The Changing Face of Kiruv

Outreach has come of age.

Sorting through the variegated sense-impressions I was left with after two days at the Association of Jewish Outreach Programs (AJOP) Convention, this conclusion is the clearest. There are now over seven hundred organizations, not counting the ones run by Israelis. A few years ago, the total annual budget for all of them was about $100 million; now, there is about $50 million in Wolfson funding directed at American programs in Israel alone. The last letter in AJOP used to stand for “professionals.” The field has become so large that the meaning of the acronym had to change. Indeed, the convention had in effect three separate tracks (besides a full women’s program) to accommodate all those – administrators, donors, lay support people, community kollel members – who are not outreach professionals, but invest heavily of themselves in structured, ongoing programs to share the gifts of Torah with as many Jews as will listen.

Kiruv (outreach) has changed. I was a Board member of AJOP for many years in the early years of the organization. I had not attended a convention for about eight years. I could have used a road map. Almost none of my old chevra were there, save for a few who were brought in, like myself, to give sessions and talks in areas where a few decades of experience might do some good. I had no trouble recognizing the music – impressed by some brilliant passages, and stung by some discordant notes – but knew almost none of the players. The experience is too fresh to form the Global Theory of Outreach, but I will share the observations, in no apparent order.

Not only have the individuals changed, but so have their backgrounds. There seemed to have been a greater proportion of pulpit rabbis in the old AJOP, representing the aspirations of rabbis in far-flung communities to leave a large mark. They seem to have been replaced by the community kollelim that are ubiquitously sprouting B”H, reaching places many of us couldn’t properly pronounce. (And I didn’t quite figure out why Philadelphia, of all places – home to a great community kollel of which one of my sons is a member – also has a Kollel just for Russians.) The kollel seemed to be the modal entry portal to the kiruv universe. Word is out in the yeshivos that a whole ‘nuther area of Torah-oriented livelihood is available, and there is no apparent shortage of people to fill all the new positions.

Pulpit rabbis may have dwindled in strength, but some other groups have all but disappeared. In the heyday of the Kiruv Neandertals (a mere fifteen or so years ago), there was a much richer diversity of attendee. Although even then they were in the minority, there was a healthy proportion from the YU universe. They are now staying away in droves. This makes AJOP more monochromatic, to put it gently. Back then, there were Chabad attendees and one member of the Board. There were as many from that camp as you would expect at a Rav Shach Appreciation Day ceremony.

The self-confidence of kiruv workers, born of decades of continued success, has both positive and negative aspects. In the old days, there was more discussion of the whys and wherefores, the theoretical hashkafic models for what we were doing. This time around, the focus seemed to be on the hows – formulas and advice about increasing efficiency and productivity, about technical ways to succeed. We were far more self-conscious and tentative about what we were doing. The “arrival” of kiruv is cause for celebration, but I think it leaves many kiruv professionals vulnerable to believe in incomplete and facile boiler-plate answers to tough questions. I always believed that providing simplistic answers was repugnant; I now have enough experience to know that when you promise new recruits ironclad and convincing approaches to any question they can come up with, you are setting them up for failure.

We tended to forget in the old days that perhaps the single largest (this is admittedly a guestimate) – and enviably successful – kiruv organization is NCSY. This has not changed. We still forget it. And it is still true!

Kiruv has become familiar and comfortable with technology and sophisticated graphic presentation, using different media. Everybody’s doing it. On the other hand, Aish HaTorah seems to not-quite corner the market on real far-reaching creativity and innovation. But they are close.

It was easy to identify the emerging visionaries and superstars in the old AJOP. Our own Rabbi Yaakov Menken of Project Genesis was one of them, with his discussions of Outreach on the Internet (he also created the vision for Cross-Currents, in blog format, two years ago). Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, who still has my personal vote for the single most gifted and creative person in kiruv, was another. I couldn’t tell who they are in the present, or whether they exist. They may in fact be there. I just couldn’t spot them by the crowds around them, or the buzz associated with them.

Davening took fifteen minutes longer than in the past. This either means that outreach workers are getting holier, or more people are looking over their shoulders to see what the next guy is doing.

