Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Sivan 5761 - May 30, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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











Kiryat Sefer Residents Launch Massive Enrollment Campaign
By Moshe Schapiro

i>In answer to a written appeal signed jointly by Rav Eliashiv and Rav Shteinman

Over nine hundred Kiryat Sefer residents, or approximately one-third of the city's male population, took part Monday night in a large enrollment campaign organized by Lev L'Achim and endorsed jointly by HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv and HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman. The nighttime campaign, part of an ongoing multi-year effort headed by the gedolei Torah of Eretz Yisroel to enroll tens of thousands of children from secular homes into the religious school system, brought at least 750 children one step closer to a Torah education.

Kiryat Sefer residents attended a short briefing and were then transported to secular cities and settlements by a fleet of sixteen buses and eight vans. They were given further instructions en route and let out in previously planned areas.

Fanning out in pairs through the city's streets and neighborhoods in accordance with color-coded street maps and instruction sheets distributed to them on the bus by Lev L'Achim supervisors, the men knocked on apartment doors at random and tried to convince secular parents to consider the possibility of transferring their children to the religious school network.

They returned to Kiryat Sefer in a euphoric mood with some 900 filled-out forms: 150 requests for more information about religion, and 750 requests to make an appointment with a Lev L'Achim enrollment professional.

First, Knock On The Door

In many ways the campaign resembled a military operation.

At exactly 7:15 p.m. hundreds of men streamed out of the city's kollelim and assembled in the courtyard of the central shul. They came in answer to a written appeal signed by HaRav Eliashiv and HaRav Shteinman, which was enlarged and pasted on every available surface. Several days before the campaign, Lev L'Achim workers hung red-and-black banners on bulletin boards and bus shelters that counted down the days left until zero hour and heightened the excitement. Local rabbonim mentioned the upcoming campaign during their Shabbos droshos and strongly encouraged congregants to take part in it. Even the principal of the local school cancelled the PTA meeting that had been scheduled for the night of the campaign out of concern that it would dampen the effort.

In front of the shul, tight circles formed around Rabbi Ephraim Paktor and Rabbi Shaul Lustig, two Lev L'Achim regional supervisors who were placed in charge of running the operation. Soda cans and light snacks were handed out during the short wait and eagerly consumed. (Participants did not have time to go home and have supper.) During the briefing, one could sense the tension as the men listened to instructions and got ready psychologically to do something most of them had never done before -- cold- canvassing kiruv.

At the briefing, Rabbi Lustig did his best to dissolve the tension he knew the men were feeling. "Your objective tonight," he said at the outset of the briefing, "is not to take children out of their homes and carry them to the nearest chareidi school." The ripples of laughter helped.

"Your objective is to give the parents a clear understanding that the public school system isn't providing a good education to their children, and that there is a better alternative: religious schools. When you convince them of this, ask them to fill out the form and tell them that an enrollment professional will contact them and help them find a school that answers their children's needs.

"Remember one thing: we represent truth, and they are living a lie. We are coming to give them the most precious thing in the world, and they know it. This thought will give you the confidence you need to succeed. `How do I begin?' you are probably wondering. Just walk up to the door, knock with confidence, keep a big smile on your face, say, `Hello, we're from Lev L'Achim. We've come to talk to you about your child's education, about his future.' That's usually enough to get you through the door. Whatever you do, don't stand by the door. Walk in. Sit down. Then ask them, `By the way, do you have any children?' "

More laughter.

"Keep the momentum going. Look for a point of contact, something that you have in common. If there is a picture of a rabbi on the wall, ask them who it is. It's his grandfather? Ask him to tell you all about him, engage him in a friendly conversation. When he is feeling comfortable, get to the point: `Are you satisfied with your child's education?'

"Very important: don't accuse his child or his child's school. Talk about the situation in general, about the violence in the secular school system. Show him the newspaper clippings you'll find in your kit. Ask him to watch the video we prepared. That will hold his attention for fourteen minutes -- and I guarantee you that when it is over, he will be all ears.

"Ask him this: `When is the last time your child learned about honoring one's parents in school?' Ask him if his child talks to him in the same way that he used to talk to his father. Show him the list of religious schools in his area. Tell him we'll send him an expert who will help him choose the right school. After he fills out the form, ask him if he knows anyone else who has school-aged children. Write down all names and phone numbers on his form. Then tell him that someone will be calling him soon, say goodnight, and go to another apartment."

Did the men feel qualified for their mission after the briefing?

"Not really," said one with a chuckle as he boarded a bus. "I've never done this before. But if this is what the gedolim said I have to do, then I will do it, and with simcha."

Two local rabbonim stood on the sidelines and watched the sea of black- jacketed, black-hatted men boarding the buses and traveling to a strange city, all in order to bring some Jewish neshomos back to a Torah way of life. "Whew," one of them whispered, shaking his head in wonderment. "What a kiddush Hashem."

It soon became apparent that there would be a shortage of vehicles. "One more here!" a bus attendant would call out, and several men would try to jockey themselves aboard. Few buses departed with less than 70 passengers on board, even though the average bus has 50 seats.

"The worse thing that can happen is that they'll slam the door in my face," said another man as he jostled his way aboard the last of the sixteen buses and eight vans that transported 960 local residents to nearby secular cities such as Ramle and Lod, as well as to smaller towns and settlements in the Modi'in area, just minutes away.

Kiryat Sefer is located northwest of Yerushalayim near Modi'in, and is one of several settlements in the area built approximately five years ago. It consists of a rapidly expanding cluster of low-rise apartment units. The entire settlement is surrounded by a tall wire-mesh perimeter fence, which is locked and guarded at night. These days, taking the shortest route to and from Yerushalayim is safe only during daylight hours. At night, motorists who take this route run the risk of drawing Palestinian sniper fire, so most people opt for a detour that skirts around the problematic areas. The road to Bnei Brak is safe both night and day.

Real estate agents like to refer to Kiryat Sefer as "the third largest chareidi city in Israel," though the term "city" is stretching things a bit. So far it's really an overgrown village or a small town populated by some 3,000 young kollel families who bought homes there not because they wanted to become settlers, but because they couldn't afford the steep price of housing in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak.

Many of the men commute to kollelim in the big city, although there are several large local kollelim. Wives work as teachers in local schools or commute to work in Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak.

Like They Were Waiting For Us

As usual in operations of this scale, Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, Lev L'Achim's Director, monitored the complicated maneuvers from up close. His van, staffed by the key organizers of the operation, served as a mobile command center that trolled up and down the streets of Ramle making sure that everything progressed according to plans. The buses, parked in prearranged locations throughout the city, waited in silence for the soldiers to return.

"They arrived forty-five minutes ago and we haven't seen any of them on the streets," Rabbi Sorotzkin said with quiet satisfaction. Not seeing any of Kiryat Sefer's black-hatted men on the streets -- and they stick out like a sore thumb in Ramle -- can mean only one thing: that they are up in the apartments, doing their job convincing parents to send their kids to religious schools.

A telephone call. It is a disciple of Rav Shteinman, calling Rabbi Sorotzkin to tell him how happy Rav Shteinman was to hear that 960 avreichim from Kiryat Sefer went out to register children. "Ask him for a brocho," Rabbi Sorotzkin responds. "A big brocho. Tell him they're still in the houses. Tell him we need his brocho right now."

The car screeches to a halt. "Why aren't you inside?" a supervisor demands of a pair of Kiryat Sefer men walking on the sidewalk. "We ran out of apartments," one of the men responds. He is holding the Lev L'Achim kit and a gemora. "We finished our two buildings."

The supervisor jumps out, opens a blue folder marked "fall- back positions," and takes out another map. "Take the next right, then another right, and it's the building in the corner. Go on. There's still time." The two men squint at the map, holding it up in the sharp glare of the street lamps. One of them folds the map into his pocket, and the two head off on their new mission at a half-jog.

At 10:30 p.m. the troops emerge into the streets of Ramle and head to their respective buses. The men look totally different than they did when they boarded the vehicles at Kiryat Sefer. Many of them are holding filled-out forms in their hands, smiling, joking with one another. There is lots of excited conversation, sharing stories, back slapping and laughter. Back in Kiryat Sefer, the men join hands in the street and sing and dance in a huge circle, blocking traffic in both directions. Some drivers hoot their horns rhythmically to the beat. Others get out and join the dancing.

Snippets of chatter:

"I was in there no more than five minutes and they filled out the form!"

"We slipped right in. Got through the door with no problems."

"The video really did it. I was sure they'd turn to the news, but they watched it until the end."

"It was like they were waiting for us. They let us inside right away."

"I didn't want to come because I hardly speak Hebrew. But they told me that I'm like everyone else, and that I should speak simple and to the point, and they'll hear it. It worked."

Quite an eye-opening experience. For everyone.


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