All Hands Needed on Deck

One of the glories of the Torah community is its extremely high rate of volunteerism. In Eretz Yisrael, for instance, virtually every major volunteer organization was founded by religious Jews.

The emphasis on volunteerism will only grow in the years to come. The current financial crisis ensures that many projects will have to run largely on volunteer power. In addition, there is a growing recognition that many of the challenges facing our community are of such a nature and magnitude that solving them will require the collective effort of the entire community.

The so-called Shidduch Crisis – the growing number of older singles who have not yet found their zivug (life partner) – falls into the latter category. Three years ago, Jeff Cohn of Baltimore sold his business in order to found the Make A Shidduch Foundation. Shidduchim 101 by Mrs. Shana Kramer is the Foundation’s most recent initiative.

The basic insight behind the book is simple: Everyone knows a number of singles, but no two people know exactly the same ones or travel in the same circles. Thus the more people who put their minds to thinking about possible matches for the singles they know the greater the pool of potential matches. Professional shadchanim may be tempted to concentrate on the low-hanging fruit – the most beautiful girls, the most brilliant boys, the most meyuchisdik or richest. Amateurs are more likely to focus on those whom they care about and who are experiencing difficulties in the process for one reason or another. In addition, they are more likely to actually know one or both of the parties they are introducing.

Beyond Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s introduction, Shidduchim 101 does not spend much time making the case that all of us need to get involved. Nor is it filled with lots of gooey, inspirational stories to warm the heart. This is a book for those who do not need much convincing that it is big mitzvah to redt shidduchim (not a hard sell, as all of us are participants in the shidduchim process at some point in our lives.)

The target reader of Shidduchim 101 does not want to know whether to get involved in making suggestions but how. The book’s purpose is to help would be shadchanim over their initial fears that they don’t know what they are doing and will only make a colossal botch of things.

Mrs. Kramer has obviously thought a great deal about the shidduchim process, consulted with many successful shadchanim, and drawn on a great deal of personal experience. She skillfully breaks the shidduchim process down into its component parts, analyzes the questions and pitfalls at each stage, and provides suggestions or, in some cases, a range of options for handling them. As such, Shidduchim 101 is a also useful guide for anyone who has ever been confounded by the shidduch process – pretty much everyone I know.

KIRUV IS ANOTHER AREA where the Torah community could have a much bigger impact if each individual would think of the ways he could personally draw closer not yet religious Jews. Rabbi Moshe Shapira spoke last month on kiruv at the Conference of European Rabbis in Prague. One of his main points was that kiruv is not some new mitzvah. Rather it is an aspect of numerous other mitzvos – e.g., ahavas Hashem, Kiddush Hashem, teshuva, v’ahavta le’rayecha, areivus (see Avotot Ahavah Chap. 2 and Rabbi Shapira’s divrei berachah) — incumbent upon every Jew, not just a cadre of kiruv professionals.

If we saw our neighbor’s house on fire, we would call the fire department and do whatever we could to extinguish the blaze. The sight of a fellow Jew cut off from any relationship to Torah and mitzvos should inspire a no less powerful impulse to do something. If we don’t respond, Rabbi Shapira said, it is either because we are not ma’aminim and do not really believe in the Torah or because we are not mentschen, and so the suffering of our fellow Jew does not touch us.

There are many programs in both Israel and abroad that draw on the human resources of the Torah community to reach out to as many non-religious Jews as possible – e.g., Partners in Torah Learning, the nearly 2,000 avreichim under the auspicies of Lev L’Achim who go out every week to learn with secular Israelis. One of the most effective is Ayelet HaShachar’s program of weekly Torah learning by telephone, in which there are currently 7,000 ongoing pairs of study partners.

Last week, Mrs. Cila Scheider, who heads the women’s program called me. She had just been contacted by the education officer in an army preparation program. The officer had three hours of “fun” time to fill, and she had found out about Ayelet HaShachar’s chavrusah program. Could Mrs. Schneider arrange a program for 33 18-year-old boys and girls? she wanted to know.

I arrived at the program a bit late, and based on my first survey of the room, I did not have high hopes. Not one of the boys had thought to put on any type of head covering. The girls were a bit better dressed, but both groups looked pretty bored.

The boys and girls were split up, with the boys going off to learn for an hour at Yeshivat HaRan, and the girls being paired up with Ayelet Hashachar volunteers two-on-two. The transformation on the faces of the girls was immediate and astounding. Within two minutes, there were animated discussions taking place in every corner of the room. The girls were throwing out questions from every direction, and the volunteers, few of whom are professional teachers and some of whom were little older than the girls they were learning with, were fielding them. I didn’t see one sullen face or anyone not participating actively. At Yeshivat HaRan, where the boys were sitting for the first time in their lives with a Gemara in front of them, the story was pretty much the same.

The next day the young officer who had contacted Mrs. Schneider called again with four requests. Could she arrange for the cadets to spend a Shabbos in the homes of their learning partners? Could she arrange a similar program before Purim? Could she provide the telephone numbers of the volunteers so the boys and girls could keep in contact with their study partners? And did she mind if the officer told others running similar educational programs about Mrs. Schneider’s chavrusah program.

That response is just a small taste of the impact the Torah world could have if each of us started thinking of what we can do instead of leaving it to the pros.

This article appeared in the Mishpacha, 23 December, 2008.

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3 Responses

  1. Ori says:

    If we saw our neighbor’s house on fire, we would call the fire department and do whatever we could to extinguish the blaze

    Just remember, while you think the neighbors’ house is on fire, your neighbors think they are having a quiet evening at home in front of the fireplace.

    Everybody here seems to be mature enough to realize this. But it’s possible that Dovid’s neighbor’s daughter was not.

  2. dovid says:

    “If we saw our neighbor’s house on fire, we would call the fire department and do whatever we could to extinguish the blaze.”

    But you won’t go in to put out the fire unless you were trained to do so. Those calling to do kiruv should also explain the obvious that one needs to know what he/she is doing. A neighbor’s daughter, fired up by calls to do kiruv on campuses, approached Jewish girls that had no desire in Yiddishkeit. Instead of those girls experiencing an עליה, they dragged down my relative to their sorrow state.

  3. Ori says:

    I’d like to quote one of my favorite writers about Israeli Charedi affairs: But it is true that the social structure of the Israeli chareidi community that has been in place for at least thirty years – a social structure based on long-term kollel learning for all men – has never seemed so fragile as it does at present. And if that whole structure were to collapse, it would do so with dizzying rapidity leaving no time for preparation or gradual readjustments. The social dislocations would be enormous.

    You can ask the settlers of the former Gush Katif whether it’s a good idea to rely on the good graces of the Israeli government for one’s social structure. That being the case, arguably you need an “all hands on deck” effort in job training and recruitment.