Using BT Passion for Outreach

I had the pleasure of joining the BeyondBT crowd with Rabbi Brody this past Motzie Shabbat. One point he made was BT’s are great at outreach, because they’re always burning with passion.

In his previous post, Rabbi Horowitz notes his surprise at the amount of separation between the religious and non-religious in Israel. This is absolutely the case, with very limited interaction between the two. Except for the BT. Since BT’s come from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions and often continue to work in their field, they’re often the sole bridge between worlds in Israel.

Some years back I lived and worked in Israel. I was the only “black-hat” guy, or in Israel terminology, charedi (aka ultra-orthodox), in my office. There was a particular co-worker that I found lived near the shul (synogogue) where I davened (prayed). I spoke with him regularly at work and attempted to invite him for Shabbos on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t having any of it.

After chatting with him and inviting him for about a year, it was coming time for the Yom Tovim (high holidays). This is always a special time of year, and certainly more so in Israel where these are the only holidays and are celebrated (though not necessarily religiously) by everyone. I figured if you want to invite someone who’s never walked in to an orthodox synogogue before, invite him for Simchas Torah (the celebration of the Torah) where we’re all singing and dancing. If anything will break stereotypes of the robot zombie black hat people, that will be it.

So I invited my co-worker. He had previously explained to me that his wife would divorce him if he even walked in to shul! Why I asked? Because she was sure he would come out the next day instantly charedi (ultra-orthodox). I told him, hey, show me the shul that instantly turns you ultra-orthodox, I want some of that place! Oh yeah! Further, appealing on an Israeli track, I told him, what’s with those charedi people, keeping the Torah and yom tov to themselves? Your a Jew, you’ve got as much right as them to march right in to shul on Simchas Torah, grab a Torah and dance!

Amazingly, he said yes, he’d come.

So, on Simchas Torah night (really Shemini Atzeres, no 2 day yom tov in Israel), we’re dancing with the Torahs and he arrives (even with a yamulka!) . I said hello, got him a l’chaim (a drink), and pulled him in to the dancing. We danced, we said l’chaim, we danced some more, we said l’chaim some more. Baruch Hashem (Thank G-d), it was a great time. Around midnight in the spirit of the occasion I plopped my hat and long black coat on him, he took it gracefully and fit right in, on we danced.

Until, a few minutes later, his wife walked in to see where he was and why he hadn’t come home. What does she see? Her husband standing there, first time he’s walked in to a shul since his bar mitzvah, and he’s dancing with a black hat and long black coat, instant ultra-orthodox, her worst nightmare realized! She literally screamed, ran in to the room and started dragging him away.

In the end it all worked out. The next day she realized her husband was still the same guy (though with a bit of a yom tov hangover). After I stopped by a few times she also came to realize that those ultra-orthodox people she was so astranged from were just people too. And a year later when they had a son (B”H), they asked me to help them locate a good mohel (ritual circumcizer), which I did (did you know in Israel there are mohelim that specialize in doing circumcisions for the chiloni-non-religious?)

We remain friends and though he and his family are not fully observant, today he says some tehillim (Psalms) daily, learns some Torah once a week, and they have a family Shabbos dinner on Friday night. Baruch Hashem!

Akiva of the Mystical Paths blog – New Jersey

4 comments on “Using BT Passion for Outreach

  1. Akiva,

    Hi. I am a 28 year old irreligious Jew from Staten Island who wants to learn more about Judaism. We could definitely use more friendly BT people out there like you that are warm and welcoming to non-frum people or people that want to learn more. Keep up the good work. Happy Purim!!

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