Monday, October 09, 2006


As you might recall, I wrote about a call I received from a Kiruv organization inviting me to join them on a shabbaton, befriend a college student I meet over the weekend, and commit to forming a friendship with her, and invite her for Shabbos, etc. After much thought, I said no.

I met a girl working in a local store who had been in my class in Brooklyn College. We got to talking, and discovered that we have the same birthday--same day, same year. And that she's Jewish, too, although I could never tell. When I went to deliver the gift I purchased there, I told her the story ( for some reason, I get excited about someone having the same birthday as mine.) The woman told me to try to be mekareiv her. She suggested I go back to the store on Friday and give her Challah, as a gesture of thanks for her help, and slowly befriend her. I rolled my eyes. This kid, one of the many Jewish Russians in Brooklyn [College], doesn't seem to have any interest in becoming more observant. So I laughed it off. This was a long while ago, and it'd enter my mind when I saw her on campus and waved. Then I'd distract myself. Should I have felt guilty? Is it my responsibility to make this unsuspecting girl frum, because she sold me something?

That's me approaching them. What about if they approach me? Just within the month of Elul, two other Russian Jews approached me in school, asking for guidance. "Michelle," one young woman started, "I just get this feeling that you're the right one person to ask..." and we talked for about an hour, about Judaism, spirituality, and the process of Kiruv. She said that some of her friends became religious, (so technically, I can send her to them for guidance) but I felt like, maybe, just maybe, G-d sent her to me to do something.

Maybe this is my calling. I've been told many times that I'm not what they expect in an Orthodox Jew here. They say I'm more open. I mean, some Jewish girls avoid the topic of Judaism altogether.

In another class, I have two other Russian Jewish friends. One is more interested than the other. Actually, one has shown minimal interest, and the other none. But as Yom Kippur approached, one asked me about a Temple in her area. I didn't know of any. I told her to Google it. I realize now that ideally, I should have googled it for her, and called her with the info, or emailed her- she asked me the class before Yom Kippur.

When we returned, I asked if she had gone to Temple on Yom Kippur, and she told me she hadn't. And I feel guilty. I mean, even if I would have gotten her the info, would she have gone? I don't know.

Do they have to be "pulled in" by someone, or must we wait for their approach? Once they approach us, how far must we go to try to get them to be frum?

(It is too difficult to discuss the issue of how they know for sure that they are Jewish, since many have misconceptions of it going by the mother and not the father...)


At 10/09/2006 5:39 PM, Anonymous Gavi said...

In my experience, you can't throw it down anyone's throat (hey, that's one of the many reasons why yeshivish education has the problems it has). Instead, I try to be open, welcoming, and provide any information that I can... Showing up with challos at someone's job might be a bit much, but an open Shabbos invitation might not be... My wife and I try to adopt the policy of being simply available should anyone want, without trying to be pushy.

At 10/09/2006 9:17 PM, Anonymous stf said...

Call me. We need to talk anyway.

At 10/10/2006 6:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(It is too difficult to discuss the issue of how they know for sure that they are Jewish, since many have misconceptions of it going by the mother and not the father...)"

I think you mean "of it going by the father and not the mother."

At 10/10/2006 6:28 AM, Blogger JBL the first said...

What I think When you're approached you definitely have to do whatever you can to help (I don't mean to give u guilty feelings but from now on). You should go out of your way to help. I mean if you're not interested why should she be?

When not approached you should always be there for them end even throw in some chizuk from time to time if it comes up. I think approaching them and pestering etc, you should leave for the professionals.

At 10/10/2006 9:04 AM, Anonymous Gary said...

Michelle, you have no obligation to do kiruv. Kul Yisroel Areivem Zeh Lazeh does not mean you have to be mekarev everyone. That's a misonception. The whole kiruv movement is a sham - a moneymaker, if you will. Yes, there should be an aish hatorah for people who want to become religious, but the idea that we should be going out there trying to recruit is wrong.

Whenever I get a tzedakah letter from a kiruv organization I throw it straight out. It's probably a shayleh whether it can be considered tzedakah.

When approached by someone who wants more info, refer them to aish hatorah. If they're serious, they'll follow through. If not, then they don't give a darn and again, it's not your responisbility to make them care.

People get horny at the prospect that they're going to make someone frum and get so much reward etc. etc. So who are they doing kiruv for - the nonfrum or for themselves?

At 10/10/2006 10:25 AM, Blogger Arie said...

Yes, your conscious was right! You should have at least gave her the information. You don't have to be their best friend, but she obviously was asking for some guidance. You would give directions to the Bagel Hole if someone asked, right? I suggest you find someone who you are able to refer to if someone comes knocking on your door! Chag Sameach!

At 10/10/2006 11:32 AM, Anonymous Yocheved said...

As someone who is working towards becoming a bt, I can tell you that the people I have studied/worked best with are the people who answer my questions, are inviting but not judgemental, and who call me for non-Jewish things as well. Meaning, maybe they will just call to see how a test went, rather than always asking if I am davenning, etc...

At 10/10/2006 12:28 PM, Blogger SaraK said...

