Kiruv isn’t Coca-Cola
Recently, Aish HaTorah produced a video presentation, called Inspired, featuring a range of Baalei Teshuva, returnees to Judaism, describing “what motivated them to change their lives and embrace Torah.” The goal of the movie, besides some combination of inspiration and entertainment, is to encourage members of the Orthodox community to involve themselves in outreach on a formal or informal basis.
The “inspire” brochure handed out to each attendee had a Rosh Kollel describing himself as “choked up” just by looking at it. He explained in an email, which I’ve translated where necessary:
This is what got to me. Only when we see the Kiddush Hashem [Sanctification of G-d’s Name] of Achdus [Unity] amongst our own can we expect to bring back our brothers and sisters.
Because Torah is Achdus and we must be together to bring people together as we were at Maamad Har Sinai [the Revelation at Sinai].
I am optimistic tonight for ourselves, our learning, our families, our communities and for all of our brothers and sisters because with Achdus…
We can do ANYTHING. Think of the Torah, the seforim [Torah books] we can write together, the masechtos [Tractates] we can finish together, the children we can teach together, the levels we can achieve together , the Mosdos [institutions] and communities we can build together, and being that kind of Klal Yisrael [Nation of Israel] imagine what we can do for Acheinu Bnei Yisroel [Our Brethren the Children of Israel] together.
The video itself is similarly inclusive. Rabbis Uri Zohar and Dovid Gottlieb are perhaps the most notable Baalei Teshuva mentioned as appearing — neither of them have any association with Aish HaTorah outside the video. Rabbi Gottlieb is a lecturer at Ohr Somayach, while Uri Zohar, a famous actor and director before he became religious, is one of the leading speakers and educators of the Israel Baal Teshuvah movement, especially among descendents of immigrants from Sephardic countries.
When I repeated the aforementioned quotation to an outstanding figure in local outreach, though, his response was that it shouldn’t even be notable. And, of course, he’s right.
In business, no one would imagine spending advertising dollars promoting someone else’s product. But much as non-profit directors are often advised to operate their companies like businesses, this is one clear exception. We who work in Kiruv are not competing for market share; we’re trying to reverse a decline in Jewish affiliation that is taking its toll every day. Those cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina are (supposed to be) working together rather than operating independently; we are in a similar process, though an ongoing one.
The cynic could easily point out that the above video is intended to be profitable, with charges for tickets and video sales, and increasing the marketing outside Aish just makes the product more compelling. And that would be true. But this is definitely about more than money, and the collaboration thus begun will, we can hope, not end with the showings.