New Directions in Kiruv – Part One

Kiruv is about bringing the old to the new. At last month’s annual convention of the Association of Jewish Outreach Programs (AJOP), its indomitable National Director, Rabbi Yitzchok “Itchie” Lowenbraun, staked the ranch on bringing the new to the old. By all accounts, he succeeded.

Rabbi Lowenbraun has been lovingly tending to AJOP for many years. You would have to try very hard to find something not to like about the Convention. It provides a great fix of spiritual adrenalin to the hundreds of people who work so tirelessly to bring Torah to anyone who will listen. People reconnect with friends, find ample time for productive networking, and listen to a variety of some of the best and most innovative presenters available.

This year, however, Rabbi Lowenbraun discovered a new mission. Like many others, he found the murmurings, the vague alienation and discontent within the FFB community worrisome. To be sure, the frum community is, BH, incredibly booming and strong – but there are too many sitting off to the side and wondering what it is all about. (One of the sessions I delivered was entitled “The Top Ten Reasons Frum People Are Unhappy With Their Yiddishkeit.” More on that at another time.) Rabbi Lowenbraun reasoned that kiruv professionals must have some of the tools with which to address spiritual dissatisfaction – and therefore a responsibility to address the problem. He banked on being able to take this new goal and interest an old profession to expand its horizons.

He made this hunch of his a theme of the convention in two ways. Many of the presentations to the professionals revolved around this theme. Additionally, he scheduled a second, parallel track concurrent with the convention for professionals. This track, open to the general public, was billed as an opportunity to hear from some of the best presenters in the world of kiruv, and to gain chizuk and inspiration from them.

Rabbi Lowenbraun had no idea whether anyone at all would come. Stamford, Connecticut is a bit of a drive from Flatbush and the Five Towns. But come they did – in droves. Days before the convention, he had to close registration when he maxed out at 300, and still had to turn down a few hundred more. Those attendees whom I spoke with found it more than worthwhile.

Where to now? Having demonstrated the demand for inspiration and the receptivity to kiruv presenters in the FFB community, where do we go from here? Many questions come to mind.

It would seem to me that Rabbi Lowenbraun’s hunch is correct. Kiruv professionals ought to have some of the goods that will be effective. In general, they are people people. As a group they are warm, caring, energetic, and dedicated. Equally importantly, they are a bit more open than others. They are not as afraid as some others to listen to new ideas or to make the acquaintance of new people. Because they have to make Yiddishkeit attractive to outsiders, they often have spent more time than others in both thinking through issues, and in studying the classic seforim that deal with them. They should be well suited to help FFBs deal with spiritual anemia and listlessness.

But what message or messages will they bring to the table? Will the arguments with which they interest a non-observant campus sophomore appeal at all to people with decades of yeshiva education? Much kiruv operates on the “ta’amu u-re’u” model. Bait people with good food and company, and they begin to take an interest in the rest of the package. FFB’s, however, don’t need bait, and don’t need to be convinced to give the fuller package a try. Been there, done that. Kiruv workers can sometimes rope ‘em in by painting an unrealistic, idyllic canvas describing the beauty of the frum community. They give out rose-colored glasses, which won’t work for jaded FFBs. Their glasses have been marred and scratched by realities within the community that leave them unhappy.

Kiruv professionals have been creative and inventive. They have come up with boilerplate arguments to overcome the objections of skeptics and scoffers. Many have been quite good. Some have been shallow. Some have been downright silly (I mean the Bible Codes, of course, still tragically used as snake oil by those who should know better), but that didn’t matter. Once new BTs involved themselves in mitzvos long enough to personally bond with HKBH and Torah, the arguments that lured them in became irrelevant. Or so the thinking went, even though there is ample evidence that this was not true, and new recruits later looked back with resentment at lines of argument that they later learned were inadequate.

Will we try the same strategies with the FFB world, developing new arguments for confident emunah that will appeal to those with years of experience? Will the arguments need to be more sophisticated, because the audience will be better educated in Torah content? Or can they be even less sophisticated, because so many in the traditional community have so little exposure to the secular counterarguments, that the unsophisticated argument conveyed with much enthusiasm will work quite well?

Are arguments of any kind the way to go? There has been an ongoing, endless debate about whether arguments should be conveyed as “proofs,” in the manner of some of the Rishonim, or whether proofs simply do not exist, and argument should be conveyed as lines of evidence, allowing belief (as R. Leib Kelemen elegantly phrased it) or buttressing it in those who already believe? Perhaps arguments are not the way to go at all, and we should follow in the way of the Slonimer Rebbe in Nesivos Shalom, who stressed again and again that within every Jewish neshamah resides a primal will to believe and an ease of attachment to the Divine. In other words, perhaps we ought not to tell people what they should believe, so much as show them who they are.

This is all uncharted territory. I have some thoughts about some of these questions, but they will await future installments.

