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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘kiruv’

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 2/25/11

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Stand-Up Guy’s Colorful Plea  (Chronicles Feb. 11) Evokes Reader Sentiment

 

Dear Stand-Up Guy,

Thanks to the tremendous wealth of Jewish literature available today, I rarely find myself reading The Jewish Press over Shabbos. On occasion, however, I skim through the Family Issues section looking for something of interest, and boy, did I find something. Never have I been one to voice my opinions to the editor, but seeing your letter inspired me to crawl out of my shell of anonymity and tell the world what I think.

In most mainstream yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs great importance is placed on uniformity. The Bais Yaakov school I went to aimed to diminish any shred of self-expression or individuality by implementing a strict uniform code; girls who deviated even slightly saw swift consequences. The imposed uniformity did not sit too well with a girl like me whose nature is open-minded, spirited and inquisitive.

My parents gave me great experiences growing up — museums, traveling, introducing me to the arts; therefore, I learned to love creative expression through art and writing. My school seemed bothered that I was not “the same” as others in my grade. I was not the same white shirt, cookie-cutter kind of girl who had no passion, no opinions, without a sense of individuality. They wanted girls to not only look the same, but also BE the same. But who’s to say that someone who expresses himself or herself differently is a lesser person? Choice of dress has no bearing on one’s observance of Torah and mitzvos. The most ehrliche and G-d fearing bochur in yeshiva may very well be the guy in the pink, purple or even the polka dot shirt.

Since when does one’s choice of creative expression tarnish his soul? Being frum doesn’t mean looking like everyone else. Being frum means being sincere. I became extensively involved with kiruv rechokim to try and reverse the negative assumptions that nonaffiliated Jews have about yiddishkeit and religious people. I have a Masters in education so that I could be at the forefront of Jewish chinuch. So that I could teach Yiddishe kinderlach that whatever shirt they have on, the most important thing is to be kind, honest, generous people, to love Hashem and to love everyone.

The menahel recently called to offer me a teaching position in the same school which tried to stop me from being the person I wanted to be. Whatever your convictions, they make you who you are. Hang on to them; don’t let go. Being the better person doesn’t mean always fitting in.

I’ll go out on a limb here, Stand-Up Guy: Your letter affected me. I appreciate what you wrote and I thank you for taking the time to read my words. I would be so honored to go on a date with you. Things come together in mysterious ways, and trust me, Hashem looks out for even those of us wearing pink shirts.

Sincerely,

Stand-Up Girl

 

Dear Stand-Up Girl,

We are honored to have provided the impetus for your motivation to come out of your shell and give voice to your strong conviction. And we can hardly argue that being a mensch comes before anything else.

Hopefully, Stand-Up Guy is reading this and will be in touch, for as you say, things come together in mysterious ways.

Good luck!

 

Dear Rachel,

Today I read your column about clothes and I thought I would write to you about my problem.

I have a 26-year old son named David.  David is very smart. He went to Brooklyn Tech and then on to Carnegie Mellon, one of the top Engineering Schools in the US. At Carnegie Mellon he became religious and when he graduated IBM recruited him.

He now works for IBM in Haifa and is looking for a wife. David was raised in a secular home and since he came from the US wants a wife to whom he can speak English because that is his primary language. He has a good job, just purchased an apartment that he will move into in July/August and he has his own car.

He is also in the IDF Navy until July/August – so he does not have much free time until then.

I wonder if you know any religious young lady here in the USA who would not mind moving to Haifa to meet, marry and raise a family with my son.

With the miracle of computers, I can send you a photo of him. When I visit him in Israel he is the ONLY person in his shul who does not wear a black hat. He has a brown one.

And if you know someone in Israel who is willing to move to Haifa, that would be okay too.

I will gladly pay the matchmaker fee or make a donation to help agunot. Thanks!

Matchmaker Dad

 

Dear MD,

Though you refer to your issue as a problem, there doesn’t seem to be any. Your son is 26-years young and all indications are that he has a bright future ahead of him.

Your request is an uncommon one for this column, but the sincerity of a father’s heart has moved us to post your message.

Should anyone be interested in finding out more about David – we even have a photo of a handsome young man to pass along – please write to this column at Rachel@JewishPress.com. (Serious inquiries only!)

May you realize your longing and may your noble quest lead to loads of Yiddish nachas.

