Trust, But Verify

As told to Chaya Gross

I never thought of myself as a kiruv type of guy. To me, kiruv was reserved for rabbis, not a 21-year-old guy like me who was still kind of finding himself. But my friend Eli felt otherwise.
“It’s people like us who can bring Jews home!” he said with enthusiasm.
It was probably due to a lack of anything else better to do that bein hazmanim that I found myself driving with him to Portland, Maine. We were in high spirits, two yeshivah bachurim on summer vacation. The music was blasting, and in between songs Eli would expound upon the joys of outreach.

Honestly I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing, but not for long. Once we got there, I found myself actually enjoying it. It was gratifying and fulfilling to share the beauty of Judaism with others. And Eli was right. Seeing two young people so enthusiastic about their religion definitely made others more interested in it, especially the younger generation. Our morning hours were our own, and in the evenings we held roundtable discussions and learned with the men. One man in particular showed tremendous interest in our kiruv program.

Eric was a tall and strapping 30-year-old who was the self-appointed gabbai of the shul. He had grown up in a completely non-observant home, but found himself being drawn to Yiddishkeit after his grandfather died. His grandfather, he shared, had considered himself a Jew at heart, and Eric was determined to find out more about his heritage. Eric had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Not satisfied with the regular classes, he wanted a private chavrusa so he could supplement his learning, so every night Eli and I took turns. We actually fought for the privilege. Eric was a very charming and engaging individual, and we felt enormously good about ourselves to be helping him become religious. The truth was that we enjoyed spending time in his company. Shabbos was the highlight of the whole week. Two communal meals were held in the shul, where we would sing, dance and talk to people for hours on end, especially Eric.

The three weeks flew by quickly and before we knew it, it was our last Shabbos. That Friday night, Eric suddenly collapsed in shul. Thankfully, there was a paramedic on the premises who quickly revived him. Eric was unusually quiet for the rest of Shabbos. After Havdalah, when we were bidding everyone farewell, Eric asked us to accompany him home. Assuming that he wanted to say goodbye to us privately, we had no inkling of the bombshell he was about to drop.

“I’m sick,” Eric informed us sadly as soon as we sat down on his couch. “That’s why I collapsed in shul.”
We gasped.

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