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31 comments to New Directions in Kiruv – Part One

  • Shanks

    Whether kiruv rabbis go for the emotional angle or the proofs angle is their business.

    However:

    Surely, if the arguments kiruv rabbis use — whether they be proofs or evidences-so-strong-it-obliges-you-to-live-frum — are as compelling as they say, then the best of the kiruv rabbis ought to debate these ideas with folks who’ve offered counterarguments. The rabbis will show up the kofrim. Atheists and Torah-miSinai-denying “rabbis” like David Wolpe currently having debates will be seen by anybody who has an open enough mind to be mekarved as closed-minded fools. The wisest people will bow to the logic of the kiruv proofs hawked by the biggest rabbis. Moreover, they should tell people who come to their lectures to not take their word for anything and look it all up on the Internet (and in books) afterward, to be skeptical, because they care that much about making sure a yid is firmly grounded in what is so obviously true, it’s mandatory to believe. (I might not be a fan of Shmuley Boteach, but I’ll say this for him: He really does believe the light of Torah shows up any kefirahdicke narishkeit, and has acted on this belief by participating in several debates.)

    Alternatively, if they’re not going to do all that, then they ought to be honest: Tell people about what they feel is the glory of being mevatel daas, of being a poshiter yid, that it’s all about community, and evidence is overrated; the main thing is comfort.

  • S.

    I wonder how or if the internet has affected these questions.

    A friend of mine who is in the field suspects that it has affected it a great deal, and also implied that the numbers have changed. As he put it, “when someone says that Orthodox Jews are like this or like that, it’s only a smart phone check away.” Same thing with arguments, proofs, etc. He was talking about kiruv yeshivas in particular though.

  • lacosta

    i am so tired of reading about ex-hassid , ex-yehsiva student [ this week’s Forward has both – [can’t anybody get famous staying hassid and yeshiva?

    maybe someone needs to gather all these types and find out what went wrong. some were not O in the first place , so they didn’t go off-they just didn’t buy in; but a lot are instructed on the body , but don’t get the soul…..

  • lacosta

    when Rabbi Mechanic makes his presentations on kiruv krovim, does he use codes etc. that these students may later find out to be false? realistically, for secularly educated [ ie non hassidic] haredi kids, they probably are at bigger risk getting to college even than MO, who at least have potentially dealt with some issues [ evolution, bible criticism] in high school that can’t be dealt with under current standards….

  • E. Fink

    I used to think that the chochma of kiruv efforst was valuable to FFBs. I don’t think so anymore. A broader yeshiva curriculum would help FFBs, but not the kiruv curriculum.

    The only thing I would recommend adapting from kiruv is the focus on family and glorification of the Shabbos meal. I have seen too many FFB shabbos tables that are hurried, harried and haphazard. Kiruv professionals turn the Shabbos meal into an event. All FFBs would benefit from this kind of Shabbos meal as well.

  • micha

    Two of my favorite questions to open AishDas programs are:
    1- What what is it a life of Torah and mitzvos is supposed to accomplish?
    2- Where is Hashem?

    Both fundamental questions. Both ones we think we know answers for — and indeed we do know answers for — and yet few of use realize we hold multiple answers for each!

    Are we keeping mitzvos to refine ourselves, or to attach ourselves to G-d? We could dismiss this as a distinction without a difference, and yet there are pragmatic differences. If in a situation where we have to choose, do we pick davening on time, excercising our traits of order, timeliness and zeal? Or do we choose to bend the rules about when to daven in order to fulfil the obligation of maximizing kavanah (intent) while we daven?

    Similarly, when I was a kid we sang this song that told us that there is “just One Hashem in heaven”. Today, Uncle Moishy teaches children to sing “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere…” Is He in heaven, remote, “Avinu shebashamayim”, or is He everywhere, His “Presence” always felt, haMaqom?

    These aren’t irreconcilable problems. What I find bothersome is the lack of awareness that we have these multiple conceptions that require reconciliation. The lack of attention to even the very basics of Judaism like how to relate to G-d and mitzvos.

    So, I do think we need more attention to aggadita. But that’s not enough. I don’t think kiruv is all about proofs. Proofs are just what get a person in the door. But Yahadus isn’t knowing about the Torah or about Hashem, it’s about firsthand experience of using the Torah to have a relationship with the Creator. What convinced someone to become observant is the experience of observance: “More than the Jews have kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jews.”

    For the Yeshiva product, this means not only spending more time learning aggadita, but more importantly, spending more time internalizing it. Yahadus has to be experienced as a daily practice in spiritual growth; to regularly remember that “I am putting on tefillin in order to come closer to the One G-d they describe, or to become more like Him, or to…” depending on the derekh/derakhim (path or paths) one pursues. Not just to intellectually know more aggadic ideas, but to live a life of internalizing them more and more as we climb the route back up Sinai.

  • micha

    In response to REF’s opinion: “The only thing I would recommend adapting from kiruv is the focus on family and glorification of the Shabbos meal.”

    I would start one step before… Relating to Shabbos as something glorious. Making up a rule, “we do a slow and family oriented Shabbos meal now”, won’t really take hold.

    How do we do this? I think it requires shuls going beyond the shiur and chaburah, and providing experience-oriented programming. Rather than teach, “Do not talk during davening”, or going beyond to teaching the meaning or the prayers and spreading knowledge of their beauty, we can enhance the latter with a set of exercises that incrementally increase kavanah and passion when praying. Not “just” educating, but inculcating.

  • Dovid Kornreich

    I agree with E. Fink. FFB interactions with BTs are very effective in showing the FFB that he/she has been overlooking much of the spirituality that is all over Yiddishkeit.
    But the sad truth is that this is a symptom of a failure of FFB education which is too academic and not experiential.
    The school rightly expects that the home should provide the experiential dimension. But the parents incorrectly assume that they have been “yotze” all their chinuch obligations just by sending their kids to a frum school.
    Many mistakenly think the answer is always to supplement the academic track in yeshivah with an experiential track or an emunah track, but the real answer is to simply educate the parents to give better chinuch! Make chinuch/emunah courses mandatory for the parents of every single student so that you never have the problem to begin with. This may be the first time that parents will deal with emunah/spirituality issues and now is the time they need it most.

    Emunah is best communicated at home along with the experiential/spiritual part of yiddishkeit.
    Keep the professionals for the emergency cases when the parents have failed.

  • Aryeh L.

    The major problem (as I see it) is that there’s no consensus amongst the Orthodox leadership on what’s permissible to believe. Am I still considered frum if I posit that a large part of the Chumash is metaphorical and didn’t “really” happen? My son’s Rebbe recently told him that it’s kefira to belive the earth is older than 5600 years and that blacks are ‘cursed’ because they’re descendants of Ham. And yet, this Rebbe and I have davened and learned together many times. I think his views are backward, but he knows how to teach gemara, and that’s what matters most in my neighborhood. How did I end up here? Kiruv Rabbis made a great case that there’s lots of wiggle room for different beliefs in Orthodoxy (especially on science vs Torah issues), and yet, I’ve begun to have a sinking feeling that I should have stayed in Conservative Judaism lest I loose my parking spot in Olam Haba because of my heretical stance on many issues. And besides, it would be nice to pick up a National Geographic next time I’m in the Doctor’s office, without suffering pangs of guilt.

  • Sholom

    “I mean the Bible Codes, of course, still tragically used as snake oil by those who should know better.”

    I would like to know if the author is truly certain that the original Eliyahu Rips, Doron Witztum paper, published in Statistical Science, has truly been refuted? Harold Gans has written extensively on this issue, and it appears that the issue is truly more complicated that Brendan McKay et al would claim.

    While I disagree with using Bible Codes as “proof” since one would need the requisite mathematical background to independently verify, I’d like to know what his basis is for dismissing the claim for codes in the Torah? Is it because of the apparent outrageousness of the claim, or because the methodology employed in the original experiment was unsound?

    [YA - Unhesitatingly and absolutely the latter.]

  • Tzei U'lmad

    “Kiruv is about bringing the old to the new”.

    The converse has to also be true, Kiruv is about bringing the new to the old. Rabbi Adlerstein, as you have yourself many times stressed, it is destructive for BTs to disown themselves in the process of being mkarev. If our goal is to turn these young people (by in large) into empty vessels to receive “our” light , what we will end up with (and have ended up with to some extent) are extreme conformists who rather shallowly “affect” a superficial frumkeit lacking an anchor and a sense of “WHO AM I”, and so they adopt the prevailing norms whether they “connect” with them or not. Meanwhile, it is a form of Narcissism and self-congratulation for FFBs to want to remake these young people in their own mold (ugh). These young people frequently have something to bring to the table from their own backgrounds and it maybe something that can enrich the communities that they join, if they are encouraged to do so, and provided that they are not “shamed” into thinking that who they are and their experiences should be disowned and treated as hefker k’afrah. So then these BTs can act as a vehicle for fresh ideas, renewal and inspiration for the benefit of the FFBs, bringing new to old.

    I can visualize some readers protesting “What do you mean”? “Of course we want to encourage them to be themselves……”……. But do we, Really???? As old Senator Abe Ribicoff said in the 1968 Chicago convention (staring down Mayor Daley, who almost busted a carotid) “How hard it is to accept the Truth”.

  • micha

    RDK writes: “Many mistakenly think the answer is always to supplement the academic track in yeshivah with an experiential track or an emunah track, but the real answer is to simply educate the parents to give better chinuch! Make chinuch/emunah courses mandatory for the parents of every single student so that you never have the problem to begin with. This may be the first time that parents will deal with emunah/spirituality issues and now is the time they need it most.”

    Why are we talking about the next generation, when the topic until now was inreach to Orthodox adults? Attacking the problem of chinukh first (before the adults) poses a Catch 22: You’re asking us to teach parents how to inspire their children. But we started out by noting that these parents are themselves part of an uninspired generation. How are they supposed to impart passion now enough of them themselves feel often enough?

