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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘kiruv’

Rabbi Meir Schuster, the ‘Man of the Wall,’ Dies at Age 71

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Rabbi Meir Schuster, known to thousands of lost Jews as the “Man of the Wall” who provided them with the spark to light up their lives with Torah, died in Jerusalem on Monday at the age of 71 and was buried on Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives.)

Rabbi Schuster ran the Heritage House, a hostel for the proverbial lost and wandering Jew who, no matter how far away from Judaism, “did” the Western Wall (Kotel).

Rabbi Schuster, later with his assistant Jeff Seidel, gave food and lodging to thousands of young Jews, many of whom had no desire to know anything about Judaism. Many of them simply took up the offer for a free meal and bed with the idea of taking off the next day as if nothing exceptional had happened.

Many of them indeed forget about the rabbi and Heritage House, but many also never forgot and never have stopped thanking God for this man who in his quiet and unassuming way literally saved thousands of Jews from becoming lost forever.

On Rabbi Schuster’s website, people posted their personal stories, which were read to him during his recent treatment for cancer.

Following is the story of a man who is identified as “Reuven”:

I grew up with no knowledge about and no positive feelings for Judaism. In the autumn of 1981, after finishing college, I decided to travel through Europe.

Winter caught me moving further and further south, until I reached Greece. On a boat to Crete, I met some other fellow-travelers who told me that Israel was the place to go. Until then, it had honestly never entered my mind. I liked the thought of wintering on a kibbutz. After a couple of rainy months on the kibbutz, I decided to visit Jerusalem for a day or two.

I had barely entered Jaffa gate when I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. Turning around, I saw a tall, bearded man with a black hat and suit. What in the world did he want from me? “Are you Jewish?” he asked me.

I honestly didn’t know what to answer him. I had told the people at the kibbutz office that I wasn’t Jewish, but they saw right through me. Bored silly at the kibbutz, I had been reading “The Source” by Michener, and was actually, for the first time, getting interested in Israel and the Jewish people.

My hesitation was all he needed to hear. He asked me if I was hungry (what young traveler to Jerusalem on a cold, wet, winter day and a tight budget is not hungry?). For some strange reason I let him lead me to a nearby Yeshiva, which was my introduction to Judaism. It was, in all honesty, the first time in my life that I ever felt, and accepted being Jewish.

Now, 29 years later, living in Yerushalyim with a wife and many children, learning Torah and davening each day, I marvel at what R’ Schuster has been able to do. It was probably only R’ Schuster’s total, unadulterated sincerity and authenticity that disarmed me and convinced me to go with him.

I don’t think anyone else could have done it – I was that wary of ‘religious solicitors’. Had I sensed even a trace of self-interest, ‘charisma’ or ‘charm’ I would have bolted. He made himself into a shaliach for his Creator, and in his inimitable fashion, let nothing else get in the way.

Thank you R. Schuster.

That story has been duplicated hundreds of times over. Most rabbis who try to bring Jews back to Judaism are pushy. Many of them are nudgers and preachers. Rabbi Schuster was the opposite. He was gentle and never asked anything of anyone.

The Outreach Revolution

Friday, April 26th, 2013

I think I’ve said this before – or something like it. Jack Wertheimer is one of my favorite Conservative Jews. A recent article of his in Commentary Magazine could not be more positive about Orthodox outreach. In fact I think he is even more supportive of it than many Orthodox Jews.

Why would a prominent Conservative Jew be so supportive of Orthodox kiruv? I suppose that he believes in the values of Torah and mitzvot. Despite popular notions to the contrary, Conservative Judaism is not opposed to doing mitzvot. They actually support it. At least on paper. How they define mitzvah observance is where the problem lies. Another problem with Conservative mitzvah observance are the percentages of those who actually observe…

My guess is that the percentage of Conservative Jews who observe Shabbot in any meaningful Halachic sense – is very small. I believe that Professor Wertheimer is a part of that minority.

Theological differences exist too. But those problematic views are not mandated… and thus surmountable in an individual. That they are tolerated by the movement is beyond the scope of this essay.

Professor Wertheimer has done an excellent job of studying and analyzing Orthodox kiruv – in virtually all of its incarnations. He discusses its history, financing, appeal, and examines why it flourishes. He credits the Lubavitcher Rebbe for starting this revolution. And he correctly notes that many non-Habad kiruv workers have learned from Habad.

From Habad; to Aish HaTorah; to Torah U’Mesorah; to community kollelim; to Modern Orthodox kiruv… he lauds it all. He even concludes that Orthodoxy underestimates its own success. Success that he views with a very positive eye.

