Acheinu Lakewood Parlor Meeting

“When someone becomes a baal teshuvah there is no guarantee that he will remain a religious Jew. At times, there are baalei teshuvah who undergo difficulties and nisyonos, spiritual challenges and, rachmana litzlan, return to their old ways. When, however, a baal teshuvah is transformed into a ben Torah, when you fill a young baal teshuvah with Torah, when the entire goal is not just to make him into a frum Jew but to transform him into a ben Torah and talmid chacham, he is connecting with something eternal. Torah is a bond that cannot be severed. This is the depth of the meaning of the bracha in Shemoneh Esrei where we ask Hashem, “˜Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah”¦and return us to complete teshuvah“¦’ A complete teshuva is only through Torah and this is Acheinu’s mission, goal and accomplishment!”

These were the powerful, moving words of HaGaon HaRav Yitzchok Sorotzkin, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe and the Mesivta of Lakewood, at the Acheinu parlor meeting held in Lakewood at the home of Reb Binyomin Heinemann this past Tuesday, January 22.

The deeply inspiring parlor meeting galvanized the crowd to both assist and appreciate the efforts of Acheinu, the kiruv movement of bnei Torah, creating bnei Torah in Eretz Yisrael.

90% Success: The 3 Step Process that has Revolutionized Kiruv

Acheinu, the kiruv arm of Dirshu, has made a revolution in kiruv rechokim in Eretz Yisroel. Founded by Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu – the Torah organization that has brought accountability to Torah learning and given Klal Yisrael thousands of true Shas Yidden – Acheinu’s mission was to bring the same level of accountability to kiruv.

Acheinu’s interest was not just in making non-religious Jews frum but to ensure that they remained frum and became members of the Torah community. The route to achieve this goal was to invest a tremendous amount of effort into ensuring that they would become bnei Torah and bnei yeshiva. Acheinu thus designed its signature 3-step process, a process that has revolutionized kiruv in Eretz Yisroel and enabled them to reach a whopping 90% success rate. That process is mentoring – becoming a personal mentor of a baal teshuvah from his first baby steps in Yiddishkeit until he is ready to enter a yeshiva; the 2nd step is enrollment – finding the right yeshiva kedosha that will be able to ensure that he flourish and blossom; and the all important 3rd step is follow up – Acheinu’s mentors, all bnei Torah who spend most of their days learning themselves, never let go of a protégé. Enrollment in a yeshiva is just a beginning. They are in constant contact with the bochur as well as his rabbeim and continue even after he is married and has begun kollel life!

Indeed, this approach to kiruv was advised by none other than Acheinu’s Nasi, Hagaon Harav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, zt”l, who was the proverbial Zeidah of Acheinu, shepherding it, advising its mentors and deriving much nachas from its accomplishments.

A Ben Torah Versus a Non-Ben Torah

At the parlor meeting, the special guest speaker, Rav Sorotzkin addressed this very ideal of Acheinu’s unique approach to kiruv. He cited the posuk that when Moshe Rabbeinu came to the bnei Yisrael and told them that Hashem would take them out of their Egyptian bondage they did not listen to him because of their shortness of spirit and the hard work. Rav Sorotzkin cited the words of the Ohr Hachaim who says, “They did not listen because they were not bnei Torah.” Rav Yitzchok asked, does not the Gemara teach us that from the times of our forefathers there were always yeshivos among Klal Yisrael. Avrohom Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu and Yaakov Avinu all had yeshivos as did their descendants. If there were yeshivos, why does the Ohr Hachaim say that the Bnei Yisrael were not bnei Torah?

Rav Sorotzkin, with feeling and enthusiasm, exclaimed, “Just because there is a yeshiva it does not mean that there are bnei Torah. A ben Torah is a completely different entity. Torah is his LIFE. Ki heim chayeinu! That is what Acheinu is doing, it is ensuring that every young bochur whom they take off the street and bring close to Yiddishkeit is not just doing mitzvos, is not just perfunctorily learning Torah, they ensure that they are transformed into bnei Torah, that limud haTorah and a life of Torah is manifest in every action that they take. That is Acheinu!”

Great Dreams: Great Accomplishments

One of the poignant parts of Rav Sorotzkin’s masterful drasha was when he mentioned the founder of Acheinu and Nasi of Dirshu, Rav Dovid Hofstedter. He said, “Rav Dovid is a remarkable dreamer. When you dream big, you can accomplish truly great things. Who would think that you could take kids off the street, street kids, irreligious kids so far removed from real Yiddishkeit and transform them one day into Dirshu members who will take the Dirshu Kinyan Torah tests! Only a dreamer with a breadth of vision can do that.”

Rav Sorotzkin related that when the great Torah builder, the Ponovezher Rov came to Eretz Yisrael after losing everything in the Holocaust he had a dream of building 18 yeshivos, to replace the 18 pre-war European yeshivos that had been destroyed. When a skeptic told him, “Rebbe, you are dreaming,” the Rov replied, “I am dreaming but I am not sleeping!”

“Rav Dovid dreams but he doesn’t sleep! That is the secret of how a person can bring 10,000 kids off the streets and make them into bnei Torah.”

Expensive Time: Cheap Money

 Rav Yizchok Sorotzkin was introduced by Rav Akiva Ort, a Rosh Kollel of one of Dirshu’s Kollelim in Bais Medrash Govoha. Rabbi Ort told over a fascinating story of how several decades ago, a very distinguished, very wealthy philanthropist made a fascinating offer to HaGaon HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l. He very much wanted to learn with Rav Elyashiv and offered that if Rav Elyashiv would learn with him for 1 hour once a month he would pay all of the wedding expenses for each of Rav Elyashiv’s many tens of grandchildren. Rav Ort continued, “When Rav Elyashiv heard the offer he gave a withering look and said, “I should give away my time for money?!”

To Rav Elyashiv, it was impossible to even contemplate relinquishing precious, expensive time for something as cheap as money. With great passion, Rabbi Ort exclaimed, “Rav Dovid Hofstedter has taken something as cheap as money and created from it something as precious and expensive as time!”

With Dirshu, he has ensured that talmidei chachamim across the world have found more and more time to learn and acquire Torah. With “˜cheap’ money he has bought expensive time. What a deal!

Similarly, Rabbi Ort expounded, what has Rav Dovid done with Acheinu? He has taken neshamos, neshamos that were so far, that were so cheapened and he transformed them into holy neshamos, neshamos that are dedicated to Hashem’s Torah, that spend their days and nights learning. Something so cheap has been transformed into something so dear.

“Now,” Rabbi Ort passionately thundered, “Rav Dovid is giving every one of us an amazing opportunity. He is offering us a chance to become partners in his investment, to become partners with him in creating bnei Torah from nothing. With cheap money, we can create eternal, infinite dividends of bnei Torah, themselves, their children and their grandchildren until the end of time. Is there any better opportunity possible?”

Both Rav Sorotzkin and Rabbi Ort urged the assemblage to “Chap Arein“, to grab the zechus of helping Acheinu reach more and more nefashos“¦ before it is too late.

As the crowd exited into what was perhaps the coldest night of the year they seemed charged, warmed by the chizuk and opportunity to join with Acheinu. After all, who is better equipped to understand the value of creating bnei Torah, than the bnei Torah of Lakewood?!