By Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun, National Director AJOP
Just before Rosh Hashanah, a prominent kiruv professional wrote to me that he had been invited to speak at two different Rosh Hashanah events. One was a high-profile kiruv program; the other was a lesser-known activity for kids who were off the derech.
Here’s how he described the decision to me in an email: “Along the way we had an epiphany: what’s the difference where we go? It’s all Yidden! What’s the difference between these and those? Both populations are Jews who are searching and grappling, both are Jews who need a spiritual lifeline to the Ribbono shel Olam.”
I’ve learned, as this email indicates, that the old definitions have become muddled. It’s not so simple to break Klal Yisrael into rechokim and kerovim anymore. I’ve also learned that kiruv professionals have answers to many of today’s challenges. Was there ever such a time when so many Jews, including many of our youth, needed an infusion of what kiruv professionals do best – inspiring and demonstrating the beauty of a Torah life? It’s no surprise that there’s a growing sentiment, even among people who are committed to kiruv rechokim, that kiruv kerovim is the call of the day and that kiruv professionals may play a significant role in meeting this challenge.
This year’s AJOP convention, appropriately themed “Turning Kiruv Inside Out,” delves into the promise that the world of outreach has compelling answers to those in need of inspiration, including those who grew up in Torah-observant homes. Foremost on the agenda is the need to ramp up kiruv kerovim and to encourage kiruv professionals to refocus their efforts on some level toward the frum community.
Other convention topics include a close look at the long term spiritual and social needs of baalei teshuvah. One highlight is the release of a study by Dr. David Pelcovitz that examines the family lives of baalei teshuvah and looks for factors in all families that may contribute to putting kids at risk. The primary risk factor Dr. Pelcovitz identified in children is their need for belonging, which depends heavily on the parents’ integration into the community. A closely related convention topic is the need to develop standardized Torah study programs for the newly religious.
Additional programs include a family counseling training workshop presented by Rabbi Mordechai Twerski and Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski; a symposium on marketing by marketing expert Yaakov (Jon) Goldman; and a daylong fund-raising symposium by Rabbi Yitz Greenman, executive director of Aish NY.
The AJOP convention has always attracted a number of dedicated baalei baatim who want to inspire and be inspired. In fact, the convention has historically been a forum where our problems are not just discussed but are really tackled. The baalei baatim who participate play a key role in helping Klal Yisrael.
This year, AJOP also presents the inaugural InReach Conference, a parallel convention for lay people on Sunday, January 15. InReach will feature a large array of speakers, all of whom will address the topic of being mekarev family, neighbors, and friends who are already frum. Here are a few more lines from the kiruv professional’s email: “Those of us in kiruv know what a zechus it is to be able to connect our fellow Jews to Judaism. I want you all to know that every skill and ability that you have learned and developed in kiruv is 100 percent applicable to the needs of thousands of young Jews from frum homes.”
The same inspiration and ahavas Yisrael needed by secular Jews are needed by frum Jews, and youth in particular. I would like to invite everyone to help shape the discussions that can make a difference in the future of the frum world. The AJOP convention will take place on January 15-17, 2012, at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. The hotel is easily accessible by public or private transportation. For more information and to register, visit AJOPConvention.com or call 973-597-1552/1553.