Friday, December 14, 2018

With over 30 years of kiruv work behind him, Rabbi Elazar Grunberger keeps expanding his vision and the scope of his activities.

After 27 years of dedication and kiruv in St. Louis, a time characterized by Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky as “…exceptionally successful…the entire city was transformed,” Rabbi Grunberger and his wife, Bracha, made aliyah five years ago. Seeking a home in which to put his skills to good use, the couple settled in the flourishing, largely secular city of Modi’in in central Israel. They intended to reach out to the city’s substantial Anglo-speaking community, which had, until then, been largely neglected by kiruv activists. There Rabbi Grunberger founded Lev Modi’in, “to reach out to the non-observant, strengthen the newly observant, inspire the observant and foster greater unity [among all Jews].”

His open-hearted, welcoming approach, transcending the all too familiar labels that divide us, struck a responsive chord. Lev Modi’in now has a shul with weekly Shabbos minyanim, a nightly beis midrash where over 70 participants learn at least once a week with avreichim from nearby Kiryat Sefer, men’s and women’s chavrusa programs and a weekly shiur by the rebbetzin on parsha and hashkafa, among other programs and special events.

Endorsing Rabbi Grunberger’s work, HaRav Moshe Hillel Hirsch referred to his “vision” and “boundless energy.” Mated with that vision and energy, however, is a clear-eyed assessment of the limits of current kiruv approaches, and an awareness of the growing problems of off-the-derech youngsters and uninspired, going-through-the-motions adults from all across the Orthodox spectrum. Thinking about these problems led Rabbi Grunberger to his latest Lev Modi’in project, “Chochmas Chaim—Wisdom for Life.”

Chochmas Chaim pairs unaffiliated Jews with mentors to explore up to six compelling subjects through the lens of 500 Torah sources culled from Tanach, Midrash, Gemara, Rishonim, Acharonim, Gedolim and Mussar writers throughout the ages. The subjects—happiness, success, love, marriage, parenting and the meaning of life—have universal appeal, for who isn’t interested in happiness, success and love, and who couldn’t occasionally use some help with marriage, parenting and understanding the meaning of life?

Each topic begins with a comprehensive set of questions, designed to pique the student’s interest. The sources are then studied in depth over three sessions by mentor and student, chavrusah-style. For a sense of how this actually works, here are some sample questions: What practical tools lead to happiness? What causes unhappiness? Does everyone have a unique mission? Can a person determine his mission based on his talents? What does the Torah say about the individuality of each child? How do you deal with a child’s non-compliance?

Rabbi Grunberger is convinced that this approach, engaging unaffiliated Jews in exploring such immediately relevant, down-to-earth topics, could be a game-changer in the world of kiruv, revitalizing the efforts of many professionals who have seen their results plateau lately, if not actually flag. Rather than leaving people alienated, defensive or disengaged, Chochmas Chaim will leave them hungry for more.

Down the road, Rabbi Grunberger plans to seed communities throughout Israel with two couples running Chochmas Chaim Projects (CCP). Rather than reinventing the kiruv wheel, he intends to shepherd participants to appropriate organizations and events at appropriate stages, e.g., to Lev L’Achim for long-term chavrusos after having completed two months of CCP, to seminars run by Arachim or the like, and, within a year, to Chinuch Atzmaei and similar organizations, to facilitate further growth in shmiras hamitzvos and integration into the frum community. The model will also enhance kiruv programs around the world with hopes of bringing in more unaffiliated Jews and connecting them to Torah learning.

Other plans include creating a special model of CCP to help inspire religious teens, and getting all kiruv organizations to meet regularly to explore how they could work together synergistically, saving money, time and energy.

By Allen Auster