There was more camaraderie in the old AJOP. Many more people routinely passed each other in the halls without speaking or smiling. They must have started letting New Yorkers in.

Tastes have become more sophisticated. They served sushi, and people were familiar enough with it to consume prodigious quantities of it. Many used chopsticks, and did not make fools of themselves.

That’s all I remember at the moment. Perhaps there will be an addendum later, after a reasonable reduction in the sleep deficit.

Perhaps the greatest source of nachas to me is watching the utter destructions of predictions dating from the ‘70’s. Sage academic types were convinced that the teshuva revolution was running out of steam. It was part of a general American return to religion, or left-over idealism from the ‘60’s, or a reaction to the devaluing of the individual, which eventually people would come to grips with. They were all wrong. All those cultural trends have come and gone, and there is no end in sight. More and more people emerge each day who wish to learn. Partners in Torah now has a backlog of “only” about 500 people who want to learn and need telephone mentors. We can state with near certainty that all it takes to bring more Jewish neshamos back to their roots is more investment. I cannot escape the irony that that awful slogan that appeared in an ad on the New York Times in the closing months of the Holocaust is still true today. Back then, it was Eichmann y”s who wished to save himself and earn some money to boot that led to his offer to save significant numbers of Hungarian Jews. (Stephen Wise thwarted the campaign to save them.) It read: “Jews For Sale.” This is still true.

In a famous piece of commentary, Ramban (Shir HaShirim 8:13) describes two stages of redemption. In the first, Jews will return to the Land of Israel – but only some of them. Only later will the rest of the Jews join them when the redemption is completed, and it is possible that much time will elapse between the two steps. During that time, Ramban says, there will be special people who will be able to separate and purify the evil. The description has AJOP’s signature written all over it. May it be His Will that this be true, and speedily.

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30 comments to The Changing Face of Kiruv

  • Bob Miller

    If a teacher or kiruv worker wants to set himself up as a know-it-all, he’d better be one! Any obvious error, however trivial, diminishes both him and his message. If he can’t give a proper answer off the cuff, he should pledge to investigate and follow up, not shoot from the hip into his own foot. A humbler attitude will turn learning encounters into positive events instead of “stump the professor” games.

  • Yeshiva or Bust

    As a BT myself of a couple years now…. I’ve had the chance to learn from many different out reach rabbi’s and organizations and communities. I feel pretty lucky to have lived in DC and moved up too New York and have been surrounded by great Kiruv Rabbi’s. My own personal journey have been bumpy but I guess that more of a reflection on me. Anyway since this this a discusion about Kiruv, I actually write a blog about my own journey as a BT and my life becoming frum which I think is great for fellow BT and Kiruv professionals and pretty much any other Jew looking to be inspired. I’m always looking for ideas as well. I’m trying to scrape some cash together to pay down some college loans and head out to Israel to learn in Yeshiva. Any recommendations…

    http://www.yeshivaorbust.blogspot.com

  • Anonymous Kiruv Rabbi

    Bob, the problem is that the real “know-it-alls” don’t seem to care about Hashem’s lost children; at least they don’t care more than their OWN Torah learning.

    I would gladly return to learning in Kollel in the holy land and stop playing “stump the professor.”

    Unfortunately, I cannot. Because Jews are still for sale.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “We can state with near certainty that all it takes to bring more Jewish neshamos back to their roots is more investment.”

    I think that this is the most important point. Obviously, it’s not an instant process, and the Partners in Torah learning sessions often develop into long-term relationships.

    “I had no trouble recognizing the music – impressed by some brilliant passages, and stung by some discordant notes – but knew almost none of the players.”

    I am wondering if when AJOP was more polychromatic, there were less discordant notes. Anyhow, when at speeches or at symposiums , I sometimes hear discordant notes, or points lacking in nuance. However, I think to myself that if I only attend purely like-minded speeches, I’ll rarely end up going to any speeches at all. The same goes for articles and essays(see next point).

    “Many more people routinely passed each other in the halls without speaking or smiling. They must have started letting New Yorkers in.”

