By Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer
I recently was menachem avel a mourner who I only knew peripherally. I wasn’t familiar with his particular pedigree or family background but I assumed from his ha’varah and general comportment that this respected Ben Torah came from a heimish home and was perhaps second generation American.
After acknowledging my presence, he said that he wanted to share something personal with me. He said, “It must be tough convincing people in Brooklyn about the imperative and urgency for Kiruv. After all, so many Flatbush and Borough Park Yidden come from families that have preserved the Mesorah for generations. How can these Yidden be expected to understand the plight of those American Jews who are so close to losing their entire heritage? How could they relate to the fact that there are other Jews that are languishing and suffocating to keep any vestige of Yiddishkeit alive?”
He really hit the nail on the head. His assessment was accurate. Supporting Kiruv is an uphill battle as many, unfortunately, still haven’t yet sensed the dire straits that Klal Yisroel is in as a whole.
However, what did this have to do with the Avel? The Halacha is that the conversation in a makom shiva should ideally be about the niftar.
Then this presumed yeshivish/heimish “greenhorn” laid the bombshell.
“I am fourth generation American. My great grandfather was totally secular. My grandfather was a leader of a Conservative Temple. My father, the niftar, was the first member of his family to receive a basic Jewish education. I, in turn, went to the finest Yeshivos and learned in Kollel for many years. My kids are all chashuva Bnei Torah. However, without Kiruv, we would be barely affiliated. Few people know and realize that my entire family’s Yiddishkeit is the result of a few very dedicated Rabbonim who were mekarev others. Those intrepid Rabbonim who saw the pintele Yid and spark of Kedusha in every Yid; those tzaddikim that understood that we are all bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok V’Yaakov regardless of level of affiliation. No one would suspect me or my family of coming from baalei Teshuvah. No one would dare guess that at my Seder table growing up there were relatives who brought pastrami on rye sandwhiches and drove home from the seder. My father, z”l, will have a Kaddish and thousands of hours of Torah learning from descendants, because there were great people who weren’t myopic, short sighted or insular but saw the future of Klal Yisroel wasn’t limited to a select few but encompassed and included all Yidden, no matter what.”
I was shocked to discover this person’s background. However, this wasn’t the first time I’ve confronted such special individuals. Very often, I meet people from Flatbush who confide to me that one or both of their parents or grandparents are baalei Teshuvah.
The avel continued,
“Very often people like me choose to hide our true backgrounds. I did too but now with my loss I find that sad and strange. In reality we should be at the vanguard of supporting Kiruv. One moment of introspection led me, and should lead others to realize that we owe our entire spiritual existence and all our zechusim to Kiruv. I really appreciate that BJX put Kiruv on the map locally.”
It seems to me that many Baalei Teshuva feel compelled to disguise their identities. They are afraid they will encounter societal stigma. That’s exceedingly sad. They should be respected and revered for their herosim and tremendous self sacrifice. Many of us born into frum families don’t come close to their supreme Ahavas Hashem, fidelity and devotion. Instead, they should have pride in their choices and backgrounds.
Many people don’t realize that their child’s rebbi or morah may be a child of baalei Teshuvah or may even be a Baal Teshuvah him or herself. Many of the most popular authors of seforim, read the world over, and several of the most renowned rebbeim are actually baalei Teshuvah from totaly secular backgrounds. These great mashpiim are mamash changing lives, positively impacting and inspiring Yidden even from Yeshivish and Chassidish homes.
All because of Kiruv.