Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

There is a sort of silent debate going on in the Jewish Orthodox world if Kiruv, meaning Jewish outreach by Orthodox Jews to less religious or unaffiliated Jews. Is it really still alive or is it dead in the water?

For the last forty years of the Twentieth Century from the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s with the student rebellions and the Hippie movement in the Western world, the rise of the Refuseniks in the former Soviet Union, and the re-awakening of Jewish religious consciousness in Israel in the period between the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, there was a lot of stirring of the pot going on in Jewish societies that partly resulted in the search for meaning and an alternative lifestyle by questioning young Jewish people that led many to explore their Jewish roots and thereby come closer to practicing Judaism and studying Torah, hence the rise of the Baal Teshuva Revolution and the establishment of the Baal Teshuva Movement.

Now, in the Twenty First Century things seem to have quieted down. Many of the older great pioneers, the rabbis and rebbetzins of the original Baal Teshuva Movement have passed away or have become old people separated by time from the culture and lifestyle of young Jewish people today. Of course there are still the now well-established educational institutions catering to serious Baalei Teshuva who are referred there such as Aish HaTorah, Ohr Someach, Neve Yerushalayim, Machon Meir all based in Jerusalem.

In Israel there are personalities and movements that keep the flame of Torah-based outreach to Chilonim (secular Jews) alive, many with noteworthy followings and achievements. In America there are many and varied Orthodox-run movements and organizations that reach out and learn Torah with non-observant Jewish youth and young adults, making Judaism meaningful and appealing.. And of course the immense efforts of Chabad-Lubavitch based as they are wherever secular Jews live in any place on our Earth.

While all this is going on without interruption, while young and not so young rabbis and their wives and all their helpers are not stopping their Avodas HaKodesh (holy work) of Mekareving Acheinu Bnei Yisrael LeAvihem SheBashamayim (bringing our Jewish brethren close to their Father in Heaven) there are a few special exceptions that are typical of our social media age for the way they utilize all the variants and varieties of technology, as well as live interactions, to effectively reach out to secular Jews and even religious Jews who could use a reboot and reset to their Jewish Torah life and living.

Just to clarify, what is meant by "Kiruv" (from the Hebrew) or "outreach" in English, as Wikipedia puts it: "Orthodox Jewish outreach, often referred to as Kiruv ( קירוב 'bringing close'), is the collective work or movement of Orthodox Judaism that reaches out to non-observant Jews to encourage belief in God and life according to Orthodox Jewish law. The process of a Jew becoming more observant of Orthodox Judaism is called teshuva ('return' in Hebrew) making the 'returnee' a baal teshuva ('master of return'). Orthodox Jewish outreach has worked to enhance the rise of the baal teshuva movement."

However, the process of Kiruv and outreach is not like making instant coffee! There is no magic wand that turns a secular Jew into a religious Jew! Even if a secular Jew were to suddenly decide to become religious suddenly for whatever reason that person would still have to undergo a long process of education and internalizing and getting used to becoming a normal practicing religious Jew. The process is akin to moving to a new country and learning a new language and culture, or in many ways similar to what a convert to Judaism experiences, meaning that it takes a long time to become a fully integrated normal Jew after having spent a lifetime as a secular Jew.

In short, the process of becoming religiously observant can be called a "Kiruv continuum" with thousands of people moving along the full spectrum from the first stages of initial interest to finally attaining mature Orthodox Jewish living. There are Kiruv workers, known in Hebrew as Mekarvim who can be doing either the "pitch" or the "closing" or sometimes both, you have to know what is required, at what stage they are at, when meeting a person interested in learning more about Judaism.

Two of the most currently successful individual women pioneers and innovators in the current field of Jewish outreach are Allison Josephs (born 1980) the founder and leader of the Jew in the City organization in America, and Sivan Rahav-Meir (born 1981) the highly successful media personality in Israel. Fascinatingly both women are Baalot Teshuva (returnees to Orthodox Judaism), a fact that they openly talk about. They both became more Jewishly religiously observant as teenagers.

