By BaltimoreJewishLife.com/Margie Pensak
A dynamic and dedicated group of outreach workers and volunteers, Rabbis, community lay leaders, principals, teachers, and other concerned Jews, gathered at the 28th Annual International Association for Jewish Outreach Programs (AJOP) Convention, in Baltimore, January 22-24. “The Millennium Conference: The Key to the Next Generation”, focused on the future of Jewish outreach and its challenges, including those within the Orthodox community.
Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun, National Director of AJOP, explains, “The AJOP convention brings together people who make a difference and change the Jewish community for the better, by sharing their inspiration. We talk about the issues of the day in a very open forum with a broad representation of views from across the spectrum of Torah Judaism.”
The convention kicked off with the AJOP Day of Inspiration in memory of Lonnie Borck, z’l, in partnership with Project Inspire. Rabbi Chaim Sampson, the organization’s founding director, launched a new Mishloach Manos Campaign, l’ilui nishmas Lonnie—Chaim Leib Gidon ben Chuna Reuven, a’h–a true paradigm of ahavas Yisrael. Lonnie loved delivering Mishloach Manos with his children, especially to those people he knew would not get them otherwise and to those who didn’t know about Purim.
“We felt that Lonnie represents what everyone should be doing; the Ahavas Yisrael that he had is what everyone should have,” noted Rabbi Sampson. “When you show our struggling brothers and sisters, in little ways, that they mean something to us and they are part of our family, they will connect to you and to Yiddishkeit.”
Day of Inspiration presenters included: Rabbi Ilan Feldman, Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, Rabbi Benzion Klatzko, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon, and Rabbi David Markowitz.
The Plenary session, “Cynics, Skeptics, Bloggers, and the Intellectually Curious: How to Present Genuine Torah Values in a Challenging World”, featured panelists Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Rabbi Moshe Bane, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, and Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky. The Keynote session: “A Vision for What the Kiruv World Should Focus on in These Tumultuous Times”, was led by HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rabbi Steven Burg and Rabbi Mordecai Yaroslawitz.
After the Plenary session, I had the pleasure of meeting Leah Mark, a retired tax lawyer who traveled from Yerushalayim to attend the event. She mentioned, “I’ve been hoping for about 25 years to get to the AJOP convention, but it never worked out…I feel it [Jewish outreach] is the fundamental obligation of every Orthodox Jew.”
While scurrying from session to session, I also caught up with Rabbi Ilan Feldman, AJOP board member and Rav of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, Georgia, who shared, “I am always aware of the value of networking, but it is not until I get here that I see the energy and the power that is created by bringing people who are all committed to the same large goal together in one room. It is just a very overwhelming, exciting and inspiring experience.”
Rabbi Zev Pomeranz, director, Etz Chaim: The Center for Jewish Living and Learning, concurred and added: “I am inspired by the new generation of Kiruv professionals who are addressing some of the most prominent new issues facing the generation of Millennials.”
On Monday, “Interactive Workshops/Tools You Can Take and Use Right Away” and follow-up discussion groups preceded the Keynote session: “A Vision For What the Kiruv World Should Focus On in These Tumultuous Times”, led by Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rabbi Steven Burg and Rabbi Mordecai Yaroslawitz.
Breakout sessions by leaders of AJOP’s partner organizations—AISH, Jerusalem Kollel, MEOR, NCSY, and Olami—followed, in addition to a Q & A session with HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky. A presentation by Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun and Aliza Bulow, about “The Shabbos Project”, explored strategies for making it work its magic on a year-round basis in your community.
Adina Harkavy, who lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania–an hour from Binghamton, New York, and two hours from Ithaca, New York, where she is involved in college campus kiruv—has been attending the convention for 13 years. She mentioned, “I think we get a lot of great chizuk from coming here–from the speakers and the other kiruv professionals–and it’s great to keep us going in our work.”
Foundations Curriculum director Chana Noa Gelbfish appreciates the networking aspect of the convention. She remarked, “It’s a springboard. Miriam Lowenbraun, a’h, told us years ago that it’s all about connections and relationships and I’ve come to understand how right she was. She was way ahead of her time. And if we can get our students and everybody to connect to each other and the Ribono Shel Olam, a lot of the struggles that we are all having would not exist. There would be more of a sense of personal value and value of the community at large.”
Tzvi Chaimovitz, Rav of West Street Shul in Johannesburg, South Africa, perhaps traveled the farthest to attend the AJOP Convention. As someone who reaches out to young professionals, he remarked, “It’s [the convention] is a great networking opportunity…It is also beneficial for my own professional development and for understanding the coming demands of the emerging Millennial market and their needs in terms of the unique social media approach and follow up… It is time to adapt and train.”
“The world is changing so quickly; we need a new course of action to deal with these changes,” concludes Rabbi Lowenbraun. “One of our main focuses, this year, was how to take what you have learned in kiruv and works in kiruv and apply it to the general frum community. I think that we have to broaden our mission to include Kiruv Krovim and “Prevention”. That is our imperative and most compelling calling at this time.”