Thursday, May 23, 2024

Oorah Nachas Files-Changed By A Card

Before there was the annual Oorah auction, before there was Fiveish, before there was TheZone and Little Star Preschool and Torah Spot and ChillZone, there was door knocking. Oorah's kiruv activities all began with Rabbi Chaim Mintz, and later his talmidim too, going on blind expeditions, knocking on doors of houses that displayed electric menorahs in their windows, a sure sign that someone who identified as Jewish but likely didn't know too much about what that meant lived inside.

Every once in a while, the intrepid doorknockers would be welcomed inside and they would pitch their wares: Jewish education. And there are numerous families who owe their Jewish identity and continuity to the warm persuasion and gentle persistence of Rabbi Chaim Mintz and his troops. The Greenbergs* of New Jersey are one such family.


The Greenbergs lived in a very secular community with little to no contact with Orthodox Jews. When one showed up at their doorstep one Chanukah, Mrs. Greenberg was loath to let him in. She opened the door just wide enough to take the card he handed her before sending him on his way. She glanced at the card, which seemed to offer some kind of Jewish learning program, briefly before sticking it into a cabinet. The card sat there, untouched and forgotten, for a number of months.


Then the Greenberg’s non-Orthodox temple folded and they lost their tenuous connection to Judaism. (Mr. Goldberg himself is not even Jewish.) Chancing upon the Oorah card collecting dust in the cabinet, Mrs. Greenberg decided to call. She wasn’t interested in becoming religious, but she did want her two boys to have some kind of preparation for their bar mitzvahs.


An Oorah coordinator set the family up with a volunteer, Aron*, an enthusiastic and friendly young man. Aron took the boys out to a ball game and they hit it off right away. For months, he was a familiar face at the Greenberg home, visiting frequently to learn with the boys and becoming a close family friend. Many frank conversations about religion were held around the Greenberg kitchen table. Did they become religious? Not so fast. The story’s not over yet. But read this description of their younger son’s bar mitzvah a few months ago:


“I went to a very special bar mitzvah this morning,” wrote Mrs. Miller, the Oorah coordinator who set the family up with Aron and followed their progress. She was the only frum woman in attendance. (Mrs. Greenberg had been set up with her own TorahMate by then too, but she was unable to make it.) “He had the service in an Orthodox Jewish center. There was no way this would have been the case without his chavrusah, an Oorah volunteer. Aron was the hero of the place. All of Mrs. Greenberg’s friends knew about the amazing Aron who volunteered his time and worked around the family’s schedule to build the relationship and teach [the bar mitzvah boy]… Many of them had met Aron at the Greenberg house before and some had even had long conversations with him. [The bar mitzvah boy] said the most beautiful speech, thanking Aron for everything he has done for him, including letting his parents grill him about religion at their kitchen table…”


Years before, some young man had probably left the Greenberg home feeling slightly dejected, another family celebrating Chanukah with a token electric menorah in the window that wasn’t interested in talking to him. What were the chances that the children of this interfaith family would ever reconnect to their Jewish heritage?


If only that man could have been at that bar mitzvah, seen the positive feeling toward frum Yidden displayed there. If only he could see how his simple Chanukah present, a single card, changed an entire family.



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