Allison Josephs comes from a Conservative Jewish background and Sivan Rahav-Meir comes from an Israeli secular background. Both women are highly gifted and exceptional personalities and have founded their own Torah media presence that reaches huge audiences via YouTube, Facebook and other regular and social media outlets. They are both happily married. Allson Josephs has four children and Sivan Rahav-Meir has five children.

Allison Josephs

Allison Josephs' pioneering work is described in Wikipedia: "Raised in a Conservative Jewish home, Allison Josephs became a baalat teshuva to Orthodoxy during her teen years. After graduating with a B.A. in Philosophy from Columbia University, she worked in various Jewish outreach programs, including Partners in Torah, where she encountered students with negative misconceptions about Orthodoxy. She created the Internet personality 'Jew in the City' to use online media to reach a wide network of people so that anyone could ask an Orthodox Jew questions and learn about the reality behind the stereotypes.

'Jew in the City' began in 2007 with a website and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube pages filled with articles and videos that give an intimate look into the world of Orthodoxy. While Josephs started off using vignettes from her life to create articles and videos, as the staff has expanded and freelance writers have been brought on, the articles and videos are now a team effort. At times, Josephs responds directly to incidents of perceived bias in media reports about Orthodox Jews. The organization Jew in the City has recently expanded to offer corporate cultural diversity training and consulting services for media outlets."

In addition to the outreach that Allison Josephs and Jew in the City do to secular Jews and society at large, she also pioneered a program of Kiruv Kerovim, of Jewish Inreach to Haredi and Hasidic Jews who need support and rebuilding in their Jewishly observant lives. Known as the Makom and Tikkun projects of the Jew in the City organization.

This is how the Jew in the City website describes their three real-time projects:

"(1) Keter is the media arm and the original branch of JITC that restores the good name of Orthodox Jews and Judaism. With our innovative programs and sizable reach, we are able to be present and quickly respond as issues concerning the Jewish community arise, reversing negative perceptions of Orthodox Jews, increasing Jewish pride and combating antisemitism. Our impactful content also allows us to inspire less religious Jews (both those raised secular and those who left observance) to explore their heritage, motivating many of them to reconsider their relationship to Judaism as well give chizuk to already religious Jews. The result of these efforts creates tolerant understanding in family, social, and professional settings and for more Jews to lean into their Judaism. Keter wouldn’t be as impactful if it were not working in tandem with the Makom and Tikun branches of JITC."

(2) Makom helps disenfranchised Haredi Jews find a positive place in Orthodoxy. Social events, educational classes, Shabbos placement, Shabbatons, and one-on-one encouragement is offered to those seeking support. We call this moving from darkness to light and allows JITC to move from discussing the conflicts within parts of the Orthodox Jewish community to finding solutions for them. Through hundreds of events and classes, we have been able to transform the lives of countless Makom members in a positive way.

(3) Tikun repairs systemic issues within the Orthodox Jewish community to prevent Jews from being displaced and negative media from being created. Out of respect and privacy to those involved, the majority of our efforts cannot be publicized, but are broken down into school issues, home issues and issues in both school and home."

Thousands of Jews have been positively impacted by this highly original yet very sensible enterprising Jewish outreach and inreach work. Pure Kiruv Rechokim (Jewish outreach) with Kiruv Kerovim (Jewish inreach) working in tandem harmoniously very successfully to produce a great Kiddsuh HaShem (sanctification of God's name) to the wider non-Jewish world through intelligent and meaningful videos by Jew in the City on YouTube and all sorts of social media outlets.

It is amazing to think what the ideas and determination of one young Jewish woman in America, where about six million Jews live, can accomplish and Allison Josephs and her team at Jew in the City can rightly wear their well-deserved compliments and accolades in the Jewish and general media with pride.

Sivan Rahav-Meir

On the other side of the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean, is the notable success story of Sivan Rahav-Meir and her influence in Israel where about six million Jews presently live. The Wikipedia article about her states that she is "an Israeli journalist, news reporter, and TV and radio anchor...Rahav-Meir served in the Galei Zahal army radio as the correspondent for welfare and absorption, legal affairs and religious affairs. Rahav was brought up secular, and became Orthodox as a teenager....In 2017, Rahav-Meir was chosen by Globes magazine as the most popular female media personality in Israel, and by the Liberal magazine as one of the 50 most influential people in Israel."

