i>In answer to a written appeal signed jointly by Rav Eliashiv
and Rav Shteinman
Over nine hundred Kiryat Sefer residents, or approximately
one-third of the city's male population, took part Monday
night in a large enrollment campaign organized by Lev
L'Achim and endorsed jointly by HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv
and HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman. The nighttime campaign,
part of an ongoing multi-year effort headed by the
gedolei Torah of Eretz Yisroel to enroll tens of
thousands of children from secular homes into the religious
school system, brought at least 750 children one step closer
to a Torah education.
Kiryat Sefer residents attended a short briefing and were
then transported to secular cities and settlements by a
fleet of sixteen buses and eight vans. They were given
further instructions en route and let out in previously
Fanning out in pairs through the city's streets and
neighborhoods in accordance with color-coded street maps and
instruction sheets distributed to them on the bus by Lev
L'Achim supervisors, the men knocked on apartment doors at
random and tried to convince secular parents to consider the
possibility of transferring their children to the religious
They returned to Kiryat Sefer in a euphoric mood with some
900 filled-out forms: 150 requests for more information
about religion, and 750 requests to make an appointment with
a Lev L'Achim enrollment professional.
First, Knock On The Door
In many ways the campaign resembled a military operation.
At exactly 7:15 p.m. hundreds of men streamed out of the
city's kollelim and assembled in the courtyard of the
central shul. They came in answer to a written appeal
signed by HaRav Eliashiv and HaRav Shteinman, which was
enlarged and pasted on every available surface. Several days
before the campaign, Lev L'Achim workers hung red-and-black
banners on bulletin boards and bus shelters that counted
down the days left until zero hour and heightened the
excitement. Local rabbonim mentioned the upcoming campaign
during their Shabbos droshos and strongly encouraged
congregants to take part in it. Even the principal of the
local school cancelled the PTA meeting that had been
scheduled for the night of the campaign out of concern that
it would dampen the effort.
In front of the shul, tight circles formed around
Rabbi Ephraim Paktor and Rabbi Shaul Lustig, two Lev L'Achim
regional supervisors who were placed in charge of running
the operation. Soda cans and light snacks were handed out
during the short wait and eagerly consumed. (Participants
did not have time to go home and have supper.) During the
briefing, one could sense the tension as the men listened to
instructions and got ready psychologically to do something
most of them had never done before -- cold- canvassing
At the briefing, Rabbi Lustig did his best to dissolve the
tension he knew the men were feeling. "Your objective
tonight," he said at the outset of the briefing, "is not to
take children out of their homes and carry them to the
nearest chareidi school." The ripples of laughter helped.
"Your objective is to give the parents a clear understanding
that the public school system isn't providing a good
education to their children, and that there is a better
alternative: religious schools. When you convince them of
this, ask them to fill out the form and tell them that an
enrollment professional will contact them and help them find
a school that answers their children's needs.
"Remember one thing: we represent truth, and they are living
a lie. We are coming to give them the most precious thing in
the world, and they know it. This thought will give you the
confidence you need to succeed. `How do I begin?' you are
probably wondering. Just walk up to the door, knock with
confidence, keep a big smile on your face, say, `Hello,
we're from Lev L'Achim. We've come to talk to you about your
child's education, about his future.' That's usually enough
to get you through the door. Whatever you do, don't stand by
the door. Walk in. Sit down. Then ask them, `By the way, do
you have any children?' "
"Keep the momentum going. Look for a point of contact,
something that you have in common. If there is a picture of
a rabbi on the wall, ask them who it is. It's his
grandfather? Ask him to tell you all about him, engage him
in a friendly conversation. When he is feeling comfortable,
get to the point: `Are you satisfied with your child's
"Very important: don't accuse his child or his child's
school. Talk about the situation in general, about the
violence in the secular school system. Show him the
newspaper clippings you'll find in your kit. Ask him to
watch the video we prepared. That will hold his attention
for fourteen minutes -- and I guarantee you that when it is
over, he will be all ears.
"Ask him this: `When is the last time your child learned
about honoring one's parents in school?' Ask him if his
child talks to him in the same way that he used to talk to
his father. Show him the list of religious schools in his
area. Tell him we'll send him an expert who will help him
choose the right school. After he fills out the form, ask
him if he knows anyone else who has school-aged children.
Write down all names and phone numbers on his form. Then
tell him that someone will be calling him soon, say
goodnight, and go to another apartment."
Did the men feel qualified for their mission after the
"Not really," said one with a chuckle as he boarded a bus.
