Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
I come from a solid, yeshivish family. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all “Torahdik” people. Most of my friends have similar backgrounds, and when the time came for me to go to seminary in Yerushalayim, I was most fortunate to be accepted with my friends at a great school. I had an amazing year in learning and in inspirational experiences. An entire new world opened up and I loved every minute of being in Yerushalayim. Now that I am back in New York, I truly miss Eretz Yisrael and feel sad not to be there. It was probably one of the happiest years of my life.
As you can guess, I am now entering a new phase of my life – the shidduch parshah. People are calling my mom with recommendations and asking what sort of young man I am looking for. Obviously, like all seminary girls, I hope to marry someone who is a real ben Torah, with good middos (character traits) and also, something more. I would like my husband and myself to make a difference in the world, and I would like to be a partner with him in this dream. I would truly love to do kiruv – outreach.
My family is trying to discourage me. They tell me that it’s one thing to have guests once in a while, but it’s something else again when you make a career of it and it is constantly happening. I have been told that children growing up in kiruv homes very often become casualties. They take second place to the many guests who need personal attention.
Additionally, I have been told that when children are exposed to a variety of people, some of them with difficult backgrounds, they could be negatively influenced. There are always so many guests who need attention that the children get lost, and along with that, family life. To be honest with you, I am confused. I have always thought that it would be wonderful to bring people to Torah and mitzvos, but after hearing all this I just don’t know.
Since you are a pioneer in kiruv and started Hineni decades ago, and since you are also, Baruch Hashem, a bubbie and have seen generations grow up, I thought I would ask for your opinion. I would really appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this subject, although I guess that at this time, the entire matter is a moot point, since I do not have a shidduch candidate in view who is a ben Torah and also interested in kiruv.
Please don’t misunderstand…. while my parents have tried to dissuade me, they would never stand in my way and will help as much as they can. But they would like me to go into this with my eyes wide open. They agree that it would be good for me to consult you since they have followed your articles for many years. If you decide to publish my letter, please omit my name. Thank you so much and hatzlachah. May you continue your avodas ha’kodesh for many years to come.
Kiruv – outreach, is probably one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have. It is much more than reaching out and helping someone – it is nothing short of re-building and resuscitating Am Yisroel. Kiruv impacts on untold generations and changes the world. When you are mekarev someone, you not only reconnect an individual with Hashem, but more significantly, through that individual, you impact upon an entire family, an entire nation.
This is a concept that even children can be inspired by, but like anything else, it is all in the presentation. If the children are made to feel part of this vision, they will indeed be excited and ennobled by the experience, but if they are left out resentment can result. In a future article, I will elaborate on how kiruv was realized in my own family and how we practiced it. In the interim, I invite you to read an essay written by one of my own granddaughters on this very subject. It was a school assignment and the subject was “Cultural Differences That Are Unique to Each Individual Family.”
This granddaughter is the embodiment of chesed, tznius and humility, and we would never have known about this essay had it not been that my daughter (her mother), found it by accident while cleaning the house. I suggest that you read her words carefully and see for yourself how children and grandchildren can be impacted by kiruv. The following is her essay:
Writing about a “cultural experience unique to my family” seemed at first like an almost impossible task. I always thought that culture implied religion and, therefore, any experience unique to my family would also be “unique” to every other girl sitting in my class as we all come from Orthodox Jewish homes. However, as I thought more and more, I realized how although all of us do celebrate the same holidays and traditions throughout the year, each family adds its own twist, which makes it exclusively theirs.
My family’s secret twist is my grandmother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a world-renowned speaker. Growing up with a celebrity grandmother has taught me so much. Judaism is a very family-oriented religion, and so usually, for each holiday, families congregate and hold festivities together. However, my grandmother, being the public figure that she is, has always celebrated each holiday differently.
From California to Canada (and everywhere in-between) my grandmother usually has speaking engagements booked over the holidays. And so, if my family wishes to spend time with my grandmother over a holiday, we accompany her to wherever she may be going. From these precious times that I share with my grandmother, I have learned an important lesson – to share her with the multitudes of people who wish to ask her advice or hear her speak. And I am able to learn how to interact with others the same way that she does, so that hopefully, one day, I can try to follow my grandmother’s ways.
The high holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of prayer and awe. While most families spend those holidays at home and in the synagogue, beseeching G-d, my family does something a little different. We pack our bags and head for the Plaza Hotel, located in midtown Manhattan, and there, we transform a ballroom that is meant for lavish weddings and dinners into a beautiful synagogue. All this is done under the direction of my grandmother who has a passion for Jewish outreach. The goal is to attract those who may not otherwise come to High Holy Days services and expose them to the beauty of an Orthodox service.
My family has been conducting these services for the past 13 years. When I say my family, I do not just mean my parents and siblings, but all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. It is a true family affair. When I was a little girl, I looked forward to spending time with my cousins and exploring Central Park as the adults prayed for seemingly endless hours.
However, now that I am older, I am able to truly appreciate the importance of the services. My two uncles serve as the rabbis; standing at the pulpit from the beginning of the services through the end calling out the page number we are up to in the machzor and giving insightful explanations for all the prayers and the Torah readings. As most of the 500 people who attend the services are not literate in Hebrew, this is very important so that they can follow along. My father, who is blessed with the sweetest, beautiful voice, leads the congregation in a melodious service that lasts for many hours.
My role, as well as the rest of my extended family, is to help the hundreds of congregants pray. We sit side-by-side with them, pointing and turning their pages in order to help them follow along. There are many people who are praying for the first time and are not sure what to do, and so we tell them when to sit, stand, bow, etc. My grandmother, who is our role model, had us take an active role in outreach from the young age of eight or nine years old. I have gained a lot from all the members of the congregation who pray with great concentration and sincerity, even though many were not raised with a religious background.
The way my family spends the High Holy Days is unique when compared to most Orthodox Jewish families. It has served as a great conversation piece for me, as most people find it interesting that I “do Tashlich” in Central Park. I view it as a tremendous privilege to be able to be involved in outreach and help many Jews become more involved in Judaism, especially when the future of every person is decided in the Heavens Above.
(To be continued)
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis