In our last two newsletters (Av and Elul, 5766) we reported on the exciting Mentors Mission, which took place this past summer, and on the highly successful Yom Iyun program in Chicago, New York and Passaic. Following is an update on these and other developments.
SECOND MENTORS MISSION
The enthusiasm aroused in the participants in the first Mentors Mission has led to the organizing of a Second Mentors Mission scheduled to coincide with our large Winter Jewish Learning Exchange session.
Once again a large group of Jews from North America, including Ohr Somayach alumni, will spend time learning with JLE students and recharging their own spiritual batteries in the process.
Running the Stateside part of the program is Rabbi Avrohom Neuhaus, a nephew of one of Ohr Somayach's historic supporters, Reb Shraga Neuhaus, zt”l.Anyone interested in joining the Second Mentors Mission should contact him at: email@example.com
THE JET ALUMNUS
In the Elul newsletter we quoted what alumnus Zev Kahn reported about the Yom Iyun in Chicago and his plans to bring a nice sized group to Ohr Somayach for the upcoming JLE.
Following are excerpts from an article on Zev, which appeared in the November 22nd issue of Hamodia:
"My goal is to give them a Jewish education, so that they can make educated choices about their lives. College students are very reachable because they generally do not have many responsibilities. Also, they are already in a 'learning mode' and are open to new ideas." Thus Rabbi Zev and Hilary Kahn explain their excitement in working with their one-year-old organization, JET – the Jewish Education Team.
"And we see amazing results, Baruch Hashem; we sent more than 20 students to programs in Eretz Yisrael and the U.S. in our first year."
Zev Kahn grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and went to university in Cape Town, where he became a semi-professional athlete, eventually competing in games played in Israel. He returned to Cape Town with a gold medal and some interest in Yiddishkeit. Thanks to dedicated individuals in Cape Town and at Ohr Somayach in Johannesburg, including Rabbi Akiva Tatz, who gave inspiring shiurim, and families who hosted him for Shabbos (and prepared fantastic cholent), he began his journey to frumkeit.
As Kahn was becoming frum, he traveled around the U.S. visiting different Torah communities and meeting Rabbanim and others. Then he moved to Yerushalayim, where he learned at Ohr Somayach for six years, obtaining semichah through the Ohr Lagolah Teachers Training program. After that, he moved to Chicago with his wife and family, where he went to work for the Chicago Community Kollel and its outreach branch, the Torah Learning Center, based in Northbrook. He worked mostly with adults, and gave classes to young professionals.
Thrilled with the response and the success of the program, Rabbi Kahn consulted with Rav Mendel Weinbach, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach in Eretz Yisrael.Rav Weinbach encouraged Rabbi Kahn to set up his own organization – he even helped him come up with a name – and so JET, the Jewish Education Team, was started. Initially funding came from the Maimonides Leaders’ Fellowship Foundation. Now on his own, Rabbi Kahn received seed money from the Wolfson family, and did some private fund-raising.
Chicago is different from most other cities with colleges in that there are many campuses all over the city, with varying sizes of Jewish populations, and each with a different student culture. Rabbi Kahn has been able to establish a good working relationship with many of the Hillel branches. They actually offer him space for the class to meet, as well as advertise the program in their e-mails to students.
The program is open to any student, not just the students of the campus it is based on. JET runs programs at Loyola, Northwestern University, DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition, students from 10 other schools, including the Illinois Institute of Technology, Columbia College and Truman College attend programs.
Amanda Hensley, a Maimonides participant who is now shomer Shabbos, shares her perspective. "It's really a good way for secular Jews to get a glimpse into the Orthodox world, to see it for what it really is versus their preconceived notions."
Mrs. Kahn was as enthusiastic as her husband, although she is involved from their home. She cooks for Shabbos, including delicious homemade challah, a favorite of the students. "On Shabbos afternoons, students come to our house to schmooze."
Mrs. Kahn also sets people up for Shabbos in the community, taking great care to match students with suitable families. One family that has hosted JET students, the Herzfelds, are grateful to be involved. "It's good chinuch for the children; they see that not everyone is observant, and they are eager and enthusiastic to join us in teaching them. They're even disappointed when we don't have guests coming," the Herzfelds say.
"We explain to them that these guests have not had the privilege to learn about Hashem and what it means to be Jewish, and that this is our opportunity to teach them. But most of all, the JET participants learn about Shabbos by experiencing it, and they gain inspiration from our children's happy faces."
Not all JET programs are for college students. Rabbi Kahn runs a mussar - ethics class for adults in the suburbs and two networking programs in downtown Chicago, one for young professionals who come to schmooze and learn a little Torah, and one for business executives, where a prominent guest is invited to speak."
"60 Days for 6 Million" is another program that Rabbi Kahn is incorporating into JET. Started in England, it is a learning program dedicated to the 6 million kedoshim of the Holocaust. Participants, both secular and frum, commit themselves to reading a book of inspirational material, one essay per day, for 60 days. The books are available to college students at no charge. Each participant receives the name of a person who was killed in the war; their studying is l'ilui nishmaso. The goal is to have 500 people read the book this year and to continue the project each year. The 60 Days project is both a memorial and a celebration of Jewish learning, and will culminate in a banquet in conjunction with another national program, Jewish Unity Live, in March 2007.
"Like all kiruv organizations, we have had some real hashgachah stories, including the one of a 42-year old writer whose parents survived World War II, but raised him as Lutheran. He went to Israel to 'put himself into' a Jewish character for a novel he was working on and met Jeff Seidel, who set him up for a meal in the Old City and gave him our contact information for when he returned to Chicago. He is now shomer Shabbos. His mother came recently to a Friday night meal – his father had been niftar – and it was very emotional for her.
Then there was a student enrolled in the Maimonides program while, unbeknownst to both her and Rabbi Kahn; her parents were attending his class in the suburbs. She is now considering going to a seminary in Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Kahn is involved with over 100 students at a time, so there's a lot of follow-up work to do, especially to encourage them to continue their Torah learning. Mrs. Kahn helps the girls with whatever they need.
"We see a lot of progress. Recently a number of students moved into the frum neighborhood. More than ten have become totally shomer Shabbos: two are now in yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael. We had three girls in Neve Yerushalayim this past year, and two others are about to get engaged, IY"H, to yeshiva boys. I'm too young to be a bubby, but there it is. They are young, but they are ready.
"Kiruv is a long-term undertaking. It's forming the relationship, helping the newcomers to integrate, which takes many, many years – it is a long road ahead of them. We need to let them know that we are here for the long run. We encourage the students to develop relationships with other rabbis they meet and with their Shabbos hosts. These relationships are so important. Our role is to help them cultivate these relationships and encourage them through the growth process, which takes time. For baalei teshuvah, coming in as adults, there are so many nuances and cultural matters that they just weren't raised with, that they have to pick up. Be'ezras HHashem, they will find even more resources to turn to as they continue to grow."
"Kiruv is hard work," sums up Rabbi Kahn. "But when you see the impact you can have on these precious neshamos, it gives you the koach to work even harder."