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Keeping the Fire Burning

Libi Astaire

Whether it’s the fulfillment of a dream or an unexpected detour, most full-time kiruv professionals go into kiruv thinking they will do it for just a few years. Some women, though, have discovered that kiruv isn’t just a short break from “real life” — it’s a long-term commitment that gives life real meaning. At this year’s Women in Kiruv (WIK) Conference, a few of them shared their stories and their secrets.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

“I grew up with a sense of idealism, a desire to help Klal Yisrael.”

“I went for just a month, to help out.”

“We never had plans to work in kiruv!”

Any time you bring together a group of more than seventy women involved in kiruv — as happened at the second annual Women in Kiruv (WIK) Conference, hosted by The Weiss Family Partners In Torah of Detroit — you expect to hear some amazing stories about Jews in far-flung parts of the world who have returned to Yiddishkeit. What’s more unusual, though, is to hear the stories of the women themselves — especially those who have made a long-term commitment to bringing Torah to decidedly secular communities.

What motivates these women and their families to stay in places where “going out for pizza” means getting on a plane? How do they keep their own standards high when they could lower them and still be the “frummest” people in town?

A few of these women told us how they stay in this demanding, difficult, but deeply rewarding job.


Kaparos, Pinsk Style

Always gracious and superbly efficient, Mrs. Chaya Shaindel Rubin doesn’t seem like the type to keep a supply of live fish in her bathtub. But the director of the Women’s Division of The Weiss Family Partners In Torah of Detroit, and an organizer of this year’s WIK Conference, (together with Program Coordinator Mrs. Rachel Leah Black), has a story that doesn’t unfold according to the unusual plan.

“I was learning in seminary in Israel when I had my first experience with kiruv. During the Pesach break I went for a month to Kiev, where Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Kiev’s chief rabbi, and his wife, Bashi, live, to be in charge of a program for teenage girls.”

She returned to Kiev a second time, and then she married Rabbi Avi Rubin. The young couple was settling into their new life in Eretz Yisrael, where Avi was learning in kollel, when Chaya Shaindel received a phone call from Rabbi Bleich. Once again he needed help during Pesach, and the Rubins decided to go. While they were there, Rabbi Bleich asked if they would consider moving to Kiev. Their answer was, “No way!”

They did, however, agree to return to Kiev to run Rabbi Bleich’s summer camp program, and the supposedly one-time commitment was repeated the following two years. At the end of their third summer, they were ready to return to Eretz Yisrael when the telephone rang again.

“This time we didn’t refuse. Rabbi Moshe Fima, the rav of Pinsk, had two schools — one for boys and one for girls. Each school had its own dorm, and he needed someone to be in charge of the dorm for the girls. He was looking for a family willing to live in the dorm, because he wanted the girls — who were Jewish, but who came from families that often had problems with alcoholism and abuse — to see what a normal frum family looked like.”

Of course, a “normal” frum family doesn’t usually take on the responsibility of being surrogate parents to some forty teenage girls, but that’s what the Rubins did for the next three years. In addition to being a dorm mother — as well as a mom to her three young children — Chaya Shaindel taught in the school and organized extracurricular activities for the girls.

“We never had time off. Our door was never shut. It’s not normal to have no privacy, but we were so focused on the job that we didn’t have time to notice. And we had tremendous siyata d’Shmaya as a couple, which I believe was because we worked so hard together to help the girls.”


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