The antagonistic attitude of the Israeli media towards
religion in general and religious people in particular leaves
the uninformed bystander with the distinct impression that
the overwhelming majority of non-observant Israelis are
avidly anti-religious and perfectly satisfied with their
secular way of life. However, this is all part of a
deliberate attempt of the forces that be to delegitimize the
Torah and those who adhere to its ways in the eyes of the
The fact is that most Jews living in Israel today are more
eager to explore their roots than ever before. They feel the
aching emptiness inside and yearn to find meaning in their
lives. All of the false gods have been shattered --
Socialism, Zionism, militarism and materialism. Israelis now
seek alternative lifestyles, and religion is becoming an
increasingly popular choice.
Anyone who has been to Israel lately can see the handwriting
on the wall. Often, men and women dressed in clearly non-
religious garb can be seen reciting Tehillim on the
buses, or holding hands with sons wearing kipot. Taxi
drivers seem to be listening constantly to taped shiurim,
or to one of the numerous religious radio stations that
have cropped up over the past few years. Storeowners and
repairmen unabashedly punctuate conversations with their
clients with plenty of "be'ezrat Hashem's" and
"beli neder's." Clearly, the media's portrayal of
Israeli society belies the reality in the streets.
Social statistics corroborate this profound change in
mentality -- a recent survey carried out by pollster Mina
Tzemach for Yediot Acharanot (Israel's largest daily
newspaper) indicates that 515,000 Israelis have become fully-
observant in the past six years. In other words, over one-
tenth of the population of the State of Israel returned to
the ways of the Torah since 1993! There is no doubt about it -
- Israeli society is undergoing a major change.
This has not always been the case. As recently as ten years
ago, religion was by no means considered trendy among secular
Israelis. What has brought about this drastic change in
mentality? Perhaps the trend back to tradition is simply a
reflection of successful kiruv work -- at least in
I called up a friend who is active in kiruv and shared
my musings with him. He suggested that I call up the people
at Peylim / Lev L'Achim and see what they had to say. Their
answer was, "Come and judge for yourself. Our regional
administrators are meeting in Netanya tomorrow. Feel free to
join us and observe."
Thus I found myself standing by the thoroughfare leading out
of Jerusalem on a hot autumn afternoon. I had come to the
prearranged location to catch a ride to Netanya with one of
the Jerusalem-area regional administrators. I kept a watchful
eye on the steady stream of cars flowing by and looked
forward to the moment when I would finally enter the cool air-
conditioned interior of the car.
A few minutes later, a tiny dust-brown car of nondescript
make deftly crossed three lanes of traffic and screeched to a
halt before me. The rolled-down windows and the stacatto
noises emanating from the engine compartment swiftly
dispelled my illusions of a cool smooth drive to Netanya. I
braced myself and squeezed in next to the driver.
R' Yitzchok said hello and then resumed a cell-phone
conversation he had started before he picked me up. He talked
into the microphone attached to the sunshade while the second
party's voice came in over the speakers (as required by law
in moving cars), so I was able to overhear every word.
They were discussing mezuzos; apparently the person on
the other end of the line was wondering whether someone from
Lev L'Achim could deliver a set of mezuzos to his
sister in Kfar Saba and show her how to attach them to the
doorframe. R' Yitzchok jotted down the address on a note pad,
made a second call to a Lev L'Achim activist in Bnei Brak,
and called back the caller to confirm that everything would
be taken care of -- his sister would have mezuzos on
her door by next morning. I was impressed by the efficiency
of the organizational structure that enabled such smooth
We stopped to fill up with gas when the phone rang. Someone
wanted to take up R. Yitzchok on his offer to trade in a
television for a Shas. Two more phone calls, and
everything was arranged. We were hardly ten minutes out of
"Tell me, does your phone always ring so frequently?" I began
asking him just as the phone rang again.
It was a young girl in her early teens. "Look, I just want to
tell you that I've changed my mind -- I'm not going to
religious school next year," she firmly declared. From the
charged atmosphere in the car, I could tell that this was an
emergency. Slowly, persistently -- and with the help of a few
well-timed jokes -- R' Yitzchok broke through the ice and got
the girl talking. Her tone gradually softened, and she
revealed the real reason for her change of heart: she and her
family had recently become observant through Yitzchok's group
of avreichim, and her first year in religious school
had turned out to be a very difficult experience.
I was amazed at how familiar he was with her background -- he
knew her parents and siblings, and even her two closest
friends. She was in a much better frame of mind by the end of
the conversation, and before she hung up, she even agreed to
visit a different religious school with Yitzchok on the
following afternoon. As an extra precaution, he called her
two closest friends -- Sharon and Oshrat, also from recently
observant families -- and asked them to give her a little
emotional support and encouragement.
I looked at Yitzchok with awe. "You are a natural at
kiruv," I said.
He rejected my appraisal. "Whatever success I may have in
kiruv is first and foremost due to siyata diShmaya.
Furthermore, Lev L'Achim has given me extensive training
and guidance. I've also accumulated a lot of hands-on
experience and learned how to deal with a wide variety of
situations. I certainly was not this confident back when I
started working for Lev L'Achim three years ago! I began like
all the other two thousand avrechim who work for Lev
L'Achim -- by knocking on doors at random in non-observant
neighborhoods and offering to discuss religion with whoever
answered the door."
He explained to me Lev L'Achim's general strategy: target a
particular neighborhood, visit people in their homes and
arouse their interest in Torah, organize a large-scale
evening lecture to bring everyone together, and then set up
local study centers. Lev L'Achim's long-term goal is to
establish self-propagating Torah networks in every
neighborhood in Israel.
