In 1974, the landscape of kiruv and Jewish outreach changed forever. Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l founded Aish HaTorah, the renowned yeshivah and international organization dedicated to Jewish education for Jews of all stripes. Aish HaTorah strives to ignite a passion within Jews to discover their heritage and instill pride in their faith. The yeshivah is headquartered in the heart of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, directly overlooking the Kosel HaMaaravi. Its rooftop view is the best in the city. It offers a spectacular view of the Temple Mount and Har HaZeisim (Mount of Olives) that is unparalleled by any other vantage point in the city. Many young men and women have gazed out from this scenic spot over the years and felt the stir of inspiration that eventually would lead them down the path to observant Judaism.
Rav Weinberg relates one of his favorite kiruv stories. A fellow once came to the yeshivah from Harvard University. He was studying for a master’s degree in business administration (MBA), a very prestigious program with lots of competition. Rav Noach spoke to him for quite some time, questioning him on his background and where he was coming from. Suddenly, the fellow interrupted him and said, “Rabbi, do you believe in G-d?” Rav Noach answered, “Yes, I believe in G-d.”
“Rabbi, do you believe in the Revelation at Sinai, that G-d speaks to man?” “Yes, of course. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I’ve been talking to you for 15 minutes, and I could have sworn that I was talking to an intelligent man. But only crackpots believe that G-d spoke at Sinai!”
Rav Noach couldn’t help but smile. This Harvard man didn’t realize what he was getting himself into. He was walking straight into a Buzzsaw. He was a cooked goose, but he didn’t know it. Rav Weinberg asked him how he managed to find this place and the guy told him an all-too-common story. “I’ll tell you how I came.” He was visiting Norway where his non-Jewish Norwegian fiancée was from. The flight had a stopover in Israel, “and when you’re in Israel, you visit Jerusalem. And when you’re in Jerusalem, you visit the Wall!” He stood at the Wall and perhaps he felt a slight spark of spirituality. He wondered about this and decided to utter a prayer, a prayer Rav Weinberg used to refer to as “the Atheist’s Prayer.” It went something like this: “G-d, I don’t believe in you. But I do feel something. So maybe I am making a mistake. If I’m making a mistake and You’re really out there, then do me a favor, G-d, and make me an introduction.”
No sooner had he finished his prayer that he started walking backward from the Wall. Here is a guy with a cardboard yarmulke, walking backward from the Kosel. (What a tip-off! If you are a kiruv worker, you know this is a fellow you should talk to!) One of the Aish HaTorah fellows walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. He was so startled that he jumped three feet in the air. He whirled around and asked, “Hey, why are you putting your hands on me?”
The Aish guy held up his hands. “Look, all I want to do is invite you to a yeshivah.” “What’s a yeshivah?” he asked.
“A yeshivah is where you learn about G-d,” said the smiling face of the religious Jew.
“When he said that,” the Harvard student explained, “it was as if he had hit me with a hatchet. Since I had just finished asking G-d for an introduction, I agreed to come up here.” He paused for a moment. “But Rabbi, you had better prove it!”
Well, the guy stayed for six weeks. He went back to the United States as an Orthodox Jew, with a Shulchan Aruch, a pair of t’filin, and tzitzis, undertaking the whole thing. The following summer, he came back and got a job at the Jewish Agency, and he related the rest of the story: The previous year, just before he left Jerusalem, he was standing in the Old City and saw an American girl – religious from the way she was dressed in the summer. He said to himself, “Why would I marry a non-Jew, a Norwegian shikse? It doesn’t make sense. May the Almighty help me marry a nice Jewish girl like this.”
He went back to his MBA studies at Harvard. But now he was an Orthodox Jew. One Friday evening he walked into the local synagogue, and in the entrance hall he saw her, the same face he had seen in Jerusalem. He walked over and said, “You know, I saw you in Jerusalem.” She replied, “Yes, I know. I saw you, too.” Today, they are married and living in New Jersey.