He also notes the friction created between Conservative rabbis who lead synagogues and kiruv workers. The claim is that Habad (for example) will set up shop and undermine the Conservative shul business structure by offering smaller friendlier shuls with little or no synagogue dues. They also offer to provide Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies without any minimum shul religious class attendance requirement (typically 3 years). Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations are a drawing card for membership. True to form, it seems that Professor Wertheimer has no problem with Habad doing that.

The realities of 21st century life in America have caused lofty kiruv goals of bringing Jews to full observance to be lowered. One of those realities is the massive attrition of Jews from the Conservative movement into secular lifestyles. The pool of Jewish kiruv targets from there has been diminished. Conservative Jews tended to give their children at least a minimal Jewish identity making them more receptive to kiruv. Those who have left it to become completely secular makes it much harder for them to be attracted to an observant lifestyle. I agree with him.

That the expectations have been lowered and that the Lubavitch model of linear success is increasingly becoming the model for non Lubavitch kiruv. Any increase at all in their level of commitment is now viewed a success. As such Professor Wertheimer contends that Orthodox Kiruv is having far more impact on American Jewry than anyone might imagine. Those who have come into contact with Orthodox outreach programs but do not become Orthdodox themselves take that knowledge and impart it to other non-Orthodox Jew is their shuls. These Jews might never come into contact with Orthodox outreach. Thus there is a sort of multiplier effect.

Professor Wertheimer has the highest praise for Habad. They seem to be the most successful and the most organized. For example he points out their JLI program:

Of particular note is the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), by far the largest internationally coordinated adult-education program on Jewish topics, offering the same set of courses at hundreds of Chabad locations around the world, all on the same schedule. This means that Jews who are traveling can follow the same course from session to session, even if they find themselves in a different city each week. In the fall of 2012, nearly 14,000 American Jews were enrolled in JLI courses, and overall close to 26,000 participated in Chabad’s teen- and adult-education programs.

The Chabad network is striving to create a seamless transition, so that young people who attended its camps or schools will gravitate to a Chabad campus center when they arrive at college and later, as adults, will join Chabad synagogue centers. No other Jewish movement offers this kind of cradle-to-grave set of services. The participants in these programs, needless to say, range in their Jewish commitments, but with the exception of a small minority, all are drawn from the ranks of the non-Orthodox.

But he also notes the explosion of non-Habad Kiruv organziations as well – including the far more insular world of Haredim. There are about 50 or so community kollelim that do outreach. My only real quibble with Professor Wertheimer is that these kollels are really more about in-reach than outreach (although they do outreach too). They tend to reach the already observant world and raise the level of observance and limud Torah. There are drawbacks to this too which I have discussed in the past but are also beyond the scope of this essay.

Outreach, Inreach and Insularity

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

One of the most difficult problems facing Judaism today is its own perpetuation. This is not to say that it will not exist into the future. It will. And in fact observant Jewry is growing by leaps and bounds. One need not look any further than the explosion in the numbers of observant Jews in America and Israel since the Holocaust to see that. We were once so tiny a percentage of the whole that it was predicted we would one day be relegated to the ash bin of history. Now Orthodoxy the fastest growing segment (denomination) of all Jewry. But we should not be triumphalist. We have not yet triumphed.

As encouraging as these numbers are, there are far greater numbers of Jews that are not observant. Intermarriage is at an all time high. The Reform movement has had to redefine ‘who is a Jew’ just to keep their numbers up. And the Conservative Movement is struggling to keep attrition to a minimum. Both of those denominations have looked at the successes of Orthodoxy and have tried to take lessons from it.

While we might want to celebrate the triumphs of an educational system that has done so much to add to our growth both in numbers and spiritually – the fact is that we are still a very small percentage of the whole. The vast majority of Jews in the world are not observant… and most don’t care to be.

The sad truth for non Orthodox establishments – is their numbers will probably keep dwindling. The only thing that can help retain the large majority of Jews who are assimilating out of Judaism is outreach. That has to be done by teaching non observant Jews with little or no background or education – the beauty of observant Judaism.

The thesis of an article by Rabbi Ilan Feldman in the most recent issue of Klal Perspectives speaks to this issue and laments its current decline in effectiveness. The once great numbers of Jews who were inspired to become observant has dwindled. He proposes that if we want to reverse the trend back to previous levels of success, we need to change the paradigm. From one where we focus on how to better observe Halacha in virtual isolation from our brethren – to one where we become role models for a life of Torah and commitment to observance. We should practice the precept of Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh – every Jew is responsible for every other Jew. We cannot just look inward. We must look outward and act in ways that are a Kiddush HaShem if we are ever to influence our non observant brothers and sisters of the beauty of Torah.

