Kiruv isn’t Coca-Cola

Recently, Aish HaTorah produced a video presentation, called Inspired, featuring a range of Baalei Teshuva, returnees to Judaism, describing “what motivated them to change their lives and embrace Torah.” The goal of the movie, besides some combination of inspiration and entertainment, is to encourage members of the Orthodox community to involve themselves in outreach on a formal or informal basis.

The “inspire” brochure handed out to each attendee had a Rosh Kollel describing himself as “choked up” just by looking at it. He explained in an email, which I’ve translated where necessary:

Under websites not only is aish.com mentioned, so is torah.org and others.

Not only are Aish and Eyaht [the Aish-affiliated College for Women] mentioned as options for learning in Israel, so are Ohr Somayach and Neve, all listed as “options” among many.

This is what got to me. Only when we see the Kiddush Hashem [Sanctification of G-d's Name] of Achdus [Unity] amongst our own can we expect to bring back our brothers and sisters.

Because Torah is Achdus and we must be together to bring people together as we were at Maamad Har Sinai [the Revelation at Sinai].

I am optimistic tonight for ourselves, our learning, our families, our communities and for all of our brothers and sisters because with Achdus…

We can do ANYTHING. Think of the Torah, the seforim [Torah books] we can write together, the masechtos [Tractates] we can finish together, the children we can teach together, the levels we can achieve together , the Mosdos [institutions] and communities we can build together, and being that kind of Klal Yisrael [Nation of Israel] imagine what we can do for Acheinu Bnei Yisroel [Our Brethren the Children of Israel] together.

The video itself is similarly inclusive. Rabbis Uri Zohar and Dovid Gottlieb are perhaps the most notable Baalei Teshuva mentioned as appearing — neither of them have any association with Aish HaTorah outside the video. Rabbi Gottlieb is a lecturer at Ohr Somayach, while Uri Zohar, a famous actor and director before he became religious, is one of the leading speakers and educators of the Israel Baal Teshuvah movement, especially among descendents of immigrants from Sephardic countries.

When I repeated the aforementioned quotation to an outstanding figure in local outreach, though, his response was that it shouldn’t even be notable. And, of course, he’s right.

In business, no one would imagine spending advertising dollars promoting someone else’s product. But much as non-profit directors are often advised to operate their companies like businesses, this is one clear exception. We who work in Kiruv are not competing for market share; we’re trying to reverse a decline in Jewish affiliation that is taking its toll every day. Those cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina are (supposed to be) working together rather than operating independently; we are in a similar process, though an ongoing one.

The cynic could easily point out that the above video is intended to be profitable, with charges for tickets and video sales, and increasing the marketing outside Aish just makes the product more compelling. And that would be true. But this is definitely about more than money, and the collaboration thus begun will, we can hope, not end with the showings.

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6 comments to Kiruv isn’t Coca-Cola

  • Tuvya Stern

    Just out of curiosity — did the video mention kiruv institutions that are affiliated with Chassidic (non-Lubavitch) groups?

  • Yaakov Menken

    Only one who has seen the video could answer with certainty, but given that Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb is featured, and was personally “Inspired” by the Bostoner Rebbe, it is hard to imagine that the video would not have mentioned them.

  • Micha

    I have a friend is often says, “Rolls Royce doesn’t offer zero-percent financing.”

    The need for kiruv is far more acute because we of the Orthodox community still have a road to travel ourselves. If we lived a life that sold itself, kiruv would be far, far simpler, and it wouldn’t require “zero-percent financing” to attract people to kiruv programs. The superiority of living a Torah life would be self-evident.

  • Shira Schmidt

    21 b Ellul
    I find the platitudes about “achdus” and unity boring, and I do not think they would attract non-observant Jews. What does attract them is actual learning, halakhos, commentaries. We hosted for Friday night dinner a young college graduate who was starting to take an interest in his Jewish heritage. The table discussion that “grabbed” him the most was when someone mentioned the halakhot involving employers and hired workers. “What? Judaism has labor laws?” he asked incredulously. These are the aspects we should be putting on videos and in outreach material.

  • Sarah M

    While this cooperation between kiruv institutions is nice and admirable, I’d hesitate to call it “unity”; this looks mroe like pooling resources.
    Unity involves people coming together from disparate positions adn respecting eachother, and while there are small differences between these institutions, from an outsiders perspective they are all the same. Unity would be including schools that teach things that they disagree with,a dn I’m not expecting to see yeshivat chovevei torah ( http://www.yctorah.org ), MaTa”N (Women’s Institute for Torah Study http://www.wzo.org.il/en/programs/expand_organization.asp?id=780), or chas v’chalila, machon pardes ( http://www.pardes.org.il/home/ ) conservative yeshiva http://uscj.org/israelcenter/yeshiva2005/index.php , on the back of a kiruv brochure any time (though it would make me very happy and rather emotional)
    granted, none of these schools are likely to link to kiruv schools, because its not in their interest either.
    still, tis easy to be unified when we already agree with eachother. unity between jews who disagree (over NON-TRIVIAL DETAILS) would be quite an accomplishment.

  • Steve Brizel

    Just curious-did the video mention or list NCSY as a kiruv force?