* * * * *

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to  rachel@jewishpress.com  or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

We Should Not Be Surprised

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

If I am granted the years and strength, in three years (and during my eightieth year) I will conduct another census of Jewish day schools in the United States, following up on my previous research conducted at five-year intervals.

While of course the precise data are not yet known, much of what will be learned is already apparent. Enrollment from kindergarten through grade twelve will grow by about ten percent over the 2008-09 statistic, so that there will be about 250,000 day school students, an impressive figure when we reflect on the modest number of dayschoolers just several decades ago. There is a lot to be proud of.

Unfortunately, the overall numbers do not tell the entire story. The record is mixed. Nearly all the enrollment growth – in fact, all the growth – will be in the two haredi sectors, comprising yeshiva world and chassidic schools, and this growth will entirely be the result of high haredi fertility. Elsewhere in the day-school world, the story is one of stagnation and – what may be surprising to many – enrollment decline in many schools, including in quite a few Orthodox institutions.

Non-Orthodox schools are losing students, with the Solomon Schechters (Conservative) leading the way down. By 2013, they shall have lost at least one third of the nearly 18,000 students enrolled a decade earlier, reflecting in large measure the remarkable downward spiral of the Conservative movement. There are some Orthodox who welcome this development. I do not because I know these schools once provided many recruits for the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

When a Solomon Schechter school closes, often there is no substitute day school for its students. The reality is that children from even more traditional Conservative homes are increasingly being enrolled in public schools. High tuition, in addition to the atrophying of Conservatism, is taking an ever-expanding toll.

For years there was enrollment growth in Community day schools, the so-called trans-denominational institutions that invariably are light on Judaics. The trend is now being reversed, as Community schools are reporting enrollment decline and some have closed. Here, too, high tuition is part of the explanation and this has produced a spreading climate of opinion in what once may have been regarded as day school families that this form of education is not mandatory.

Although still tiny in numbers, Hebrew-language charter schools are beginning to have an impact. This is certain to expand despite the prospect that severe budgetary problems confronting nearly all of the states will restrain the willingness of public officials to authorize additional charters. The Jess Schwartz Jewish Community Day School in Phoenix, which less than a year ago merged with another Community school and now enrolls about 200 students, has just applied for charter status.

Outside of New York and New Jersey, nearly half of all U.S. day school students are in non-Orthodox schools, a statistic that may seem surprising in view of significant pockets of Orthodox enrollment in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Atlanta. The sociological reality is that younger Orthodox families are gravitating to the New York metropolitan area.

With the limited exception of Chabad schools, themselves now encountering severe financial stress, there are few Orthodox schools with anything close to a kiruv or outreach mission or orientation. There are reasons for this, some perhaps acceptable, others not.

The day school movement which once was imbued with a spirit of kiruv has substantially shed that commitment and the results are not welcome. This development reflects the strange mindset in nearly all of Orthodox life that kiruv and chinuch are distinct obligations and activities and that it is possible to have a viable kiruv movement without a strong focus on the education of children. This attitude is sharply in contrast to what occurs in Israel where under the guidance of Torah leaders enormous energy and resources are poured into basic Torah education aimed at ensuring a meaningful religious future for children from marginal families.

There is no justification for the tragic division between kiruv and chinuch, a division that explains why for all the public relations efforts, kiruv is in the doldrums. It does not have to be this way, witness the major exception in all of North America: Dallas, where an extraordinary Torah community has emerged because of the organic relationship between outreach and basic Torah education.

A Message To Parents of Coed College-Bound Students

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The Stories

1. Josh is a 20-year-old college student who was given a yeshiva education from kindergarten through 12th grade. No doubt his parents spent well over $100,000 for his solid Jewish education. He is involved in Jewish life on campus and attends minyan regularly, though life on campus is a spiritual battle. So when he told me he went to his college football team’s stadium to attend a game on a Shabbos afternoon, I was a little disappointed.

“Don’t worry,” he reassured me. “I walked to the game.”

“How did you get your ticket there?” I asked, knowing the eruv does not extend to the stadium.

“Oh, don’t worry,” he responded. “I had one of my non-observant friends carry it for me.”

Not much better, I thought, since it is prohibited to have another Jew break Shabbos for you in non-emergency situations.

Josh proceeded to relate a “funny” story. As his team was dismantled in a driving rainstorm, he overheard a female student several rows behind him complain to her friend, “For this I broke Shabbos!?”

2. On my second day as a campus rabbi back in September 2004, I was looking for secular Jewish students for my kiruv program. I met a nice Orthodox girl unloading her belongings in the dorm with her father. I struck up a conversation with him and he congratulated me on my new venture, saying, “My friend’s daughter spent four years in a yeshiva high school and then went to a coed college; within a week she completely changed her wardrobe to a very provocative one and soon after that became a dancer.” (And no, it wasn’t for a music company).

As someone who has worked on a coed college campus doing kiruv for the past five years, I can tell you – as can every one of my colleagues – a hundred more stories like these about students who come from Orthodox families and went through twelve years of yeshiva education.

After receiving one too many a phone call from parents who hadn’t known about their children dating non-Jews in college, or from talking to the frustrated good students on campus who are doing all they can to have a positive impact on their friends who have turned their back on the Torah education they received in high school, I feel I cannot keep this information to myself. I have a responsibility to share it with parents whose children are college bound.

The Problem

The spiritual situation facing Orthodox students on college campuses is a precarious one. Most dorms are coed and the peer pressure to fit in and be like everyone else is enormous. Even a sincerely observant 19 year old certainly still has the desire to taste the forbidden fruit, even if just to see what it’s like. So for how long will an Orthodox college student manage to resist the influence of his or her secular counterparts (who have an average of 5.5 intimate partners during their undergraduate years)?

Additionally, how do we expect a high school Jewish education to compete with a secular university education? This is especially the case when many of the yeshiva high schools offer very little to students in the areas of emunah, Jewish outlook and hashkafah.

Fortunately, some students find refuge in Hillel or the Chabad House. Programs such as the OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative, Chabad on campus, and Rabbi Shalom Axelrod’s Kesharim are a good step in the right direction. At Rutgers, for example, Rabbi Yisroel and Shoshana Porath of the JLI, in partnership with Hillel, have had tremendous success. A multitude of Shabbos meals and shiurim are available. There is also a daily kosher meal plan as well as Shabbos meals, learning, and other programs available at Rutgers Chabad, run by the popular Rabbi Boruch Goodman. Many students have used these opportunities to grow in their religious observance and deepen their Torah knowledge.

These programs, however, are usually attended by some of the more religiously motivated students while those who perhaps entered college a bit weaker in their Yiddishkeit tend to fall away. For one thing, even the most dedicated campus rabbis and rebbetzins cannot have a close relationship with more than 65-75 students. Naturally they will have such relationships with the students who seek them out. But on many campuses with large Jewish populations – Penn, Brandeis, University of Maryland, Rutgers, etc. – there are hundreds of yeshiva high school alumni who are not involved. Who is taking care of their spiritual needs? There must be more funding for programs to reach out to students who are getting lost and leaving Orthodoxy.

Chronicles of Crises In Our Communities – 8/21/09

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Dear Rachel,

Please forgive me in advance for my comments – I don’t mean to offend or be critical. In fact, I generally find your advice to be very sound and inspiring and I think you really help those who write to you. But in regard to the letter from Bothered and Bewildered (Chronicles 8-5), I think that the writer and others reading your response might be confused by the advice that was given.

It sounded like the woman who wrote the letter is not involved in kiruv and has little exposure to people who are not frum or who were frum and then left Yiddishkeit. In your response you wrote “you are obligated to let her know that you do not condone her lifestyle nor approve of her living arrangements, which is contrary to our teachings. This can be communicated via casual conversation in a non-condescending manner, even as you carry on in your warm and neighborly way…”

Perhaps you have a vision of how this would happen, but practically speaking I’m not sure how one would do this; certainly someone who does not have experience with kiruv or in knowing how to handle such delicate types of situations might be confused and unclear as to how to interact with her neighbor based on this suggestion.

You also wrote “be pleasant…but be forewarned not to allow yourself to be drawn into heavy…discussions…coming up against a non-believer can be daunting…our sages advise us to handle the non-believer’s rationalizations as we would…our yetzer ha’ra: shrug off any and all arguments and justifications…head off any discussion that threatens to be going nowhere with a ‘you are entitled to your opinion.’” To me these comments imply that this woman is a non-believer who will not be open to hearing about finding her way back to Judaism, a woman who already has her justifications planned, a woman whose heart is closed to Yiddishkeit.

Perhaps you meant only to advise the writer to proceed with caution. Yet, I would not make these assumptions. Even the fact that she sends her kids to yeshiva is a very important point that shows she has not totally severed her connection to Judaism despite the way she is currently living her life.

Perhaps if she had someone who really cared about her she would open up and reveal that she is torn about being with this man and about having left Judaism. Perhaps she never experienced the beauty of Yiddishkeit. Perhaps she is very lonely, confused and hurt by a bad divorce and is turning to this non-Jewish man for companionship, caring and love – not because she has totally rejected Yiddishkeit, but because he was at the right place at the right time (or perhaps the wrong place at the wrong time when she was very vulnerable).

I would have advised the letter-writer to get in touch with a kiruv professional or contact a friend, relative, or neighbor who has a lot of experience dealing with these types of situations (and understands kiruv and human psychology and relationships) for direction. It may be a step-by-step slow process, but this way she might be able to bring her “neighbor” back to Yiddishkeit or at least plant the seeds in her mind.

Getting into deep philosophical discussions may not be for everyone, but she can perhaps be directed to the right people who can handle those discussions. Maybe she is not even interested in deep philosophical conversations; maybe she just needs to see how Yiddishkeit teaches us to love our fellow man and treat them with respect. A Shabbos meal is often a wonderful kiruv tool. Or if she is not ready for that, or the timing is not right, perhaps a schmooze in the backyard… or inviting her over for tea, or going out to lunch with her one day to get to know her a little better… but handling things the wrong way without knowing how to find the right balance and how to address things appropriately could, G-d forbid, make her even more lost to Yiddishkeit than she already is.

I would tell “Bothered…” to keep an open mind, seek advice, daven to Hashem for guidance, and IY”H she should be a catalyst for good things to happen.

Finding the Right Balance in Kiruv

Dear Finding,

Thank you for your sound and strong suggestions. (This column never takes offense at reasonable, relevant and intelligent commentary, but rather welcomes it.)

In light of the letter-writer’s scant details, this column’s response was intended as a general guide (based on Torah principles) and purposely avoided delving into feelings, motivations or circumstances that may or may not be factors in this particular instance.

One must also bear in mind that just as there may be any of various reasons a person has lost his or her way, not to mention the different personalities and temperaments that make each case unique, the people who chance to interact with them are also unalike.

In other words, the writer with the neighborly concern may not be in a position, in whatever way or for whatever reason, to involve herself in a kiruv sense (as you have indicated). To that end, we have concurred in our view from a practical standpoint: be respectful and kind, and teach by example.

Your in-depth analysis of possibilities will surely be of benefit to some of our readers. Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Kiruv – Outreach – A Family Affair

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

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.

Dear Friend:

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)

Title: Living from Convention to Convention: A History of NCSY, 1954-1980

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Title: Living from Convention to Convention: A History of NCSY, 1954-1980


Author: Zev Eleff


Publisher: Ktav Publishing Inc.


 


 


   Living from Convention to Convention: A History of NCSY, 1954-1980 by Zev Eleff charts the history of NCSY since its inception. These formative years allowed the national youth organization of the Orthodox Union to become what many say is now the largest force in bringing Jewish teens closer to their heritage and religion.

 

   Eleff wrote the magnum opus as an undergrad student at Yeshiva University. Eleff’s hard work is a thorough and detailed examination of the challenges facing NCSY in its early days and the politics that were present behind the scenes, a given in almost any national Jewish organization.

 

   One of those initial disputes was over the nature of certain activities NCSY sponsored for the young and unaffiliated Jews it hoped to bring closer to Orthodox Judaism. While NCSY was founded with the intent to follow halachic standards, it also needed to attract secular teens to its events. And yet, despite its refusal to cave to protesters and sponsor activities such as mixed dancing beginning in 1961, after Rabbi Pinchas Stolper assumed NCSY’s top position, NCSY was successful in attracting teens who may have otherwise balked at participating in social activities such as “separate workshops in ‘singing and Israeli dancing’ for boys and girls,” part of the program agenda for the 1960 NCSY National Convention.

 

   Eleff attributes this to NCSY’s “serious effort to give NCSYers a feeling of ownership of the youth ownerships,” owing to the movement’s malleable nature when it was first starting out. “Teenagers began to flock to NCSY because they considered themselves partners in its inception and development,” he writes.

 

   Another difficulty the young movement saw was in maintaining close ties with right-wing rabbinical figures, which Rabbi Stolper felt was crucial to NCSY’s survival and continued success. Eleff suggests that this was due to the fact that in previous decades, Modern Orthodox Jews were more lax in their religious observance. Thus, “Modern Orthodox rabbis of the 1970′s tended to validate their outlooks outside a halachic framework.”

