Saturday, Jul 20, 2024

You Can Do It- The Power of the Individual and Heroic Grassroots Efforts in our Times

There exists a defeatist attitude among many of us that says something like, “I really can't make a difference. I am just one person. No one will listen to me. It is too hard to start something new. I am not ready for the negative answers, comments and bizyonos.”

What we are seeing increasingly, however, is a remarkable trend of individuals or small groups of individuals starting grassroots movements and undertakings that are bringing tremendous brachah to Klal Yisroel.


Often, these initiatives are spurred by one person who really wants to make a difference. For example, the Dor Yeshorim organization has a mandate to facilitate responsible genetic screening in our communities to help prevent unions between couples who possess a high probability of having children with serious genetic diseases.

Dor Yeshorim was established by Rabbi Yosef Eckstein, a Chassidishe Yid who lost four children to Tay-Sachs r”l, a genetic disease common to Jews of Eastern European lineage. The degenerative disease and what it did to his own children spurred Rabbi Eckstein to try using his personal tragedy to bring good to the community and help ensure that others would not experience the same pain, suffering and devastating losses that he suffered. Boruch Hashem, instances of Tay-Sachs have dropped from 30-40 births a year pre-Dor Yeshorim, at a time when the community was much smaller, to about 3 or 4 a year.

Did Rabbi Eckstein have opposition? Plenty, from both within the community and without. At first, Dor Yeshorim was controversial in many circles, but as time went on, more and more people were convinced of the importance of the organization and hailed the wisdom of his approach, which includes the great discretion that the organization follows regarding releasing information. Certainly, Dor Yeshorim, a grassroots effort by one man, has done immeasurable good for the community. Today, they have offices in virtually every major Jewish center in the world.


Another amazing example of a grassroots movement that has in many ways transformed Klal Yisroel is Dirshu, the movement that facilitates limud haTorah by providing a framework, constant tests, and stipends on a sliding scale depending on one’s test results. Perhaps I am a nogeia bedovor, because I have been taking Dirshu tests for more than six years. Simultaneously, however, that might make me better qualified to write about its impact, because I have seen how it pushes me to find time in the day – time that I never thought existed – to somehow learn, review, and take monthly tests no matter what is happening in my life. Indeed, the sheer size and scope of the organization and the number of monthly test-takers – tens of thousands – in numerous areas, including Shas, halachah b’iyun, Mishnah Berurah, mussar and more, attest to the colossal transformation Dirshu has brought about. The impact and net amount of the limud haTorah that Dirshu facilitates are mindboggling. Again, the credit is due to one person, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who had a vision and the tenacity to see that vision through. The enthusiastic support of the most senior gedolim helped propel the organization to the great heights it has reached.


Indeed, that is one characteristic that many of these grassroots organizations have in common. They start with one person with a vision, combined with the drive and tenacity to never tire, and, eventually, through the support of the rabbinic establishment, they are able to bestow transformative good on the entire community.

Another example of the power of grassroots efforts is the recent spotlight on the plight of single girls of shidduch age in our communities in what is commonly called “the shidduch crisis.” This column is not about to debate the size, scope or causes of the crisis, topics that have filled pages of the Yated over the last few years. The very fact that the issue is front and center and everyone is cognizant of its magnitude and the communal imperative to address it is a tribute to those who sounded the alarm. In addition, it is a tribute to publications such as this one that have constantly given space for varied opinions on the subject, ensuring that the issue stays at the forefront of public awareness.


Similarly, the campaign on behalf of Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin and fighting the injustices of his sentence is due to the tenacity of the editor of this newspaper, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz. He saw an injustice that cried to the heavens. He understood that it was an injustice directed at an Orthodox Jew. Rabbi Lipschutz rightly saw the attack not only as a crime against Reb Sholom Mordechai, but as a bias assault on all Orthodox Jews. Once again, an individual created a grassroots movement.


Adopt-a-Kollel is another marvelous example of the initiative of an individual who saw the same tzarah that we all saw, but was determined to make a difference. The tzarah was the drastic budget cuts to the social safety net in Israel wrought by the anti-Chareidi government in power. The seemingly simple idea of matching individual kollelim in Eretz Yisroel with shuls in the Diaspora to create partnerships that would try to compensate for the shortfall was ingenious. Persistence in getting the word out has resulted in more than 180 partnerships.

A fascinating anecdote that shows the beauty of Klal Yisroel and how they warm up to an idea such as Adopt-a-Kollel was related to this writer by an Adopt-a-Kollel gabbai who helps facilitate his shul’s partnership with its sister kollel in Eretz Yisroel. He related that a gabbai of another shul told him that he received a strange monthly donation from a member of the kehillah. The sum was something like $109.46. When he questioned the person about the peculiar amount, the man explained, “It was time for me to lease a new car. I was planning on leasing a more luxurious model, but then I thought about the families of yungeleit in Eretz Yisroel who are subsisting on almost nothing. I said to myself, “I will downgrade my car a bit and give the monthly difference to our shul’s adopted kollel.”

Credit for his sensitivity and ahavas Yisroel goes to this special individual, but he would never have done what he did without the framework set up by the grassroots Adopt-a-Kollel organization.


There are numerous similar organizations. Those referenced above are not at all meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a sampling.

All of the above examples are organizations or movements established by individuals who saw a need and decided to do something. They did not wait for the mainstream to first come aboard. They forged ahead. At first, they were alone, with little support, but with belief in their mission. When one acts lesheim Shomayim, accepts rabbinic guidance from mentors, and is really involved in an important undertaking on behalf of Klal Yisroel, the mainstream will eventually join.

Yes, there will be opposition from many quarters, and there may even be a large dose of bizyonos, but he who truly acts lesheim Shomayim and is willing to listen to constructive criticism while simultaneously trusting his own vision, will see great brachah from his actions. More importantly, Klal Yisroel will see great brachah and the name of Hashem will be sanctified.




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