Many moons ago, when I established Hineni, kiruv – outreach – was a foreign concept. The Orthodox world looked askance at the idea. “You’re wasting your time,” I was told. “Maybe they will become observant for a day, or even a few weeks, but then they will go back to their former life style.”
But I was determined to charge ahead. Encouraged by my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, and my beloved husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, I consulted the Torah giants of our generation, from Reb Moshe, zt”l, to the Satmar Rebbe, zt”l, and, fortified with their berachos, Hineni became a reality. We proved all the naysayers wrong, and today, Baruch Hashem, kiruv has become a powerful reality of Jewish life.
Not once or twice but countless times I have met rebbeim, rebbetzins, Torah teachers, etc., who tell me their parents and grandparents experienced their very first awakening at a Hineni program, or from a column of mine in The Jewish Press, or at Madison Square Garden where I launched my very first Torah happening. So, Baruch Hashem, not only have ba’alei teshuvah passed Torah on to future generations, they have also taken on leadership positions.
But as much as outreach has become popular and accepted, there still remain challenges that have to be overcome, one of them being that kiruv work is an endeavor limited to professionals since most people do not regard it as a personal obligation. The Torah, however, mandates differently. Just a few weeks ago, the parshah reminded us of the awesome mitzvah of returning a lost item. This obligation pertains not only to every object that may have been lost but – as our sages teach – to all Yiddishe neshamahs that may have been lost as well.
If we consider the pain of our Heavenly Father who has lost His children, who among us can feel that he or she is not responsible to bring them home? Still, many will argue that since they have no training as kiruv professionals, they cannot undertake such a task. But even as one does not require schooling to return a lost item, one need not be trained to return a lost Yiddishe neshamah. The only credentials required are hearts that are filled with love and feel the suffering of our Father who is waiting for His children to return.
But can it really be done? Allow me to share an experience I had which demonstrates that no specific knowledge is required.
I live in a neighborhood in which ninety-nine percent of the residents are shomer Shabbos. I moved there shortly after my beloved husband passed away. I decided to make that change since two of my children reside there and thus,Baruch Hashem, I am able to be with them on Shabbos.
To be candid, I do not really know my neighbors. My speaking engagements take me all over the world so I do not have time to socialize and I do not have small children, which would give me the opportunity to interact with other parents.
A few weeks ago, walking home after the Shabbos seudah at my daughter’s house, I saw a man working in his garden – an unusual sight in my community. I paused to wish him a good Shabbosand he looked at me with bewilderment, his expression indicating he was not accustomed to such a greeting. Most passersby would just ignore him. I moved on, but he hastened to catch up with me.
“How do you know I am a Jew?” he asked.
“Our sages teach that eyes are the windows of the soul – your neshamah spoke to me.” I told him.
Now he was really taken aback.
“What is your Jewish name?” I asked.
“Yitzchok ben Dovid HaKohen” came his answer.
“What a magnificent name!” I replied. “Yitzchok, who ascended the altar and was prepared to offer his life! Yitzchok, who taught us the meaning of sacrifice and lived by a higher calling. And Dovid, the king of Israel who wrote psalms and opened our hearts to G-d! Dovid, who enabled our people to sing songs to G-d and who touched not only every Jew but all of mankind.
“And more – you are a kohen, a descendant of the glorious priestly family of Aaron who was chosen to minister before Hashem and represent the Jewish people. So how could I not recognize your Yiddishe neshamah?”
His eyes became moist and I repeated, “Have a good Shabbos!”
Two little words that can awaken a dormant neshamah two little words that can ignite a spark, bring tears to the eyes and launch a Jew on his journey back to Sinai.
So the next time you pass your brother or your sister, say those two magic words: “Good Shabbos!”
My best wishes to all our readers and Klal Yisrael for a kesivah v’chasimah tovah – a blessed New Year.