"I've never done this before. But if this is what the
gedolim said I have to do, then I will do it, and
Two local rabbonim stood on the sidelines and watched the
sea of black- jacketed, black-hatted men boarding the buses
and traveling to a strange city, all in order to bring some
Jewish neshomos back to a Torah way of life. "Whew,"
one of them whispered, shaking his head in wonderment. "What
a kiddush Hashem."
It soon became apparent that there would be a shortage of
vehicles. "One more here!" a bus attendant would call out,
and several men would try to jockey themselves aboard. Few
buses departed with less than 70 passengers on board, even
though the average bus has 50 seats.
"The worse thing that can happen is that they'll slam the
door in my face," said another man as he jostled his way
aboard the last of the sixteen buses and eight vans that
transported 960 local residents to nearby secular cities
such as Ramle and Lod, as well as to smaller towns and
settlements in the Modi'in area, just minutes away.
Kiryat Sefer is located northwest of Yerushalayim near
Modi'in, and is one of several settlements in the area built
approximately five years ago. It consists of a rapidly
expanding cluster of low-rise apartment units. The entire
settlement is surrounded by a tall wire-mesh perimeter
fence, which is locked and guarded at night. These days,
taking the shortest route to and from Yerushalayim is safe
only during daylight hours. At night, motorists who take
this route run the risk of drawing Palestinian sniper fire,
so most people opt for a detour that skirts around the
problematic areas. The road to Bnei Brak is safe both night
Real estate agents like to refer to Kiryat Sefer as "the
third largest chareidi city in Israel," though the term
"city" is stretching things a bit. So far it's really an
overgrown village or a small town populated by some 3,000
young kollel families who bought homes there not
because they wanted to become settlers, but because they
couldn't afford the steep price of housing in Yerushalayim
and Bnei Brak.
Many of the men commute to kollelim in the big city,
although there are several large local kollelim.
Wives work as teachers in local schools or commute to
work in Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak.
Like They Were Waiting For Us
As usual in operations of this scale, Rabbi Eliezer
Sorotzkin, Lev L'Achim's Director, monitored the complicated
maneuvers from up close. His van, staffed by the key
organizers of the operation, served as a mobile command
center that trolled up and down the streets of Ramle making
sure that everything progressed according to plans. The
buses, parked in prearranged locations throughout the city,
waited in silence for the soldiers to return.
"They arrived forty-five minutes ago and we haven't seen any
of them on the streets," Rabbi Sorotzkin said with quiet
satisfaction. Not seeing any of Kiryat Sefer's black-hatted
men on the streets -- and they stick out like a sore thumb
in Ramle -- can mean only one thing: that they are up in the
apartments, doing their job convincing parents to send their
kids to religious schools.
A telephone call. It is a disciple of Rav Shteinman, calling
Rabbi Sorotzkin to tell him how happy Rav Shteinman was to
hear that 960 avreichim from Kiryat Sefer went out to
register children. "Ask him for a brocho," Rabbi
Sorotzkin responds. "A big brocho. Tell him they're
still in the houses. Tell him we need his brocho
The car screeches to a halt. "Why aren't you inside?" a
supervisor demands of a pair of Kiryat Sefer men walking on
the sidewalk. "We ran out of apartments," one of the men
responds. He is holding the Lev L'Achim kit and a gemora.
"We finished our two buildings."
The supervisor jumps out, opens a blue folder marked "fall-
back positions," and takes out another map. "Take the next
right, then another right, and it's the building in the
corner. Go on. There's still time." The two men squint at
the map, holding it up in the sharp glare of the street
lamps. One of them folds the map into his pocket, and the
two head off on their new mission at a half-jog.
At 10:30 p.m. the troops emerge into the streets of Ramle
and head to their respective buses. The men look totally
different than they did when they boarded the vehicles at
Kiryat Sefer. Many of them are holding filled-out forms in
their hands, smiling, joking with one another. There is lots
of excited conversation, sharing stories, back slapping and
laughter. Back in Kiryat Sefer, the men join hands in the
street and sing and dance in a huge circle, blocking traffic
in both directions. Some drivers hoot their horns
rhythmically to the beat. Others get out and join the
Snippets of chatter:
"I was in there no more than five minutes and they filled
out the form!"
"We slipped right in. Got through the door with no
"The video really did it. I was sure they'd turn to the
news, but they watched it until the end."
"It was like they were waiting for us. They let us inside
"I didn't want to come because I hardly speak Hebrew. But
they told me that I'm like everyone else, and that I should
speak simple and to the point, and they'll hear it. It
Quite an eye-opening experience. For everyone.