    IMHO, we need to work on inspiring the adults, so that we have parents who have what to share with their children. Meanwhile, just watching their parents struggle with these issues will do much to impart their importance to their children. But otherwise, we might have to rely on schools, for the nearer future.\

  • Shades of Gray

    “Will the arguments need to be more sophisticated, because the audience will be better educated in Torah content…This is all uncharted territory”

    There are perhaps signposts from the past. Three points:

    First, there are differences in people that might warrant different approaches, ideally.

    Second, there was the educational approach of R. Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz; he studied Doros Harishonim, for example. In this vein, when he was 15 years old, R. Mordechai Kamentskey had an interesting conversation with his grandfather, R. Yaakov(AMI, 1/18/12). He asked if he should skip Dovid and Bas Sheva and the like(interestingly, an issue raised in the recent Forward review about a book by a Satmar girl who left that community). R. Yaakov answered:

    “Lern dos. Lern dos.[Learn this]. When you’ll finish the entire Tanach 80 times with mefarshim, like me, then you’ll understand everything.”

    R. Yaakov was responding to a specific topic, and therefore classic Kiruv arguments were not relevant, rather patient, long-term study creating a foundation, as R. Shraga Feivel did in education. On the other hand, that response doesn’t directly deal with someone coming with some type of academic question.

    Third, when speaking of an attachment to Hashem(as in the Slonimer Rebbe), there is, first, the role of emotions in general. This has it’s limitations(a classroom rebbe is not a therapist), but it may be relavant. A quote from R. Simcha Feurman where he goes through at length both sides of what he terms a “tightrope” in “Are “Gedolim Stories” Good for Chinuch?”(available online):

    “therefore, it is easy to understand why recognizing and discussing the intense energy contained within human emotions is frightening to members of a culture that abide by a strict moral and behavioral code such as ours…Of course indulging in these emotions is not a solution either”.

  • Bob Miller

    While prospective BT’s or floundering FFB’s (and who says these aren’t also prospective BT’s?) approached for kiruv may initially need to hear entry-level concepts or arguments, these had better be true! Half-truths are very bad shortcuts for all concerned.

  • chardal

    Part of what many BTs and FFBs find somewhat unsettling is the idea that we must see every Jew as either unzere with all the rights thereof or someone who is not yet frum (in the case of secular or heterodox Jews) or as someone who is still nebach a bit modernish (in the case of MO Jews) or as someone who simply needs chizuk (in the case of at-risk chareidim and charei-lites). As soon as the kiruv specialist marks his target as one of these things, the implication is, of course, that he is an already frum non-modernish guy who needs no chizuk. I, for one, often sensed a certain hubris and lack of modesty in the attitudes of many kiruv specialists. The few who did not display such an attitude (including the distinguished author of this post) were pretty much the only ones I allowed myself to get close to.

    There is another option, based on the teachings of Rav Kook, teshuva is not simply a particular act or a particular mitzva but rather a cosmic force that penetrates the entire cosmos. Every individual, every family, community, group, nation, all of humanity and all of creation are under the constant influence of teshuva. To be a baal-teshuva, one need not belong to a particular community but rather access this cosmic force and allow himself to become ever more concious of The Source of all things. A person who trully internalizes this attitude can never come off as arrogant or supremicist. From the position of their own particularism, they will grow a true love of all creation to the extent that even those who disagree will over respect. Perhaps the study of these ideas would be beneficial to kiruv workers in their interactions with other Jews.

    שיר מרובע – הרב קוק

    יש שהוא שר שירת נפשו, ובנפשו הוא מוצא את הכל. את מלא הסיפוק הרוחני במילואו.

    ויש שהוא שר שירת האומה, יוצא מתוך המעגל של נפשו הפרטית, שאינו מוצא אותה מרוחבת כראוי, ולא מיושבת ישוב אידיאלי, שואף למרומי עז, והוא מתדבק באהבה עדינה עם כללותה של כנסת ישראל, ועמה הוא שר את שיריה, מצר בצרותיה, ומשתעשע בתקוותיה, הוגה דעות עליונות וטהורות על עברה ועל עתידה, וחוקר באהבה ובחכמת לב את תוכן רוחה הפנימי.

    ויש אשר עוד תתרחב נפשו עד שיוצא ומתפשט מעל גבול ישראל, לשיר את שירת האדם, רוחו הולך ומתרחב בגאון כללות האדם והוד צלמו, שואף אל תעודתו הכללית ומצפה להשתלמותו העליונה, וממקור חיים זה הוא שואב את כללות הגיונותיו ומחקריו, שאיפותיו וחזיונותיו.

    ויש אשר עוד מזה למעלה ברוחב יתנשא, עד שמתאחד עם כל היקום כולו, עם כל הבריות, ועם כל העולמים, ועם כולם אומר שירה. זה הוא העוסק בפרק שירה בכל יום שמובטח לו שהוא בן עולם הבא.