The scope of Sivan Rahav-Meir's reach, outreach and inreach can be glimpsed from a review of her website sivanrahavmeir.com: From books about a great rabbi and on the weekly Torah portion, lectures to audiences in Hebrew and English on topics such as "New media and how it influences our lives"; "Relations between different sectors of Israeli society"; "Parenting, marriage, family and career"; "The weekly Torah portion, Judaism and the festivals" and much more of popular interest and concern. "The daily thought:"

Sivan sends a small daily insight about Judaism and current affairs to tens of thousands of subscribers in Israel and throughout the world. The Daily Thought is written in Hebrew and a team of volunteers translates it and sends it out." Arutz Sheva posts itas well.

A "Weekly Shiur: hundreds of people who come to listen to the weekly lecture on the parasha, or to listen to the live broadcast from anywhere in the world on Facebook or on Sivan Rahav-Meir's YouTube channel. You can also receive the weekly shiur as an audio file in [this] WhatsApp group, as a Podcast, or a transcript of the shiur in Word format in the Daily WhatsApp group."

It is truly incredible that one motivated woman in Israel can be doing so much PR for basic and advanced Judaism, with an obviously sincere desire to serve HaKadosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One Blessed is He) using her beautiful God-given natural talents to think and communicate and serve as an inspiring role model, educator and teacher using all the means of modern technology and social media to broadcast the Emes (truth)!

There is no greater work of Kiruv Rechokim and Kiruv Kerovim than the inspired work of two self-made women who did not have an Orthodox upbringing and came to be Orthodox as teenagers, and who in adulthood are self-actualizing their innate talents, with great Siyata Dishmaya (help of heaven) to reach vast Jewish audiences, be it in America, Israel and globally without any prior major Jewish outreach organizations' backing but instead creating their own media presence and working with Jewish audiences to impact and change Jewish lives for the better and who knows how many secular Jews are being inspired by them to become Frummer (more religious).

Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchos

There are also the collective efforts of large groups of Orthodox Jewish women who literally on the front lines of Jewish outreach every minute of the day: In this regard one must pay tribute to the thousands of wives of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis all over the world who spend their lives doing Kiruv and outreach day in and day out all year round. While their husbands are known as Shluchim (emissaries) who do every aspect of rabbinical work and of running synagogues and Chabad Centers, their wives known as Shluchos (female emissaries) do even more because they have to be the mothers and raise their own families and then on top of that they are powerful equal partners with their husbands with full time Kiruv and outreach responsibilities that touches the lives of countless Jews all over the world every single day of the year.

Indeed, there are more than "thirteen ways Chabad Shluchos inspire" other Jews such as through being community leaders, scholars, wives, mothers, providers of sustenance, masters of prayer, teachers, camp directors, hosting personal encounters, coordinating community events, global networkers, pioneers, friends, hosting Shabbaos and Yom Tov guests, and just simply being the loveliest, sweetest, kindest, most upbeat and wonderful Jewish women!

Books could be written about each individual Chabad Rabbi and Rebbetzin's (rabbi's wife) stories and experiences helping Klal Yisrael (the Jewish People) over the last seventy years as they have set about moving to all corners of the Earth to spread the teachings of ChabadHasidism and to act as the de facto new global Orthodox Jewish clergy of the world, as the world of the older European born rabbis who came before them is now history.

As a collective of thousands of women each Chabad Shlucha, like her husband and sometimes even more so, burns with a passion to bring a vibrant Torah Judaism to every type of Jew that comes into contact with them and their husbands. Tens of thousands of all kinds of Jews, especially secular non-religious women and girls, far removed from any serious Jewish life and living in far flung towns and communities or isolated in the suburbs, or on university campuses in modern developed countries or either passing through or living in far flung exotic countries can always count on the genuine deep friendship as the Chabad Shluchos give to others in the truest spirit of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers); "On three things the world stands, on Torah, on worship, and on the performing kind deeds (Gemilut Chasadim)"!

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected].