Saturday, August 5, 2006

Kiruv in Great Neck

I spent Tisha B'Av in Great Neck, where my parents live.

The Great Neck Synagogue's newsletter announced that there would be a program between the morning prayers and the afternoon ones. I figured it would be a good idea to attend.

The past few years I've gone to a variety of programs in Jerusalem, at the Israel Center, She'arim and Midreshet Rachel. Then, after returning home, there's a shiur in the neighborhood by Rabbi Dov Berkovits, my nextdoor neighbor. it really makes the fast pleasant, as pleasant as a 25 hour fast can be in the middle of the summer.

My parents dropped me off a bit early/late. It was early for the shiur and late-ish for the kinot, special "lamentations" said in the morning. It was close to the end, and after feeling it to be silly standing around the hallways I went in and found a wall to sit against. (This was taking place in the Beis Medrash, not the fancy giant shul.) The custom is not to see in proper, comfortable chairs. They had provided some cardboard things. They reminded me of the "bricks" I had played with as a kid. They strong cardboard, and my parents found some for my kids, too. I don't know if they make them as toys any more. I sat on the floor, since I thought that would be better, sure I'd squash the cardboard.

When it was over, the rabbi announced that the shiur would be shortened so the rest of the program would begin on time. He gave a short shiur on the differences between the reasons the two Holy Temples were destroyed. I don't have my notes here, but I think his point was that the reasons for the First Temple were less serious than the second. The difference was because the first types of sins weren't "sneaky," but the second was.

Then we went into another enormous room which had a screen set up. they showed us a movie from the OU, Orthodox Union, a plea to all of its synagogues to join a "Kiruv" drive, with training by Aish HaTorah. "Kiruv" is a term used to describe the act of helping non-observant Jews to get closer to Judaism.

You can't imagine the emotions going through me. I wasn't raised as a Torah-observant Jew. It was only as a teenager, when we moved to Great Neck and joined the Great Neck Synagogue when I discovered Torah-true Judaism. It was as a member of the youth group of the synagogue's NCSY chapter when I was first exposed to it. Kiruv? Great Neck? Did anyone else sitting there have any idea that the late Rabbi Wolf, zatz"l, was one of the hidden, secret pioneers of kiruv? Nobody knew me there. I was just a stranger, a middle-aged woman in a hat, sitting by the back wall.

Tish B'Av is a day of mourning, and when one is mourning, one isn't social. So it wasn't from coldness that nobody asked me who I was. And even if they had asked, who would remember my name, even though Rabbi Wolf had spoken about me from the pulpit proudly?

As we listened to the Aish Hatorah Rabbis expounding on the importance of Kiruv and how easy it could be, I was shaking, and not from hunger.

Over forty years ago, when we moved to Great Neck, it wasn't the Modern Orthodox stronghold it is today. There were very few truly observant families. Today there are certainly many more kosher restaurants and shomer shabbat stores than there once were Orthodox families, but those first families were wonderful. A few made me feel at home and invited me frequently. I wasn't alone, as there were a few others also helped, more than influenced, by the synagogue members. By the time I finished high school, I was ready for YU's Stern College. Over the years, my religiosity grew in observance and ruach, spirituality.

Sitting there in that room, listening and watching the movie, my mind continued to wander. Last summer our country suffered the mutalation of Disengagement, when Jews were forced to leave their homes, and Jewish communities were destroyed in Eretz Yisrael.

One of the methods tried in order to prevent it was "Panim el Panim," a sort of kiruv, but not enough. Just visiting and talking to people aren't enough.

While our country is being blitzed and violated by Arab rockets, the government, Olmert's government is still planning on destroying even more of Eretz Yisrael.

In Great Neck the Kiruv is for Torah and Mitzvot, but not Yishuv Ha'Aretz, settling the Land. Nothing in that movie made by Aish HaTorah for the OU mentioned Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel or Aliyah.

When Rabbi Wolf was the Rabbi of the synagogue, he mentioned me a lot as an example. I understand that he was very proud of what I did, especially that I did more than just become a Torah observant Jew. He was proud that I did even more than my "teachers" did. I made aliyah, moved to Israel, and after a decade in Jerusalem, I moved to Shiloh, which made him even prouder. Among the pictures in his "retirement journal," is one of the two of us planting a tree in Shiloh.

I have no idea how many members of the Great Neck Synagogue will join the new "Kiruv Campaign." I'm proud and happy to be a product of its early one.


goyisherebbe said...

Do plastic people (cf. Frank Zappa) read the book of Laminations on Tisha B'Av?

Anonymous said...

I was there with you against the same wall and have had a similar experience moving toward observance. The GNs community seems be one the most inviting communities I have seen. The long hand of Rabbi Wolf's version of kiruv is alive and well and still producing people simalar to yourself

Batya said...

I'm glad to hear it.
Maybe we'll meet when I'm next in Great Neck.