    ויש אשר עולה עם כל השירים הללו ביחד באגודה אחת וכולם נותנים את קולותיהם, כולם יחד מנעימים את זמריהם, וזה לתוך זה נותן לשד וחיים, קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול צהלה וקול רינה, קול חדווה וקול קדושה.

    שירת הנפש, שירת האומה, שירת האדם, שירת העולם, כולן יחד מתמזגות בקרבו בכל עת ובכל שעה. והתמימות הזאת במילואה עולה להיות שירת קודש, שירת אל, שירת ישראל, בעוצם עזה ותפארתה, בעוצם אמתה וגדלה.

    ישראל שיר-אל, שיר פשוט, שיר כפול, שיר משולש, שיר מרובע, שיר השירים אשר לשלמה, למלך שהשלום שלו.

    [YA - Beautiful! The idea of dwelling in an olam ha-teshuva is shared by others, including the Slonimer Rebbe and others in the universe of chassidus.]

  • Tzvi

    A big difference between outreach and inreach is that if an outreach professional manages to reach 1 out of 100 we would consider that a success, but we would be appalled at that success rate for inreach.

  • DF

    The question asked in this post is: How do we help jaded FFBs?

    To answer this question, you must first determine what causes this disenchantment among FFBs. And to me it seems fairly obvious that the disillusionment sets in when people finally realize some or many of the things they’ve been taught are not, in fact, actually true.

    Accordingly, the answer to your question in simple. It’s not shabbos tables, its not conversations about God. It is simply this: To stop FFBs from becoming jaded, tone down the claims we make about Torah and orthodoxy.

  • Aryeh L.

    DF said, “And to me it seems fairly obvious that the disillusionment sets in when people finally realize some or many of the things they’ve been taught are not, in fact, actually true.”

    Can you give us examples of some things that are not true?

  • Bob Miller

    DF,

    Why can’t you admit that some people reject true claims? Maybe you do so.

  • DF

    Aryeh L . . . . One can write a whole book of examples in response to your question. In fact, some men already have. And there are also blogs which almost daily point out problems with some of the received wisdom we have been taught about Torah and/or orthodoxy. [Because the two are obviously very much different.] Cross-Currents has set a limited mission for itself. Consequently, while it does gently acknowledge certain communal problems, it does not address the real serious problems, and comments raising these issues usually do not get posted. So I think you can see it would be futile for me to write a response, and I’d rather not fulfill within me Leviticus 26:20.

  • YEA

    “One of the sessions I delivered was entitled “The Top Ten Reasons Frum People Are Unhappy With Their Yiddishkeit.”
    Is there a recording?

    [YA - There was. Chances are that it will become public, once AJOP puts all of the recordings up for sale. Unless it won't. :-) ]

  • micha

    Over at AishDas, which is an organization founded specifically to address this issue, we take a two prong approach — machashavah (Jewish Thought) and experiential.

    1- Machashavah

    R’ Aryeh L asked about things that we teach that aren’t true. There is an entire genre of story based on the premise that (e.g.) if you were just frum enough, the only airplanes you would ever miss were the ones that were going to crash anyway.

    For too many kiruv workers, machashavah isn’t about teaching, but about marketing. This creates a bias toward overly simple answers, anything to tie up the issues nicely with a bow in less than an hour. Marketing means showing the not-yet-observant how much clearer life’s goals are when veiwed from the Torah world. In reality, aggadita doesn’t work that way; life isn’t simple, neither are its answers going to be. (It probably pays to look at Torah more as a way to frame the questions more constructively than a list of answers. But that’s a different topic.)

    2- If I may detour into a vertl…

    “LaYhudim haysa orah visimchah visason viykar — for the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and preciousness.” Rabbi Yehudah (Megillah 13b) explains that orah (light) refers to Torah, simchah (happiness) is Yom Tov, sason (joy) is beris milah, and yeqar (preciousness) is tefillin.

    So why didn’t the megillah simply say “for the Jews there was Torah, holidays, milah and tefillin. Why the code words?

    In the first beis hamiqdash we had Torah, but it was not ohr to us. (This is related to the gemara blaming churban bayis on not making birkhas haTorah.) We observed the laws of Yom Tov, but found no simcha in it. We kept milah and wore tefillin, but with no joy or sense of preciousness. This basic misdirection, that halakhah was fulfilled as a duty, not a love, was what made the leadership unable to direct the masses.

    The kiruv worker is currently dealing with a population that are looking for ohr, and he can show them Torah. The BT is excited by his first amud, or his first Shabbasos, or his “tefillin tats” (as I recently heard an Ohr Samayach student in Y-m call the post-Shacharis stripes on his arm). He wants something precious, we show him tefillin.

