Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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6 Kislev 5766 - December 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Convention Closing Session Focuses on "Bringing Jews Home"

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The following supplements our report of last week that covered the large plenum sessions on Thursday night and motzei Shabbos, as well as parallel activities. This report covers Convention activities on Sunday.


The titles for at least two of the forum sessions that kicked off the Agudah convention's Sunday program — "A Strategy for Future Action" (Tefillah) and "Where Do We Go From Here?" (Kids-at-Risk) — aptly reflected the purpose of this year's gathering: to devise workable plans for dealing with some of Klal Yisroel's most pressing problems.

And, as Agudath Israel of America executive director Rabbi Shmuel Bloom would announce at the closing plenary session later that morning, all the discussion, debate and deliberation that the forum issues had engendered over the three-day convention had indeed yielded practical results.

The Shidduch Crisis forum produced plans to introduce a number of new programs under the auspices of Invei Hagefen — Agudath Israel's shidduch agency — among them a Shabbos hospitality program for singles. The Kids-at- Risk forum concluded with plans for setting up a national "triage" number for parents seeking immediate help and direction, a "No Jewish Child Left Behind In Kria (reading Hebrew)" program, and a comprehensive program of study for sholom bayis and parenting training. The Tefillah forum ended with plans to expand upon last year's successful four-week National Tefillah Initiative and to launch a nationwide ad campaign designed to raise awareness regarding the power and beauty of our tefillos. The Political Activism forum concluded with plans to create a new Agudath Israel program to encourage and oversee volunteer activity in the political arena. The Medicine and Halacha forum ended with a decision to form a medical advisory committee to act as a liaison to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in addressing cutting-edge medical issues.

Plans to further explore the Tuition Crisis at a full-day conference of parents, school, administrators and menahalim were also announced on the last morning of the Convention as was the impending formation of a special committee that will focus on protecting our children from the dangers of the Internet.

The closing plenary session, entitled, "Bringing Jews Home: Everyone's Mission," featured inspiring presentations by two formerly secular Jews, each of whom shared the story of his spiritual journey home.

The program commenced with opening remarks by Rabbi Yaakov Solomon, a psychoanalyst in private practice and a well- known lecturer for Aish HaTorah Discovery.

Rabbi Solomon recalled for his listeners how swiftly and in what astonishing numbers the Orthodox community had turned out several years ago to join in what would prove a successful search for a young Jewish girl who'd gotten lost in the woods during a school outing. He reminded them of the tears that were shed by family friends and total strangers alike, of the many kapitlech Tehillim that were recited on the youngster's behalf by Jews around the world.

Rabbi Solomon then asked the assemblage, "What about the millions of Jews who are lost in the forest of assimilation? Where is the outpouring of concern for them? Where is the mobilization? Where are the Tehillim?"

The speaker invited the audience to imagine for a moment that it had been any one of them who'd had the zchus of finding the youngster and returning her to her family. "Imagine how indebted her parents would be to you for having saved their child. Now imagine how the Ribono Shel Olam feels when you search out the lost souls among His children and bring them back home."

Describing life-before-observance, Dr. David Leiberman, the session's first presenter, declared, "I was living the American dream." A leading expert in human behavior with five books to his credit —- two on the New York Times Best Seller List — Dr. Leiberman, who today resides with his wife and family in Lakewood, New Jersey, described himself as the last person anyone would have considered a candidate for kiruv.

But it took only eight simple words, the speaker said, to turn his life around: "Would you like to go to a class?"

Thus began a process that resulted in his trading in "a life of insanity for a life of sanity, a life of unreality for one of reality."

"Consider that every secular Jew is walking around with a label that reads, `Help me — I'm living in a world that looks real but is not," Dr. Leiberman suggested. He advised his listeners not to feel sorry for the non-frum Jew, who has no inkling of what an observant life has to offer. "Pity instead the Jew who walks by and fails to reach out to him. What defense will he offer after 120 years?"

For anyone who might argue that he wasn't trained in outreach, the speaker had a ready response: "One hardly has to be a kiruv professional to smile or say hello."

Conceding that it can be "embarrassing" to approach a stranger, Dr. Leiberman pointed out that the shame of doing nothing at all to save a Jewish neshomoh is infinitely worse. He recalled that the first mitzvah he took on — wearing tzitzis — initially caused him much embarrassment. After a while, though, it became second nature.

"Make the choice to reach out to another Jew, and pretty soon reaching out will become second nature too," he said. "As Jews we are, after all, defined by our choices. They are all we have; they make us who we are."

Raised "without rules" by parents who encouraged him and his three brothers to "try everything and then make up their own minds," the morning's second presenter, full-time-surfer- turned-chossid Rabbi Yom Tov Glazer of Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, did indeed "try everything" — only to discover that none of it meant anything.

Then he spent what was supposed to be just a few short weeks studying in Israel, and his life was transformed.

Much of the speaker's talk was centered on the importance of providing "second stage" support and chizuk to baalei teshuva. He described the depression and disenchantment that set in not long after he became frum — "I'd gotten there fast, maybe too fast" — and the chain of events that led him to the person who not only introduced him to chassidus, but provided a supportive home base for him and, eventually, his wife and children. Intending to meet a friend in Karlin-Stolin on the night of Simchas Bais Hashoeva, he'd wound up instead at a different shteibel in Meah Shearim — Pinsk- Karlin.

"A chossid there saw me come in; he grabbed me and we started dancing — something I knew a little about — and we danced till three in the morning," Rabbi Glazer recalled. Before he left the shul, he was approached by another man who invited him to spend Shabbos at his father's house. The chassidishe mode of tefilloh — "they were screaming the davening" — and the minhagim that he was introduced to on that Shabbos, touched something deep within him. "That's when everything clicked for me," he said.

Happy and secure at last in his new life, Rabbi Glazer found he couldn't sleep at night knowing that his brothers and parents were not yet frum. The result of his efforts to be mekarev them? "I made my entire family frum," he told the delighted audience, adding that his parents helped establish the first Orthodox shul in their Malibu community and that two of his brothers are today deeply involved in kiruv.

Baalei teshuvoh make the best outreach workers, Rabbi Glazer observed and, at the same time, working with baalei teshuvoh keeps kiruv workers from becoming "robotic" in their own observance. "We know we're always under a microscope."

Reminding his listeners that Orthodox Jews are all "ambassadors of Yiddishkeit," he encouraged them to reach out to their non-frum brothers and sisters. "Kiruv is the tafkid hador," Rabbi Glazer declared. "If everyone were frum, then all the crises that were discussed at this convention would simply disappear — because Moshiach would surely come."

As he has for the last several years, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe, closed the convention with a short, inspirational message.

Whatever the practical outcome of the various "crisis" forums that were held at that convention, the Rebbe said, at the very least everyone was returning home with the knowledge that Jews care about one another's problems. "Some say that giving a krechtz for another Yid's tzores is even more effective than davening,"Rabbi Horowitz pointed out.

Rabbi Horowitz also offered his listeners a prescription for happiness and sholom bayis, advising them not to dwell on that which they may consider to be lacking in their lives — "the half that's not there" — but to be satisfied with and grateful for what they do have.

With the Rebbe's resounding brochoh for the health, success and well-being of everyone in the audience, indeed every member of Klal Yisroel, a truly unforgettable convention drew to a close.


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