Klal Perspectives: New Issue on Connectedness

With pride, we announce the third issue of the online journal Klal Perspectives. Is there an epidemic of spiritual malaise, even among people fully observant? How widespread are feelings of lack of connection with the Ribbono Shel Olam? What has changed in recent times? Have solutions been found that are effective in whole or in part? These are some of the most pressing questions to a large part of the Orthodox world, and once again, Klal Perspectives brings together a diversity of analyses and suggestions across a spectrum of Orthodox thought.

We thank HKBH and some of the shakers and movers of this project that we have been able to keep to our timetable as a quarterly. A personal observation that brought home to me how just how well the animating spirit of this journal has been received. (Full disclosure: I am a member of its editorial board.) For the first issue, board members had to put in significant time urging, convincing, cajoling prospective writers, after we assembled a list of those we from whom we thought we would want to hear. By the second issue, by and large, targeted contributors were willing to contribute without any arm-twisting. This issue harvested more submissions than we has originally planned on. Some personalities who were, for one reason or another, not on our list of prospects contacted us and asked to write! We hope that the community senses that even when some of our problems seem intractable, we are blessed with gifted and dedicated thinkers. We hope, be-ezras Hashem, that if enough of them are allowed to continue to use their imaginations, we can make some progress in improving the rich bounty of Kerem Yisrael.

Rather than present my own overview, I present below the entire Foreward, which offers an abstract of each article:

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger: “Just One Thing is Missing: The Soul”
In every generation, the outside world stands as a tempting alternative
to Yiddishkeit, yet wielding the axe against it has never provided more
than a short-term, superficial respite. Only a deep, introspective,
passionate Yiddishkeit, bursting with a tangible consciousness of
Hashem’s presence, can expose the emptiness of any alternative.
Recent decades have shown that for rabbis and teachers, selfrevelation
– in which they share their own experiences and struggles in
Yiddishkeit – has become an absolute educational necessity.

Rabbi Yaakov Glasser: The Vital Role of Experiential Jewish
Education
Many of the factors that inhibit connectedness and spirituality within
our community can be overcome most effectively through informal
educational programming – especially for adolescents, for whom this
is essential. In such environments, promoting values such as religious
growth, individuality in religious identity, maturation of religious
ideals, mentorship, expelling cynicism and embracing questions as an
authentic search for religious meaning can all contribute to a more
spiritual and connected religious community.

Rav Ahron Lopiansky: Self-Inspiration – A Tool for LifeBoth Chassidus and the Mussar Movement emphasized the essential
need for deliberate efforts to stimulate an emotional dimension to
shmiras hamitzvos – both because ahava, yirah and simcha are core
Torah values, and because Torah observance without emotion
inevitably falls into decline. This vital lesson seems to have been lost
on us, as has the pivotal role of the Mashgiach Ruchani dedicated to
inspiring emotional engagement in his students. Parents must seek
such additions to their childrens’ educational experience, and demand
that yeshivos return to these ideals.

Rabbi Bentzion Twerski: Is Serving Hashem Still a “Jewish” Ideal? As has happened in the past, we are a generation who seem able to
relate to the intellectual pursuit of Torah study to the exclusion of
service of the heart. We must not deceive ourselves that Torah study
alone is adequate. Steps we can take to deepen our connection to Torah
and mitzvos include investing more in connecting to Hashem through
tefilah, learning to appreciate “hachana l’mitzvah” (preparation for the
mitzvah), joining or forming a chevra for mutual support and acquiring
a particular approach based on available sefarim.

Rabbi Yitzchok Feigenbaum: Been There, Done That: Why Being
Frum Is So Boring
Today’s teenagers are increasingly disconnected, disenchanted and
suffering from a spiritual malaise more severe than any in our
memory. The primary goal of yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs today must
be, in the words of Sara Shneirer “to make frum girls [and boys] from
frum homes proud and excited about their Yiddishkeit.” To provide
students with the sense of accomplishment, uniqueness and self-worth
essential to their development, we must encourage individualism,
validate their struggles, embrace failure, encourage questions and give
up the pretenses that taint our chinuch.

Moishe Bane: Merely CopingThe small cadre of American Jews still loyal to halacha aspire to
connect to G-d but they are deeply scarred by centuries of bitter exile
and unspeakable suffering, during which G-d’s face remained hidden.
Nevertheless, Torah observance was maintained in America –
primarily through cultural ghettos that strengthened Orthodox
identification with community. For a variety of reasons, the walls of
the cultural ghettos are wearing thin, and the sense of insular, frum
identity is fading, undermining the connection to G-d and Torah, as
well. To survive this horrid golus, the connections among Torah Jews
must be reinvigorated and intensified and the community must become
a sense of pride that is not based on parochialism.

Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox: The Abandonment of the Soul: The Struggle
of Dispirited Observant Jews
While some of those struggling with spiritual connection grew up
without any feeling spiritual ties to their observance, others struggle to
rediscover the faded passion that once directed their religious
behavior. Spiritual stagnation often results when adults have not
contemplated their “god concept” or their sense of the Sacred since
childhood. When spiritual development matures over time, with
reflective contemplation, with experience, with study, through candid
discussion with select others, and with clarification of what we
believe, religious practice among the Orthodox may be more fulfilling
and rewarding.

Chaya Newman: A Time for InspirationThe alleged perception that there is an “increasing number of Jews
across the spectrum who feel no meaningful connection to Hashem,
His Torah or even His People” is unfortunately more than a perception
– it is reality. G-dliness is no longer felt in most homes; instead, there
is the “false god” of money, luxury and the accumulations of goods.
Perhaps it is time for schools and yeshivas to create a curriculum
whose main goal is inspiration and emotional connection. It is time for
a serious consideration of kiruv kerovim.

Jonathan Rosenblum: Creating an Environment for Developing
Closeness to Hashem
Although the desire for a deeper relationship with Hashem must come
from each individual, there are important environmental factors that
have an influence. Examples include one’s general level of satisfaction
with life as a frum Jew, opportunities for youthful idealism and for
making a difference, limitation of materialism and openness about Gd’s
love for us. It is also essential that young people are taught the
principles of emunah and that they have role models of great people
from whom to learn.

Rabbi Shalom Baum: Looking Inward to Move UpwardIn considering the spiritual needs of Torah-observant Jews today, it is
helpful to recognize two distinct groups: those who have consciously
and deliberately chosen their observant lifestyle even if raised
observant and those whose commitment is derived solely from
upbringing. Both groups suffer from oversimplified views of religious
experience that fail to appreciate the ongoing, inner struggle
characteristic of meaningful growth – whether from an imagined place
of strength or from one of weakness. The absence of substantial
introspection of the deeply committed also deprives them from being
better role models for the less committed.

Judith Cahn, EdD: Family, School and Community: The
Psychological Impact of Connectedness
Numerous, empirical broad-based studies have examined adolescent
connectedness to family, school, and community and its impact on
their health and adjustment. Since Jewish day schools and yeshivot
currently serve as the center of the Jewish community, these
institutions need to maintain environments that encourage student
feelings of connectedness and to guide parents about how best to
provide home environments that promote feelings of connectedness
within the family.

Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser: Defrosting JudaismThere is an urgent need to draw close not only those who are feeling
disconnected but also the many others who are feeling relatively
uninspired. Our challenge is heightened by the pervasive inroads
secular culture has made into our insular community with the advent of
the Internet and by the decreasing numbers of individuals who have a
rav to follow as their spiritual leader. Some ideas to bring the spirit
back into our observance include programs to enhance deeper
appreciation of mitzvos and increased expressiveness of our love for
Torah and mitzvos that nurture devotion and passion in our children.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein: An Observation and Some Modest
Proposals
Connectedness is experienced by different people in different ways –
some with outward passion and energetic expression, and others more
inwardly. As such, multiple approaches will be necessary. Some
suggestions: connection to Hashem can be revved up by shouldering
more responsibility for His mission and work; encourage young people
to engage in growth experiences outside academic curriculum;
providing meaningful challenges through which effort must be applied
to make Torah one’s own; setting goals in learning that can be
monitored by others and, in particular, learning the works of the
Nesivos Shalom.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky: The First Connection is to Your Inner SelfThe root cause of people not feeling a connection with G-d (or with
society) is frequently the absence of a true connection with, and
appreciation of, their own “self” – a prerequisite for knowing another
with any depth. To nurture this connection with self, we must focus far
more teaching on midos and refinement of midos and we must
recognize and value different talents and abilities and offer
frameworks for advancing goals connected with life’s purpose. Key
obstacles are lack of time and rampant consumerism.

