This was one of the challenging, fascinating questions that prominent leaders on the front lines of kiruv rechokim in Eretz Yisrael, grappled with at this year’s Acheinu Kiruv Conference this past Rosh Chodesh Nissan.
The conference was held at the Acheinu “Yeshiva Hakdosha“ – Acheinu’s yeshiva for baalei teshuvah located in the Givat Shaul section of Yerushalayim. In addition to the informative, eye-opening panel discussion, there were numerous interesting presentations to provide kiruv activists with even better tools to reach out to those who have not had the privilege of a Torah education.
The Acheinu Yeshiva Hakedoshah in Yerushalayim, where the event was held is a yeshiva that caters to bochurim from non-religious homes. How did these bochurim get to the Acheinu Yeshiva? The answer is that Acheinu and other kiruv organizations have “Midrashiyot“ across the length and breadth of Eretz Yisroel. A Midrashiya is basically a drop-in learning center. Boys drop in and Acheinu pe’eylim invest their lifeblood to befriend them and show them how much they are missing as well as the beauty and importance of leading a life of Torah. Many of these young men end up in the Acheinu Yeshiva Hakedosha in Yerushalayim.
Preserving Kedusha While Doing Kiruv
Rav Zev Hofstedter, Rosh Yeshiva of the Acheinu Yeshiva, related, “The work is extremely rewarding and pays dividends for generations. Nevertheless, it still comes along with plenty of spiritual hurdles. How does a kiruv activist preserve his own kedusha when interacting with people who, certainly when they are at the beginning stages of the process, are light years away from the mindset of chareidi shomer Torah u’mitzvos? How does he interact with the family of the boys with whom he is working? What about his own family? When he invites prospective baalei teshuvah to his home, whether on Shabbos or on a weekday, how can he ensure that the values, the manner of speech and the kedusha of his own family will not be compromised?”
Kiruv activists from numerous kiruv organizations all over Eretz Yisroel came together to address these questions and to hear the guidance of gedolei Yisroel.
In addition to the panel discussions there was a fascinating video presentation. The many participants from across the country watched with bated breath as the gedolei Yisroel answered kiruv questions posed by Acheinu. HaGaon HaRavYitzchok Silberstein, shlita, famed posek, Rav of Ramat Elchanan and son-in-law of HaGaon HaRav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, zt”l, answered many of the halachic and hashkafic questions. Questions and guidance was also heard from HaGaon HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva, HaGaon HaRav Dovid Cohen, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva and HaGaon HaRav Brooks, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Nesivos Olam, one of today’s most successful kiruv yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel.
The Pivotal Importance of Warmth Combined with Vigilance
Rav Dovid Hofstetdter, shlita,founder of Acheinu, also addressed the assemblage. In his poignant remarks he bemoaned the fact that there are so many innocent Jewish neshamos that have never been given the chance to experience the beauty of Torah. “Hundreds of thousands of children are in the State school system and know absolutely nothing about Torah.” Rav Hofstedter praised those at the forefront of kiruv and the Acheinu yeshiva. “Each talmid in the yeshiva represents generations,” he said.
He then began his personal reminiscences about his late mother who was moser nefesh to keep mitzvos while being beaten and tortured in the crucible of the concentration camps during the Holocaust. He related that one of her amazing qualities was her ability to create a warm, supportive and loving atmosphere in her home and with everyone she met. “That is such an important tool in kiruv today,” he explained.
Nevertheless, Rav Hofstedter cautioned that coupled with that warmth there must be vigilance to preserve the spiritual level of the family too. In his sefer Dorash Dovid he devotes an entire ma’amar to this issue. He explained that in Parshas Vayeirah we find that Avraham Avinu planted an eishel in Be’er Sheva. An eishel was a tent from wherein he preformed the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim. What, then, was so special about the eishel that Avraham established in Be’er Sheva? Did his practice of hospitality there differ from the hospitality he had offered in Charan and in Eilonei Mamrei?
After Avraham underwent the mitzvah of Bris Milah, the level of spirituality found in his home rose exponentially. As a consequence of the Shechinah taking up residence, so to speak, in Avraham’s home, people of low spiritual stature were unable to enter. Therefore, Avraham found it necessary to set up a new hospitality house, the “Eishel” outside of his private dwelling. It would be a place where he could host all comers, even those not of noble souls.
From Avraham we learn the importance of screening the people we bring into our homes. As the children of Avraham Avinu, it behooves us to follow in his footsteps, to open our doors to every type of guest”¦ while adhering to our responsibility to protect our families from negative influences.
Vital Kiruv Information in one Location
Another very helpful bonus received by the throngs of pe’eylim who attended, was a special kiruv manual distributed by Acheinu with every vital piece of information about kiruv that is available. All of the many kiruv yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and the areas in which they specialize were mentioned; kashrus questions were addressed; and the addresses and phone numbers of roshei yeshiva of kiruv yeshivos and rabbanim who specialize in kiruv sheilos were listed. One kiruv activist said, “Just obtaining that manual made the trip from afar worth it. All of the other tools have infused me with chizuk and guidance to continue bringing Hashem’s children back to Him, one at a time!”
Bringing Children and Parents Back through the Koach HaTorah
On Tuesday night, 2 Nissan/March 12, another remarkable Acheinu event was held at the Acheinu Yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer, a yeshiva that Rav Dovid Hofstedter opened at the behest of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita. The Acheinu Yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer is a yeshiva that caters to bochurim who did have an elementary Torah education but nevertheless come from homes that are traditional in nature but not fully observant. The boys go on to be mainstreamed in first-rate yeshivos throughout the country.
The Yeshiva organized a parents’ night where the fathers and mothers of the talmidim came to participate in a special event in the yeshiva with their sons. The parents observed their sons making a siyum on Masechta Megillah that they had learned over the past month and a half in the yeshiva. The sight of numerous mothers crying pure tears of joy to see their sons so happy and so successful was a sight that itself brought tears to the eyes of everyone present. The singing and dancing combined with the powerful feelings of achdus and acceptance spotlighted the life-saving work that Acheinu is doing, not only with their bochurim who attend the yeshiva but also with the entire family unit.
One touching scene was the “Avos Ubanim“ segment of the evening, where fathers who rarely if ever opened a Gemara in their lives were paired up to learn with their sons. Some boys were clearly filled with deep emotion as they shared their newfound inner world of Gemara learning with their fathers for the first time. “One saw the koach haTorah, one saw how these fathers were connecting with their sons with the pure, life-giving waters of the Torah, in a way that they had never previously connected,” said Rav Michoel Berlin, Rosh Yeshiva of the Acheinu Yeshiva in Kiryat Sefer. “It is clear that Acheinu not only strengthens its charges but invests in the entire family bringing Klal Yisroel closer to the day when, “All of Your children will Know Hashem!”