achieve this?  You round up a few committed people, who can seemingly manage very nicely without food and sleep, and you have them plan a 48-hour conference with a mind-boggling roster of speakers, including Choshuva Rabbonim, Rebbetzins, and people from communities in the US, Canada and Israel.  These dedicated planners develop an “itinerary” for those hours that takes the convention participants on a spiritual journey of chinuch, chizuk and a dose now and then of comic relief.  Add to the picture a caterer who does a magnificent job of feeding the guf while the neshamos soar, some babysitters, and a whole lot of other things that most people aren’t even aware of.  Finally, you daven to the Al-mighty that 250 people will come so that you don’t lose too much money.  And then, during the week before the convention, you attempt to recover from the shock of having to plan for 700+ attendees, while apologizing profusely to the two or three hundred people you have to turn away for lack of space.

Thanks to several years of very hard work, and a large measure of siyata dishmaya, Project Inspire’s message is being heard.  It’s hard not to draw a parallel between the age of Project Inspire (just over three years) and the mitzvos concerning fruit-bearing trees and the length of time it takes for the fruit of the new tree to be ready to be harvested.  Finally, people are taking to heart their achrayus to be mekarev their brothers and sisters.  The Torah tells us of this mitzvah, the Talmud speaks of it, and gedolim throughout the ages mention it in no uncertain terms.  Project Inspire works to reinforce the understanding in the frum community of our obligations in this area and, very important, gives us the tools we need to staunch the constant flow of Yiddishe blood into the sea of intermarriage and assimilation.  The May 7-9 convention was a perfect model of how this inspiration is generated.

Erev Shabbos, Rav Zev Leff, Rosh Yeshiva and Rav of Moshav Matisyahu, spoke about people wanting to know what their tafkid is, and doing tremendous soul-searching to try to discover it.  He said that it really isn’t that hard; when you get up in the morning, for example, your tafkid is to say “modeh ani“, and then your tafkid is to wash netilas yadayim, and so on, moment by moment throughout the day.  He said that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is always putting opportunities for growth in our path, opportunities to be His shaliach, including, of course, opportunity after opportunity to be His partner in bringing His children back home.           

The afternoon sessions were followed by beautiful davening, and then a wonderful Shabbos meal, with z’miros and a contagious ruach of kedushas Shabbos. Following the Seudah, the convention got into full swing with a welcome by emcee Rabbi Yaakov Salomon, noted author and psychotherapist and senior Discovery Seminar lecturer. Rav Leff, spoke about Tikun Olam through an integrated process of Limud HaTorah in order to perform Mitzvos, teach what he has learned and influence others to observe it.  Rabbi Chaim Sampson, Director of Project Inspire, spoke of the difference that Project Inspire partners are making in people’s lives.

For the next thirty-seven or so hours, with brief times out for meals and a quick sleep, shiur followed shiur, people met to share their personal experiences, and communities met with their counterparts to compare notes and learn from each other’s successes.  Each shiur increased our degree of inspiration and commitment, and as time went on, one could sense an increasing determination to put forth every effort to take the skills and ideas gained at the conference and put them to immediate use, creating a virtual tidal wave of energy and enthusiasm to reach out and strengthen fellow Jews. 

All in all, there were over 50 shiurim, as well as brainstorming and experience-sharing gatherings.   Among the lecturers were R’ Yerachmiel Milstein, Rav Yosef Viener, R’ Yaakov Salomon, R’ Motty Berger, R’ Mordechai Becher, R’ Avraham Goldhar, R’ Eliyahu Bergstein, and R’ Dovid Orlofsky.  Rebbetzins Lori Palatnik and Debbie Greenblatt gave amazing shiurim for the ladies on handling issues that come up when reaching out to not-yet-observant women – entertaining and very practical sessions on creating and establishing relationships in ways that are particularly suited to women.

Project Inspire is all about creating connections between the frum and not-yet-frum, but in order to do that, it’s essential to enlist every frum Jew in the campaign.  It’s a battle to save the souls of 80% of the Jews in world – and if the number sounds familiar, it did come up not long ago, just before Pesach.  We don’t want history to repeat itself and so it’s critical that every single person take on some kiruv effort.  Things are really beginning to happen along the East Coast, with the main office of Project Inspire in New York, and satellite branches in Silver Spring/Washington DC, Toronto and Cleveland.  We were told about the communities in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and New Jersey that are creating community-wide Shabbatons, bringing in people from as far away as Philadelphia. 

On Motzaei Shabbos, Inspire Toronto director, R’ Moshe Zionce shared his success in creating a city-wide Shabbaton, with sixteen shuls participating, and dozens and dozens of families hosting non-frum families for Shabbos.  A group from Monsey calling themselves the Traveling Chassidim gave a presentation on a Shabbaton they participated in Lawrence for visiting IDF soldiers with a video showing the chayalim dancing in tzitzis and streimels, embracing and dancing with the Chassidim.  It was made abundantly clear how welcome these efforts are and how much people want to be drawn in.  And when it’s done on the basis of love and friendship, with no other agenda, it works time and time again.

Who are the powerhouses who are doing all this organizing and entertaining and publicizing?  Well, there’s a Chassidische housewife in Boro Park.  There’s a mother in Potomac, MD whose daughters speak about “that kiruv thing” that she does.  There are day-school teachers and rabbeim, single people and married people, young people and older people.  Lots and lots and lots of people.  And one of the reasons that this is possible is that all of us, at one time or another during the week, have contact with non-affiliated Jews.  As Rabbi Leff pointed out, if we are sincerely looking for our tafkid, Hashem will open our eyes to the endless opportunities He places in our path.

To help us take advantage of these opportunities, several of the sessions were geared towards providing people with invaluable tools for coping with the inevitable awkward moments, from how not to answer a sticky question to how to deal with fears of not knowing an answer at all.  It was also made quite clear that the “Inspire” in “Project Inspire” does not refer just to inspiring non-observant Jews to become frum.  Rather, it refers to a call to inspire observant Jews to become aware of the many ways they can reach out and make a difference in the lives of “strangers”, often simply with a smile, a kind word, an acknowledgment of the unity among all Jews, regardless of level of practice.  Every Jew should know that he/she is valued as a person and as a member of the Jewish family, regardless of affiliation or lack thereof, and that’s a big piece of the Project Inspire pie.

Rabbi Eliezer Grossman, a Belzer Chasid from Boro Park, summarized the feeling of Project Insire Convention participants when he stated, “The last 2,000 years of Jewish history are called y’mos mashiach.  Through the achdus we experienced this weekend and the desire of everyone here to marbeh b’chovod shamayim, we felt the presence of the Shechinah.  What could be a better picture of how it’s going to be when Moshiach comes!”  

{Malka Leah Berkson-Matzav.com Newscenter}