Givers don’t absorb

A few weeks ago, I spent a day with Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, the founder of Ayelet HaShachar, an organization that has placed religious families on sixty-five non-religious kibbutzim and yishuvim in recent years. In almost all of these places, Ayelet HaShachar ran Yom Kippur services this year, some attracting as many as 100 people from the kibbutz or yishuv. Over Succos alone, Ayelet HaShachar ran 265 events – Simchos Beis HaShoeva, Hakafos Shniyos – on different kibbutzim and yishuvim.

It was fascinating to see firsthand the impact that one family can have on attitudes towards Torah and religious Jews, even on the most hardened anti-religious kibbutz. I listened as Rabbi Raanan confirmed with the secretary of one of the veteran left-wing kibbutzim that they had made a request from the regional council to build a mikveh on the kibbutz.

On one kibbutz near Tiveria, the manager of the commissary had once told the young avreich then serving as a mashgiach for a production line of kosher food, “I don’t care if you are living here; I will never let you shop in this store.” The kibbutz member, to whom that same avreich had been directed as the most likely to be interested in a Shabbos service, greeted him with, “I hate Judaism and I hate you,” a phrase that he repeated about every three minutes during their more than hour-long conversation. Yet little more than two years later, that avreich and his wife were asked to head the kibbutz’s cultural committee (an honor that they had to turn down because of the unsuitability of many of the activities).
I will be writing about Ayelet HaShachar, and what it represents, in the future. But for now, I’d like focus on a comment I heard from one of its emissaries, a young woman who has just opened up a gan nursery school, in Kfar Tabor, just outside of Afula. She and her husband, a budding young talmid chacham, were placed by Ayelet HaShachar, with their young family in Ilania, a nearby settlement.

Their arrival was big news in the sleepy hamlet of 120 families, in which it sometimes seemed that nothing had happened since Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook, zichron tzaddikim l’vrachah, visited the village on their famous campaign of spiritual arousal more than eight decades earlier. Neighbors who had long since stopped speaking to one another because there was nothing left to say all began to seek out the new arrivals.

Her shocking comment was: “I would never raise my children anywhere else than Ilania.” And no less surprising was her reason: “Here I know that they will never go off the derech.”

She explained that in Ilania her children will be continually involved in giving. They will have a very clear sense of their role in life: to make Torah real for their neighbors who were not fortunate enough to be born into a Torah family or to have a Torah education.

Apparently, she believed that something like the principle in kashrus ein hapoleit boleia, that which is giving off does not absorb, applies to human beings as well as vessels. And she may well be right that there is no greater protection than the idealism that goes with being a giver.

I have often heard (and had the opportunity to observe myself) from rabbis of congregations removed from major metropolitan Jewish centers that their children are uniquely mature for their ages. They view themselves as part of a family business and, from a very young age, get used to dealing with adults. They know every member in shul – his or her eccentricities and religious level – and every step that one of the congregants takes religiously is celebrated in the home as a major event.

From a very early age, the children of rabbis in such communities are involved in activities like visiting the sick and elderly. That is just part of their role. When these kids eventually go off to seminary or yeshivah, they often stand out from their contemporaries from larger communities, who have never taken responsibility for others or had to relate to people outside of their own age group.

These kids are not only more tolerant of less observant Jews than their peers in larger Torah communities. They often have a stronger religious identity by virtue of having to develop their own identity in juxtaposition to all the other families with whom they interact. That is not a challenge that faces youngsters growing up in communities where everyone adheres to the same basic religious norms. A close friend of mine who raised half his children in Tel Aviv and half in Bnei Brak has told me more than once that those raised in Tel Aviv grew up more deeply religious than those raised in Bnei Brak, for precisely this reason.

Raising children in an all-religious environment can also make parents a bit lazy: They assume that their children will absorb all that they need to know by osmosis or they rely on their schools to instill Torah values. Parents in smaller communities know better than to make any such easy assumptions. Rabbis in such communities know, for instance, that they must learn with their sons if they are not to be behind when they go off to yeshivah. As a consequence, those sons are often surprised to find themselves ahead of their classmates when they arrive at yeshivah.

A rav in Zurich, who was considering moving with his family to Eretz Yisrael, consulted the Brisker Rav before making a final decision. The Brisker Rav advised him to remain in Zurich. “In Zurich, you will raise your children,” said the Brisker Rav. “Here in Eretz Yisrael, the street will raise them.” In Zurich, the rav would be under no illusions about how much work he had to put into each of his children. In Eretz Yisrael, by contrast, he might well fall victim to the illusion that the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael alone would suffice.

Few of us who are fortunate to live in a thriving Torah community are likely to pick up anytime soon to move to the Jewish boondocks. As Rabbi Yose ben Kisma said, “I would not dwell other than in a a place of Torah (Pirkei Avos 6:9). Still, we can learn a lot about childrearing from those handful of idealists willing to live outside such a community, in order to bring closer their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Originally appeared in Mishpacha magazine.

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11 comments to Givers don’t absorb

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Interesting. What do you think is the difference between the Orthodox in your previous post and those placed by Ayelet Hashachar? Why is one group perceived as antagonistic, and the other welcomed?

    Is it that the ones placed by Ayelet Hashachar realize they are on foreign territory and have to represent Judaism, whereas US Orthodox who just move to the suburbs are looking for a place to live, not a mission in life? Is it that chiloni Jews in Israel are not worried about fitting in with the gentiles like heterodox Jews in the US?

  • Rivka W.

    But they were NOT welcomed initially. Note the extreme antagonism of comments like, “I don’t care if you are living here; I will never let you shop in this store” and “I hate Judaism and I hate you.”

    The difference is not initial acceptance. The difference is time. And maybe nothing more?

  • zalman

    “Few of us who are fortunate to live in a thriving Torah community are likely to pick up anytime soon to move to the Jewish boondocks.”

    I assume that all of those placed by Ayelet Hashachar were indeed fortunate to live in a thriving Torah community but chose to move to the Jewish boondocks. Too bad you don’t believe strongly enough to apply their example to the rest of us.

    We who live in thriving Torah communities ought to acknowledge that such communities have costs to ourselves as well as the greater Jewish community. If we can’t handle the boondocks perhaps we should move to a “mixed” community. It does not have to be all or nothing.

    Ein hapoleit boleia contains a more profound point. Perhaps we should all be more inclined to join in initiatives that are designed to bring the unaffiliated closer — even if “it could lead to” a decline in our own immediate individual observance.

  • Shlomo

    Ori – as is reported at the top of the article, secular Israelis are certainly capable of being hostile to the Orthodox. The difference in this particular case is that in the case of Ayelet Hashachar, we are talking about a very small elite of volunteers who dedicate their lives to the task of spreading Torah. Whereas in suburban Philadelphia, you just have “normal” people. Of course they don’t inspire people the same way. Most religious Israelis are just “normal” people too…

  • jerusalem joe

    fascinating article. i wish a lot more orthodox people would mingle with the rest of am israel – it’s not like secular jews are contagious , is it?

  • Mordechai

    Interesting to see this written.

    In the past the shita of the part of the Haredi world that R. Rosenblum is associated with was that we don’t send shluchim/individual families out for kiruv, as others do, as they might become negatively influenced and worn down by their surroundings over time. Instead, we only send out groups, where the different people/couples can support each other.

    However, here he seems to be shifting and saying that ein hapoleit boleia, so we can now adopt the tactic that we took issue with in the past.

    So will the rest of the Haredi world now accept the Lubavitcher model ?

  • joel rich

    Jerusalem Joe,
    Actually that is of concern to many (present company excluded)
    KT

  • Jacob Haller

    Mordechai (Response 6)

    There is ample evidence that kiruv has been embarked without the direct influence of Chabad Lubavitch. The Navarodok Mussar movement set up small Batei Midrash throughout Europe to work with smaller communities. Torah U’Mesorah founded yeshiva day schools throughout America.

    Has Lubavitch activity been a positive influence on the “yeshivish” world to increase their own brands of kiruv activity? Very likely. Are kudos in order for Chabad for their mesirus nefesh? More than very likely. Is Lubavitch the sole progenitor of this idea? Not likely.

  • Dovid Eliezrie

    There is not question that that others outsdie of Chabad has done much good. However I see here the strand of historical revionism that exists in the Frum world. For the record Torah Umesorah was started after Chabad founded Merkos L’inyonie Chinuch and launched the first national day school movement, and as insiders know it was largely a reaction to the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Scheerson.
    The model that this group is following in the Kibbutzim is a reflection of the system of Shluchim that move to a town to become part of the community and mold it from within.
    Dovid Eliezrie

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Shlomo, so the Ayelet HaShachar couples are full time Kiruv workers who do not also have to contend with the challenges of earning a living? Or is it just that they are an elite group within the Charedi world, able to show it in the best possible light?

    BTW, I assume that they are also trained. Maybe it would be a good thing if Orthodox moving into the suburbs could also take a training class in “Heterodox Jews – how to deal with Posh’im, Kofrim, and other Skilah candidates”.

    Note: I’m mostly kidding above, but the fact is that I barely met Charedim growing up in Israel. Prejudice can flourish best when there are no counter-examples.

  • Moshe Schorr

    “Raising children in an all-religious environment can also make parents a bit lazy: They assume that their children will absorb all that they need to know by osmosis or they rely on their schools to instill Torah values. Parents in smaller communities know better than to make any such easy assumptions. Rabbis in such communities know, for instance, that they must learn with their sons if they are not to be behind when they go off to yeshivah. As a consequence, those sons are often surprised to find themselves ahead of their classmates when they arrive at yeshivah.”

    I am reminded of Reb Yitchok Zilber ZT”L. He lived in an “unreligious neighborhood” – Communist Russia. He had many stories to tell about his difficulties there, especially in raising children. When his son applied to the Mirrer yeshiva they were loath to accept him since they assumed he didn’t have a sufficient background. When tested however, he put them all in his pocket! He went on to be the son-in-law of a prestigious Rosh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He still continues his father’s outreach activities among Russian Jews.