There will come a time when we will be asked the question: “What did you do to bring your brother closer to the Al-mighty?” And history may one day point to the quiet revolution of Acheinu as an instrumental factor in the ultimate fulfillment of the pasuk in Malachi (3:24), “Ve’heishiv leiv avos al banim ve’leiv banim al avosam – And he will turn back [to Hashem] the hearts of the fathers with [their] sons and the hearts of sons with their fathers.”
In this, the second in a series of articles that explore the multi-faceted programs of Dirshu, we will learn about the magical work of Acheinu: The Kiruv Movement to Develop Bnei Torah. Acheinu is another brainchild of Rav Dovid Hofstedter, who sensed that outreach programs often reveal a glimpse of the beauty of Yiddishkeit, but don’t “seal the deal,” thus wasting a golden opportunity of changing a child and family’s life forever.
Instead of merely touching the peripheral souls of our uninformed brethren, Acheinu embraces each and every one and further connects them to their roots. Whether it is through its revolutionary mentoring programs or its sensational Batei Chizuk – after-school Torah programming centers – Acheinu stands at the cutting edge of Torahdik outreach. Through its staff of dedicated professionals and volunteers, Acheinu has developed a three-step program that includes mentoring, enrollment, and follow-up.
Acheinu begins its work when a child is in eighth grade. Although the child may have attended an elementary day school, in which he has learned Torah, now he has reached a crossroads; he is searching and exploring his options for high school, where his spiritual future will be determined. Will he attend a yeshivah, where he can continue to grow and develop spiritually, or will he attend a secular school, where he can become lost forever to the Jewish people?
In the first stage, Acheinu mentors develop a close, brotherly relationship with their charges, as well as their families. The mentors understand that it is not enough to develop a connection with the teenage boy or girl, but that it is imperative to understand the entire family picture. Therefore, they forge relationships with the parents and extended families, who are often unsure where to send their children. By developing a rapport with the family members, Acheinu increases the probability of each child receiving a continued Torah education. Acheinu understands that it is preferable to prevent internal family strife, and to avoid the fighting and bickering that can arise when a child tries to go against his parents’ will.
Now that the initial relationship has developed, it is time for the second component: the targeted enrollment. This crucial step will not only change the life of a child, but will almost certainly impact the entire family in a very profound way. Acheinu does not focus on mass enrollment drives; rather, the focus is on the individual, who attempts to make the jump from a secular lifestyle, to one where he will reap eternal rewards for connecting and attaching himself to the ways of Torah. The “big brothers” guide their “little brothers” toward a life of everlasting beauty – a lifestyle of adherence to Torah and shemiras hamitzvos. Acheinu’s goal is to help every neshamah reach its potential.
The third and perhaps most important level of Acheinu’s work is the hemschech stage – follow-up. At this critical stage, although the child is already attending a yeshivah high school, it is of utmost importance that his mentor keeps up the connection – to encourage him and his family in this new undertaking, and smooth any rough spots.
By empathizing with their brothers – and through caring professionalism and sheer hard work – the members of Acheinu have accomplished their goals again and again. Indeed, they have a 93% success rate.
Hagaon Harav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, zt”l, the late nasi of Acheinu, heaped effusive praise on those involved in this sacred work. As one touching story indicates, Rav Michel Yehudah felt privileged to include himself among the Acheinu mentors.
Yoni, a young boy from a somewhat traditional family, was a very fine young man with exemplary character traits. Unfortunately, he was very weak academically; learning was a struggle. In an effort to encourage him, his mentor took him to visit the great tzaddik, Rav Michel Yehudah.
The mentor shared the challenges the boy faced in his learning. The timid boy looked at the illustrious rabbi and burst out crying, as he said, “I try, but I simply can’t understand the material.”
Rav Michel Yehudah asked about the boy’s father’s occupation and he responded that his father was a carpenter. He then asked if his father was observant; was he a shomer Torah u’mitzvos? Yoni shook his head in the negative. He asked Yoni if any of his siblings went to observant schools, and once more Yoni lowered his head and confirmed that they did not.
The tzaddik then looked at Yoni and said to him, “Do you have any idea what type of responsibility rests on your shoulders? You are the only one who can do it. You are the one who must carry the load.”
But once again, Yoni cried out, “But I can’t! I can’t learn. It is so hard for me to learn.”
At this point, Rav Michel Yehudah became very emotional and burst into tears. Witnessing the tears coursing down the rav’s cheeks, Yoni began to cry again. After a few moments, Rav Michel Yehudah composed himself and looked lovingly at the vulnerable young child.
“I must tell you something. I have been the Rosh Yeshivah of the Ponovezh Yeshivah Ketana for many decades. In all my years of experience, I have seen that it is not necessarily the brilliant boys who succeed; it is the ones who keep at it, the masmidim. And that is my advice to you.
Rav Michel Yehudah looked into the young man’s eyes, and he told him one more thing that he would never forget, “I know you can do it. But if you ever find it’s too hard to continue, if you ever feel discouraged, then please come back to me and we will talk. I will be here waiting for you – available and ready to speak to you whenever you need me. You will never be alone…”
Yoni left the sage’s house with newfound hope and resolve. The road would not be easy, but he knew that he would not be traveling it alone.
This is the remarkable work of Acheinu, and the work of its most prestigious “brother,” Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, zt”l.
With Hashem’s help, Acheinu is bringing them out of their distress, and: “me’afeilah le’orah – from darkness to light.”
Let’s join our brothers!
To learn more about the vital work of Acheinu, please visit Acheinu.org.