Rabbi Chaim Mintz, the Dean of the Yeshiva of Staten Island, a highly regarded institute of higher Jewish learning, founded Oorah nearly 30 years ago as a one-man outreach effort.
Inspired by the Torah’s concept of caring for one’s fellow Jew, he began to reach out in friendship to Jews he met, and offer them opportunities to learn more about their heritage.
From that beginning, he aroused many families’ interest in giving their children a more solid, comprehensive Jewish foundation by placing them in day school or yeshiva. To enable these parents to fulfill this goal, Rabbi Mintz became involved in each child’s placement, their progress in school, their social adjustment and their family’s spiritual growth. He raised money to pay for “his” children’s tuitions, and kept up his relationship with each family throughout the years.
Decades later, Rabbi Mintz is still considered a beloved family member by the children he has assisted, and he is still personally involved in bringing more Jewish families closer to Judaism each year. Now, however, his work is carried out by an entire organization – Oorah – with a kiruv staff, summer camp, fundraising activities and dozens of programs to expand its reach to thousands of children and their families throughout the country.
Change – even change for the better – is often difficult for people to attempt. Returning to one’s heritage is a challenge for many families. Experience shows that the most effective way to achieve that kind of change is to start when one is still young, before habits, friends and life-styles become well established. That is why, since Oorah’s beginnings under Rabbi Chaim Mintz, shlit’a, the emphasis of our efforts has been on promoting a sound Jewish education for children.
A large proportion of Oorah’s activities today involve the younger generation. Enrolling them in Jewish schools, helping to pay their tuitions where necessary, making sure they have wholesome, meaningful and exciting activities for their holiday and summer vacations, providing assistance in their studies and mentors for the questions and concerns are all vital components of Oorah’s work with children. The highlight of many of the children involved with Oorah is attending TheZone summer camp resort, located in the beautiful Catskill mountains of New York. Our camp resort offers many recreational activities for the children way beyond those seen in any other sleepaway camp. It also breeds a healthy environment with fresh air, lots of greenery, and animals roaming freely. For many children, their summer experience paves the way for a successful year of social and emotional development.
However, children are part of a family, and the best way to encourage their love of Judaism is to help their parents create a home in which their heritage is treasured. Parents also need a chance to learn about the Torah’s laws and values, the rituals and holiday celebrations. For this purpose, Oorah offers programs specifically aimed at the parents of children who attend our summer camps or attend Jewish schools under our auspices. Other adults, who are simply looking for a place to learn about Judaism, are welcomed into our programs as well.
Torah Mates is the centerpiece of our adult learning program. It is a one-on-one learning partnership formed by our own matchmakers, based on areas of common interest and compatibility. Most Torah Mates learn by phone once a week, enabling people to fit the program into any available corner of their schedule. Some partners learn in person. In either mode, the learning partners often become close and special friends to each other.
Perhaps the most exciting and uplifting Oorah programs are those that bring the whole family together. Shabbat With Oorah is a weekend retreat for Oorah’s families and Torah observant families who want to help create an inspiring Shabbat atmosphere for everyone to enjoy. For many Oorah families, this is the first real Shabbat experience their families have ever had together. The gourmet meals, heart-felt singing, beautiful davening, fascinating lectures, engaging children’s programs and thought-provoking “Ask the Rabbi” sessions for adults and for teens, produce a long-lasting impression of the singular beauty of Shabbat.
Families come together as well for Oorah’s massive Purim feast, our Sukkos Simchas Beis Hashoeiva and other events throughout the year. However, Oorah does not just wait for its families to come to us; we reach out to each family, seeking ways to enhance their family life, their children’s success and happiness and of course, their Jewish experience. Oorah keeps up regular communications with our families, and our family liaison visits their homes to maintain the relationship and find out first-hand what help might be needed. In keeping with the Talmud’s dictum that “where there is not bread, there is no Torah,” Oorah also sometimes provides financial help to needy families.
Finally, in one of Oorah’s oldest and most effective activities, we send holiday gift packages out to more than 2,000 families – a list that grows each year – prior to Sukkos (lulav and esrog set), Chanukah (menorah, candles, music, toys and “Party in a Box” kit), Purim (a shalach manos basket) and Pesach (bedikas chometz set, shmura matzah and other kosher l’Pesach items). Each package also contains a booklet of important information for understanding and observing the holiday. For many families, these gift packages are the key to bringing the holiday into their home.