"We're talking about changing the face of Israeli society,"
Yitzchok stressed. "Ultimately, we want to spark a popular
grass-roots teshuvah movement that will gain its own
momentum and spread to every corner of Eretz Yisroel."
He excused himself again as he took out his electronic
organizer, looked up a number, and dialed. No one answered.
"I've been trying to get in touch with this girl for days,"
he says. "Last year she showed up at a neighborhood shiur
and sat in the back row. Afterwards she requested to
discuss a private matter with me. She confided to me that she
was seeing an Arab, and that she had mixed feelings about the
Yitzchok paid her a visit at home. The girl's parents
admitted that they were concerned about her bizarre behavior,
but it quickly became apparent that they had no idea that she
was seeing an Arab. That first visit was a turning point for
her as well as for her entire family. Yitzchok talked with
the girl and her parents about belief in Hashem and Torah
values until the wee hours of the night. Now, a year later,
they are all fully observant, and the girl is studying in a
Yitzchok has fond memories of that night. He recalls taking
his leave of the family at 1:45 a.m. On the way home, he was
stopped at an IDF roadblock just outside the Yerushalayim
neighborhood of Ramot. One of the young soldiers on guard
asked him where he was going. On the spur of the moment
Yitzchok tilted his yarmulke at a rakish angle and
answered the soldier with the Hebrew equivalent of, "What's
it to ya, buddy?"
The straight-faced young man could not hold back a smile.
Yitzchok did not squander this golden opportunity.
"Tell me," he said to the soldier, "don't you have more
interesting questions to ask me than, `Where are you
"Such as?" the surprised soldier responded, somewhat
Yitzchak parked the car and disembarked. "Don't you ever
wonder what is the purpose of life?" he began. "Don't you
ever look at all those stars up there and wonder why we were
An impromptu kiruv discussion unfolded between
Yitzchok and the unit of soldiers manning the roadblock. It
went on until 4:30 a.m.
"We're still in touch," he explains. "They call me on their
cell-phones from wherever they may be stationed. All of them
are kibbutznikim who had never heard of the basic
tenets of Judaism. One of them recently admitted to me that
secular life is pure misery."
The phone jangled and interrupted us once again. An
avreich in Yitzchok's group excitedly announced that
he had finally succeeded in convincing a non-religious youth
group comprised of 150 teenagers to attend a Lev L'Achim
lecture. "Please try to arrange for Rav Uri Zohar to deliver
the lecture," the avreich asked. "These kids mean
business. They are going to come armed with tough
"Terrific!" Yitzchok answered with a smile. "Tell them that
the tougher the questions, the better!"
As Yitzchok parked the car, I suddenly realized that we had
reached our destination -- Lev L'Achim National Headquarters
in Netanya. I had hardly felt the one-and-a-half hour ride in
the cramped, stuffy car.
The convention hall was already buzzing with activity by the
time we arrived. Most of the thirty regional administrators
were already there, exchanging views on the issues that would
be raised during the conference, or just sharing information
and matters of common interest with one another.
One of the men -- R' Hoffman from the Haifa district -- was
recalling some of his recent experiences in Denia, a yuppity
neighborhood that he was in the process of "developing." He
had formed a strong nucleus of eight dedicated families who
were participating regularly in a weekly shiur on
Kitzur Shulchan Oruch. The enthusiasm of these newly
observant men and women was truly inspiring -- as soon as the
men reached the laws regarding tefillin, all eight of
them placed orders with R' Hoffman for the finest tefillin
that money could buy. Hoffman channeled their initiative
into a field trip and took the men to Jerusalem to visit the
sofer and battim macher, followed by mincha
at the Kotel. When the women reached the laws of
Shabbos, all eight of them placed orders for automatic
clocks, hotplates and every other conceivable Shabbos
apparatus known to man.
As I listened to Hoffman's account, the realization slowly
sank in that I was in the presence of thirty "Yitzchoks."
Indeed, many of the avreichim were talking into their
cell-phones, most likely dealing with issues as delicate and
vital as those that Yitzchok had so skillfully dealt with
during the drive up to Netanya. This group of thirty men was
mobilizing a force of over 2,000 avreichim that had
influenced the lives of untold thousands of families
throughout Eretz Yisroel.
I learned that Lev L'Achim's executive directors had convened
the regional administrators to hear how the new evening study
programs were progressing, and to discuss ways by which to
increase "productivity." Each of the regional heads stood up
and presented a brief summary of activities in his area,
including numbers of participants and projected figures for
the coming months.
As I looked around at these intense young Torah scholars
enthusiastically working together to bring knowledge of
Hashem to their fellow Jews, a verse came to mind: "At that
time, the G-d fearing people spoke to one another. G-d
listened and heard, and a scroll of remembrance was written
at His command concerning those who fear G-d and contemplate
His name" (Malachi 3:16).
Yitzchok's cell-phone was kept hard at work throughout the
return trip to Jerusalem. Just before dropping me off, he
made an appointment for 1:00 a.m. with a newly-observant
mother experiencing domestic strife.
As I gathered my things and prepared to disembark, I asked
him one last question: "But how do you do it? Where do you
get the strength?"
"Look," he said, "there is a revolution taking place here. In
thirty years from now, people are going to write about the
Great Kiruv Revolution of the 5750's. My grandchildren are
going to read about this era with awe and ask me all about
it. I want to be able to tell them that I was part of it.