The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Friday, August 04, 2006


A number of years ago, on a Friday morning, I got a call from an old schoolmate whom I hadn't seen or spoken with in 20 years. I had heard that he'd moved to L.A. and had become very active in the Happy Minyan out there.

After exchanging pleasantries, he asked: "There's a young lady in your neighborhood who is looking for a place to stay for Shabbos. Can you host her? She's a ba'alas teshuva." I called MHW, got the nod, and called the young lady. I picked her up on my way home from work that afternoon.

The young lady, let's call her "Leah", had grown up in a secular Jewish home that was completely unaffiliated. Growing up, she didn't even know that there was such a thing as Shabbos. Amazingly, she was first attracted to Judaism when she attended a Friday night seudah in Japan, of all places, where she was studying as an exchange student.

Leah became very attached to our family after that Shabbos. After a number of months, we helped raise some money to get her over to seminary in Israel. To make a very long story short, Leah is now married to a kollel yungerleit and lives happily in Mattesdorf.

The reason I'm relating this story is because it reflects one of the main messages of a DVD that I watched yesterday, "Inspired". Inspired is a documentary video about ba'alei teshuva. It consists of interviews with a number of ba'alei teshuva that weaves their personal stories (some of which are fascinating) with a number of specific kiruv-related questions.

The central message of Inspired is that we can all be involved in Kiruv. Kiruv opportunities abound and you don't need to be a "kiruv professional" to participate. Someone who is obviously frum can make passive kiruv gestures simply by being a mensch or a stand up, honest person in business. By smiling at someone at the checkout line. By exercising good manners. One can sometimes change a person's life simply by inviting her to Shabbos seudah. As my Rebbe often says, kiruv starts with a chulent and a kugel and a smile. We saw that first hand with Leah.

I have always tried to be a mensch at work and act honestly both because that is how my parents raised me and because I have a very high profile job where I interact with many people and I am known to be frum. How I conduct myself can easily result in kiddush Hashem or a chillul Hashem.

On the other hand, I have done virtually nothing to actively engage people at work. I suppose I have always been afraid to mix my personal life with my business life. One of the other main points of Inspired is that this attitude is a mistake. The theme that permiates the video is that an overt act, sometimes as little as inviting someone for a meal, can change a person's life and that, contrary to what frum people think, most secular Jews would be receptive to these gestures.

I have been thinking about this last point a lot since I saw the video. I have some more thinking to do.


  • At 6:54 PM, Blogger Uberimma said…

    Smiling at someone in a checkout line is HUGE. Or just striking up conversations--not about religion. Before I was frum I thought frum people were, um, well, SCARY. I would have been afraid to just say hi. So now, I know that I have to do it.

  • At 4:39 PM, Blogger G said…

    -->To make a very long story short, Leah is now married to a kollel yungerleit and lives happily in Mattesdorf.

    Ever notice how these "success" stories always end w/ the guy learning in kollel or the girl marrying a kollel yungerleit?

    Just an observation.


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