May 26, 2024
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Making a Difference In the World of Kiruv

A number of years ago I took a course in collaborative mediation. The course was given by a veteran Iowa attorney/mediator who practiced in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I arrived one day early for the 15-hour course and decided to travel to Postville, Iowa. Postville is the site of a kosher slaughter-house and is home to perhaps 50 observant Jewish families. It is a very small but very friendly Jewish community. It has Jewish educational opportunities for its inhabitants through the high school level.

I davened Mincha at the local minyan and met a friendly shochet who was insistent I join him for lunch. This man was in the Charedi camp, I learned, but not at all an isolationist. He was a real mixer and very well-connected. He asked me if I would like to meet the local Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Aron Schimmel, and within minutes Rabbi Schimmel came over to his apartment. I asked the rabbi how he spent his day since all the Postville inhabitants were already observant, and other rabbis also lived in this town. Rabbi Schimmel discussed what he did for the local Jews but then described the geographic area he served. In Northeast Iowa there had once been active communities in such places as Dubuque and Waterloo. The synagogues that were once traditional had long disappeared. But Jews still remained in this area. Rabbi Schimmel established relationships with many of these Jews and would visit them to talk about upcoming chagim, counsel them and help them in any way he could. His outreach was one-to-one except for occasions such as Chanukah when he might find a group to teach and inspire.

The shlichut of Rabbi Schimmel was truly a “retail” undertaking and outreach in the true sense of the word. He came to his flock rather than wait for them to come to him.

We now fast-forward to the last two years. I have served in the formal rabbinate for many years but now work primarily as a mediator/attorney. I have volunteered for rabbinical work over the years and have spent five years in West Orange, as the rabbi for an overflow Yomim Noraim minyan. However, I missed the relationships I had experienced during my time with a congregational family. Two years ago, I placed an ad in The Jewish link indicating I would like to provide services for a congregation that was unable to retain a rabbi on a regular basis. I served a community in New Jersey for a number of months which had replied to my ad. (Thank you The Jewish Link classifieds.) At summer’s mid-point, I answered an ad on the Yeshiva University website regarding a position with Congregation Beth Israel in Schenectady, New York. This position, scheduled for twice a month, afforded me more of a chance to work with a true kehillah. I give the dvar Torah on Shabbat and read the Torah for the elderly, but very active, members of this congregation. Beth Israel once had hundreds of attendees at Yom Tov davening, but is now down to 40 members. Since they cannot afford to retain a permanent rabbi, they have a rotation of rabbis (all from New Jersey) who spend time performing similar duties during their appointed time. It is a win-win for both the community and the visiting rabbis.

Rabbi Schimmel of Postville, Iowa has shown the way in a new type of kiruv work. You can’t always wait for the flock to come to you, so you then must go to the flock. Who can engage in this kind of work? I would suggest anyone is qualified if they can lead davening, or read the Torah, or give a class or work with Jewish people one-to-one. In short, virtually anyone can engage in this type of broad based kiruv work. I will lay out below, briefly, some ways you may be able to meet your flock in the pursuit of kiruv.

*Check with family or friends who live near small Jewish communities. Contact the shuls and ask if they need your services in some way.

*Post an ad or blog piece in the media and offer your services, whether in volunteer or paid capacity.

*Contact your local kiruv organization and ask if you can volunteer your services.

*Ask your shul if there are members who might want e.g to learn Hebrew, learn how to daven learn how to read Torah, etc.

*Contact the schools of Jewish learning and ask if you can assist them in reaching out to fellow Jews.

*Finally feel free to contact me at my email ([email protected].) Two heads are better than one. Perhaps we can find a way for you to use your skill-set to benefit Klal Yisrael. It is a decision you will never regret.


Rabbi Rosenfeld has been a pulpit rabbi for many years and now maintains a divorce and family mediation practice in Fair Lawn.

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