Immersion Learning and “Diving into the Deep End” in Kiruv

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By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA
Director: Jewish Professionals Institute. Email: [email protected]
Formerly: Director Sinai Heritage Center (Wall Street) and AJOP Trustee
A series Devoted to Kiruv Rechokim
There is no “one way” to do Kiruv and there is no “one size fits all” either. In a prior article we mentioned that when meeting a potential Baal Teshuva it is worthwhile to know for oneself if the right thing to do is to do a “pitch” for a beginner or maybe it is better to do a “closing” for a more advanced student. But is important to note that even for a new beginner to Judaism the idea of a “pitch” may not be just teaching them “simple” things at all! Sometimes what is required is to introduce the new student to the DEPTHS of Yiddishkeit either through a profound Shiur by a seasoned Maggid Shiur or by introducing them to some deeper more serious textual learning with the teacher doing the translating and giving intelligent explanations of course.
We live in a world of highly educated and professional people. Secular non-religious Jews usually have very good higher educations in some of the most sophisticated fields. Lawyers, doctors, scientists, researchers, academics, professionals with advanced degrees is the norm among the Jewish non-religious crowds. Both men and women have these advanced educations and very often hold very high positions in corporations, businesses, educational institutions etc and they may be wealthy entrepreneurs of every variety. These people must be taken very seriously and often-times when introducing them toYiddishkeit it will require a high level of exposure that would suit an advanced Yeshiva Bochur.
I have often been asked by various people: “What works in Kiruv?” and my answer is usually “Everything works! For one person it may be Talmud and for another person it may be Tehillim or Tanya, for one person it may be Alef Bais and for another person it may be Medrash and Aggada…” because there are as many varieties and methods of Mekareving people as there are various groups in the Frum world! In my close to 45 years in the world of Kiruv Rechokim I have seen and heard and witnessed all of this without any doubt! This goes on far and wide, and as another example: Just as inviting people for a Shabbos meal could be what “turns them on” for another person it may just taking them for walk and going out for light refreshments like a coffee or for a slice of Kosher Pizza.
Kiruv professionals and workers and Kiruv organizations and programs and Yeshivos and Mosdos for Baalei Teshuva have all sorts of approaches in welcoming beginners and curious seekers and for fighting assimilation, intermarriage and ignorance about Torah and Judaism. Many teach beginners the depths of Gemora with Rashi, Tosfos and all the toughest Rishonim andAchronim when these people have never experienced such a type of Limmud in their lives. This is called “immersion learning” of learning a language for example by being thrown into it in the deep end. And many times it works. Not for everyone of course, but over the decades advanced Baal Teshuva Yeshivos in Israel like Ohr Someach, Aish HaTorah and Machon Shlomo and others have proven time and again that young college-educated and professional men love the experience of learning Talmud from a good Rebbi who introduces them to the depths of Lomdus for the first time without them having ever experienced it in their lives. And it excites them enough and makes them curious and ambitious to want to learn more and take on Sedorim for learning with experienced Chavrusos.
There are similar programs and experiences for young educated and professional Jewish women where they teach themMachshava, Tanach and Tefilla in depth from texts. In time these Ba’alas Teshuva are seriously motivated and then move on to become learned enough to want to marry a Bochur who wants to learn in Kollel and they work hard to help them succeed. There are by now tens of thousands of such successful couples who have integrated into the Charedi and Orthodox Jewish worlds.
Mostly today the non-religious Jewish people we meet of all ages will not want to go to any formal Yeshivos or give up huge chunks of their lives to devote to full-time Torah learning. Most Kiruv programs today are geared to this reality. In Israel they have developed highly advanced seminars that last over a few days to introduce attendees to a deeper level of Torah and Mitzva observance and it works as we know. There are so many good organizations that do this like Arachim, Lev LeAchim, Yad LeAchim and the Shofar organization, all with excellent lecturers and thought out well-planned classes, lectures and workshops, and many others like them big and small. In the USA there are many organizations that offer Shabbos and Yom Tov retreats in high class hotels. All these run advanced programs and supply a level of immersion learning and diving into the deep end, over the short term and they work.
The bottom line is to never underestimate the interest, idealism, intelligence, drive and ambition of potential Baalei Teshuva who have a deep thirst and yearning to join with the rest of Klal Yisrael to Mekabel the Torah from HKB”H.
To be continued…


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