I agree. This is a theme I constantly harp on. And why I scream so loudly when some self-absorbed Jews commit a Chilul HaShem.

Rabbi Feldman had an epiphany as a young man about non observant Jews that I firmly believe to be true and have said so many times. There are a great number of non observant Jews that are in fact ‘religious’. They are proud of their Judaism and want to live a more Jewishly committed lifestyle. Not knowing how to do it is perhaps their biggest obstacle. Opening up our hearts and homes in non-judgmental ways and leading our lives as role models of behavior can have a great impact on many of these people. They most certainly should not be written off, while we pat ourselves on the back about our successes.

Unfortunately the current trend especially among the right is to become ever more insular. Kiruv when it does happen in that community is an ‘out of sight out of mind’ occurrence. There is hardly any cross fertilization between the Kiruv professionals and the rest of the community. Which I think is in part the reasons so many Baalei Teshuva are so disappointed when they try to integrate with the mainstream. It is a fact of life, but a travesty nevertheless when newcomers are often kept at arm’s length instead of being honored for what they have achieved.

But it isn’t only about outreach. It is about in-reach. Like trying to deal with those among us who are at risk. Based on all the ink spilled on the subject even by the right wing, I have to assume that the numbers are quite large, and growing. These kids drop out for various reasons, including dysfunctional families, or having been sexually (or otherwise) abused. Or simply falling through the cracks of an educational system that is too narrowly focused on only one aspect of it (e.g. Gemarah or academics) and does not practice the proverbial advice of “Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko.”

And then there are those who simply ask the “wrong’ questions” about matters of belief or contradictions between science and Torah. These can and often do steer people away from observance and belief.

Rabbi Michael Broyde says in response to Rabbi Feldman’s article that this last item is a problem in outreach that he did not address. When trying to persuade college educated youth to consider a Torah lifestyle, demonstrating the beauty of it may very well not be enough. Their exposure to the scientific knowledge of the day and the contradiction they perceive it to be to the Torah is a huge impediment to them in accepting Orthodoxy. Especially in light of the Slifkin affair. When the right rejects books that try in all sincerity to reconcile Torah and science by calling it heresy, very few college educated youth will be able to buy into that… and in fact will be completely turned off by such talk.

That said, I agree with Rabbi Feldman’s suggestion that we need to change the paradigm from one tending toward insularity to one of connecting to our fellow Jews outside of our own Daled Amos.

There are many ways to do it. Nothing works better than inspiration. When young people are inspired by the way observant Jews behave, they can become inspired to see what Observant Judaism is all about. But that alone will not work. Certainly not in every case. It has to be accompanied by a rational approach to answering difficult questions about science and Torah that will appeal to the educated mind.

I witnessed outreach at work in an amazing way over this past Shabbos. I saw public high school students become inspired over Shabbos – culminating with the classic NCSY Havdalah ceremony which includes stories of sacrifice by their peers standing up for their Judaism.

NCSY International Director, Rabbi Micah Greenland was at his best, infusing his own passion into the stories he told while soulful music was being played in the background. After the Havdalah was completed those kids danced excitedly to Jewish music with breathtaking intensity. Many of those kids were not observant at all. Except for their dress, one would never know they were not Frum. It was a sight to behold.

Inspiring the unaffiliated can be done through inspirational stories or through our own behavior as role models. We should always be thinking about how we look to others whenever we are in public. Or even in private for that matter. On the other hand when a Chilul HaShem is made by observant Jews, it will surely have the opposite effect

Nor can we afford to dismiss Rabbi Broyde’s comments… even at the high school level. As inspired as those kids I saw last weekend, many of them will eventually go off to college and be exposed to questions that may not have anyone at the ready to answer them at that time. There needs to be a paradigm change at both the interactive level as well as the educational level. Insularity must end. And so must ignorance.

I realize of course that the vast majority of non-observant Jews will probably still remain non-observant. And that assimilation and intermarriage will still be rampant. We will never reach everyone. But as our sages have told us, it is not for us to finish the job. But neither are we free to refrain from it (Avos 2:21). We can go a long way towards changing the world by changing course. Much further than we are now.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

The Legacy Of Rav Aharon Kotler

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

As we commemorate the fiftieth yahrzeit this Friday, the second day of Kislev, of Rav Aaron Kotler – the greatest Jew, in the opinion of even many of his fellow Torah luminaries, ever to set foot on North American soil – we are obligated to reflect on his achievements and the lessons he taught.

This assessment of Rav Aharon isn’t hyperbole or the kind of excessive adulation that is often accorded to persons of significant achievement. How Rav Aharon was regarded by other great persons in his lifetime and what his legacy has been in Lakewood and elsewhere amply justify the view that he towered above everyone else in our community, including other Torah giants.

I knew him over the last eleven years of his life. Our first encounter was at the initial meeting he called to assist Chinuch Atzmai, the network of religious day schools he established in Israel. I had just become active in Zeirei Agudath Israel of Boro Park and attended the meeting that took place at the National Council of the Young Israel in Manhattan. As I lived a block away from his apartment in Boro Park, the driver who took him home allowed me to come as well.

Throughout the next decade, I raised money for Chinuch Atzmai on a voluntary basis. At times, I accompanied Rav Aharon when he raised funds for Chinuch Atzmai or for his yeshiva. At conventions of Agudath Israel and Zeirei he always ate privately and asked that I join with him.

* * * * *

He came here seventy-one years ago, a man in his early 50s who scarcely spoke any English and yet who somehow was able to communicate with American-born youngsters who were far more proficient in baseball statistics than in Yiddish and with laypeople who were distinctly modern in their orientation.

He came here with a mission, namely to build Torah in America, having turned back in Japan from the remnants of the great pre-Holocaust European yeshivas that were headed toward safe haven in Shanghai. When he arrived in the United States he spoke immediately of this urgent mission, though his first task was hatzalah, or rescue, activity.

In 1943, Beth Medrash Govoha was established and opened with a handful of students.

At a young age in Europe he had earned a reputation as one of the preeminent Torah scholars of recent generations. His yeshiva in Kletzk, a small town in Poland not far from Slutzk across the Russian border where his father-in-law, the great gaon Rav Iser Zalman Meltzer, had headed a major yeshiva, was recognized as one of the outstanding advanced institutions of Talmudic study in the yeshiva world. In the 1920s, when a new building for the yeshiva was dedicated in Kletzk, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzienski referred to Rav Aharon as the “Rav Akiva Eger of this generation.”

There was more to Rav Aharon’s story during this phase of his exalted life. For all of his intensive immersion in Torah study, including giving shiurim, and the burden of sustaining the yeshiva, especially after the Great Depression of 1929, Rav Aharon never lost sight of his obligation to serve the larger community. He was an activist and his activity included Agudath Israel and many other communal causes. At one of the Agudah conventions in the 1950s, as we ate privately, he remarked about his activities in 1917 during the period between the first and second Russian revolutions that occurred that year.

The lesson he taught was of communal responsibility, of caring and working for the attainment of goals that extend far beyond a person’s ordinary four cubits of responsibility. For each of us, of course, this obligation is defined by the positions we hold, as well as by our capabilities. I have known persons whose devotion to the klal has been extraordinary. None reached the super-human level attained by Rav Aharon.

There is a collateral obligation arising from Rav Aharon’s communal activities. His yeshivas, Kletzk and Lakewood, obviously were institutions of advanced Torah study. They operated at the post-high school level and without a scintilla of secular education, even for livelihood purposes. Students could not attend the yeshiva and be enrolled at the same time in an academic program. This was not by chance but rather because Rav Aharon insisted on complete immersion in Torah study. He believed that Torah greatness could not be attained in North America unless there were students who devoted themselves entirely to its study.

The Anonymous Eliezer: A Tribute to Zev Wolfson, Z”L

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

“And the servant said to him…” (Genesis 24:5).

The biblical portion of Chayei Sarah comprises two chapters in the Book of Genesis. The first (chapter 23) deals with the death and burial of Sarah and the second (chapter 24) deals with the selection of a suitable wife for Isaac.

The connection between these two themes is indubitably clear: with the loss of his beloved life’s partner, a bereft Abraham understood both the tremendous significance of the role played by Sarah in his life as well as the awesome responsibility that lay before him to find such a suitable mate for his heir to the covenant, Isaac.

For this formidable and momentous task he chooses Eliezer, “his trusted servant, the wise elder of his household, who controlled all that was his” (Genesis 24:2).

The choice of Eliezer was indeed an excellent one. Eliezer demonstrated great skill in understanding what was primarily required for the wife of Isaac.

