“Kiruv rechochik” (or the “kiruv movement”) is a term usually used to denote actions and activities of orthodox Jews, whom reach out to non-orthodox Jews, encouraging them to believe in god, engage in Torah study and practice mitzvoth in an effort to lead them to live a life according to orthodox Jewish law.
While some people choose to take an active part in being “mekarev” people to Judaism, specifically Lubavitch and Breslover hasidim who make great efforts to both make Judaism accessible and to present the practices of Judaism in a positive and warm light, others may not choose to do so actively. Regardless which category you fall in, any Jew who is put in a position where a non-orthodox Jew is expressing interest in Judaism and reaching out on his own initiative to get closer to Judaism, should do everything in his power to make his friends’ first encounter with Judaism a pleasant, non-threatening one.
Anybody who has ever worked in sales knows that when you are trying to sell a new object, it needs to be accessible. If somebody is only mildly interested, he might see a shop selling the new item, walk past the store at first, than he may have second thoughts, turn back and try the door… If the door is open, you have your first customer. If, on the other hand, the door is locked, the customer, who wasn’t really that interested to begin with, is unlikely to try the door a second time; and you now lost your first potential customer. It is no different in Judaism.
When somebody non-religious is interested in getting closer to G-D, he will make an effort to reach out. However, if he is met with a closed door, he will withdraw his open hand and we will have lost yet another Jew. Thus, the first person he encounters will make a lasting impression on him, determining whether he continues to pursue his interest in Judaism or if he casts it aside, feeling unwanted by what he views as a group of fanatical religious extremists. That first individual, the one he runs into along the way, must make a kiddush Hashem (sanctify G-d’s name). Unfortunately, I witnessed exactly the opposite at the kotel [Western Wall] this Shabbat.
I had the pleasure of davening with my son at the kotel this past Shabbat. At some point, during mussaf, my son turned to me: “Abba” he said, “I need a pishy”. Alas, when nature calls…we headed to the bathroom. As we made our way up the ramp leading out of the prayer area, I witnessed an episode that infuriated me. Straight ahead of me, heading down the ramp, toward the Wall, was a young irreligious man, probably in his late 20’s, wearing long jeans and a button-down shirt – in other words, he was dressed modestly and respectfully – in my opinion. His head, however, was bear, as he had failed – whether by choice or by default – to don the token white-kotel-kippa that tourists are forced to wear. All of a sudden, an elderly charedi (ultra-orthodox) man, with a heavy French accent angrily grabbed the young man by the arm. Giving him a hard cold stare the man indicated with his head in the opposite direction and growled “Your head…its uncovered…go put a kippa (skullcap) on”.
Now, this is where it gets complicated…and obviously, emotional. What does one do in this situation? On one hand, this is the kotel we’re talking about – of course you should wear a kippa – the holiest place in the world, show some respect! On the other hand, there is a way to do things and yelling at someone, embarrassing him publicly, and forcing him to cover his head with something of little or no significance to him, is not the right way to do them.
Seeing the young man’s face fill with embarrassment and confusion made me both frustrated [for him], sad [that this is the situation in Am Yisrael] and angry [at the charedi for causing such a chilul Hashem]. I immediately rushed to the young man’s defense and told him he need not pay heed to the charedi’s demand and that he should continue on his way to the wall. The charedi man, my comment fueling him with a new wave of negative energy, averted his attention to me, and after perverting his face into what can only be described as a look of utter disgust, said: “You dirty piece of filth! What nerve you have, to wear a kippa and say things like that”.
I can’t say that I was surprised by his reaction, I got the gist. This guy meant business. The sad thing was that he wasn’t the only one leading the attack on the young man [whose name I had by now discovered was Ori]. More and more people were gathering in a circle around Ori, pointing and shouting at him. Alas, Ori retreated back up the ramp, sadly forgoing his efforts to reach the wall. All he said to his attackers was one thing: “chaval, atem me’abdim et ha’anashim – ibeditem oti ve’atem teabdu acherim” (It’s a shame – you are ‘losing’ the people – you lost me and you will lose others).
When things calmed down a little, I took him aside. I wanted to make clear to him that the episode he had just experienced was not one reflecting mainstream Judaism and that this shouldn’t deter him from future religious pursuits. “This isn’t Judaism” I told him. “Really?” he shot back, “because, so far, from all my previous encounters, this is what Judaism appears to be”. “No”, I said. “It’s true that these are Jews, but this is not Judaism. Judaism doesn’t talk to you that way, and Judaism doesn’t believe in aggression – “deracheha darchei noam” (It’s [the Torah’s] ways, are ways of peace). Moreover, there is the famous saying in Avot 1:15 (Ethics of the Fathers): Hevei mekabel kol adam besever panim yafot (one should greet every person with graciousness).
The antithesis of this episode is implicit in the famous story told of Reb Aryeh Levine. Reb Aryeh, also known as the ‘Tzadik of Jerusalem’, was once walking on Jaffa St. when he ran into a soldier, returning from a long stint in the army. The Rabbi, recognizing the young man from his home-neighborhood in Geula, crossed the street to greet the soldier. Waving, he called in the soldier’s direction: “sholom aleichim“. The soldier however, appeared to ignore Reb Aryeh, continuing to walk with his head down. Reb Aryeh caught up to him: “Why are you ignoring me?” he probed. The soldier seemed uncomfortable. “Rabbi”, the soldier rejoined, “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m not wearing a kippa – I was embarrassed for you to see me in this state.”
Reb Aryeh, dressed in his black and white garb, gave the young man a warm smile. “Look at me,” he said, “I’m a very short man. I can’t see so high as to notice whether or not you are wearing a kippa. But I’ll tell what I can see – I see your heart – your heart is in the right place – and that’s what counts.
There is a common tendency, whereby Jews mistakenly believe that the concept of chilul Hashem (disgracing g-d’s name) exists only in relation to non-Jews. However, this outlook could not be more wrong. As Jews, and specifically as kippa-bearing Jews, we are being watched with four eyes at any given moment and whatever our actions, they are seen as a reflection on all of am yisrael. This is even more so when our actions affect other Jews, whether religious or not. We always have to remember who and what we represent – this should guide us in everything we do, be it in interactions with non-Jews, or amongst our own people.