[PHOTOS IN EXTENDED ARTICLE]
By Malky Lowinger
It’s Erev Shabbos at the Project Inspire Convention, and we enter a beautiful lobby with soaring ceilings. A lavish buffet is spread before us. After a quick check-in, we expect to meet our 1300+ fellow participants enjoying the vast culinary selection. Instead, they are already attending the workshops and events. Welcome to the Project Inspire Convention, the ultimate Shabbos experience that offers the best in gashmiyus coupled with an overwhelming dose of ruchniyus.
Project Inspire is dedicated to activating the Torah community to reach out to our fellow Jews to help stem the tide of assimilation. By providing tools, opportunities, and training, Project Inspire encourages frum Jews to form a grassroots kiruv movement and help change the world.
Dusk settles upon the city of Stamford, and the stirring melodies of Kabolas Shabbos and Maariv, led by Simcha Leiner and the Travelling Chassidim, set the tone for the entire event. The esteemed Rav Asher Weiss Shlita, joins us for Shabbos and speaks about the concept of Kol Yisroel Areivim.
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, Rabbi Eytan Feiner, Rabbi Yitz Greenman, Rabbi Yosef Wallis, Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, Mrs. Aviva Feiner, Rabbi Yom Tov Glazer, Rav Gav Friedman, Dr David Lieberman, Rabbi Shlomo Farhi, and Charlie Harary, are just some of the many outstanding speakers. Clearly, a Shabbos nap is out of the question this week. In fact, we barely sleep at all. Sessions continue till the wee hours of the night, often becoming more thought provoking as the hours go by.
Morning tefillah is followed by a Gala Kiddush and a powerful keynote presentation by Rabbi Farhi on the special qualities of Rachel Imeinu. Our presenters this weekend are invariably amazing. But in the end, they are not the true heroes of this Convention. The heroes are us, Am Yisroel, the regular people. We may not be kiruv professionals or outreach experts, but we have the power to create a Kiddush Hashem every single day.
David is one of our heroes. With his rye humor and quick wit, he speaks of his personal journey that began when one person reached out to him at JFK airport. He quickly becomes the sensation of the weekend. A key element of his success, he tells us, is the enthusiastic encouragement of the Director of Project Inspire, Rabbi Chaim Sampson, who cheered him on as if he was an all-star champion.
Mrs. Berger, a Chassidic woman from New Square, is another hero. Determined to be mekarev others, she will let no obstacle get in her way. She speaks of how she desperately wanted to attend a recent Aish Conference, but needed to find an unaffiliated partner to accompany her. She davened for hatzlacha , and in the end she was rewarded.
Dr. Stuart Hytman, Louis Mayberg and Nachman Auerbach are heroes. They are three successful business people, each of whom was blessed to find his way to a life of Torah and mitzvos. All three have decided to ‘give back’ to the Jewish community and all are actively involved in various kiruv programs and initiatives.
Fernando is a hero. He lives in Mexico but attends Hebrew School in San Diego, which means he must cross the border and travel three hours each day so he can learn Torah. Fernando dreams of studying in Eretz Yisroel one day, and Project Inspire will be making his dream come true. Rabbi Yaakov Salomon, Senior Lecturer at Project Inspire, invites Fernando to the stage, surprising him with the incredible news that he has been accepted to Aish HaTorah’s Gesher program next year. His benefactor is Reuven Handlesman, who met Fernando on a recent Project Inspire trip to be mechazek the San Diego community.
Geri is also a hero. She is embarking on her own journey, and is fortunate to have a strong support system – a group of women who call themselves Queens Inspire. “It’s not the speeches,” she explains, “or even the challah baking. It isn’t any of that. It’s something about these women. I just want to be with them.”
“It is a weekend of ‘Wow’,” observes Rabbi Salomon. But he also cautions us to ensure that it will be transformed into a lifetime of ‘Now!’. Rabbi Sampson tells us about Sara Schenirer, and how her tears of caring were able to impact Klal Yisroel profoundly. “Each one of us,” he said, “has the same power, if we but care.”
HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, Shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Philadelphia, joins the Motzei Shabbos Grand Presentation and Keynote Session. “People have a great need for friendship,” he says. “We just have to open our hearts.”
At the Sunday Keynote Session, Dr. Hytman expresses a call to arms. “ All these great speakers are inspiring us to use our unique talents to inspire other yidden. Let’s walk out of here not just inspired, but also empowered!”
Rabbi Orlofsky ended the program, saying: “You have the koach to change people’s lives and to change the course of history. It’s time to wake up!”