Something different is happening in Israel. It’s been going on for a few years already. Now it’s just about everywhere: The presence of Dati Leumi kiruv movements.
Israelis are used to seeing Chabad of course, and some attend lectures by Arachim and Aish HaTorah. But this is new. For the first time, you can find Jewish outreach stands manned by individuals wearing kippot serugot at shopping malls, bus stations and major intersections throughout the country.
“Our goal is to make the depth of Jewish learning and Jewish living accessible to the common Israeli, preferably through a learning relationship, a chavrusah,” says Avichay Boaron, general manager of the Ma’aynei Hayeshua kiruv movement in Jerusalem.
“We don tefillin and distribute Shabbat candles to people passing by, of course, but what we really want is to nurture this brief initial encounter with Judaism into a deeper, steady acquaintance.” Advertisement
But what makes these kiruv movements different from the ones we’re used to?
First of all, Israelis are more likely to share their spiritual needs with those who went to elementary school with them, served with them in the Israel Defense Forces, and work side by side with them at the office. In other words, with those religious Jews who are familiar faces in the secular Israeli world.
Second, the ideological foundation for Dati Leumi kiruv stems from Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s philosophy concerning the very roots of Jewish secularism, Zionism and post-Zionism.
Rav Kook, zt”l, explained that our brethren left a Torah lifestyle en masse about 150 years ago because they demanded depth in their day-to-day Jewish routine and no one provided them with it. This convinced them that Torah lacked real depth, chas v’shalom. Our job is to learn together about the intrinsic connection between lofty Jewish ideals and routine Torah living, whether it’s about keeping Shabbos and Taharas Hamishpacha, or the Torah’s outlook on Medinat Yisrael and Tzahal. These encounters are friendly, non-condescending, and very exciting.
Ma’aynei Hayeshua is one of the more veteran Dati Leumi kiruv movements. Founded in 2000 by a group of dedicated Hesder yeshiva graduates and volunteers with proactive backing from prominent rabbis such as Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, Rav Yaakov Ariel and Rav Shlomo Aviner, they began by circulating informative fliers and divrei Torah about Dati Leumi kiruv. Once the idea caught on in the community, they quickly began building a nationwide network of volunteers.
“We feel it’s about time the Religious Zionist community had its own grassroots movement,” says Boaron. “If we’re going to have an impact on the Israeli scene – a real, tangible impact on the Israeli mentality – we must reach out with a widespread movement to infuse Jewish meaning in the individual and national Israeli orientation, and we must present a significant Jewish cultural alternative as well.”
And “Jewish meaning” is certainly on his agenda. Boaron’s Ma’aynei Hayeshua runs 100 manned Jewish outreach stands throughout Israel every week; 500 activists implementing weekly kiruv activities; 2,000 annual chavrusah matches with 50 new requests for chavrusahs every week; a year-round Outreach Training Course with 300 graduates; distribution of 10,000 Jewish outreach publications; production and distribution of Jewish books, booklets, and a widely acclaimed music disc; two 24/7 Religious-Zionist outreach centers of Jewish activity; an all-day bet midrash for ba’alei teshuvah; and a popular 16-page weekly magazine circulated every Friday among 70,000 religious and non-religious Jews throughout Israel.
“You wouldn’t believe how many stories we get from the volunteers,” says Yehoyada Nizri, director of activities at Ma’aynei Hayeshua.
“One was about an activist from an antireligious organization who approached one of our outreach stands. The polite and learned person behind the counter spoke to him at length, and the prospect even agreed to a chavrusah – and the chavrusah he got happened to be the rosh yeshiva of the Ma’alot Hesder Yeshiva, Rav Yehoshua Weizman. Today, this person is a happy, fully committed, frum Jew.”
In the past year alone, Nizri adds, the number of chavrusahs has doubled from one thousand to two thousand pairs. The outreach stands too are twice as active as they were last summer.
“Israeli society is changing, coming closer to Yiddishkeit,” says Nizri. “You can feel it in the air.”