    I made peace with Rabbi Adlerstein’s prior remarks regarding New Yorkers, in the context of responding to Dennis Prager at the OU convention; that was necessary for the greater cause of defending Judaism. But why assume that the Torah Umesorah crowd had a disproportionate number of New Yorkers? Perhaps like the change in Sushi consumption among outreach professionals, Jews have picked up the influences of their surrounding cultures– such problems are not restricted to New York, although they might be more acute there. :)

  • Steve Brizel

    I think that I saw that R A Z Weiss was present at the AJOP conference. Did you hear any of his shiurim?

  • Harry Maryles

    We tended to forget in the old days that perhaps the single largest (this is admittedly a guestimate) – and enviably successful – kiruv organization is NCSY. This has not changed. We still forget it. And it is still true!

    I am certainly not an expert on which organizations are the most successful but it makes me happy, if the above statement is true. (And this has nothing to do with the fact that my son in law, Rabbi Micah Greenland, is the very successful regional director of the Midwest Mesorah Region of NCSY )

    I am a big fan of NCSY. They are all about Emes and not at all about specific Hashkafa. I’ve said this many times. They are interested in making young public high school students observant. And they don’t care if you choose a Charedi path of a modern Orthodox one. NCSY “graduates” from the Midwest have been mainstreamed into all the Orthodox streams. Some are in Telshe, some in HTC, some in Ida Crown (mixed gender), some in W.I.T.S. (Chafetz Chaim). Many go to Israel after high school and grow there. What NCSY does is to try and find the niche one would best fit into and encourage that, rather than trying to fit everyone into a single mold, the way Lubavitch for example does.

    But is NCSY really the most successful? I believe that when it comes to sheer numbers, it would be Lubavitch, wouldn’t it?

  • chaim klein

    This all sounds so cheerfully optimistic. Their are worms in the apple. As a high school teacher in both the Yeshiva and Jewish Community School world and a person who is asked to speak / participate in kiruv talk from time to time, I am made aware of the palpable disappointment in the “frum” community, by too many in our audiences. Many people who made the move to a more committed life, too often, express disappointment in what they find once they have bought into the vision of a Torah life that we present to them. Living in an MO neighborhood, I find that those that marry MO find less to be disappointed with , as the difficulties of mating between MO FFB’s and BT are not as challenging. However, in the single world of those that have made the commitment, those that are living the commitment and growing, find themselves increasingly alienated and marginalized by the FFB world. Also, once the BT gets up close, they are disappointed by the paucity of Frum lives being lived
    by the value system that they sought to partake of by making the transition to a committed life. Finally, as an FFB, educator in both the “frum ” and non-frum community, I can tell you that we leave ourselves open to the charge that our significant lapses ( as a community , not necessarily every individual) acts as a deterrent to other seekers and , from what I can gather, contributes to the challenge of transmitting the values adopted by the parent BT to the children. I am told ( and have read) that the recidivist rate among the children of chozrim b’etshuva is not minimal. I think it behooves those laboring in the vineyards of the
    L-rd to push for a programme of kiruv krovim as well. We FFBs need to see ourselves as Baalei T’shuvah as well.
    The true arguement that Jews and Judaism are not always the same is valid, but it seems to lack much legitimacy in the eyes of the observor.
    I believe we can do much better. Chaim Klein

  • easterner

    1—- is there any data as to what the return on investment is? ie any way of quantitating return to total or partial mitzva observance?
    [ i believe even in the case of tora umesora schooling, there is little data , accross the spectrum of dropout rates, retention etc] . if there is little data, it is hard to know who is getting good bang for the buck.

    2—- i fear monochromacity means this is going forward to be a pure haredi endeavor producing like-hashkafic products. given the state of, let’s say it hate and derision amongst segments of O jewry, i think the funding will increasingly have to come from only haredi sources— since the outcome of kiruv will lead to more anti-Modern scorn….

  • Avi

    “There was more camaraderie in the old AJOP. Many more people routinely passed each other in the halls without speaking or smiling. They must have started letting New Yorkers in.”

    Is it at all possible that what caused this at the convention is the same thing that probably causes it in NY (and other large communities): given the sheer volume of people, if you stopped to speak with every person, you would literally have no time to get anything else done? And if it is indeed possible that this is the case: why the pejorative against New York’s Orthodox Jews?

  • Steve Brizel

    For all of the attendance of New Yorkers in the area, one wonders why community kollelim seem to be sprouting up everywhere except Long Island. Nassau ( outside of Great Neck ,the Five Towns, Oceanside and West Hempstead ) and Suffolk Counties have the remnants of once dominant heterodox communities and/or JCCs . Chabad and NCSY are making inroads in this area which is very similar to the West Coast in being car happy and mall addicted, but the need for community kollelim for outreach in LI is IMO very apparent .

  • Micha Berger

    “There was more camaraderie in the old AJOP. Many more people routinely passed each other in the halls without speaking or smiling. They must have started letting New Yorkers in.”

    That’s a lot of Jews to ask mechilah from…

    Truth is, there is common cause — size. When the group gets large enough that sharing a smile with each becomes a constant interruption, fewer and fewer people do it. It’s not that NYers are rude, it’s that they live in a more dense area. Saying good Shabbos to every Jew you pass on Ave M, 13th Ave or Main Street is a constant affair. Not like passing another Jew during your Shabbos stroll down Jackson Street, Oshkosh WI.

    Similarly, a side effect of kiruv’s growth is the impossibility of investing time to bond with everyone. And therefore less effort is spent trying.

    In short, it’s a difference in situation, not person.

    -mi

    -mi

  • Menachem Butler

    Rabbi Adlerstein — It was nice meeting you at the AJOP conference, even if for but those few minutes that we had our ad-hoc hock meeting. I agree with many of your observations of the AJOP conference. I was most impressed with the the amounts of people, communal organizations, kollelim, etc., all focusing their energies on the same cause — kiruv. Though I did not attend under the auspices of Yeshiva University, it should be noted that this year’s AJOP conference included several of the members of YU’s CJF and other young modern[ish] Orthodox rabbis. The brilliance of AJOP, I found, was that it serves as a tent broad enough to welcome everyone in; for everyone to grow from each other’s strengths and to learn what programs those in the next community and next organization are successfully running to reach as many Jews as possible. Perhaps comparing in my mind the AJOP conference to the UJC’s General Assembly (though the latter is much bigger in numbers), I was wondering why there weren’t more yeshiva students, guys who will *soon* enter the field of kiruv. Perhaps they were there and I didn’t see them. All in all, it was a great day and I really enjoyed attending. I look forward to seeing you next year for the 20th anniversary AJOP conference.

  • Avi

    I grew up in NY, but have lived outside of NY for many years. I have found it interesting that, whereas there is a small but noticeable minority of non-NYers who habitually return to the topic of the faults of the NY community (I’m NOT accusing R’ Adlerstein of this), I rarely if ever came across NYers who did the same regarding any non-NY community.

    (And I think it goes without saying that ALL communities have faults.)

  • Yitzchok Adlerstein

    OK, folks, let up! The New York thing is a joke! No offense intended, although my own experience has been that out-of-towners are often more outwardly personable. The difference quite likely is as a few of you say- a product of population density, etc. Or for you humorless Litvaks, the NY thing is a cheftza, not a gavra (or giveres).

    Apologies to anyone who thought I was ‘dissing them or their friends. (I will probably continue to use the line, however, since most find it funny. Sort of like the mother-in-law jokes I use, most of which are happily provided by my dear mother-in-law.)

  • Yitzchok Adlerstein

    But is NCSY really the most successful? I believe that when it comes to sheer numbers, it would be Lubavitch, wouldn’t it?

    I certainly didn’t mean to slight Lubavitch’s record or example in the world of kiruv – especially after bemoaning the fact that they have chosen to absent themselves from the convention. I gave the credit to NCSY because it is a single organization, and I look at the Chabad effort as that of hundreds of different and independent organizations, united by their affiliation to a particular brand of chassidus.