 

   Because Rabbi Stolper hope to attract more right-wing youth to NCSY, the many endorsements of those Modern Orthodox rabbis would not go a long way towards convincing more right-wing teens to attend. However, as more right-wing rabbis had trouble giving approval to a movement that sponsored co-ed activities – even if they did not involved mixed swimming or dancing – appealing to more yeshivish students proved difficult.

 

   A further blow came when the Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the most seminal figures in Orthodox outreach, criticized both Yavneh and NCSY as groups that fell outside the realm of acceptable Orthodox outreach organizations. Due to a misunderstanding, the Rebbe was led to believe that NCSY may have made dispensations for its followers at the cost of strict adherence to Torah law, which he found wholly unacceptable.

 

   “In the end,” writes Eleff, “the episode’s residual effects were minimal [but] the incident speaks to the caution exercised by the already well-established NCSY to mollify right-wing Orthodox leaders to whom NCSY administrators felt obligated to justify the ideals of the youth movement.”

 

   Eleff touches upon a significant change that faced NCSY beginning in the late 1970′s, when the majority of teens attending NCSY events and involved in its programming came from single-sex and co-ed yeshivas and day schools. Eleff accredits this to two things: to NCSY’s belief in “demographic studies [in the 1980's] that suggested Orthodoxy was losing thousands of neglected young people reared in observant homes, and “the disappearance of Jews from the small towns that had once been the hallmark of the youth movement.”

 

   Many small-town families that had once been the stronghold of NCSY were now moving to more mainstream Jewish communities or becoming more assimilated into the general population. It was at this time, writes Eleff, that NCSY established intensive study programs and kollel programs in Israel, recognizing that the typical NCSYer was now most likely to be from an Orthodox background.

 

   The aforementioned episodes only highlight the numerous anecdotes and historical reminiscences that are so abundant throughout this crowning achievement. Eleff is to be commended for the painstaking research he conducted to compile this definitive history. The serious historian and the casual reader alike will both benefit from his devotion to producing a comprehensive history accurate in its minutest details. This slim volume contains a wealth of details.

 

   Perhaps the greatest value of this book is that it illustrates a number of important halachic and hashkafic principles regarding how one does effective kiruv on the individual and mass scale without sacrificing one’s integrity, personal or institutional. In that sense, this book reads like a primer of kiruv, one that kiruv practitioners today would be well advised to read and follow.

 

   The times, conditions, and challenges facing outreach workers in the 21st century might have changed in certain details – iPods, Internet, cell phones, etc. – but the principles for connecting effectively and communicating eloquently the beauty of Torah remain remarkably constant, and the heroic men and women who presided over the birth of NCSY have much to say to our modern kiruv workers. And given the realities of the Jewish world and our responsibility for our fellow Jews, aren’t we all outreach workers?

 

   Rabbi Burg writes an afterword, praising Eleff’s work in tackling “the seemingly insurmountable task of documenting NCSY’s formative early years.” Rabbi Burg described the ways NCSY has changed in more recent times, as teens themselves have changed since earlier decades of NCSY. “… as of the close of the era covered by this volume, NCSY’s story has just begun. I look forward to the eventual, inevitable sequel, detailing how NCSY continues to carry the torch into the new millennium and beyond.”

 

   The book is available in major Judaica stores and through the OU’s online store, www.shopou.org.

Helping Children Cope With Trauma

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

Our family is recovering from the terrible, unexpected loss of a loved one who passed away far too young.

My husband and I have differing views on seeking professional help to help our children cope with the tragedy. (Thankfully, at least on the surface, they all seem to be doing well.) I am strongly in favor of seeking this help, while my husband, who is an amazing father and has been our bedrock throughout this ordeal, thinks that we should leave well enough alone and not subject our children to the agony of pouring their hearts out to a stranger.

We are regular readers of your columns and recently re-read your “Open Letter to Teens Who Lost a Parent,” where you very clearly encourage them to seek help if they are having difficulty dealing with their grief. But what if they don’t seem to be exhibiting any such signs?

We would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

Respectfully, Susan

Dear Susan:

Al regel achas (literally “on one foot”), I would most certainly encourage you – in the strongest terms – to seek out the assistance of a trained, mental health professional to help your children (and their parents) cope with your grief. However, as this is a topic where input from a mental health professional is crucial, I reached out to Moshe Borowski, LMSW, ACSW, who graciously accepted my invitation to share his thoughts with our readers on the subject of grief counseling and the overall topic of helping children cope with trauma. Below, please find his slightly edited response to your letter.