He understood she must be a member of the Abrahamic family and not be dwelling among the accursed Canaanites. He further understood the young woman had to be willing to live with Isaac in Abraham’s domain rather than removing Isaac to the home of her family – in other words, Rebecca had to come under the influence of Abraham.

Most of all, he understood the young woman had to have the character of Abrahamic hospitality, to the extent that she would not only draw water from the well for him (the messenger) but also for his camels.

And of course he needed to arrange for the young woman to take the journey to Isaac and live her life in the land of Israel under the tent of Abraham.

All of this Eliezer executed with wisdom, tact and sensitive understanding. He arranged a shidduch that would determine the destiny of God’s covenantal nation. Indeed, the Bible itself bears testimony that Eliezer set out for his mission “with all the bounty [goodness] of his master in his hand” (Ibid 24:10).

Rashi takes this to mean that Abraham gave Eliezer an open check; he would pay any price for the right wife for Isaac. Rav Moshe Besdin gives the verse a very different thrust: all the bounty and goodness that had been accumulated by Abraham was now placed in the hands of his most trusted servant since the future of Abraham was dependant upon Isaac, his heir apparent, and the future of Isaac was dependent upon the wife he would marry.

Strangely, throughout this lengthy biblical tale the name Eliezer is not mentioned. He is referred to as “the servant” (eved) ten times and as “the personage” (ish) seven times – but never once by his name, Eliezer. Would one not think that such an important individual entrusted with such a significant mission was deserving of having his name in lights for everyone to see and remember?

I believe this is exactly the point of the biblical record. Eliezer the individual has been completely overwhelmed by the enormity of this task: he is the servantof Abraham, committed to performing the one act which will determine the continuity of the Abrahamic vision; in this sense it is similar to the biblical description “and Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab….” (Deuteronomy 34: 5). In fact, the Midrash even suggests that Eliezer had a daughter of marriageable age whom he had always expected would marry Isaac, giving him grandchildren who would inherit the Abrahamic dream and wealth.

Eliezer forgets any of his personal ambitions or goals; he is the consummate servant of Abraham, using all of his innate wisdom and ingenuity in order to carry out the will of his master Abraham.

To be sure, Eliezer in his own right was a magnificent personage of rare ability. In this fashion the Bible declares, “And this is the blessing that Moses the personage (ish) of God bestowed upon the children of Israel before his death” (Deut. 33:1). But Moses utilized all of his spiritual and intellectual prowess in the service of his Master, the Lord God of Universe. And just as Moses was an eved and ish at the same time, with his individual personality having been totally given over to God’s will, so was Eliezer an ish and eved at the same time.

Reality Threat

Monday, November 5th, 2012

The following is a partial list of things I always knew I would never be good at:

1) Math 2) Creative writing 3) Jewish outreach 4) Playing with children

How did I come up with this list? Simple. Math was never my favorite subject in school and I always had to work hard to earn decent grades on math tests; creative writing may have been up my alley in elementary and high school, but over the past few years I have concluded that my thinking turned way too focused for anything imaginative to be born from it; Jewish outreach is not for a person like me who grew up in a sheltered environment and who gags over all or most exposure to secular society; and playing with children, well, I’m way too intellectual to know what to do with such purely emotional beings.

I would’ve left it at that, but over the past six months my reality began to shake. It didn’t quite topple over, but I’m trying to steady it before it does.

You see, recently, I sat in on a chemistry class. As many of you know, chemistry involves math and for me math involves anxiety. But somehow, as I sat in on the class I didn’t feel anxious and I actually enjoyed the material. It was very strange. Did something suddenly turn on in my brain that made me know and like the math? Was I really good at it? And why wasn’t I feeling uptight and nervous? I tried to draw out the anxiety I always felt when in my classes of old, but then I thought better of it and decided to just let it be.

But I walked out of there in a daze.

Creative writing. Okay, I used to be good at it, but not anymore. I haven’t written a creative piece in ages – except that a few months back something possessed me to try my hand at writing a creative story, and lo and behold, it turned out pretty good. I thought I would try to earn a few bucks for it so I sent it off to a magazine for possible publication. Okay, I’ll admit that they accepted it. I wrote a few more stories since then and a few more got published, but it’s hard to imagine myself as a writer.

I mean, I’m a writer of sorts, but certainly not the creative type.

And Jewish outreach? I don’t know what to make of this, but during the summer I got a job at a kiruv school where I tutored a bunch of students. I think they learned well and they kind of liked me too, but, really, I only helped them a bit with textual stuff and tried to answer a few of their questions as best as I was able. I keep in touch with them on a fairly regular basis, but I still don’t think I’m the kiruv type. As I said, I’m too sheltered to really be comfortable with such different walks of life.

