The Power of Jewish Outreach and Why It's for You

By: Sarah Leiderman  |  September 20, 2023

By Sarah Leiderman 

Have you ever experienced losing a little sibling or child for even ten seconds? Did your heart beat really fast? Were you sweating and anxious? Did your mind jump to every worst case scenario possible? The relief of finding them and crying tears of joy, because that weight was lifted, is the same way Hashem feels every time we turn back to Him and come home. 

If you had come to me two years ago while I was in my gap year, and told me I’d be where I am today, I never would have believed you. I had grown up just like most of those in the Modern Orthodox community; I went to the classic preschool, followed by the classic elementary school, and even the classic seminary. My path was paved for me by so many of those around me, and my options were mostly limited to a solid three choices for everything. I fell right into the box that was built around me. So when I started to hear about NCSY and Jewish outreach, my first thought was what most people think: kiruv is saved for the kiruv professionals. It’s saved for those who know what they are doing and for those who are charismatic and extroverted. People will say it’s not for me, I could never do that. Places like Aish HaTorah as well as numerous yeshivot and seminaries dedicated to those on their Jewish journeys held so much value to me, yet I never foresaw myself becoming involved with them in any which way. 

When a friend approached me to apply for NCSY, it was still a far-fetched idea, but ultimately one I had hopped onto. Today, I have the incredible opportunity of meeting teens who have remarkably changed themselves and flipped their lives upside down. I have met teens who are willing to lock themselves in a room for 25 hours just to keep Shabbos, teens who are willing to have food spilled on them, and their kippot ridiculed. I have met teens who have stood up for what they believe in, in a world that believes the complete and exact opposite. Sometimes, all it took was a friendly smile, a hug in a time of need, or an invitation to one’s home to start the relationship.

But who are these individuals? These are the people who sit to your left and right. These are the people who are in your school, your shul, your community. 75% of the Jewish nation has assimilated into secular society, and it is up to us to open our eyes and bring them back. Yeah, sometimes we need to push ourselves and venture beyond our comfort zones, but so do they. 

There are multiple sources and ideas found in the Torah which Gedolim have expressed throughout the generations regarding our responsibilities towards other Jews. The idea I wanted to focus on is the following, stated in the mishnah of Sanhedrin 4:5. It states:

“and conversely, anyone who sustains one soul from the Jewish people, the verse ascribes him credit as if he sustained an entire world.”

From this we learn an incredible idea, that by saving just one life we save a whole world. That means we don’t have to be masters at anything, we don’t need years of experience or training. Rather, what we need are open hearts and minds. We need to go beyond ourselves and our communities in which we’ve become comfortable. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said the following when discussing the meaning of kiruv: “There is no such thing as a Jew who is far from G-d. Reaching out to other Jews simply means bringing even closer, those who are already close to G-d.” Our job is to look beyond ourselves, to notice those both inside and outside of our communities who we have the ability to touch, welcome in, and ultimately, inspire. 

I write this to implore you to not just get involved with specific outreach programs like NCSY, but to open your eyes to those around you. Sometimes we don’t even realize who is standing right beside us, but when we take the time to truly see them it becomes easy to see people as their potential. All it may take is a smile, a hello, or even a small welcome for a Shabbat meal. 

Jewish outreach is not saved for the kiruv professionals. It’s not saved for those who are outgoing or who are extroverted. Rather, it’s saved for every single one of us. It’s saved for those who feel they have a responsibility and job to help others. The same way we’d run after a family member if they got lost, we must run after our Jewish brothers and sisters. As the Jewish people, it’s up to us to bring those around us back home.