  • Steve Brizel

    As an NCSY alumnus , perhaps, I am biased. Yet, for teens, NCSY has always been about what R Harry Maryles described in his first post on this thread. That IMO, is the key to its continued success.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “I think it behooves those laboring in the vineyards of the
    L-rd to push for a programme of kiruv krovim as well. We FFBs need to see ourselves as Baalei T’shuvah as well.”

    That’s a good point. Parents of both BT’S and FFB’s need to be able to transmit Yiddishkeit in a meaningful way. Even if the internet takanos are put into place in many cities throughout America as far as home usage, one needs to inoculate, as opposed to completely insulate one’s self and family from values and views antithetical towards Judaism.

    At first glance, I would say that the broader blogosphere is a fertile ground for Kiruv Kerovim. There is much that can be accomplished by someone who knows what they are doing, and there should therefore be plenty of “kiruv-kerovim professionals” on hand on the free-wheeling blogs. On the other hand, one may say that the way to win and influence people is not through debate, but rather by getting people to experience Judaism. Furthermore, the self-perpetuating nature of blogs at large may not lend itself towards any type of spiritual end-goal.

  • Tzvi

    I wonder about the veracity of the claim that PIT has a backlog of 500 people who want and need to learn Torah. I am an FFB and I volunteered my time to learn with such a needy Jew. Well, it turns out that he didn’t even know who I was or what I wanted. After he returned from an ‘inspiring’ Birthright trip, he and all his mates were coerced into giving up their phone numbers to a PIT rep. A few weeks later I tried calling him and had to chase him down, and the chavrusashaft was over before you could say modeh ani. I wish the program was smaller and more committed.

  • Chilled Yungerman

    Tzvi although I don’t wonder about the veracity of your claim, I find it hard to believe that your situation is typical. I have a PIT for more than five years and the experience has been one of growth for him and myself. I know a few others that have similar experiences.

  • Rivka W.

    While my experience with my PIT is far shorter than CY’s (only a few months), I agree with his analysis. I am finding the experience of learning with her absolutely amazing — both in terms of her learning and growth, and mine!

    While I am sure there are some bad experiences (I’d be surprised if there weren’t any, given the vagaries of human nature), my impression is that they are in the considerable minority.

  • Toby Katz

    There is room for everyone in kiruv, kollels, Chabad, YU, NCSY, you name it. We are still so few in proportion to the need. I worry that we are not managing to reach enough Jews fast enough. Already the majority of American Jews are intermarried, and a large percentage of their kids do not self-identify as Jews (and indeed, many in fact are not Jews, according to halacha).

    What do we have, one more generation, maybe two more, before there are no more non-Orthodox Jews to be mekarev? They are slipping away and disappearing before our eyes, ten or twenty or more for every one we succeed in bringing back.

    Already, kiruv today requires conversions of non-Jewish spouses and kids in many cases, as well as delicate handling of non-Jewish brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews. For how much longer will kiruv even be possible when Jews disapear into the general population entirely?

  • Closeted

    “I certainly didn’t mean to slight Lubavitch’s record or example in the world of kiruv – especially after bemoaning the fact that they have chosen to absent themselves from the convention.”

    For what it is worth, Chabad Shluchim gather for a 5-day international convention in NYC each year in the fall. About 2,000 to 2,500 Shluchim attend–and that is just the men! A similar event, though perhaps a shade smaller, is held in the winter for the Shluchos.

    Cross-Currents visitors might find it informative to visit http://www.kinus.com, or click http://www.kinus.com/media/pdf/103/rHYu1035748.pdf to download the schedule (warning, big file).

    I gave the credit to NCSY because it is a single organization, and I look at the Chabad effort as that of hundreds of different and independent organizations, united by their affiliation to a particular brand of chassidus.

    In what area is NCSY more of a single organization than Chabad? Much of the funding for the lcoal NCSY chapters is local, which is similar to Chabad-Lubavitch. I would think that Chabad Shluchim are united by far more than a “brand” of Chassidus. They are bound together by central bodies, such as the Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch in New York, by regional bodies of local head-Shluchim, and by a shared partnership in reaching out to Klal Yisroel.