For background, Moshe has spent more than two decades counseling members of our community who have suffered losses. Over the past 10 years, he has always made himself available to me, around the clock, whenever I’ve called him on behalf of individuals suffering through traumatic events who have reached out to me for guidance. I am profoundly grateful for this. On behalf of our readers, I would like to express my gratitude to Moshe for taking the time from his busy schedule to respond to these questions. Here are his comments:

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I strongly concur with Rabbi Horowitz’s advice for you to seek professional help in aiding your family members through this trying time in your lives. It is common for children and adults to “look OK” on the outside, but doing very poorly on the inside.

As a trauma therapist, I am often called upon to lend a helping ear after accidents or deaths. While situations should always be dealt with on an individualized basis, here are some general tips for helping children cope with trauma:

Explain that their feelings and reactions are normal and acceptable. Children often fear that they are weird or “going crazy” due to what they are experiencing. This additional level of distress can complicate attending to their inherent reactions to the incident.

Being reassured that their experiences are shared by many (while being careful not to minimize the uniqueness of what they are going through) is a tremendous relief. Keep in mind the incisive adage of the psychiatrist/author Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who wrote the seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal.” [Emphasis added]

Stress the importance of family unity. Explain that the entire family is going through this together. Children may be concerned that they are alone in their thoughts and feelings. Knowing that you are there with them – and for them – is exceptionally comforting. “Imo Anochi b’tzarah – I (God) am with a person in his troubles,” the Psalmist tells us. Hashem’s empathic caring, so to speak, is an essential trait for us to emulate.

Be an “Active Listener” – even if they have already described the incident and their responses to it. Make sure to maintain your composure and, if needed, have someone available that you can turn to for support. If you are unable to accomplish this, explain that the situation is difficult for you as well, and have your spouse or another familiar adult (family member, friend, neighbor, teacher, rabbi) “be there” for the children. Keep in mind that on some level, your child may be asking, “Will this happen to me and my family? Who would take care of me? Will I really be okay?”

Initiate hands-on projects. When trauma occurs, children feel as if their world has turned upside down. There is no longer any feeling of control, power or safety. This can be terrifying for anyone, especially children. It’s the role of adults to help restore some sense of control, at least over the “inner world” which we all carry around. Be sure to allow them input in choosing their projects. They can write stories and poems, or opt to paint and draw. They can focus on the event or express themselves in general terms. Encourage children to give tzedakah, preferably to a charity or fund where they can directly sense that they are helping people directly.

Stick to routine and be flexible. Which one is it? Actually a little of both. Routine can provide a child with structure and comfort. But be prepared for the distinct possibility that compromise and flexibility may also be needed. Schedule some extra time for them to fall asleep, read or play. If you feel that a young child needs to sleep with you for the night, or that you need to go into his or her room to facilitate sleeping, use expressions like, “Since it has been such a tough day, you can join us for tonight.” You want to avoid unwittingly fostering a situation where your child now “needs” to constantly sleep in your room.

Take care of yourself. Make sure that you have someone to vent to (spouse, sibling, neighbor, friend, rabbi/rebbetzin, therapist). Review some of the tips for children and find those that are also applicable to you. Be sure to exercise and find time for the things that give you emotional energy. Always keep in mind that the healthier you are – in body and spirit – the better positioned you will be to help your children when they need it most.

Moshe Borowski, LMSW, ACSW, is the founder and director of SSTART (School & Synagogue Trauma and Resilience Training), a non-profit organization helping children and families, schools and communities cope with various types of trauma or loss. He is also in private practice in Brooklyn and the Five Towns. He has been involved in counseling, chinuch and kiruv for over 25 years. SSTART can be reached at HealTheHurt@gmail.com or 646-673-5909.

His Whole Life Turned On A Sandwich

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

You never know what event will spark a person’s desire to return to Judaism. Art Sherman was an assimilated Jew married to a Polish Catholic woman. He owned a non-kosher Italian “hero sandwich shop” and an unbelievable comment, one day by his Rastafarian employee, sent him on a life-changing journey.

