When my wife and were becoming observant, more that 25 years ago, we lived in Manhasset Hills on the North Shore of Long Island. However much of our initial Torah growth occurred in Great Neck under the tutelage of Rabbi Yaakov Lerner and Rebbetzin Abby Lerner of the Young Israel of Great Neck. I would drive about 10 minutes every morning to attend Rabbi Lerner’s weekday 6:00 AM Gemora shiur, followed by Shacharis. It was too far to walk, so on Shabbos I davened in a minyan in the basement of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Searingtown.
I still remember to this day Rabbi Lerner’s amazing ability to teach a Tosfos in a way that a beginner like myself at the time, could understand. In addition to his teaching and Rabbinic responsibility at the YIGN, Rabbi Lerner has been running Project Identity since 1981, which provides beginners classes in Torah, Reading Hebrew and Prayer. Our initial connection to Rabbi Lerner was through Project Identity.
I saw Rabbi and Rebbetzin Lerner at the Chupah of a Manahasset Hills friend’s daughter this past Sunday. We do run in to each other on occasion, but we spent some extra time talking, and he updated me on the amazing growth of YIGN and some of the amazing Baalei Teshuva that have joined the Shul. Many are extremely successful professionals who have directed their talents and passions to Torah and Communal Service.
One of the most amazing thing about Rabbi Lerner and Project Identity, is there is no active Kiruv, just the teaching of Torah and the sharing of our wonderful heritage with Jews who have not had that opportunity. Of course many people, like my wife and myself, become more observant and are helped in that journey, but the connection is established through the teaching and learning of Torah.
With the “search for truth” kiruv of the 60s, 70s. 80s, and the more self-centered “happiness kiruv” of the 90s, 00s. 10s waning, perhaps it’s time to focus on the pure unadulterated teaching of Torah. The one small wrinkle is that Rabbi Lerner’s love, and passion and skill at teaching Torah, are is difficult to match. It would be useful for the community to model the teaching skills of our great communal Rabbis so we can try to teach it to others.