    We are now talking about someone who knows Torah, or thinks he does, but no longer looks for the ohr. He wants to, he came to us, but he doesn’t have the tools to do so. The tefillin are a habit, not a precious adornment. Simply buying him a new pair and a copy of R’ Aryeh Kaplan’s seifer won’t change that — our searcher is in a rut, not a search for preciousness. He may have mastered Brisker derekh, but not how to turn those sevaros into a relationship with the Creator, being a more refined person, and giving to others.

    The needs of such programming is different. This may be why we at AishDas focused on finding new experiences, until now primarily culling Mussar sources, although we have also had singing minyanim and the like as well.

  • Steve Brizel

    Perhaps, it is time to realize that Kiruv/Chizuk, while being two sides of the same coin, require different skills and programs. Neither should be dependent on proofs which are of dubious longevity and merit. However, Kiruv can present Torah observance as the best means of how a Jew lives a life of profound moral value in any society. Chizuk , IMO, depends on offering a FFB an adult oriented program in Chumash, Jewish history, Machshavah and Biur Tefilah, as opposed to Darshanim and Magidim bewailing Gashmius and the surrounding world. Being on the offensive, as opposed to the defensive, to use a sports metaphor, is the common denominator that offers far more sucess than a defensive strategy that is rooted in negatively belittling the other.

  • David F.

    Reading all this, one gets the impression that the “kiruv movement” is a well-oiled and well-organized machine that marches in lockstep to certain beliefs, approaches, and tactics. As anyone involved in kiruv knows, it is anything but and that’s why reading this article [which makes it sound like AJOP sets the agenda - it doesn't and never has! It's a networking opportunity at best, not a trendsetter,] and the subsequent comments is so maddening to someone like myself who has been in the field for almost 20 years.

    Allow me to share with you some basic realities about Kiruv:

    1 – There are a few large organizations such as Chabad, Aish, NCSY, which follow a specific path and approach. While not every single one of their fieldworkers is 100% loyal to their approach, one can safely assume certain things when thinking about or discussing them. One should always be prepared to discover that this is not the case about a particular individual [for better or worse,] but of all the mekravim out there, these have the best chance of being somewhat similar.

    2 – There are literally hundreds of merkarvim who work independent of any larger organization. Some are young, old, male, female, chassidish, litvish, MO, etc. Their styles and approaches are as varied as the colors in a crayon box. Some push one thing, others another. Some are hands-off, while others are very hands-on.

    3 – Popular opinion notwithstanding, very few of them view their role as “Torah salesmen.” They don’t endeavor to be slick or fast-talking and certainly don’t intend to be misleading on anything ח”ו. To the contrary, many are very warm and loving individuals who care deeply about their fellow Jews and go to great lengths to help them in all areas – not only to convince them to become observant.

    4 – In all my years in Kiruv, I’ve never run a Torah Codes class, nor have any of the other mekarvim in our city [there are prob. 12 of them] with the exception of Aish which did it a few times but not in recent years. Nor do mekarvim that I know and work with run around pretending to “know all the answers.” They try to teach Torah and give shiurim catchy names and titles because they’re trying to compete with an apathetic public that needs glitz to catch its attention. The vast majority of the kiruv involves teaching regular chumash, halachah, talmud, hashkafah, and Yedios klaliyos classes, hosting them for Shabbos meals, visiting, fundraising etc.

    5 – Very few responsible mekarvim promise people a life of bliss upon becoming observant. In fact, I don’t know of any that do. They do point out to them the advantages of frum living which are many. Some also take the time to point out some of the disadvantages and try very hard to help them navigate the process in a smooth and responsible way, but this is more of an individual thing. Some do it very well – others less so. It’s definitely an area that could use improvement and mekarvim have been hearing about it a lot and many have taken this message to heart. It’s a mistake to dismiss it and pretend that improvements are not called for. They certainly are.

    6 – Mekarvim are much better at outreach than at inreach.While some of the messages and approaches overlap, they’re two different fields and should not be confused in my humble opinion. For those who prefer to believe that many of the problems within frum society is because of inadequate kiruv, I’d only say that they’d best acquaint themselves with the facts on the ground, not on the “reid” from the internet. There’s a place for inreach, but it’s not an easy or uncomplicated topic. To lay it at the feet of “lying mekarvim” is utter rubbish and unfit for a forum like CC.

    7 – I have long believed that mekarvim are convenient whipping boys for the discontented. They’re public and torah figures without the stature of conventional Talmidei Chachomim. What many don’t realize is how hard they work, how much dedication is required to be successful, and how difficult a life it is. They must raise their own funds, open their homes, be available 24/7 and always on the go. Life is lonely as a mekarev. This doesn’t absolve them from legitimate criticism, but it should give some of the armchair critics pause before stereotyping them unfairly.

  • micha

    A side-point about RDF’s recent post. I tend to classify kiruv organizations between those that teach an approach to Judaism, and those that teach Judaism in general, open to a variety of expressions. RDF’s point #1 appears to be classifying all kiruv organizations in the first camp, unless I misunderstand what he means about “approach”.

    Shema Yisrael split into Aish and Ohr Samayach over this issue. R’ Noach zt”l came up with a derekh that really appeals to westernized people, and that became Aish. Those who wanted to stick more to primary sources, who were basically yeshivish but had no problem hiring chasidim and the occasional MO rebbe, split off into Ohr Samayach. (Ohr Samayach shortly resplit afterwards, yielding Machon Shlomo.)

    There are tzedaqos that would hire me to teach Mussar or philosophy, and those which require that every lecturer be immersed in their approach to Judaism.

    IMHO, we need both. Places for someone to find their own way, and *a variety* of places each providing clear guidance in a particular (and appealing to many, otherwise the organization will fold, anyway) derekh.

    But NCSY (to pick a name from his comment) does not produce only OU-style Mod-O kids, and those who go on to learn in Israel learn in a wide variety of yeshivos. They do this by allowing the teens exposure to a variety, allowing their workers and volunteers more autonomy among a wider range of approaches,

  • yy

    and now that I’ve broken into the conversation… let me try again to comment on R’ Yitzchak’s reference to the Slonimer’s way (I think it was a technical glitch that made my earlier comment on this disappear). He said:

    “the way of the Slonimer Rebbe in Nesivos Shalom (…) a primal will to believe and an ease of attachment to the Divine. In other words, perhaps we ought not to tell people what they should believe, so much as show them who they are.”

    As a formal Slonimer for over a decade now, and a virtual one for more than two, I’d like to commend the first attempt to sum up the Rebbe zts”l’s way and tweak the second. It’s true that his message is an unbelievably eloquent, erudite and ever-deeper reminder of the nature of the neshama is to incline to Divine cleaving, if only we’d ease her way. BUT this does not preclude instructing others in the whats of emmuna. He subtly does this on nearly every page! His trick, so to speak, was in making it absolutely clear that this can only be lived if we know that it’s ALREADY happening within you. The challenge of Torah and Chossidus is to cultivate the seedling that He has ALREADY planted.

    Let G-D serve G-d!

    In psychotherapeutic terms, I call it G-d centered growth.

    Halavai that the kiruv movement could make a formal point of keeping this focus.

  • A. Schreiber

    David F., everyone knows that kiruv workers are not automatons, and are not ordered about through some central authority. We know that. But by the same token, there are countless strands or shades within orthodoxy, or the charedi world, yet it is still possible to discuss the basic common denominators through a convenient shorthand label. It’s the same thing with Kiruv workers.

    You claim that very few view their role as Torah salesmen. Would that this were so. In reality, many in the field dont think themselves successful until they’ve convinced someone to become shomer shabbos, at which point the BT is largely abandoned, and the kiruv worker moves on to the next target. If you dont think this is well-known problem, then you are simply out of touch.

    The role of the kiruv worker is to teach Torah, as best as he or she knows it, to those who have otherwise no exposure to it. IT DOESNT MATTER If THEY BECOME FRUM. Lord knows there are plenty of problems within orthodoxy, and our chain of “masorah” is nowhere near as pristine as we claim it is to outsiders. All we can ask is that Jews become a little more knowledgeable about their traditions and people. That, by itself alone, is the true measure of success.

  • Bob Miller

    If the field of kiruv is as large and varied as David F wrote above, it might be impossible to make blanket statements about it or its participants. It’s natural for the dissatisfied “customers” to make more waves in blogs than the satisfied ones who have other fish to fry.

  • David F.

    A. Shreiber,

    “But by the same token, there are countless strands or shades within orthodoxy, or the charedi world, yet it is still possible to discuss the basic common denominators through a convenient shorthand label. It’s the same thing with Kiruv workers.”

    I heartily disagree. If you want to speak about nuanced topics with any degree of accuracy, you’re best off not lumping everyone together even if it’s more convenient and helps you feel that you’re right in your larger point. My point is that within the Kiruv movement, there are some groups that can be categorized albeit imperfectly, but that the kiruv world is much larger and more varied than those groups even if they garner the majority of the attention.

    “In reality, many in the field dont think themselves successful until they’ve convinced someone to become shomer shabbos,”

    Thank you for making my point. I noticed that you used the word “many.” And just as many don’t believe that for a second, yet you and so many others believe that “all” merkarvim are hell-bent on getting to shmiras shabbos no matter what. My point was that some do see it as “Shmiras Shabbos or bust,” but there are plenty of mekarvim who don’t use that yardstick even if they pride or satisfaction in knowing that some of their students have become Shomrei shabbos. I trust that you don’t view that as a bad thing, do you?

    “at which point the BT is largely abandoned, and the kiruv worker moves on to the next target. If you dont think this is well-known problem, then you are simply out of touch.”

    This was a point that I didn’t address in my initial post and I certainly agree that it is a problem. I’ll be the first to say that many mekarvim are guilty of this and I’ve railed against it for years. There are some who are better at this, but the movement on the whole has failed to address this need adequately.