After their wedding in 1973, Art and Karen moved from place to place, first to Philadelphia and then to Brooklyn. There, he decided to open a small sandwich store. He made all types of sandwiches, from five different kinds of cheese steaks to Italian hoagies stacked high with ham, pork-salami and provolone cheese. Customers loved the sandwiches and business was great.

Over time, he started noticed specific groups of people who would not eat particular sandwiches. He had lots of Jamaican, Seventh Day Adventist and Muslim customers who said they didn’t eat pork because it was prohibited in the Old Testament.

Art continued to devour his non-kosher sandwiches, but over time he began to sense the irony of his non-Jewish customers attempting to follow religious dietary laws, which he ignored completely.

“The Muslims would make me wipe off the slicing machine before I cut roast beef or corned beef for their sandwiches. For myself, I couldn’t care less,” Art said. “I could eat so much pork it would make the Pope sick. I had all these non-Jewish people coming in who had more respect for where I came from than I did.”

One of his employees, who was a Rastafarian, refused to eat meat altogether. He was a vegetarian, because as he told Art, “the Bible forbids the consumption of blood.” Rastafarians take this Biblical statement to further prohibit the consumption of any animal flesh.

Art continued to consume away. One day in his store, he had a craving for a huge hoagie, with everything on it.

“I wanted a ‘Marciano’ Italian Hot Ham and Provolone cheese. The sandwich had to have perfect balance. It was my place. I could put on as much meat or cheese as I deemed appropriate. But too much meat, not enough cheese, and the balance would be thrown off. I had to have room for the lettuce, tomatoes, thinly sliced onions, hot peppers, oil and oregano,” Art said. “I was in Alpha concentration. Totally focused on the task at hand when the Rastafarian guy walks up behind me and says in a deep voice, ‘you know Art, you really shouldn’t eat ham.’”

Something about the Rastafarian’s statement caused Art to stop and think about what he was doing.

“I felt like I had been slapped in the face! Shot in the heart! It woke me up,” Art said.

“I knew I really shouldn’t eat ham. I went to Hebrew school. But the last person I expected to call me on it was this guy. What could I say? He was right.”

Art made a commitment at that moment to keep what he called “Arab Kosher.” He decided to stop eating all pork and shellfish products. “It was a big step for me and I was proud to take it.”

Art came home that night and told his wife about his epiphany. She immediately agreed to join him. Although it created tension with her family, Karen remained steadfast in her determination. In the past, every other little Jewish activity, such as having a Passover Seder, had seemed to bring them closer together, and this action was no different.

The commitment to cut out pork and shellfish from their lives launched the Shermans on a journey of growth and exploration. Soon, Art closed his store and he and his family moved to his hometown, a small Jewish neighborhood in Margate, outside Atlantic City. Art and Karen, along with their two daughters, began going to a synagogue around the corner from their house, and he and his wife began taking Jewish classes. Over time they began keeping kosher and took on more mitzvot.

“I felt like there was something really familiar about it,” Karen said. “When the teacher talked about Sinai, I knew clearly that that’s where my soul had been. I finally began to understand the identity of my soul.”

With this newfound realization and excitement, Karen continued learning. She and her daughters eventually converted. Years later Karen learned that several of her ancestors had actually been Jewish.

Art and Karen say they still look back in astonishment at the extraordinary source that launched them on their growth. That one comment from the Rastafarian employee, of all people, sent them on an incredible life journey. But the fact that it came from such an unexpected source was a major reason it had the impact that it did.

“Sometimes you’re all ready to defend yourself from a religious Jew, but you’re not ready to defend yourself against a Gentile telling you things that the rabbis taught,” Art said. “I was like a tank. I was fortified, heavily reinforced from the front for a frontal attack, but my armor was not as thick on the side. When you get hit on the side, sometimes – boom – the rounds go through. The Rastafarian caught me in the ribs.”

Hashem has lots of quills of all different types in His quiver, depending on who He is trying to reach. And you just never know what quill He will use next.

Today Art Sherman makes Kosher Hoagies while speaking to Jewish groups about his journey. In early 2009 he will be opening a new kosher meat restaurant in Manalapan, NJ called “Just Good Food!” that will offer hoagies as well as Middle Eastern and Italian dishes. He can be reached at 347-581-4411 or Asher26593@aol.com.

Michael Gros is the Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars’ Kollel. The Teshuva Journey is a monthly column chronicling amazing teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com; to receive the column via e-mail or see back issues, visit http://www.michaelgros.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/judaism-101/his-whole-life-turned-on-a-sandwich/2009/01/28/

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