  • mycroft

    Kiruv is important-it wasn’t invented by the RMMS Chabad or even NCSY-the nuts and bolts job of every Western Hemisphere Rav-50,60 years ago etc was Kiruv. YU had a strong kiruv movement before NCSY-one can see Victor Geller’s book for allusions why they unfortunately got out of the business.
    But unfortunately, even more important in terms of numbers should be kiruv ofthose inside the system to ensure that they don’t go “off the Derech”

  • Bob Miller

    No person or group in modern times “invented” kiruv.

    In the distant past, starting with the Baal Shem Tov ZY”A, early Chassidism was primarily focused on kiruv. (This is one example)

    The most one can say for moderns—and this still deserves a lot of credit!—is that they revived or reinvigorated kiruv after an extended lull.

  • sam

    the Jewish Day School movement started by Rabbi Shraga Mendelovitz and continued by Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky and then Rabbi Fishman and many others is probabaly the most powerful Kiruv movement of this century.

  • Moishe

    Back then, there were Chabad attendees and one member of the Board. There were as many from that camp as you would expect at a Rav Shach Appreciation Day ceremony.

    As a Chabad Shliach, I’d like to comment.

    1) I wasn’t invited, and AJOP has my Address and Fax, I constantly get their info on Shabbat accross America, and Hebrew Classes (BTW, I understand quite a few Chabad houses participate.

    2) Judging from many responses on this forum, I’m not sure I and my fellow colleagues would be welcome in any case.

  • Nachum Lamm

    Moishe, that’s NJOP, not AJOP.

  • Nachum Lamm

    You know, I have to add a note to that. I’m amazed that a Chabad Shaliach doesn’t know the difference between AJOP and NJOP when this layman does. Furthermore, I’m surprised he doesn’t realize that NJOP’s programs are done everywhere, including non-Orthodox synagogues. Kol HaKavod to NJOP and those congregations; I’m also not comparing Chabad, but it sort of dilutes a claim that “quite a few Chabad houses participate.”

  • mycroft

    the Jewish Day School movement started by Rabbi Shraga Mendelovitz and continued by Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky and then Rabbi Fishman and many others is probabaly the most powerful Kiruv movement of this century.

    Comment by sam

    There were Day Schools before Rav Mendelowitz and Dr. Kaminetsky-not to take away from the efforts and success that they did to expand them-but for starters there were at an early stage-MTA AKA Yeshiva University HS around 1916, The Talmudical Academy in Baltimore around 1919 and others

  • Rabbi-m

    Just to set the record straight: the “Jews for Sale” ad was placed by Hillel Kook zl (aka Peter Bergson). Playwright Ben Hecht wrote the copy as he did many of Bergson’s ads. (see http://theater2.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?pagewanted=print&_r=1&res=990CE0D9123AF932A25755C0A963958260&oref=slogin)

    The point of the ad was to spur all Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, to get active, lobby Congress and so on. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/filmmore/transcript/transcript1.html.

    I wonder what Kook would have thought of the Save Darfur campaign.

    Many objected to the ad in that it seemed that if you clipped the coupon and mailed in a check, you could buy a Jew freedom. Kook was not the one behind the plan; he wanted people to know about it so that pressure could be brought on the American Government to act.

    It was not Eichmann who made the offer. It was Romanian pro-Nazi collaborators trying to hedge their bets now that it seemed Germany was losing. That was also Kook’s point. It was a “Race Against Death” in that the non-German collaborators might be scared into stopping their colloboration.

    Finally, though Stephen Wise did a lot of things that stopped good efforts at saving Jews, it was Breckinridge Long, a serious anti-Semite in the State Department who killed it:
    ” Various other initiatives to save Europe’s Jews met with obstruction from Long. For example, in April 1943, Gerhart Riegner, the World Jewish Congress representative in Geneva, suggested a plan to save thousands of French and Rumanian Jews. Even after the proposal had the support of the president, Long and his subordinates delayed acting on it for eight months.” from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/peopleevents/pandeAMEX90.html

    Wyman’s books are must-reads.