If someone is reaching out to you, you should really try to capitalize on that. I agree with gavi, showing up with challot is a little much. But DEFINITELY invite her for a Shabbat meal or dinner in your Sukkah during Chol Hamoed (so much easier BTW) or a Chanukah party. And along the lines of what Yocheved said--be a friend in all areas of her life, not just in Judaism. Let them see you are a normal, nice girl, who happens to be Othordox. You never know how long it may take for them to even want to ask Judaism-related questions. You don't have to make someone frum, but if she decides to only date Jews, for example, as a result of you being friends with her, then you have accomplished a great thing. It may be a slow process, but don't think of it as making someone into a religious Jew. Just be her friend.

At 10/11/2006 5:05 PM, Blogger skepticbentorah said...

I agree with some of the previous comments that kiruv has gone a bit overboard recently.if someone reaches out to you you have an obligation as a person to direct them in the direction they want to go (without going into the religious obligation) but to push observance on non-searching people is a big responsibility which one does not and maybe should not take upon himself. rather try reaching out to ppl who have been born frum and are having a hard time with that. thats a smaller responsibility bc in the end if you're born frum you'll eventualy come back, or, live a miserable guilty life.

At 10/11/2006 8:10 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Skeptic Ben Torah, I respectfully disagree, since I feel that those off the derech are more resentul of religion and community standards,and have no interest in coming back. If they did, they'd prob do so privately.I'd rather deal with someone who hasn't been frum...i think i should tell you all my experience in Jr. High with girls going off the derech...that might explain why i feel the way i do

At 10/11/2006 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you did the right thing (except maybe for asking if she went to temple.) I'm a skeptic so this whole kiruv thing makes me a bit queasy.. Some people become religious for the wrong reasons.

When people become religious their lives change, and not always in ways that are constructive. I don't think it's moral to steer people in that direction when you have no ability to bail them out of any adverse consequences that comes from the change in life style.

You have no obligation to google something for her, nor do I see where you have any obligation to do kiruv. (If they are motivated they can google on their own. Aftfer all, years ago in Japan if you wanted to study with a master you had to sit outside his gate for 3 days in the hope that he'll even notice you. That had its drawbacks but at least it separated the insincere from the sincere/)

If people ask you a question you might have an obligation to give them an honest answer, or to refer them to someone who will give them an honest answer, or to tell them what problems lie ahead of them. But that seems to me at least to be as far as it goes.

Another anon

At 10/12/2006 7:59 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

Anon#1---right. Thanks for pointing that out, it is important. Sorry 'bout that, y'all.

As for the girl with the Temple, if it was my neighborhood, and I knew something, I would have certainly given her info, but she lives in a nieghborhood I haven't really been to, so I don't know.

I often find it heartbreaking as I meet more and more "jews" who Jewish the same way they're "American" or "Russian," it's a label and nothing more. I want to help them. Not for me. What would I get out of it? I guess relief. I wouldn't feel pain when I see them anymore. I don't know. Am I supposed to be feeling pain when I speak to them?

At 10/12/2006 5:21 PM, Blogger skepticbentorah said...

michelle,yes u are definately right that people coming from a frum background usualy do have negative feelings of resentment towards the community at large, but that is exactly what u have to deal with when trying to bring them closer.You have to show them that its cool to be frum and being frum doesn't necessarily imply being the stuck up judgemental person that they were running away from.there isnt just one way of being a torah observant person. Im not saying it's easy, i was just saying you are doing for these ppl something that will eventualy will have to be done in the long run. we cant run away from our roots forever. theyre too strong.

At 10/12/2006 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's one thing to answer a direct question you know the answer to, such as where's a shul that I can go to for RH. It's another thing to commit yourself to a feeling that you have to "help" people who might not think they need to be helped. If you do that you'll be spinning your wheels, driving yourself neurotic, over something they might not appreciate and might actually cause them problems.
Sure if you feel pain when you see them, it makes sense to do something to avoid the pain, but maybe you should ask why it is that you feel the pain in the first place.


Can't run away from our roots forever? Depends on the person. People who need to be brought into kiruv probably can run away from their roots for the time being. Maybe even forever

Another anon

At 10/13/2006 3:06 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


"You have to show them that its cool to be frum and being frum doesn't necessarily imply being the stuck up judgemental person that they were running away from"

You don't think ex-frum people have reasons better than that?

That casual response is itself judgemental.

At 10/16/2006 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't understand the question. Even if you do not have a halchic obligation to do kiruv I would think that under v'ahavta lreacha kamocha you should do it. If you have a lifestyle that will benefit someone else, and we do, why wouldn't you share it with someone else. Not in a pushy way, not in a "I am going to save your soul" way. Simply in a friendly warm and caring way. There was a movie put out by Aish haTorah wher many people spoke about how they would be more open to learning about their faith. So when the situation presents itself, take a chance. You and they will be glad you did.


At 10/16/2006 1:59 PM, Blogger Josh said...


The question can't even be asked as an "obligation."

As religious people, we have to have certain sensitivities. Not everybody has them (as some of the other commentators demonstrated). But regardless of whether somebody approaching us is frum or not, we should be helpful and friendly. That is the way of Torah. If that friendliness is attractive to non-frum people, then they may want to learn more. It shouldn't be a reason for being outgoing in and of itself though - I find that quite patronizing.

Just be yourself, and most importantly, if you don't know an answer - don't make one up. You're better off following up with somebody who does know it and forwarding the response. Otherwise you run the real risk of misleading somebody, a much graver issue to be responsible for.


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