A Tale of Three Branches:
Kiruv Coming of Age - A Positive View
by Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, M.A.

The following appeared in the December 1994 edition of Jewish Outreach,
the publication of
The Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals: AJOP.
Rabbi Rudomin served as Trustee of AJOP from January 1994 until May 1997.

It is truly a great pleasure and honor to have been elected an AJOP trustee. I arrived at my present position at the Center at the same time that AJOP was being launched. As both a participant in AJOP's programs and a beneficiary of its services, I have watched it grow from a fledgling organization into a leader in the outreach profession. Now, as always, AJOP remains deeply committed to its ultimate goal - to unite and strengthen all of the dedicated professionals who man the front lines of Jewish continuity.

Anyone who has been to an AJOP convention has experienced the warmth, "chavershaft," and chizuk we feel there together. If our movement is to succeed, we must maintain that same ruach in our everyday efforts. Circumstances often generate competition for recognition, students, or necessary funds. Nevertheless, we must rise above these circumstances and put petty rivalries aside in order to maximize our efforts and achieve the results we all desire: Lekarev Acheinu Bnei Yisroel LeAvinu Bashamayim (To draw close our brethren to their Father in Heaven).

In truth, however, even this is a limited perspective. To truly tap the full potential of the Kiruv movement, we must raise our vistas to an entirely different level.

If we review the history of Orthodoxy in America, we find that the first efforts went into building synagogues and gaining respect for the Orthodox rabbinate. This struggle occurred mainly in the era before the First World War. Eventually, the structures were built, and appropriate personnel were found and trained to serve as pulpit rabbis all over America. Professional bodies such as the Orthodox Union, the National Council of Young Israel, and the Rabbinical Council of America were instrumental in helping bring this about.

The next phase was the pre and post Second World War era when the focus was on building Hebrew Day Schools and yeshivos. During this time Jewish education developed into a distinct field, separate from the professional Rabbinate. This movement, too, has been served by professional institutions, including such organizations as Torah Umesorah and Agudas Israel.

The third era, the Age of Baalei Teshuva, was born in the 60's. The upheavals in American life and the wars in the Middle East created a break with the past. American youth began to seek a spiritual home for their restless souls. In Russia, too, there began a new stirring for a return to Zion, to Torah, to something beyond Marx and Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev. And so was born the Kiruv movement.

With time came the recognition that the movement cannot succeed as a mere subsidiary of the synagogues and schools. In order to flourish, it must be viewed as a professional field in its own right, often requiring its own independent organizations. Thus, alongside the many synagogues and schools that serve as bases for Kiruv activities, there have come into being a multitude of centers, classrooms, locations, programs, and personnel that deal exclusively with Jews returning to Judaism. And, together with all of the above, there are organizations such as AJOP - to serve and support the activists in the field.

Now, with the three branches of Rabbonus, Chinuch, and Kiruv well established in the Jewish community, the time has come to combine our efforts and merge into one majestic tree, the Etz Chaim of Torah. We are all involved in raising the levels of Jewish awareness and commitment. We are all committed to promoting the honor of Hashem and his Torah. And we must all work together, "as one man with one heart," in order to properly cultivate our efforts and activities and bring them to full fruition.

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