Wednesday, January 29, 2020

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I agree with Steven Starr that Modern Orthodoxy should be investing more of its time, energy and resources into kiruv (“If I Am Only for Myself, Who Am I? An Argument for Modern Orthodox Kiruv,” May 30, 2019). However, in order for this to be successful, a few things must be kept in mind.

First, Starr seems to undermine the power of NCSY. As a madrich in a gap-year yeshiva program in Israel, I can count three shana aleph students who became inspired through TJJ, an NCSY summer program. Two of these students are returning next year for a second year in yeshiva and the other one is making aliyah and enlisting in the IDF.

Modern Orthodox Jews who have a passion for kiruv usually turn to NCSY for one simple reason: It is easier to be mekarev teenagers than it is to be mekarev adults. And the results can be much more impactful and longer lasting. Yes, we must make a greater effort to expand MO kiruv to vaster age ranges, but it is understandable why so much energy is devoted to efforts such as NCSY, and their success is certainly up there with the likes of Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somayach and Chabad.

Second, I disagree strongly with Starr that there is a lack of interest in kiruv within the Modern Orthodox community. Besides those who work with NCSY, there are many passionate individuals who devote their lives to kiruv in the Modern Orthodox world. They simply have a different definition of what kiruv is.

There are many mechanchim who teach in Modern Orthodox institutions and try to inspire students who may otherwise lose interest in Judaism, go off to secular college and leave the Orthodox fold—an unfortunately common phenomenon in the MO community. In other words, Modern Orthodoxy is doing a lot of kiruv—on itself.

This certainly appears to be the attitude of gap-year yeshiva and seminary programs—they are all well aware of the difference that they make in the religious lives of their students, which is often the difference between observance and non-observance.

In short, Modern Orthodox kiruv is both vibrant and passionate. But it needs to expand its borders from NCSY and gap-year programs to beginners’ services, learning programs and Shabbos tables. The flame of Modern Orthodox passion for kiruv burns brightly; it simply needs to reach more dark corners. Once our resources are more widely distributed, everything else will fall into place.

Ezra Epstein