    “The role of the kiruv worker is to teach Torah, as best as he or she knows it, to those who have otherwise no exposure to it. IT DOESNT MATTER If THEY BECOME FRUM. Lord knows there are plenty of problems within orthodoxy, and our chain of “masorah” is nowhere near as pristine as we claim it is to outsiders. All we can ask is that Jews become a little more knowledgeable about their traditions and people. That, by itself alone, is the true measure of success.”

    And that my fried is YOUR opinion. Many mekarvim agree with you [Chabad etc.] and many do not. I presume you can accept that there is a difference of opinion on this point and you can respect others who feel differently than you. If you ever dip your toe in the water, you’re free to do as you wish. In the meantime, try to respect those who feel otherwise and take a few minutes to pause whether they’re truly deserving of freestyle criticism or perhaps they deserve some respect and appreciation. That was my main point in my initial post. There are areas where criticism is warranted [see above], but there’s plenty of unfair and stereotypical criticism as well. Discerning folks should be able to distinguish between the two.

  • Formerly Orthodox

    Dissatisfied as well as satisfied FFBs, who may be exclusively focused on the details of halacha and have lost sight of the big picture, could definitely benefit from a review of some of the fundamentals of Jewish belief that inspire the uninitiated. Every Jew should understand the nature of the mission of the Jewish people in the world, and how the performance of mitzvot helps to achieve that goal, in addition to the personal benefits of mitzvah observance. Individuals and communities perhaps need to make changes to their observance of Yiddishkeit in order to better accomplish the basic purposes of their religion.

    On the subject of how kiruv should be conducted (which seems to be proliferating in the comments, if it is not the original message of the post), I would suggest that since the realities of the Orthodox world don’t always match up to the ideals presented by kiruv professionals, (as evident in articles such as the surprisingly scathing “In Praise of Diversity” by the author of this post which appeared in “Klal Perspectives”, Vol. 1, Issue 1), perhaps young BTs should be warned of the possible perils that await them. For instance, we would like to have been informed about the inferior quality of the secular education in Jewish days schools, which, despite the emphasis on middos, is not compensated by a superior level of classroom behavior. Many years after becoming frum, we were dismayed to discover that higher secular education is discouraged, and young people are not given the opportunity to acquire adequate skills to be able to fully support themselves as adults. The latter point applies mainly to right wing Orthodox institutions, but we were discouraged from exploring Modern Orthodoxy in the beginning by some of our teachers who had a disparaging attitude towards that movement. (However, we realize that parents who send their kids to MO schools have no guarantee that their kids wont “flip out” while studying in Israel). Of course, I’m being somewhat facetious, since kiruv workers wouldn’t want to scare off their recruits, nor could they anticipate what future events might present a challenge to the faith of particular individuals who they introduce to frumkeit.

    As always, I appreciate the efforts that Rabbi Adlerstein is making to enlighten the Orthodox world, and to affect changes that will bring Klal Yisroel closer to fulfilling G_d’s ultimate plan.

  • LG

    Having attended the InReach conference, I find myself confused by R. Adlerstein’s description of the event as being “an opportunity to hear from some of the best presenters in the world of kiruv, and to gain chizuk and inspiration from them” and these many commentaries about the nature of kiruv.

    It was advertised that the InReach Conference was designed for “people who want to help themselves, their families, friends and communities come closer to H’” (as written in the advertisement) — in other words, not particularly related to “kiruv professionals” — I even asked at registration mai nafkemina for holding it concurrent with the AJOP convention and was told there was no connection!

    Although there have been other attempts to inspire the velt — such as with R. Tauber’s Shalhevet organization, I never thought that this conference was designed as a “Gateways for frum people” — I.e. trying to convince us of the fundamentals of our faith. Rather, my expectation was that the attendees would be ma’aminim who were looking for MORE, more ruchnius, more vitality in our connection to H’. As such, I was disappointed in the classes.

    My feeling was that although there were many nice thoughts and ideas expressed, there was not nearly enough of a focus on the main point — which is how to make our avodas Hashem INCLUDE HASHEM! This is an extremely different project than trying to convince the unconvinced that there is H’ in the first place! Furthermore, I’m not at all sure that “kiruv professionals” are equipped to teach to that point. What I heard was a lot of nice, general chizuk about “getting close to your spouse” as opposed to coming closer to H’ through the marital relationship.

    Again, perhaps it was an incorrect expectation, but I thought the conference intended to address the many ways in which people have lost a sense that they are developing a relationship with the Borei Olam through the observance of mitzvos – to address how to avoid becoming hollow or shallow in our Yiddishkeit. And there were definitely others who were also disappointed that I spoke with, although they too appreciated the idea of the conference.

    It’s absolutely wonderful that such a conference was organized — now I just hope that the next one will stick closer to the advertising blurb.

    So with the greatest respect to R. Adlerstein, I am still perplexed on his take on the conference.