Playing with children is also something I don’t do. I would do it if I knew what to do, but I don’t know how kids think and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to communicate with them. So, I was very surprised when a shy type of kid decided that she liked me and wanted to play with me. I mean, all I did was smile at her! I decided to try out this new experience before going back to the same old me who doesn’t know what to do with kids. I asked the little girl what she wanted to play and suggested that she get a book and that I would read it to her. She did. It was nice, but it was weird. It was hard to believe that it was me playing with this pipsqueak.

So, here I am stuck with a whole bunch of confusing scenarios that threaten to topple my identity. But I’m not the kind of person who really topples so easily and I will not allow some random aberrations to create an exception. So, to reconfirm: I am not good at math, I am not a creative writer, I will not make a good outreach professional, and I don’t know what in heaven’s name to do with children. There. Now I recognize myself. That feels a whole lot better.

The Home-Run Hitter

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Twenty-five years ago, when kiruv was still a relatively new concept, a group of four young rabbis left Ner Yisrael with families in tow to head down south to Atlanta, Georgia. Rabbi David Silverman was one of those pioneers who founded the Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He is a powerhouse of kiruv – his charisma, sincerity and broad knowledge have helped him inspire thousands of Jews, including this writer. Though he is already a grandfather, his youthful looks and stamina have given him an entrée to reach college and high school students, while his wisdom has endeared him to their parents and grandparents. And yet he is the first to admit that his success has come from far above himself.

Himself a ba’al teshuva, Rabbi Silverman learned at Ner Yisrael for eleven years before moving to Atlanta. Over his many years in kiruv he has received many challenging questions, and the most complex ones are always asked only at the end of a class. It sounds something like this:

“There are just a few minutes left to our discussion group…Any questions?”

“‘Rabbi, how do you explain the Holocaust?”

“What is Kabbalah?”

“Do we believe in life after death?”

“As they’re putting their coats on, I’m trying to explain hashgacha pratis,” Rabbi Silverman exclaims.

Rabbi Silverman has developed clear, succinct answers to these recurring questions. However at one class he was asked a completely new and challenging question on a specific topic related to the Holocaust. Without thinking Rabbi Silverman delivered a perfect answer, and yet he had no idea where it had come from.

A few days later while driving in his car, he was listening to a tape of a study group he had been part of seventeen years earlier with Rabbi Yaacov Weinberg, ztz”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael. Rabbi Silverman slammed on his brakes and had to pull over when he heard someone ask the exact same question on the Holocaust. As he heard the Rosh Yeshiva’s words, he realized he had given the identical answer that he had heard in the group! He rewound the tape to listen again and strained to try to identify who had asked the question. To his astonishment he realized, it was himself!

“The answer was obviously inside me on a certain level, but I was not consciously aware of it,” Rabbi Silverman said. “I clearly felt Hashem’s hand – I needed that experience to know how to answer the question. I felt that HaKadosh Baruch Hu wanted me to do it. It was so validating.”

A few years after moving down South, another episode clearly reminded him and his family that all comes from Hashem. Today, after growing up with guests in and out of their house, the Silverman children are pros at hosting newcomers and introducing them to Judaism. The oldest children have already grown up, married and have begun their own involvement in kiruv. But twenty years ago, when they were still young, getting them to understand the finer points of kiruv was harder.

One week, Rabbi Silverman invited a new family to come for Friday night dinner. It was their first taste of Shabbat. The Silvermans tried to do everything to make it a perfect dinner. Before the meal Rabbi Silverman tried to explain to their children that they could make a Kiddush Hashem by acting like little angels at the Shabbat table, saying divrei Torah and acting respectably.

“I wanted to make a good impression. I was concerned about how the food would taste, that my dvar Torah would be meaningful and it would be a real beautiful, enriching, uplifting experience.”

Things didn’t go quite as he had hoped.

“Every possible thing went wrong. At one point we had one kid in the bathroom yelling, ‘I’m done!’ Other kids were fighting. One kid got on the table, crawled across it and spilled grape juice everywhere. Anything and everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.

“I was standing in the bathroom changing a kid’s diaper, trying to get another kid to say a dvar Torah when there was a knock on the bathroom door.

‘I’m sorry we have to go,’ the wife said.

(‘Oh no,’ I thought to myself. ‘We blew it!’)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/judaism-101/the-home-run-hitter/2012/10/18/

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