Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Elul 5763 - September 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Kiruv Files --
The stories, the drama, the humor... an inside look

by Dovid Kaplan and Elimelech Meisels
reviewed by Chava Dumas

Targum/Feldheim, 238 fascinating pages

One of the benefits of living in Israel is that many of the authors of important contemporary Jewish works are readily accessible and approachable. After studying their book, you can just look up their phone number and call them to clarify any questions that came up in your reading. You can even arrange to meet them in person. Here in Jerusalem, your neighbors, your doctor's secretary, the woman you chat with at the grocery store, as well as dozens of highly acclaimed Torah teachers and lecturers may all have written a meaningful manuscript that furthers our acclaim to being the "People of the Book."

And so it is that if you have had the chance to hear Rabbi Dovid Kaplan speak in Israel or elsewhere in the Jewish circuit, you can now avail yourself of the opportunity to hear his words speaking to you from his newly released book, The Kiruv Files.

Rabbi Elimelech Meisels has masterfully captured Rabbi Dovid Kaplan's voice on paper. Reading this book is like being in the audience of one of his lectures. While we are being thoroughly entertained and laughing at ourselves and our situation, Rabbi Kaplan succeeds in sneaking in some serious points that arrive home all the more successfully because of the humorous manner in which the details ae delivered.

Herein the authors offer thirteen chapters on topics of importance not only to the professional involved in Kiruv outreach, but of relevance to every Jew who cares about the impression he makes on others, both in this world and the next. Anyone involved in any interaction with human beings, whether they are secular, religious or not even Jewish, will benefit from reading this relevant book. The way we behave and the concern we invest in our actions has a vital impact on the way Torah is presented to everyone who sees us. The stories shared by the authors offer great encouragement for taking ourselves and our role as Jews seriously.

Humor definitely works wonders for breaking down the barriers between Jews, and can often defuse the tension inherent in some volatile religious/secular interchanges. And seeing ourselves humorously gives us a glimpse of just how we can appear to others "outside the community."

What more does the Jewish people need right now than help to bridge the barriers that block communication between different `factions' and groups of Jews that exist today? What better way to combat ignorance than by offering a sound and healthy book that exposes the stereotypes of `religious Jews' for the falsity that they are?

Here is a readable expose of religious life and values that could even be presented to non-religious family members, since religious FFB Jews and baalei tshuva appear within these pages as normal human beings made up of the same emotional, intellectual and spiritual stuff as the next guy, which is something the media tends to ignore in its attempts to bash the chareidi world. Yeshivos for Beginners and the Advanced are places where intellectual, rational thinking are the norm, not the supposed bastions of the brainwashing of which they are often accused.

Within the pages of this book we meet many interesting characters whose humanity is apparent from the issues with which they struggle. There is no one particular `type' of person who does tshuva, and Rabbi Kaplan freely shares the insights he has gleaned from years of meeting a great variety of students. The Torah was given to every Jew and there is a direct path of connection to Hashem for each one of us. The question for everyone involved in outreach teaching is finding that way of making our heritage accessible to every Jew.

The recommendations Rabbi Kaplan offers will be of interest to everyone, as it's simply refreshing guidance for how to be a mensch.

For example, his chapter on parents is a must-read, particularly pertinent to anyone with a strained relationship, as well as those seeking ways to improve how they keep the commandment of parental honor. In a dysfunctional, unhealthy family, a child becoming observant can just exacerbate the situation. In a family with supportive, loving ties, parents and siblings can usually handle the `surprise' of having their loved one turn religious.

Trying some of Rabbi Kaplan's suggestions could definitely help: instead of preaching when you visit home, roll up your sleeves and start doing the dishes. After Mom recovers from her shock, she may encourage you to go back to yeshiva and learn some more... Or stand up when your parent walks into the room. Try playing golf with Dad, if that's his favorite pastime, even if you hate it. At the end of the day, he might even say, "Hey, son, I respect you."

We also receive the sound advice to avoid sending our family unsolicited books on Judaism. What baal tshuva hasn't sent his/her family numerous items of profound spiritual interest, all the latest from Targum and Mesorah, only to discover that every [expensive] volume lies unopened? Rabbi Kaplan compares the well- meaning baal tshuva's intentions to the avid ancient Chinese history buff who offers his family, The Influence of Reflective Taosim Upon Early Pagodian Architecture as a gift. Only with humor could we possibly understand how we must come across to our family!

And most important, instead of writing a letter to Mom and Dad berating them for denying you a Jewish education, try thanking them for all the values they did instill in you, including the ones that gave you the intellectual freedom and courage to explore a new way of life. At the very least, express your gratitude for how much they provided for your physical needs throughout your life. Parents are always thrilled to receive credit for doing something right, and it's a wonderful way to develop our trait of hakoras hatov.

After years of teaching in Yeshivas Ohr Somayach and other outreach programs, Rabbi Kaplan's view is full of wise observations that should be considered seriously by anyone who wishes to help Jews approach and discover the Torah lifestyle. He recommends a slow and steady pace of taking on mitzva observance, as the sane and stable way, illustrated aptly with real life examples of guys going too far, too fast, who end up `freaking out' and taking off almost as quickly as they dove in.

As a teacher of adult men in a yeshiva environment, several of Rabbi Kaplan's insights are applicable only for males. For example, Rabbi Kaplan has seen gemora study have an incredible effect on his beginner students, and his recommendations in this area are worthy of note. His recollections of boys using interesting terminology isn't just funny, it is encouraging because the beauty and depth of Torah is being communicated to beginners. Their remarks testify that they are grasping the essence of learning, even as they express themeslves in their own way.

However, most women would not benefit from opening a gemora as soon as they arrive in a seminary setting, and Rabbi Kaplan isn't suggesting that they should. In any case women are forbidden to study gemora.

The chapter on shidduchim clearly expresses the importance of teachers and rabbeim taking an almost parental position of responsibility for their students. One story in particular illustrates how much a student must be considered like a son, when Rabbi Kaplan did not do enough research into a suggested shidduch for one of his students. Baalei tshuva do not always have the benefit of parental support and approval in this sensitive area of finding a suitable spouse for life. He stresses that the faculty of an institution involved in outreach must take on the role of thoroughly checking out potential candidates for their students in order to avoid much heartache.

There are some very fun chapters, like, "Those Ultra- Orthodox," which dissects more of the stereotypes of how the religious appear to the newly arrived fellow who is just dabbling with the idea of "checking things out." What we say or do at that critical junction can make all the difference of whether or not someone will continue to pursue `dabbling' until they actually make a commitment to really learn and explore all that Judaism offers, stereotypes notwithstanding. It is so easy for newcomers to be scared off, but as Rabbi Kaplan shows us, with a little preparation, it can be just as easy to make the right point that can turn someone's whole perspective around and open them up to new horizons, whether it's what to say about other religions, TV, smoking or "Men's Lib."

I so much enjoyed reading this book that I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on the experience. While you are busy being entertained, laughing away at the numerous foibles and follies described on every page, you are at the same time being educated and elevated, as well as inspired to become a better, more sensitive and involved Jew.

Outreach isn't something that's only for `professionals.' It affects every one of us in each of our daily interactions, with everyone with whom we cross paths.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.