Reaching Other Jews
I work in a secular environment, and it hurts me to see my single Jewish co-workers go out with non-Jews. I would like to find simple, practical, non-offensive ways to dissuade them. At this point, all I could do is be their friend. The last thing I want to do is to hurt anyone's feelings. I can't break through but am not ready to give up. Do you have any suggestions for how I can help?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
While we would all like to believe that the problem of rampant assimilation is being fought effectively by outreach professionals and that the tide is beginning to recede, this is unfortunately not the case. Although thousands of Jews have returned to their heritage, large numbers are still being lost every year.
Clearly, if we rely solely on full-time outreach professionals, we will not have sufficient manpower and resources to combat the problem.
We must do all we can to teach our fellow Jews about the beauty of Judaism. The obligation to reach out to our alienated brethren are numerous and compelling. The mitzvahs of "Love your neighbor," "Don't stand on your brother's blood," "give proper rebuke," and Kiddush Hashem all underscore the reality of "areivus" – the unity and co-responsibility of all Jews – and direct us to spare no effort in safeguarding the spiritual well-being of our fellow Jews.
The Chofetz Chaim, in his famous work "Chomas Hadaas," emphasized the tremendous obligation upon us to reach out to unaffiliated Jews and the severity of neglecting this charge. This responsibility was forcefully articulated by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Jewish Observer, June 1973) who exhorted all observant Jews to "maaser" their time for outreach efforts.
So when trying to reach our fellow Jews, what is the most important message to convey?
One of Judaism's most famous converts was Onkeles, the son of a Roman Emperor, who left his home to study Judaism in Israel. The Talmud relates that the Emperor dispatched a battalion of solders to bring Onkeles back home and prevent him from converting. But when the soldiers reached Onkeles, they all ended up converting, too! The Roman Emperor sent a second battalion and, again, all of them converted. Finally, in frustration, the Emperor sent a third group of soldiers to seize Onkeles – and commanded them to avoid any conversation with him at all.
As they were taking hold of Onkeles, the soldiers saw him reach up and kiss a mezuzah. "What's that?" they asked. Onkeles explained. And, like the units before them, all these soldiers converted too. The Emperor gave up after that, and Onkeles went on to become a great scholar in Israel. (Talmud – Avoda Zara 11a)
What was the secret of Onkeles's extraordinary success? What did he say so compelling that in such a short time he was able to convince the soldiers to change their lives?
The Ibn Ezra says: "Words that come from the heart, enter the heart." This was Onkeles' secret. Onkeles was so clear, so real, so absolutely convinced of the truth and beauty of Judaism, that the soldiers could not fail to absorb his conviction. Onkeles' responses were alive with inspiration and meaning. This radiance struck the soldiers each time and moved them to embrace Judaism.
Herein lies the key to success in reaching other Jews. In order to begin helping others understand why Judaism is meaningful and important, we must feel that way about it ourselves. Like Onkeles, we must be unshakably convinced and enthusiastic about Judaism, because our own real-life example will be more persuasive than any logical argument. Moreover, when we see someone vacillate during his search, or experience conflicts or pressures, our own confidence in Judaism will enable us to continuously reassure them that the struggle is worthwhile.
To be effective in outreach, there are a few key resources that you should be aware of. One important book is called "Eye of the Needle," by Rabbi Yitzhak Coopersmith, here he explains how to reach out to unaffiliated Jews, and offers material for building meaningful conversation.
Another important book is called "Reaching Out," by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.
And finally, an organization named Project Inspire provides user-friendly tools for Jews to reach out and inspire other Jews. See more at: www.kiruv.com