Shifra Rabenstein: The Good Old DaysToo many Orthodox Jews are simply less growth-oriented and
generally satisfied with a religious status quo. Contributing factors
include insufficient grounding in the basics of emunah, the intrusion of
secular culture and shortcomings in our educational systems. Possible
solutions include painting a picture of Judaism for students as the
wonderful, meaningful and exciting experience that it is, offering
students opportunities to spend time with teachers outside of a formal
classroom setting, better modeling our intended relationship with
Hashem and introducing hashkafah in a more robust manner.

Rabbi Gidon Rothstein: Searching for God Where God is FoundThe need for ‘religious fulfillment’ or ‘spiritual connection’ can too
often be a subjective need to feel good rather than a sign of meaningful
connection; the overriding goal must be avodat Hashem, service of
God, rather than just personal feeling. Moving ourselves in that
direction involves a gentle but consistent process of putting God in the
center of our decisions.

Rabbi Shmuel Silber: Struggling with Connection: Ancient
Challenge, Contemporary Suggestions
Religious apathy consistently has been one of our people’s greatest
challenges – albeit with varying causes. Some of today’s causes are:
we focus on rules but not on their meaning and relevance, we don’t
know God well enough and we tend to expect instant spirituality. To
address these, respectively, schools should emphasize understanding
principles more than acquiring knowledge and adults need a
revitalized program of ongoing substantive education, we must focus
on issues of faith and the discipline of emunah and we must promote
the virtue of perseverance as a key to spiritual growth.

Rabbi Dovid Goldman: Whose Torah is It?Ideally, learning Torah over the long term should bring about a deeper
connection to Torah, and thus to Hashem and His people, but this is
too often not succeeding. In recent times, mussar, chasidus, Torah
lishma and “Rav Chaim’s derech” played vital roles in forging this
personal connection to Torah but various factors have led to a critical
distortion in how the relationship between Yisrael and Torah is
viewed. To feel connected to Torah, we must know that Yisrael was
not created to keep the Torah – the Torah was created for the sake of
Yisrael.

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10 comments to Klal Perspectives: New Issue on Connectedness

  • Steve Brizel

    The above responses were all superb and illustrated IMO the malady-not having a profound sense of awareness of HaShem Yisborach in our lives, but rather viewing life as a serious of goals no different that the secular world views material success, etc. Perhaps, we all need to talk more about how HaShem Yisborach is both Avinu and Malkenu , HaShem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kidshanu Bmitzvosav a lot more than we do via the study of Shabbos, Moadim,Chumash , Siddur and Mazhzor on an adult level. R C Karlenstein ZL in his beautiful discussions on Pesach aptly notes that in terms of preparing for Kabalas HaTorah there is no comparison between one’s observance of a YT ( and Shabbos as well) by preparing for the same by learning about it than if one merely opens the Siddur and Machzor without having done so. RYBS also noted that with respect to the Yamim Noraim that one needed Slichos as a means of preparing for the Kedushas HaYom of the Yamim Noraim.

  • Neil Harris

    I have read this issue two time already. I’m so happy that leaders within our communities are not only bringing this issue to light, but offering solutions. A common idea is the start of groups/vaadim/chaburos based on growth-oriented seforim.

    Yashar Koach!

    Neil Harris
    Chicago

  • Gershon Seif

    I am very excited about this issue. I’ve read about 1/3 of this so far and I know I will be reviewing this over and over.

    IMHO all of us need to spend time thinking about the solutions offered and consider which of them can be implemented in our homes, kehillos, schools, etc.

    Very refreshing to see this as a focal point!

  • micha

    The AishDas Society was founded to address this issue. To quote our Mission Statement:
    The AishDas Society empowers Jews to utilize their observance in a process for building
    thoughtful and passionate relationships with their Creator, other people and themselves.
    To do so, we offer unique programs, educational events and a supportive community,
    and help other organizations develop programs and curricula.

    As it says, we are committed to being a resource for shuls and other groups that would like suggestions and assistance getting such programming going.

    -Micha Berger
    micha@aishdas.org

  • cvmay

    WHEW!!! Where to begin and how to find the time to truly digest ideas and solutions.

    Please remind me again where can I get a hard copy of the Khal Perspectives?

    [YA - Until today, there was no way to get a hard copy, other than to print it out yourself. (There is an option to print out the entire issue as a pdf, optimized for space, or to print individual articles.) Just a few hours ago, we began offering hard copies for $8. They can be obtained at http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/kp-spring-2012/12824031 ]

  • Pragmatician

    I have enjoyed the first and the courageous second edition immensely and am looking froward to read the spring articles.

    Thank you for informing us of it’s publication.

  • micha

    The essence is, as Neil Harris put it in his Manifesto for a Culture of Growth, is to promote that “culture of growth”. If we view the task as “מִי יַעֲלֶה בְהַר ה׳ — Who will ascend Hashem’s mountain?” (Tehillim 24:3) then we can say that different people, starting their ascent from different point at the foot of that mountain will need to travel in different directions to find the peak. All are benei aliyah, people actively pursuing ascent, and thus have a common spirit despite difference in derekh.

    This is the meaning of Shelomo haMelekh’s dictum, “Chanokh lenaar al pi darko — teach the youth according to his ways.” Each of us have our own abilities and proclivities, and therefore each will find the different ways of viewing the Torah’s ideal more or less fitting. Do I see that ideal in terms of who I am to become? What kind of relationship I am to forge with G-d? With the world? And if I do see it as personal refinement — do I take the German Jewish approach of personal dignity or the Mussarist focus on various middot? What kind of relationship with the Almighty is ideal? What aspects of how He appears to us am I capable of relating to? And so on. All following the same goal. But with different ways of viewing that goal, we will end up with different paths and different prioritizations.

    So I will focus on the meta-issues, the culture of growth. How do we become benei aliyah?
    I think the first step is to invest more time studying aggadic texts. One needs to see how various mesoretic voices describe the ideal, have a developed notion of what that ideal is, before developing a program of working toward it. Not just what the ideal is, but how to frame that notion in a way that fits my personality and talents.

    But while finding a model of the Torah’s ideal that I am more able to pursue might be primarily an intellectual pursuit, following that ideal is more experiential. We all know the problem of akrasia, even if that word is Greek to you. It is the question of why people do things they know is wrong or against their best interests? Knowing what’s right is not enough. “Veyadata hayom vehasheivosa el levavekha — You know today, and you will answer your heart.” Our minds know things that still need to make their ways into the core of our beings to change who we are and how we act.

    AishDas has had success forming ve’adim (literally: committees) that follow those composed by R’ Shlomo Wolbe and found in Alei Shur vol II, sec. 2-3. The va’ad concept is a product of the Mussar Movement, and those ve’adim in section 2 are more middos oriented. However, reviewing the topics in section 3 shows that the same format can be applied to goals such as adding passion to Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. On the meta-level, it is a format that provides experience interacting and living up to a text, and a group of peers working together who you can turn to for support. Regardless of which approach up the mountain the group is taking.

    So what is a vaad, as I am using the term? It’s a small sized group that studies a text regularly (like a chaburah). But, they also explore how to apply the text to their own lives. Every session ends with some daily exercise they take upon themselves to grow incrementally in that area. E.g.: Not to express anger at dinner time. To spend time lingering on each word of one sentence of Shemoneh Esrei, feeling as many connotations and implications as they can before moving on. Etc…

    And so, a vaad meeting typically begins with a discussion of how things were going with the exercise, or with any other part of one’s avodas Hashem (service of G-d) that they want the group’s input in. Then the text study. Then thoughts about how the ideal in the text applies to the lives of the members. And finally a discussion of the exercise, which may be tailored based on prior progress.

    A sefer like Alei Shur has the advantage of already presenting sequences of texts and exercises. This creates the ability to have a group even without the commitment of someone ready to prepare material. Obviously, a synagogue rabbi could learn to produce material for a vaad, just as they do for lectures and shiurim.

    Anyway, I deeply feel the path up the mountain is setting the mind on a goal through learning, and making impressions in the heart through more experiential modalities.

    “Ben Zoma said:… Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” If Ben Zoma meant happy with where they are now, his would be a recipe for complacency and stagnation. Rather, I believe he is telling us to be happy with our entire lot from birth to grave, the path Hashem places us upon.

  • SA

    I’ve gotten through a few of the essays and I notice that many of the writers I’ve read so far are calling for no less than a revamping of much of the frum community’s educational system.

    How exactly is that going to happen? And how, if educational institutions have (at least in theory), been following da’as Torah all along, did they get to the point that they are producing graduates who are sorely lacking in some basic foundations of Yiddishkeit? What’s been missing all along?