Tuition: Through Oorah, many children are currently enrolled in over 100 yeshivos and day schools throughout the country. Our ability to take on a significant portion of the tuition cost is a key factor in encouraging families to transfer their children to Jewish schools and keep them there. While Oorah makes every effort to encourage parents to gradually assume the entire tuition burden themselves, we do not allow tuition to become an obstacle for a child who is making progress in his Jewish education and observance. Click here to Donate
Camp: For Oorah’s children who are in yeshiva or day school, camp is an essential. Without it, an entire school year’s progress stands to be lost, and with it, Oorah can provide the inspiration and motivation needed to reach new heights. For students still in public school, Oorah’s camps offer a delicious first taste of Torah-observant life, often leading them and their parents to become more involved in Jewish learning. Therefore, it is essential that Oorah run summer camps that are appealing, exciting, well appointed and well-run – a camp that children simply can’t resist. Click here to Donate
Year-Round Camp Programs: Follow-up is the secret to Oorah’s camps’ success. The counselors do not only volunteer for the summer, but to serve as year-round “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” mentors to their campers. Both the boys’ and the girls’ camps have regular year-round activities, including Chol Hamoed trips, Shabbatons, holiday gatherings and reunions. In addition, the counselors organize their own private get-togethers with their campers to keep the connection fresh. Click here to Donate
Holiday Packages: More than 2,000 families – the list grows each year – receive Oorah’s holiday packages filled with the items they need to celebrate the holiday at home. That means that Oorah purchases, packages and distributes 2,000 lulav and esrog sets, 2000 boxes of shmura matzah, 2,000 Shalach Manos baskets, 2,000 menorahs with candles and Chanukah party supplies Click here to Donate
Family Events: Shabbat With Oorah brings together more than 200 families for an uplifting Shabbat in a hotel, including catered meals and post-Shabbos entertainment and a Sunday carnival for the children; Oorah’s Purim Feast brings more than 1,000 guests from the metropolitan New York area and beyond to Lakewood for a catered meal and live music and dancing; Oorah hosts several hundred guests each year at its Simchas Beis Hashoeiva in Brooklyn, featuring food, music and inspiring speakers. Click here to Donate
Torah Spot: To enhance Jewish life in Oorah’s original home territory – Staten Island, NY – Oorah operates a community center featuring weekly classes for local families, as well as its Little Stars Pre-School program. Click here to Donate
Learning Materials: Oorah purchases a wide variety of Jewish books to supply its Torah Mates partners with appropriate learning materials. These go out to over 2,000 Torah Mates. Click here to Donate
A consistent influx of funds is essential for Oorah to provide such essentials as Jewish education and a yearly summer camp for its children. To keep the funds flowing, Oorah has established an innovative, business-based approach to fundraising. The first step in this direction occurred in the late 1990s when the long-distance telephone industry was deregulated and private phone companies were permitted to market their services. As a result of this change in the legal landscape, Cucumber Communications was born. It became Oorah’s “family business,” turning all of its profits into tuition payments and support for Oorah’s growing network of programs.
Kars4Kids, a car donation program was next. By offering free towing, a tax deduction and a two night vacation as incentive, this program attracts vehicle donations from across the country. The proceeds from the sale of these cars and auto parts provide another stream of income to fund Oorah’s activities.
Perhaps Oorah’s best known fundraising activity is its annual Chinese Auction, which was the first to operate by catalog only, saving the overhead expense of an on-site event. Each year, the marketing campaign surrounding the auction booklet’s pre-Chanukah debut sets off a buzz in Jewish communities around the world. Because our suggested donation is only $5 a ticket, the auction encourages the widest possible range of donors, all vying for a chance at sought-after, high-end prizes.
In addition to these three primary sources of funding, Oorah also raises money through a major Purim campaign and traditional mailings in Elul and pre-Pesach. The summer camps are partially funded by the modest fees charged to the families.
All things considered, the percentage of our total operating expenses is much smaller than most other charitable organizations.
For many years, kiruv was a back-burner issue for the Orthodox Jewish community. Observant Jewish communities took care of its own concerns and let the Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jews take care of theirs. However, the statistics that have mounted up during the past three decades demonstrate that outside the Torah observant community, the Jewish people are drifting away in numbers so vast that for most American Jews, their lineage will die out within a generation or two. It is no exaggeration to compare these losses to those of the Holocaust in terms of the sheer numbers of Jews who will never marry and produce a new Jewish generation.
The Torah instructs us that “all Jews are responsible for one other.” That means that when we see destruction looming over the wider Jewish community, we do not have the right to sit back and let it happen. Oorah’s founder, Rabbi Chaim Mintz, shlit’a, often compares the individual members of the Jewish people to the letters of a Torah scroll. If one letter is missing, the Torah scroll is considered invalid and one may not read from it in public. The Jewish people, too, need each and every soul to be firmly attached to it in order to be at its full strength and validity.
Before we constructed our camp, we had to check out our competition. The average secular camp is very sophisticated, and has many amenities that we’d never seen in a Jewish camp.
So we planned, consulted, crossed out, replanned, designed, and built. And we’re pretty thrilled with the results – as are our campers. Because at the end of the day, we want them to go home with a great feeling towards living a Torah life – and they do.
The only experience you need is experience in caring and wanting to make a difference. Oorah will provide you with the materials and guidance to make your efforts most effective.
Our professionals stay in touch with our volunteers to make sure everything is going smoothly and to help iron out any wrinkles.