A New Telephone Number Which Brings Israeli Jews Closer Together
The brilliance of it lies in its simplicity. A 1-800 number which will provide in one call many types of Jewish services required by any Jew in Israel. Free information, free service, answers with care and love–that is the simple secret to this most successful new endeavor.
An Israeli in Afula is looking to study Jewish philosophy—she calls 1-800 300 613 and finds an open-minded study partner in her city within minutes. A family in Beer Sheva just had a baby boy—they need a mohel (someone certified to perform circumcision)—1-800. A yuppie couple in Tel Aviv just found out from their matriarch grandmother that they have to do a pidyon haben (redeeming the first born son), and they need a kohen. Who do they call? 1-800 300 613! Rosh Hashanah, what is the special blessing one makes on beets? 1-800…
Imagine the comfort in knowing that whenever you need it, wherever you are in Israel, just pick up the phone, even at 1:30 am and 6:45 in the morning! Looking for a shiur torah in Herzlyiah, calls at even 1:30 for help!
But it is more than that. It is the type of person who answers the phone. Vardit. A young, modern, sweet, open-minded religious girl–she is the voice behind this number. It is about Meir Schwartz, director of Kehilot Yisrael, who created the concept with the intent on changing the Israeli scene from one of antagonism and confrontation, to mutual respect and interdependence in Israeli society. He believes that this telephone number will revolutionize the way we think about Jews and their roles.
One assumes that kiruv is about a more observant person trying to convince the secular Jew to do more ritual. This is the farthest from his consciousness when he considers the type of kiruv in which he believes.
“קירוב מלשון קרוב שמתקרבים אחד עם השני”
“kiruv from the language of karov meaning two coming close to each other”
Meir believes in the word Kiruv representing two people coming closer together. Both to each other and both come closer to God as a result. When a person calls this 1-800 number they either want to give or receive something; sometimes it is a combination of both. A lawyer saw the number and said I want to volunteer my services and give free legal counsel, another offered couples counseling. A third said put me on the list for classes… people give.
At the same time people call to receive. Through this telephone one finds out how connected every Israeli is to tradition. They may be far away from a daily observant lifestyle but their Jewishness in inbred, part and parcel of their culture. Tens of requests by secular Israelis to find a rabbi for their wedding, someone to officiate at the Brit Milah, information on the zeved habat (birth celebration for a baby girl), classes for a Chatan and Kalah, simple questions in Halakha (Jewish law), and more serious ones about couples therapy on their individual journeys to relationships.
Stories from the Field
* A secular Israeli soldier during his late night shmira (patrol) contemplates his existence and what it means for him to be Jewish. He promises himself that when he gets out from the army he will find out more about what being Jewish means. Once he leaves who does he contact? Where does he start? This person from Haifa found the 1-800 number and spoke for hours with Vardit and with Meir in attempting to ascertain what is the right place for him—in the end he went to an open-minded, spiritual yeshiva for a few months.
* At the Israeli Festival called ‘Bereishit’ which takes place a few times a year, one lost soul finds the OU ‘village of prayer’ and learns of the phone number. A few weeks later he wants someone to talk with, someone to learn Judaism with, he calls and Vardit immediately finds him a place to stay for a Shabbat, and a warm family who helps him on his journey.
* A young man returns from a trip to South America—with a Columbian non-Jewish fiancé! He calls 1-800 300-613 and we find them a conversion program and a family to adopt her in Ramat Gan where they live.
Meir’s mode of Kiruv has already borne fruit in the various communities in which he has set up his ‘bayit yehudi’(Jewish home). Its official title is the Center for Spirutal Growth, focusing on our innate desire to search for meaning and purpose in life. The house usually set up in the center of a mostly secular Israeli town, attempts to simply connect, not to change people, but to change attitudes. Where there is animosity, they seek to create harmony; where there is ignorance they seek to illuminate.
In Ramat Hasharon, Ariel, Nahariah, Tiberias, Herzliyah, Kibbutz Bet Yehoshua, Tzfat, and Sderot there is a house set up, with a staff of open, intelligent volunteers who are there with one purpose—kiruv—to create a connection, to change perceptions.
Meir has many friends; also, many students. What gives Meir strength is his ability to network, the respect he has earned affords him the confidence in his mission and the endurance to persevere. Every year Meir gives a series of workshop in how to do kiruv, and every year close to a hundred graduates of his, embark on the path of kiruv throughout the country—they become Meir’s soldiers.
Soldiers in the field, homes throughout the country, kiruv projects abounding, and an overarching Jewish hotline are some of the components which will help transform this Ám Yehudi’ (Jewish nation) into an Äm Kadosh’ , a holy nation, with shared vision, shared resilience, and unified feelings of love, kindness, and spirit.
Rabbi Avi Baumol is the Director of OU Israel Communities
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.