Often we discuss how special it is to meet so many baalei teshuva who have turned their lives around through Judaism. Frequently we told our children that a boy who grows up in a family where he sees his father put on tefillin each morning, either at home or when he leaves for shul, does not deserve half as much credit as the young man who never experienced such a sight in his life and makes a decision to do so himself.
Just a few days ago, while attending a wedding, Nina had the opportunity to find herself seated next to four lovely young women. All were wearing head coverings either as sheitels or scarves. Nina interrupted the young lady sitting directly next to her by asking her where she went to school. The young woman had a siddur in her hand about to say Tehillim. She explained that she went to public schools in East Brunswick. How did her journey begin to becoming an observant young lady, Nina asked. She explained that it was at the State University of New York in Binghamton. The young lady then pointed out that the other women in the row with her had been secular Jews until the same positive college experience impacted them. They apparently then went on to further advanced learning. Did everyone hear that? Binghamton, where the Jewish presence on campus is enormous, where the guiding light is obviously the wonderful organizations that reach out to all Jewish students. There is JLIC (an OU initiative), Rohr Chabad, Meor and Hillel, which on campus has a specific Orthodox division as well as the many other services they provide.
Most of us know about NCSY and the amazing work it does. How many of us have ever thought about what it means for a young teen—after attending different programs and a shabbaton here and there—to make a decision to try to become kosher in a home that is totally secular and extremely treif (non-kosher). We spent many moments observing and counseling kids who had corners in their parents’ kitchen while they struggled to keep some semblance of kashrut, in many cases having a very rough idea of what that really meant. We observed parents who displayed great anger and animosity to an organization that had influenced their child to become more involved in Judaism than they had ever been. The resentment was palpable. In one case a parent told us that he would prefer his child take drugs instead of turning to Orthodox Judaism.
We have observed the behavior of teenagers who have gone on The March of the Living who returned and years later became leaders of the Orthodox world as a result of their “Auschwitz” experience. They went from the ashes of Eastern Europe to the freedom and beauty of Eretz Yisrael. Innocent teenagers who had grown up in totally secular homes changing their entire lives around.
We have heard stories of those who attend a Birthright trip and are overwhelmed by the sanctity of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. Story after story of those who have changed their entire lives as teenagers, college students and young adults. The most amazing organization that we must never forget is Chabad. Who reaches out more than the Chabad community to instill the beauty of Yiddishkeit in every pintele Yid? We all know of the way Chabad has spread its wings throughout the world to be there for every Jew. Many think of it as a good source of kosher food and do not really give it much more thought. How many of us really give thought to our local Chabad Houses that daily are gathering Jews together who have never even seen the inside of a shul before. Yes, right here in this community and other neighboring ones are people who have never had the occasion of sitting at a Shabbos table or been wished a “Good Shabbos” by anyone. It is only Chabad that finds them, incorporates them and includes them, no matter what stripes they might wear. Two weeks ago, after hearing the news conference that Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein gave to the entire world following his surgery, as he stood in front of the Chabad shul in Poway we could not help but feel that we were in the presence of a great tzaddik: the erudite manner in which he spoke, his absolute resolve and bitachon (trust) and his acceptance of everyone. He didn’t hesitate to mention the border patrol hero who drove three hours to get to this shul in order to daven and learn more about his religion and roots. We sat in awe as we watched his speech. He is a “tzaddik in our time.”
How many ever consider whether or not they would still be frum today had their parents not been? We laud everyone who has made this choice, realizing how difficult it has been for some. Our constant praise and respect go to all of the kiruv organizations that do so much and probably do not receive half of the amount of credit they so deserve.
By Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Glick
Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Glick are living in Bergenfield after many years of service to the Montreal Jewish community. Rabbi Glick was the rav of Congregation Ahavat Yisroel as well as a practicing clinical psychologist in private practice. He also taught at Champlain Regional College. The Glicks were frequent speakers at the OU marriage retreats. Nina coordinated all Yachad activities in Montreal and was a co/founder of Maison Shalom, a group home for young adults with special needs. They can be reached at [email protected]