    [YA - Could be that we have different definitions and expectation of Daas Torah. Without launching another interminable thread about it, suffice it to say that there are still bnei Torah around who do not see Daas Torah as an oracle, but as an address you go to get the special insight vouchsafed to people whose minds have been molded by HKBH's Torah. You get another dimension of depth - but not nevuah.

    Why couldn't people see what was coming? There are many reasons, including the understandable tendency not to rock the boat that is still making good progress upstream. With all the problems of dissatisfaction and lack of connection, we are still producing people loyal in great part to Hashem and His Torah. The Torah community is slow to change - which is probably a much better approach than being too quick to change.

    A publication like KP, some of us think, can nudge the process along a bit faster, by stimulating enough discussion that our manhigim will take greater notice, buoyed by the knowledge that many people are clamoring for those changes.]

  • micha

    SA:

    I think the focus on formal education is misplaced. It’s another aspect of what I wrote about as the need for experiential programming. We aren’t talking about imparting facts to the brain, but inculcating values to the heart. I therefore tend to agree with R’ Glasser’s article about the value of informal educational settings. That is where truths are experienced, rather than studied.

    I have a friend who has taught Pre-1A boys for decades. The end of the curriculum on reading is teaching sheva nach (silent) vs sheva na (pronounced schwa). In the early days, it didn’t come naturally; how many of us learned diqduq in yeshiva? But now it’s transparent to him, and how he davens as well. But his students do not fare as well. After his class, they enter first grade, where the focus is on siddur and chumash, not qeri’ah and vowel marks. And their subsequent rebbes, from 1st grade through beis medrash, are not likely to pay attention to grammatical niceties. So, it all falls out the window.

    Similarly, perhaps the strongest education we can give our children is for them to see parents who are grappling with these issues in their own lives, and thus they learn informally that Torah values, spirituality, connection to Hashem and the Jewish people, are important.

    There is also a way to bring that kind of education into the classroom. For example: Right now there are numerous middos programs for schools; various different curricula that all boil down to truisms like, “Modesty is Good”, “Honoring your elders is good”, “Anger is bad”, etc… It becomes trite at a pretty early grade, and then Middah education falls off. There is also little indication that such cerebral imparting of information does much to change actual behavior. People learn how to behave from peers and role models. (Again suggesting that adult programs may need to come before we focus attention on education.)

    However, teachers and administrators do talk to their students in the school setting in ways other than imparting information. Rather than teaching the value of various middos, they can use these interactions to foster awareness of middos. Decisions are made through a conflict of middos, desires, aspirations, etc… We can teach students that language when educators (and parents) have occasion to discuss those decisions. For example: “When Sarah threw that ball at you, what middah did it trigger? If you could have stopped to realize it was an accident, how would you have responded?” Getting the child to realize that in this incident, her Temper (middah of ka’as) outweighed her Awareness (zehirus) will do far more toward improving her future behavior than stopping after a poster and worksheet about how losing one’s temper is as bad as idolatry.

  • Formerly Orthodox

    I thoroughly enjoyed this latest issue of Klal Perspectives, and learned something from each article. There is one outlook, however, with which I do not agree.
    Some of the authors imply that since the intrusion of secular culture presents a challenge to alienated, “at-risk” observant Jews, we should isolate ourselves even more from the “outside” world. (At least none of them say explicitly that exposure to outside influences and the lure of materialistic pleasures by themselves cause the discontent). However, for those who find fulfillment in (kosher) secular pursuits that they aren’t able to achieve through Torah study or ritual observance, this approach would actually increase their dissatisfaction with the Orthodox lifestyle. I would even suggest that such an isolationist attitude itself can cause certain people to feel disconnected from the Orthodox community, namely, those Jews who believe that open-mindedness and tolerance (in moderation) are positive Torah values that contribute to the success of the mission of Klal Israel. In fact, Rabbi Adlerstein promotes the idea in his article that involving oneself in Hashem’s work is one way to inspire religious enthusiasm.

    On the topic of R. Adlerstein’s article, at the risk of sounding incredibly cynical, I think it is possible that the reason that so many children of Chabad families become shalichim is that they don’t have exposure to any other way of life, nor the education for any other profession.

    As an aside, it is curious that none of the authors mention doing chesed as a way to strengthen one’s connection to Hashem.