In the 1980’s a guest speaker came to a Jewish synagogue in Bergen County. He spoke about the importance of making aliyah, (moving to Israel). After the speech, JLE Founder, Sam Kaplan turned to his friend and said “this isn’t right, if all of the observant Jews move to Israel, who will be left to help the millions of unaffiliated Jews in America?” Thus, the seeds of The Jewish Learning Experience were sown.
As a baal teshuva (returnee to observance), himself, Sam felt that he had to do something to stop the hemorrhaging of the Jewish community. Each man is responsible for his fellow in Judaism, and he could no longer sit idly by. He decided to launch a low-key outreach organization. Create something easily accessible and low-pressure for the less knowledgeable Jews in Bergen County. He teamed up with two of his friends – and The JLE was born.
Cost of admission: the desire to learn.
The Plan: Set up classes that were all translated into English and easily understandable. Create a warm and inviting environment with refreshments and regular orthodox Jews to mingle.
The Goal: To be able to make an intelligent decision on religious observance with knowledge
The 3 JLE founders hung some flyers around Bergen County for the first class on the weekly Torah Portion and set up 15 chairs in the room they were given to use at TABC. The only thing left to do was wait. Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long, as person after person made their way in, Sam and his friends realized they needed to get more chairs.
50 people came to that first class.
The JLE continued to build as an organization, adding more classes and Shabbat Hospitality to its roster until, in 1987, they ran their first shabbaton in the Catskills with 90 people.
That same week, Rav Noach Weinberg, a kiruv (outreach) legend, was part of a seminar about kiruv in New Jersey. Rav Noach and Rav Herschel Shachter both spoke at the 600-person seminar. This seminar lit the Bergen County community on fire and the JLE picked up a lot of steam.
Since 1984, the JLE has evolved. There is more programming than ever before. We have moved to Zoom when necessary, we have prayed in a tent when necessary, but one thing has remained the same.
Our community of participants are our focus. Once you join JLE, you have become part of a community. Yes, we study Torah and its concepts. Yes, we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana and eat matzah on Passover. Yes, we have programming for all the major holidays and everything in between. But through it all, we remain committed to showing that Judaism is filled with genuinely nice people who just want to spread what we all feel we have been blessed to discover.
Join the Community that is the JLE. Reconnect with your Nation. We can’t wait to greet you.