Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Adar 5762 - February 13, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Lev L'Achim Gears Up For 5th Annual School Registration Campaign
by Moshe Schapiro

There was electricity in the air last Thursday night when eight men exited the meeting room in Lev L'Achim's Netanya headquarters. They had just received their marching orders, and they were still trying to come to terms with them. One man smiled and shook his head in disbelief. Another grumbled, "Impossible, it can't be done," under his breath, and a third resignedly fired up his cell phone and began to round up his troops.

I've watched this scene replay itself every year around this time. The eight men, Lev L'Achim regional supervisors, are called into the office of the organization's international director, Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, and are told how many non- religious children they will have to register into Torah schools in each section of Eretz Yisroel. And every year, their initial reaction is the same: incredulity bordering on absolute astonishment.

Yet seven months later, there they are, all smiles and flushed faces at the organization's traditional end-of- enrollment-season celebration dinner, with their quotas met and 9,000 additional Yiddishe children learning in Torah schools all over the country.

But victory doesn't come easy.

Rabbi Tuvia Levenstein is supervisor of Lev L'Achim activities in the south of Eretz Yisroel, from Beit Shemesh to Eilat.

"I'm sitting here thinking, `Ribono shel Olam, how do I start?'" says Rabbi Levenstein. "Where are we going to get so many kids from? We have already dug and scratched everywhere. In the past four years we registered some 28,000 non- religious children into Torah schools. Sometimes I wonder, `Are there any more out there?'"

I smile at Rabbi Levenstein, but recall that he said roughly the same thing last year. Yet he managed to register 1,800 children into Torah schools by the end of the summer.

"You know what it is?" Rabbi Levenstein continues, sounding more positive than when I first stepped into his office, "It's the Israeli Education Ministry. It is doing most of the work for us. The non-religious public schools are such a disaster that we don't have to even explain the problem to non-religious parents. You start talking about school violence in non-religious schools and they cut you off and tell you horror stories that happened to their own children that make your hair stand on end.

"The main thing we do is show non-religious parents that there is a better alternative," he says. "It never crosses their minds that they could register their child into a Torah school. They just don't think of religious schools as 'meant for them.' Our job is to convince them that Torah schools will actually provide their child with a better all-around education and make a mentsch out of their child.

"When my registration workers hear my voice on the phone at the end of January," Rabbi Levenstein says, "they know what I am going to ask of them: to drop out of life for the next few months and devote their every waking hour to one goal, and one goal only -- registering non-religious children into Torah schools. No more family life, no more evenings at home, no more peace of mind. Until September 1st, when the new school year starts, it's go, go, go for them the whole time."

"So it sounds like you are pretty positive about meeting your quota this year," I comment to Rabbi Levenstein.

"Two thousand children," he muses. "Ten percent more than my people registered last year. It's going to be really crazy around here for the next few months. Yes, I guess I am positive. It's just that as soon as I start thinking of how much work is involved, I feel my knees buckling."

Rabbi Levenstein starts ticking off some of the items on his to-do list. Getting Eilat in motion is near the top of his list.

This desert town is one of Lev L'Achim's success stories. The organization sent registration workers there four years ago on what can only be described as a search-and-create mission. They literally went house-to- house. Everyone except Rabbi Sorotzkin and Rabbi Levenstein thought the plan was doomed to fail.

But it didn't. As increasing numbers of children were registered in Eilat, the local religious school grew, necessitating the hiring of additional staff members who moved to Eilat from their homes in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak. A fledgling religious community was formed, which in turn helped accelerate the registration drive. Today there are over 30 yeshiva families living in Eilat, as well as a kollel, and the school is bursting at the seams.

In Lev L'Achim's first year in Eilat, 20 children were registered in the local Torah school. In the second year, 60; in the third, 100; today, there are close to 300. "And this year, Rabbi Sorotzkin wants the number to reach 500," says Rabbi Levenstein, a little nervousness creeping back into his voice.

And Eilat is just one city. There are 12 more under Rabbi Levenstein's jurisdiction.

In addition, Rabbi Levenstein is just one regional supervisor. There are 6 more in Lev L'Achim: Rabbi Moshe Zeivald, in charge of the north; Rabbi Avraham Saada, in charge of the Sharon (greater Netanya region); Rabbi Ephraim Paktor, in charge of Gush Dan (metropolitan Tel Aviv area); Rabbi Shmuel Yashar, in charge of the Rechovot area; and Rabbi Betzalel Spiegel, in charge of Yerushalayim.

"How will we do it?" Rabbi Levenstein says. "The answer is that there is no logical explanation; there is no way to understand this phenomenon. We see clearly how the Ribono shel Olam is running the show. When Lev L'Achim embarked on its first registration drive four years ago, no one believed 5,000 children was attainable. Yet we did it. It's Hakodosh Boruch Hu pulling the strings. He wants His children back. And they are going to come back. We are merely His shlichim."

* * *

Having said this, Rabbi Levenstein looked at his watch and said, "Quick, the meeting is about to start!" I hustled after him into his car and we sped off to what he described as "the grand registration campaign opening ceremony," but which turned out to be a high- energy pep talk for the hundreds of Lev L'Achim registration workers who will be participating in this year's campaign.

Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin opened the proceedings with a high- energy speech. "We have come together here for one cause which unites us all, a cause that the gedolei Yisroel have declared as the single most important cause for the Torah community: to bring Yiddishe kinder tachas kanfei haShechina. Boruch Hashem, we are all one chabura. All of us are united together today to fulfill the words of the gedolim."

Rabbi Sorotzkin demanded results from every single enrollment worker: "There can be no excuses. You cannot come to me on the opening day of school in September and say, `I didn't fulfill my quota because I didn't receive enough names.' No excuses! If you see that you are not getting enough names from headquarters, use a different system. You have to assume personal responsibility for the job, as if you were running your own private business. If you weren't getting enough clients, you'd advertise, you'd cold-call, you'd turn the world upside down to increase business."

Rabbi Sorotzkin unveiled several new "marketing tools" developed by Lev L'Achim for the 2002 registration campaign, including-mini CDs containing a video targeted at potential parents; information kits to be distributed to 50,000 members of Israel's Torah community, who will then distribute the cards and pamphlets to non-religious people with whom they come into contact in the course of their day; and oversized business cards for distribution in mail boxes.

Rabbi Sorotzkin also warned the enrollment workers about mounting secular opposition to Lev L'Achim's school registration program, citing a series of articles in Ha'aretz that disclosed the impact the organization's drives have had on the religious school system, and the damage it has had on secular schools.

"This is why we will not advertise in the main radio and newspapers," Rabbi Sorotzkin said. "If we would do so, we would instigate even more opposition, and we certainly do not need more of that. We need to keep working quietly, just under the level of public outcry."

Rabbi Uri Zohar, whose radio talk show on chinuch has played an integral role in the registration program's success, said that today people are more open than ever to religion. They don't need to be convinced anymore, Rabbi Zohar said, you just have to contact them and show them that there is an alternative. "The change happens right away," he said. "As soon as the child starts learning Torah, the whole family begins to change."

Rabbi Zohar urged the enrollment workers to say a short tefilloh before every phone call and every home visit. "We are doing work that is completely from Hashem yisborach. It's the greatest spiritual revolution in Klal Yisroel. In 3,400 years of Jewish history, never has such a thing happened. Never have 28,000 Jewish children been brought back to a Torah way of life in such a short time."

"Remember what we are doing here!" Rabbi Zohar demanded. "Remember what we are doing here!"


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