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

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Kiruv and Community Kollels

I think that, on a relative basis, way too much charitable money goes to 'Kiruv' organizations. In the metropolitan New York area especially there is a huge amount of duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy. And, while there are many ba'alei teshuva around, its not as if these organizations are reeling them in.

While this may sound harsh, if kiruv were run like a business, it would be hard to justify such a huge investment on the basis of such relatively small results. One might argue that cost should not be taken into account. Haven't we all learned that 'He who saves even one life, it is as if he has saved the world?' I subscribe completely to that notion but question whether our charitable contributions might be better spent within our own schools. We are arguably losing as many kids who are already within the tent as the entire kiruv movement is bringing back to the derech.

One place where kiruv seems to be having a profound (and cost-efficient) effect is in the community kollel sector. A case in point is in Phoenix where the Phoenix Community Kollel is working wonders.

Rather than try to describe it myself, I present an article that was emailed to me written by a Lakewood yungerleit who spent the most recent Shavuous in Phoenix. I think it was or will be published in Yated.


By: M. Norman

Under conventional circumstances it would be fair to say that the influx of Torah to the community in Phoenix, AZ this Shavuos was a special zchus for the community. However, I was one of the six Kollel families who traveled out west this Yom Tov, and I can testify that the honor was truly ours to be there. Actually, when the offer arose in Lakewood during mid-May for us to go to Phoenix for Shavuos, I was a little wary of the idea. Where will I spend Yom Tov? Will there be kosher food? Are there even any Jews who will be interested in us at all? But alas, the opportunity of going to sunny Arizona was to tempting to pass up, and thus we scheduled a ticket to leave erev Yom Tov, and to return just after Yom Tov, in order to play it safe. Little did we know what was in store.

Eight years ago, Rabbi Chaim Silver took over as the Rabbi of Young Israel. He soon discovered that the thirst for Torah in his community was too great for him to handle single handedly, and he soon introduced the idea of bringing a Kollel to town. Four years ago, a group of yungeleit, led by Rabbi Zvi Holland headed out to Phoenix to found the Phoenix Community Kollel. In the four years since, the Kollel has grown to seven families, the community has grown tremendously, and the thirst for Torah is far from quenched.

Since the Kollel arrived, they have been playing more than an integral part of the community. As one member of the community said, I love the Kollel rabbis. Each one has his own personality, and they are all so helpful and openhearted.

The feeling is what we, the yungeleit from Lakewood were zoche to experience. We can now testify that we have seen Kabolas Hatorah in its true sense, in a sense of K'ish Echod B'lev Echod. We have witnessed the power of six Kollel families who as one heart have fully dedicated their entire lives and souls to help others find their roots and return to Torah. And we were fortunate to see the people of this reborn community be mekabel the Torah, many of them for the first time in their lives this Shavuos. We saw them accept it with love, with excitement, with eagerness, and with happiness. During the short time we stayed in Phoenix, the people of the community attempted to squeeze out of us anything we had to offer. A Yungerman in Lakewood may have no idea how much he can give to someone who is seeking even the smallest amount of Yidishkeit. To them we were special guest rabbis visiting from the renowned Lakewood Yeshiva. We originally went to simply learn there over Shavuos. But how could I turn down the thirteen-year-old boy who approached me on the night of Shavuos and asked me to review with him the few blatt of Berachos that he learned? I sat down to learn with this boy only to discover that he was a whiz. He translated a few lines in the sixth Perek as if it was his second language. And when I explained to him the idea of shaos zmanios, he picked it up even before I was done. And while I sat and showed him how to find the Rambam through the Ein Mishpat, he pointed out his father sitting and learning with another Yungerman on the next table. It was only the next day that I discovered that this boy was frum for less then two years. It was really amazing- an entire family latching on to the ways of the torah all-together. And all this a result of the dedication of the Kollel and the selfless hours they put in to the community. The encouragement and friendliness they show to each and every individual.

One of the fascinating things I found was the welcome that we got from all the members of the community. Almost every family invited us to come to their house and even to stay by them if we ever return to Phoenix. They all told us how they love Kollel people and how the kollel made such a difference in their lives in the short time that its been there. You guys dont have any idea how much youve done for us just by coming for Yom Tov, said Morris Friedman. Although most of the times we heard the comments throughout our stay they did not come with an explanation, by the time we left it was self understood. For the people of Phoenix to see that their six yungeleit who learned all day, kept the mitzvos, and were not any less normal than themselves, were part of a world of Torah observant Jews had such a great impact. They felt that they can actually relate to being a Torah Jew. They can follow their daily lives as usual and still keep their heritage. They can find meaning and fulfillment in their lives. They can understand how to respect rabbis and to follow their teachings. And most of all, they can now understand what it means to be a Jew. That it is something more than a title, an embarrassment, or a way of being different. As Rabbi Silver said in his sermon on Yom Tov, We are in fact different so let us act different. Being different is a responsibility. The Kollel has shown these people HOW to be different. How to act differently and why we are in fact different. We are an uplifted people, and sometimes in order to understand this, we just have to experience this revelation. For us six yungeleit from Lakewood, this beautiful revelation has come forth this Yom Tov. We saw an uplifted nation opening their arms to their long lost brothers, and we saw their brothers returning and accepting this sacrifice. We saw how six families can change hundreds of people's
lives, how close to one hundred people Anashim Nashim Vtaf who were barely ever exposed to Torah were eager to stay up all night to learn about the torah as a result of the hard work of these families. And we saw the fruit of labor that comes lsheim shomayim, from nothing more than the desperate plea of a few Yeshiva people for their brothers to return. Now there is joy in Phoenix. The joy is on all sides. The members of the community are thrilled to be a part of torah life, and the members of the kollel are so happy to have brought them back. We have all heard of the beautiful city of Phoenix, but to us yungeleit from Lakewood this beauty has a new meaning. It is the beauty of ruchnius, the beauty of Gan Eden. The Rambam says if one is being influenced by his surroundings and is not successful in torah, Yeilech Lamidbar. We have seen Kabolas Hatorah in the midbar and we are thankful to the people of Phoenix for giving us that opportunity.

A young man by the name of Frank with whom I spent some time learning with over Yom Tov came to bid us farewell. We hope you guys come back soon, he said misty eyed. Dont worry, Frank. Were far from finished. We'll be back.
You can have all the codes and seminars you want. Kiruv starts with a smile, a good word, a kugel and a chulent. Everything else follows from there.