By Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun
The Matzav.com reader’s comment on “It’s Time to Put Kiruv on Ice” begs a response. The halachic basis for kiruv is not questionable. It is at the very core and essence of every Jew’s obligation. I once encountered Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and he asked me what I do. As I was working in kiruv, I said I work with baalei teshuvah. His reaction was very sharp. He said “Mir zenen ala baalei teshuvah, oib nisht darfmin zein.” (We are all baalei teshuvah; if not, we all should be.)
Kiruv is not for “someone else.” It is for us, our children, our talmidim and hopefully our inspiration and spiritual countenance radiates outward to all those who we encounter whether they are observant or not.
I grew up in Crown Heights and was one of the first talmidim of the Bobover Yeshiva. The state of Orthodox Jewry at that time in the 1950’s and 1960’s was not the “new normal.” Klal Yisroel had to be rebuilt and especially the shattered remains of the Holocaust survivors. If what I saw from the Bobover Rebbe zt”l and other gedolim was not kiruv, I don’t know what it was.
There is no question that given our financial circumstances, we must adjust our tzedakah accordingly. A family that needs food, housing or clothing is certainly a top priority along with our yeshivos, rabbeim and other mosdos.
Kiruv, which is already a poor step-child, certainly does not belong on ice. If everyone would contribute a small amount, $10, $25 or $50, we would be able to do a great deal and it would not break the bank. As is, the kiruv movement spends only a tiny fraction on what we spend on chinuch and frum mosdos. As is, kiruv is supported mainly by a few and is not infringing upon the core mosdos in any way.
In fact, the contributions of those who became frum later in life to Torah mosdos far exceeds the amount that is invested into kiruv. In communities like Toronto, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Chicago and Baltimore as well as others, the leadership and main financial supporters of Torah mosdos are baalei teshuvah. The dividends far exceed the investment. As far as the success rate of kiruv, it is without question that at least 10% of all Orthodox Jews became frum through various kiruv organizations. The percentage of those who became frum later in life may exceed 30% in certain communities.
Finally, who benefits more, the mekarev or the mekurav?
Ask anyone who has been involved in kiruv and they will tell you that the inspiration they receive is much greater than what they give. What you will hear is that seeing “baalei teshuvah” with their sincerity, inspiration and mesirus nefesh puts those of us who grew up frum in an uncomfortable position of re-examining our own relationship to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Torah and mitzvos.
At this time when every parents’ worst fear is our own children leaving our ranks, the question should be “What can we learn from the kiruv movement to re-inspire our youth?” Let’s not put our children on ice.
Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun is the National Director of AJOP, located at 5906 Park Heights Ave, Suite 10, in Baltimore, MD 21215. He can be reached at (410) 367-2567.