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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Friend Jerry Weisberg

“Behold! The dreamer is coming!”

 Since the time of Yaakov Avinu dreamers stood apart. Yosef dreamt and shared his dreams. His holy parents held him in prophetic esteem; his own brothers held him in disdain.  Some saw in him a leader of men with a new dream and a fresh horizon while others couldn’t tolerate change or were overcome with a crippling sense of jealousy.

 Twenty one years ago I was a kiruv worker in my home town of Buffalo, New York. We founded an organization called the Torah Center of Buffalo and little by little a community grew and people from all walks of life joined in.  At that time there was no name for my profession, except for Chabdnik – which didn’t describe me very well. I wasn’t affiliated with any group or movement. For me and the handful of others in my situation, there was no organization to turn to; no chevra to exchange ideas with and to help shoulder burdens; and no funding available from anywhere to help promote the changes in the Jewish people I prayed for everyday. The few of us that were doing community outreach suffered identity crises, loneliness and poverty. 

And then the phone rang. Deep in the middle of a snowy Buffalo winter I received a phone call. “This is Jerry Weisberg – I’m staying in the Red Roof Inn and I’d like to meet with you tonight”.  I didn’t know who Jerry Weisberg was or exactly what he wanted to talk about but following a hunch and a kiruv axiom to never say ‘no’ I found myself sitting across the table with him in an undersized motel room in Buffalo.  He came to help. He told me about Sanford Bernstien, about men and women across the country that were doing similar work to mine and about the possibility of some sort of convention that would bring Kiruv Professionals (this was the first time anyone ever called me a professional) together in one place to talk. As he described his search for men and women with a ‘fire in the belly’ I realized that it was Jerry who was on fire. As he spoke about bringing together people with a dream I realized that Jerry was the dreamer. 

We became friends. My loneliness ended as Jerry introduced me to people around the country. Jerry never missed an opportunity to help me. The Avichai Convention was a hit of historical proportions. There were attendees from the field that broke down in tears as they watched individuals become a community and kiruv become a respectable profession before their very eyes. At that convention outreach suddenly became an option alongside teaching and rabbinic positions. Together Jerry and I pulled together ten good men and with the backing of Avichai founded AJOP. The Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals still exists today, but that’s not what is really important. What is important is that today, Boruch Hashem, the mainstream Yeshivah world is involved in outreach activities on university campuses, in out of town synagogues, in youth groups and where ever G-d is found. Kiruv has become a profession and its workers have become professionals. People in kiruv are not as ignored, not as lonely, and not as poor as they used to be and to a large degree this is because of the dream of Jerry Weisberg. 

As it was with Yosef there were dissenters, jealousy and fear and they caused much pain. But Hashem’s will endured, outreach became a force and there are thousands of Baalei Teshuvah. Hashem chose His shaliach well.  Tonight is the Shloshim for Jerry and there is much to learn from this man. First of all, don’t be afraid to dream – twenty years will tell the story.  Second, if there is a cause you believe in don’t be afraid to give it everything you’ve got. Hashem will help you succeed.  And perhaps most important, be a good friend. Everyone needs a friend like Jerry. 

Yaacov Haber


Posted on 12/12 at 11:13 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov HaberRabbi Haber has been a leading force in Jewish Outreach for the past 25 years. A founding trustee of AJOP, the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals, he was the founder and director of the Torah Center of Buffalo from 1980-1990 while serving as a community rabbi in Buffalo. From Buffalo he and his family traveled to Melbourne, Australia where as a project of Kollel Bais HaTalmud he founded the Australian Institute of Torah, a national outreach and adult education program. He directed that program from 1990-1995, at which time he was sought out as National Director of Jewish Education for the Orthodox Union in the United States where he created the Internationally acclaimed and highly successful "Pardes Project."

In addition to his duties at the OU, in 1996 he replaced Rabbi Berel Wein as the spiritual leader of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY. In keeping with the position of Congregation Bais Torah in the Monsey community, Rabbi Haber was involved in issues involving the greater Monsey community, and counseled hundreds of individuals in the surrounding area.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber is the founder and driving force behind TorahLab. Through TorahLab, Rabbi Haber is bringing together educational and media specialists to create dynamic learning experiences which will be accessible to adults of all backgrounds and levels. Rabbi Haber has published numerous articles and books and is a sought after international lecturer.

Rabbi Haber and his family are presently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh where he is the Rabbi of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted at