Klal Perspectives: The Kiruv Issue

The second volume of Klal Perspectives begins with an issue that examines kiruv: where it is, and where it is going. Some of us thought that this would be a change of pace topic, more upbeat, easily digestible, controvesy-free, and inherently upbeat. It did not quite turn out that way, which is probably a good thing.

Previous issues have sometimes hosted contributions that fairly jumped off the pages, and became platinum favorites. Faigie Twerski’s piece in the Winter 2012 issue, and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger’s in the Spring 2012 issue come to mind. If you are looking for such an article in this issue, you will probably want to immediately print out Rabbi Ilan Feldman’s article. Pass it around to family members, and make it the discussion centerpiece at your Shabbos table.

That is not to say that it will substitute for reading the rest of the issue. To the contrary. Rabbi Feldman’s piece will make the most sense after reading what kiruv professionals write about what they are doing and why. A foreward provides capsule summaries of the articles, to make it easier to decide on the order than you may want to read the rest of the issue.

Another new feature is a section of reactions to the contributions by members of the Klal Perspectives Editorial Board. Two of the editors – Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum and myself – weigh in on how the submissions as a group impacted us. Although the two of us rarely disagree, in this case we are at each other’s throats. (We remain more than good friends.) As bait, I hereby throw out my afterword to the issue. (IF you have no patience for the entire piece, the sections I am really hoping that people will read are two paragraphs towards the end, beginning with the words “in so many areas.”)

IT’S NOT YOUR MOTHER’S KIRUV

THIS IS THE STORY OF how I, as one of the editors of Klal Perspectives, lost my place in kiruv Paradise, and how I found my way back again.

As I dove into the submissions we received for this issue, little did I realize that I would find it similar to beholding what used to be an angelic child who has turned into a teenager. The experience can age a person beyond his years. I found myself traveling back to memories of another time in kiruv, and comparing the outreach of old with descriptions of the current version. Soon I was longing for an era that seemed to have passed without our realizing that it had slipped by. How had things become so….different? I began to fret. Could this work? What would the future bring?

As an editor of Klal Perspectives, I had hoped that this issue would offer a change of pace after the ponderous topics of previous issues. Here was a topic, I thought, that would elicit a plethora of completely upbeat responses. Every article, I expected, would bring a smile to readers’ lips.

Many readers will react that way, and I am happy for them. We did, after all, gratefully receive a good number of thoughtful responses from highly competent practitioners of kiruv.
I, however, could not manage a broad, cheek-to-cheek grin. I found myself discomfited by some unanswered questions and challenges. We had posed some very specific questions to our potential contributors. Some were particularly difficult. I am an enthusiastic kiruv booster, but I am painfully aware of the new-fangled skepticism about kiruv, and I wanted the authors to convince us that the outreach enterprise remains one of the crown jewels of contemporary Torah living. I was hoping that the authors would make an effective case that kiruv should occupy a position of prominence on the hierarchy of community priorities. I wanted to feel good, but did not want to receive self-congratulatory testimonials.

We had issued a challenge to our writers: show us that kiruv pays off. Justify the expense in time, talent and money. Show us that kiruv has not stalled out. Demonstrate how it is cost effective. Hit us with cold facts and figures – the case you would make to reassure an efficiency-oriented donor. As I started reading the contributions, I grew concerned. I was learning a good deal about some genuinely exciting new strategies and programs, but I was not getting the reassurances that I was looking for. Almost unanimously, contributors simply avoided answering the questions, or explained why they could not provide the requested facts and arguments. Some explained why it is difficult to provide a metric for kiruv success. Nonetheless, they confidently insisted that kiruv was a worthwhile endeavor. (I was already convinced of that.) Most of the other articles seemed to say, “You asked us to hit one out of the park. We are not sure we can do that in regard to numbers and cost-efficiencies. But we can nail a line drive just over the head of the shortstop – at least our particular organization can – and that will get a player to first base.” My hope – shared by some of my colleagues – is that the contributors, after reading the other pieces in this issue and hearing some of the critique by their fellow kiruv professionals, will respond with follow-up articles or letters, which we will be happy to publish.

This, however, was not altogether reassuring. In first reading the submissions, I found myself looking at something very different from what I had committed myself to some decades ago. I was used to passion and exuberance on the part of kiruv professionals – dreamy visions of an idyllic future, couched in superlatives. In the kiruv I knew and championed, it was taken for granted that vigorous outreach would both change the face of the frum community, and lead the rest of Jewry back to observance. All Jews back then were divided into three categories: FFB’s, BT’s, and NYBT’s, the last acronym indicating Not Yet Baalei Teshuva. The new realities that now stood before my eyes weighed heavily upon my mood. So much had changed from the kiruv of yesteryear!

What changed? Here is a quick inventory of the differences.

Who is doing it. Kiruv had come of age since the time that our impressions of it were created. It had once been the peg upon which a small number of souls on fire hung their visionary hats. Once a small number of impassioned souls heeded a call to rescue their brothers and sisters from impending doom. They were an expeditionary force sent into a war zone, trudging through the mire of cynicism and rejection, and carrying huge burdens of fundraising in their backpacks. Today, kiruv is a job description. For a yungerman on the cusp of leaving kollel to earn a living, and without any specific career training, one of the options for consideration is kiruv. (This does not imply that such people will not do a good job. Clearly, many rise to the occasion once they learn the ropes. They deserve credit and appreciation for locating themselves in communities that some of their peers will not consider. Nonetheless, what used to be an expeditionary force has become a regular army.) In earlier times, mekarvim boldly proclaimed that they could turn around a generation. Those they would inspire would in turn inspire their families and friends, and an entire people could be turned around. It didn’t quite happen. To be sure, across North America, baalei teshuvah have increased the numbers of mispallelim in shuls and children in the classroom. They have introduced new skills and a renewed enthusiasm to Orthodoxy Judaism. Like most revolutions, however, by the second generation they had become establishment. Today, kiruv is similar to a rescue effort after an earthquake. You tend to the victims you think you can still save, aware that most will remain buried under the rubble.

Who is open to it. Kiruv used to be looking to a different audience. The spiritual seekers of the Sixties and Seventies – the low-hanging fruit at the Kotel on the way back from Tibet, waiting to be plucked by R. Meir Schuster (may HKBH send him a refuah bekarov) and ably directed to a Shabbos meal or a yeshivah – are nowhere to be found. The number of mekarvim has dramatically grown, but enrollment in kiruv yeshivos has shrunk. Young people are no longer eager to put their life plans on hold for a few years while they explore their heritage or find themselves; the career marketplace has turned much more competitive, cruel and demanding. Hence, the debate about focus. Should it be college students? Couples starting families? Back then, the issue was triage. With so many to help, whom do we help first? Today some of us are questioning whether a much larger number are beyond help, at least bederech hateva (absent a miracle).

The sources from which it draws. Rabbi Buchwald charges in his contribution that kiruv never really “made” baalei teshuvah. For the most part, the numbers came not from the spiritually unwashed, but from people with some religious background, primarily through the Conservative movement. That movement, however, is now in its death throes, closing its schools and temples and moving towards a merger with Reform. It failed miserably in its long-term goal of conserving halachic practice for future generations. Those future generations they were anticipating are the young people of today who are marrying out without flinching, or who have dropped out of Jewish affiliation altogether. The inexorable slide of the Conservative movement into spiritual oblivion will mean even fewer kiruv candidates from their ranks in the future.

How Orthodoxy’s coming of age drives down the numbers. Orthodoxy itself has changed. It once had a certain mystique of being sort of other-worldly, a counterculture of cholent rather than weed. It was relatively unknown to the outsider, except for its reputation –known only from a distance – for authenticity. Its faults were hidden from public view. Being Orthodox was presumed to demand sacrifice and discipline in the pursuit of spiritual rewards.
Today, we are in the public spotlight often, but not to receive adulation and admiration. We cannot even count the number of front-page scandals that have marred the image of the Torah Jew. We are viewed, on the one hand, as harboring abusers, banning books and women’s faces, as intellectually rejectionist and primitive, judgmental and xenophobic, and perpetuating the cycle of dependency that Senator Moynihan observed in other communities. On the other hand, we are depicted as materialistic and self-indulgent, spending far in excess of what we earn. The outsider looking in (and the media help him do it with the click of a mouse) sees greater variety in eateries, wine labels, designer sheitels and Pesach orgies of consumption than in ways of connecting with Divinity. In a word, as we have exploded in size, we have become a less inviting community to join.

Rabbi Avrohom Edelstein’s piece set me on the road to recovery. He answered each of our questions with facts and figures. Where he had none, he evidenced that the inability to respond was due to the inherent ambiguity of the question, not for lack of trying. As the head of Ner L’Elef, he has placed hundreds of mekarvim in all sorts of positions and places. Many of our other contributors are good examples of the Rambam’s ba’al melachah achas: they are expert and passionate about their own bailiwick. Rabbi Edelstein, however, observes the entire landscape¬¬ – the successes and the failures, the traditional and the novel. He is convinced that the number of people interested in Judaism is growing rather than shrinking. His treatment of the topic was nothing less than magisterial.

Rabbi Ilan Feldman was also magisterial, but in the realm of hashkafa (perspective). He speaks to our hearts and minds, reminiscent of the idealism some of us heard in a different generation. Perhaps that is because he is part of that generation that heard the exhortations of Rav Nachman Bulman, zt”l, and watched the unflagging energy Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt”l personally brought to the avodah of kiruv. By taking us back to an earlier time, he gives us the clearest mandate for the future.

Rabbi Feldman’s thesis is powerful. The greatest asset we possess is the presentation of a Torah-based community that is so attractive as to be irresistible. Kiruv has slowed because we no longer are that community. We may be an observant community, but we are no longer a model community. “Fifteen or twenty years ago we were pretty confident in asserting that being frum was not only a fulfillment of G-d’s will, but that Orthodoxy represented a lifestyle that would provide a family with tranquility, healthy relationships, proper values and meaningful spirituality. Over the last two decades, however, there has been an undeniable recognition that a morass of social, familial and religious challenges have crept into our families… The mindset of an ‘Observant Community’ is fearful focus on the threat of secularism and its enticing allure, with little attention allocated to the power and grandeur of Torah. Strangers are suspect. The wagons must be circled… The first step in the outreach’s agenda must be the transformation of the frum community. We must recognize that many non-observant families are led by emotionally and financially secure and successful educated parents who respect wisdom, consider weekend volunteerism to be an exalted way of spending one’s free time, and view wholesome family activities on Saturday afternoon as a healthy way of building character. We cannot possibly expect such parents to join a society in which routine Shabbos table talk favors disparaging secular wisdom rather than exploring subtleties and ethical messages in Torah.”

Rabbi Feldman’s prescription gives me hope because it ties the future of kiruv to the very future of the Torah community. With HKBH Himself guaranteeing the latter, the former will surely follow as well. Count me as a returnee to kiruv Paradise.

The Paradise that I returned to, however, is still not the unspoiled place it was before Man left his imprint. My enthusiasm for the kiruv enterprise may have been reignited, but uneasiness with some of the contributions continues. I remain convinced that our asking direct, pointed questions of the contributors was the right way to go. It is disappointing that many contributors did not care or were unable to respond with even the most basic data. While several of the articles make a good case for the difficulty in defining success in kiruv, surely any organization needs to operate with some sort of operational definition of a mission accomplished, and ought to be compiling data on their performance. Surely every kiruv effort can set goals and expectations, and measure how well they are being achieved – and even compute the costs.

In so many areas of Jewish communal life, we cannot make informed decisions without real data and real analysis. As difficult as it may be, all institutions in Jewish life need to become more transparent and more accountable. If, for example, two tzedakah solicitations for fairly comparable causes confront me on my desk, and there is money left for only one, I would like to know which one delivers more with less overhead. With finite resources available, it is simply not good enough to tell me that each one of them performs a wonderful and vital task. Similarly, without gainsaying the value of many forms of kiruv, I would like to know which ones deliver more – and why. I can learn from and appreciate many of the thoughtful arguments offered in these pages, but if a particular variety of kiruv “costs” X number of thousands of dollars, we need to know that and factor it in to our communal thinking, particularly when we are facing in parts of the country a meltdown of our day school chinuch system.

It will also make a better community. We are far too forgiving when we give people a pass simply because they are involved in something positive or holy. Too many things can be allowed when we argue that X is doing a fine thing, so leave him alone. Since the Editorial Board began mulling over the issues and challenges that we face as a community, we have spent many hours looking for patterns and themes. Speaking only for myself, one conclusion that can be drawn is that much that ails our community boils down to not setting up expectations, and not demanding accountability. This applies not only to individual kiruv organizations, but to other parts of the communal cholent. Schools don’t show where their monies are going, or justify the level of expeditures relative to others. Tzedakos may be doing a good job, but some spend an inordinate percentage on overhead, PR, salaries (for relatives), etc. Individuals learn for years in yeshivos and kollelim without any monitoring of progress, retention, or accomplishment. (One colleague argued for compassion. It is not the fault of the kiruv organizations, he said. The years of learning that nurtured them also knew no measurement or assessment. Kiruv workers were simply performing according to the same rules that governed their years in yeshiva! Indeed this might be true. But all the more reason why “laissez-faire” should not be the words describing our expectations from our professinals, and why the questions we posed seemed like a good place to start asking for more.

***

Keeping perspective is crucial. My hesitations about some of the articles amount to nothing more than a mum oveir – a temporary, passing blemish on a body of kiruv that is healthy and vital.

Chazal tell us that Herod’s beis hamikdosh (Temple) displayed uncommon beauty. Its stones were staggered, creating the visual impression of undulating waves.
Why waves? Rav Hutner, zt”l, explained beautifully, according to a report that I received orally. Each wave, heading towards the shoreline, evidences strength and power. At its closest approach, the wave crests to its fullest height and fury. A few seconds later, all that remains is water meekly trickling towards the toes of the observer standing a short distance away.

The beis hamikdosh would not last very long after Herod’s renovations. It was destined to become a pile of smoldering rubble. Was it worthwhile investing in a dying enterprise? Chazal tell us that the last decades of a beis hamikdosh had to resemble the might and majesty of towering waves, even if they would all come crashing down a short while later, and become a memory. Until the very end, Klal Yisrael had to put all their strength and passion into the avodah of the mikdosh, regardless of what the future was going to bring.
In fact, those last decades produced a transformation in the way Torah was learned and propagated. The products of that revolution sustained and continue to sustain the Jewish People through two millennia of galus.

We do not know whether kiruv is slowing down, as many contributors conceded, or speeding up, as Rabbi Edelstein and Rabbi Eliezrie maintain. By assembling this issue, it has become clearer in my mind that we must rouse ourselves from our lethargy and recommit ourselves to kiruv with zeal and enthusiasm. We must reconnect to the mission HKBH entrusted to us – bringing Elokus (G-dliness) to the world. In so doing, we will not be saving souls as much as saving ourselves.

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27 comments to Klal Perspectives: The Kiruv Issue

  • Ss

    While I commend Klall for its choice of Kiruv as worthy of discussion, I respectfully suggest that a future edition be dedicated to the issue as Dr. Schlick has put it of “richuk k’rovim.” We need to put our own house in order (perhaps as Rabbi Feldman is suggesting in his piece) if we want our outreach efforts to garner the true and long lasting success that it so desperately needs. When the Yeshiva and Modern Orthodox worlds begin to respect and accept each other they both will be able to achieve the results that professional Kiruv movement needs and deserves. In the short time that I personally was involved in Kiruv I had seen and experienced such mutual respect if not acceptance. And while I no longer am involved in Kiruv I suspect that l’affaire R. Slifkin has had a profound effect on the ability of the camps to cooperate and work with each other to the mutual benefit of all including the not yet frum. I have only begun to read all the articles in this new edition of Klall and hope that there is at least some mention if not discussion of the deleterious effect of the Slifkin “wars” on the Kiruv movement. But if not, and returning to my initial point, I would hope that Klall would deem it appropriate to examine — painful as it may be — how this internecine squabble has affected our community to retain k’rovim if not attract r’chokim.

  • Bob Miller

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Can you point to any existing model Orthodox communities in the US whose leaders or experiences can show a path to other communities that aspire to become models? That is, not to be copycats but to absorb needed lessons.

    [YA – I’m a big fan of Ohr HaTorah in Dallas. I suspect that there are other “out of town” communities that are not perfect, but still have so much positive going for them that they serve as attractive forces inviting outsiders in.]

  • Baruch Dov

    1) One reason why kiruv may be slowing down is because we are coming to the realization that we need more in-reach. The problems of OTD, abuse, tuition, etc. that have been coming to the fore of our communal discourse have directed our focus onto fixing up things internally as a top priority, relegating outreach to a lower rung on the priority scale. This is not necessarily a bad thing, ואכמ”ל.

    2) Rabbi Feldman makes an excellent point which really resonates with me. But besides the consistent knocking of the outside world which he talks about, we need to also consider the pressure and stress that frum family life often entails. Let’s face it – having a lot of kids, making time for minyan and learning, Shabbos and yom tov, the price of Orthodox living, it all adds up to a lot of stress. We believe באמונה שלמה that we’re doing what HKBH wants of us, but I am afraid that many frum homes are not happy, relaxed places that people on the outside would find appealing, simple because the parents are stressed out and under a ton of pressure to take care of the kids, pay the bills, and so on. Perhaps this could be a subject for another issue Klal Perspectives – how to make frum life less stressful.

  • Shachar Haamim

    “We cannot possibly expect such parents to join a society in which routine Shabbos table talk favors disparaging secular wisdom rather than exploring subtleties and ethical messages in Torah”

    I’m not sure that this issue wasn’t always part and parcel of some of the kiruv movement itself. As an FFB who shifted from the NY haredi world of 30 years ago the american YU community and then to the Israeli national religious community, I had the pleasure of being at many a shabbat table with kruv candidates. It always astounded me how many newly religious people (i.e. less than a year), while having very little grounding in basic Jewish texts (i.e. still really couldn’t read a pasuk or a line of gemora) yet still were fully versed in all the nuances of the differences between the yeshivish world, the mizrachi world, how terrible YU was, and all other sorts of canards which float around the haredi community. This was especially common in “products” of one particular lithuanian yeshivish kiruv stream affiliated with a well known kiruv yeshiva

  • Yehoshua Friedman

    While the problems of kiruv today are not to be overlooked, the opening up of the national-religious kiruv world in Israel and the shidduchim of kids from different national origins is a very positive story as is the story of the real baalei teshuva, the BOTD (back on the derech). It is important to coordinate outreach with inreach to the benefit of both. I think that the MO/RZ, Chasidish, Litvish and Sefardi communities have to rub elbows with and appreciate each other more. That will help bring our kids back and make the Torah more appealing to those outside. We have to be more open and more upbeat and increase our awareness of what the Torah has to say to the modern world including being a light to the nations. The assimilated Jew that you want to bring closer to Torah has friends and family who are heterodox, leftist, gentile, gay, whatever. Cringing and vitriol don’t help. It has to be a movement supported not just by “renegade” elements in the Torah world ever-fearful of every cretin who puts up a wall poster, but by serious rabbonim themselves.

  • E. Fink

    I loved Rabbi Ilan Feldman’s article as well. Hopefully its message won’t be lost because its supposed topic is Kiruv while in fact it is an article about frumkeit in general.

  • David F.

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    First off – thank you for a very informative and worthwhile edition of Klal Perspectives. I do love the venue and this is a particularly interesting topic for me given my background in kiruv which is fairly extensive. I’ll also point out that while I may not agree with you on everything, your points are so beautifully articulated and that in itself makes it so pleasurable to read.

    A few points of disagreement:

    1 – If you lost your way in Kiruv Paradise, I’m afraid that’s due to the fact that Kiruv Paradise doesn’t exist and never did. It’s no paradise at all. It’s a very challenging and trying endeavor that can bear fruit, but not without enormous dedication, heartache and sacrifice on the part of all involved. Having never actually been to Paradise, I don’t know what it looks like, but Kiruv aint it. A few romantic stories about how everything changed overnight is hardly a reflection of the true kiruv experience.

    2 – If you want hard numbers, you’ve come to the wrong place. Moreover, I’m surprised you thought it was attainable. The reason Rabbi Edelstein can provide them to some extent, is because he’s not actually doing Kiruv. He [very ably] manages an organization that trains and places people in the field of kiruv and is fairly well funded. Kiruv in the field is a whole ‘nother deal and not one easily given to numbers unless you’ll be happy with contrived numbers.
    Why? Not because we’re trying to be devious or hide anything, but because real kiruv takes place over the course of many years, with the participation of multiple people/organizations, and most importantly, without adequate funds. When dedicated mekarvim can hardly find the funds for their programs and their own salaries [why is one person doing the kiruv, running the Dinner, cleaning the office, and trying to conceive of new programs? Not enough money], how are they going to find the funds to hire someone who can keep tight data?
    I know that during my years in the field, it was the last thing on my mind. I had too much to do and too many to help. Had I been asked for data, the best I could have done was to pull together a rough estimate of how many people I interacted with each week but nothing more. All other numbers would have been baseless since I worked with so many organizations and could have easily taken credit for accomplishments that may not have been entirely mine.

    3 – How can you get hard data on things that are virtually impossible to define. Since no one definition for success in kiruv exists, data is largely useless. I traditionally focused on smaller numbers of people but typically got very far with them. My numbers are only impressive when one considers how many became Shomer Mitzvos, but they pale in contrast to the large orgs that bring in hundreds of people. Never mind that of those hundreds, pitiful few will ever become Shomrei Mitzvos. Who’s got the right approach? I don’t know, but I do know that numbers won’t help much even if they existed.

    4 – I don’t know exactly where Kiruv should be ranked on the list of priorities. Having dedicated a good part of my life to it, I obviously think it’s important, but so are many other communal needs. I do know that the BT movement is far from dead and that BT’s have contributed so richly to our communities that it would be a shame to see it lose steam just because the rules of the game have changed. I could not disagree with Rabbi Feldman more regarding his feeling that frum communities are a poor breeding grounds for BT’s. My experience has been exactly the opposite. Williamsburg and Skvertown may not be ideal [although many BT’s particularly appreciate those communities] but most traditional out-of-town communities are perfect settings for Kiruv and even Lakewood and Monsey have hundreds of dedicated volunteers who have many outstanding accomplishments in the field of kiruv.

    Yes – the target audience has changed, funds are hard to come by, bad PR is never a good thing, but don’t let that fool you into believing that Kiruv is at a crossroads or failing. Not by a long shot. Much remains to be done and improvements must be made [Rabbi Gewritz’s article about the importance of REAL follow-up is an excellent example of that], but dedicated mekarvim are busy prepping the way for a day when we’ll experience the true meaning of ד’ אחד ושמו אחד!

  • cvmay

    Thank you R. Adlerstein for taking the time, effort and kochos in producing an excellent publication, Khal Perspectives.

    Presently in the New York area, the destructive effects of Hurricane Sandy on numerous mosdos, shuls, yeshivos and private homes is beyond belief. Videos, full-page advertisement, weekly letters arrive begging for financial help to rebuilt, reconstruct and rekindle the light of ____________ once again in the post-devestated areas. MONEY, MONEY and more MONEY is needed, in addition to ongoing expenses of tuition, mortgages, medical, simchas, etc. Kiruv is a necessity yet it can not continue without proper funding. So the question of cost efficiency is a biggie!! Over the last 15 years of heavy duty Kiruv, what have been the gains? and should the ‘game-plan’ continue as always?

  • Yosh

    Re: Bob Miller

    Rabbi Feldman’s community in Atlanta is making a very good go of it.

  • Steve Brizel

    Anyone who wants to understand the reality, dreams and dilemnas of what Kiruv is and the improvements that need to be made both within the Kiruv world and the Charedi and MO worlds must simply read all of the articles. The editors deserve a huge Yasher Koach for focussing on this issue.

  • Kiruv Rabbi

    R’ Ilan Feldman’s claim that frum communities are bad for Kiruv is simply not true and every Kiruv Rabbi I know will back me up. Quite the opposite, more exposure to frum communities = more Kiruv success and that is a fact.

    The notion that the frum world pays for Kiruv is another myth. Two families pay for half of all kiruv worldwide and most of the rest comes from secular Jews and Baalei Teshuva (who themselves contribute mightily to frum causes). As Rav Aharon Feldman once told me when I asked him if I shouldn’t collect funds from FFB’s, “Don’t worry, nobody is giving their last tzedaka dollar to you.”

    [YA – Not every kiruv rabbi. Not the ones who have been getting back to us at KP. Not the ones who as far back as 25 years ago decided that they needed to set up kiruv communities, because when BTs were exposed to FFBs, the romance with Judaism was over. ]

  • L. Oberstein

    Yasher Koach . This is a ray of light that dispells so much negativity. You are saying it as it is and not afraid of being politically incorrect. You raise many points, two of which are on my mind.The death of the Conservative Movement and the growth of an orthodoxy defined by the media
    ” as harboring abusers, banning books and women’s faces, as intellectually rejectionist and primitive, judgmental and xenophobic, and perpetuating the cycle of dependency “. Both are tragedies.
    I wish with all my heart that the Conservative Movement were more successful because that is where most Jews were to be found, at least those who affiliated and cared about our Peoplehood and our ethnic identity.That is the world that I belonged to and I moved over to orthodoxy as a teenager precisefly because of those values that this once great movement embodied. The reality is that moderation in belief, in committment and in mesiras nefesh just doesn’t last in the long run.
    The second point , the fact that orthodoxy has become the establishment and that the element you describe is not a myth and not an anti semitic canard but does indeed exist much more than most will admit, it a sign that our numbers are greater and that those like you who care about “elokus” are viewed with cynacism by the ones described above. They may wear the garb but you actually believe. They play the part,but you are the real thing. If only people like you and your colleagues were in charge, but you don’t have the money, the clout and the thggery that “they” have.
    As Reb Leibele Eiger told his Misnagdic father, She says(she knows there is a G-d) but I know”. If only orthodoxy were a revolutionary movement of idealists seeking spiritual truth. Once again, Yasher Koach and keep trying.

  • Y. Schwartz

    Ironic that there will be a panel at the upcoming AJOP convention addressing how to define success in kiruv.

  • Kiruv Rabbi

    R’ Adlerstein, I am not sure which Kiruv Rabbis you are referring to since I have never met them. Maybe this is a generational thing but I am 36 and on campus and every other Kiruv Rabbi I know, will tell you that communities such as Monsey, Far Rockaway, Edison – Highland Park, Passaic, are gold in Kiruv terms. I do Shabbatons in Lakewood and they are always positive.

  • Yosh

    Re: Kiruv Rabbi

    My impression as a BT who has spent time around “both ends” of kiruv is that that while exposure to individual frum people (the ones on your tap to host guests) is extremely effective, broader community exposure is not. Personally, I “came in” after carefully weighing the many, many negative aspects of the frum world I was acutely aware of. For me, emmes trumped it, but I was certainly not blind to gap between emmes and reality.

  • Kiruv Rabbi

    Yosh, fair enough. I don’t think it is surprising that a BT would have a hard time feeling comfortable with many aspects of the community since a bt by definition is coming from a diametrically opposing worldview. Add that to the fact that the frum world is made up of human beings, not angels, who have foibles, issues, problems and sometimes worse, it isn’t surprising that a BT may have difficulty with the community. (Which is why I try to stress to my students that the frum world is no utopia and we have our sickos and miscreants like everyone else)
    BUT, R’ Feldman asserted that “Sadly, there is an open secret known to those who practice outreach: to effectively inspire people to become observant, the effort must be done in isolation from the established Orthodox community.” That is what I object to the most because I don’t know of another kiruv Rabbi who believes as such. R’ Adlerstein’s comment to me about setting up Kiruv communities is not what I was talking about. Settling down in specific frum communities may be challenging, going to one for shabbos isn’t.

  • Shaya Karlinsky

    Despite my intention to wait with comments in order to write a follow up to my original article, I would like to weigh in on the give and take over “kiruv rabbi”s response to R. Feldman. First, I think R. Feldman was somewhat exaggerating to make a point, a very valid point. Yosh, who obviously speaks intelligently from experience, pointed out that the families that are visited are (and SHOULD be) hand picked. But on a communal level, banning books, eliminating pictures of women, raising money for predators, creating terror in the hearts/minds of parents about acceptance in schools, rampant glatt Kosher consumerism, and vocally focusing on the 10 or 20% that separate different Orthodoxies rather than the 80 or 90% that are the real primary foundations of Torah Judaism — this isn’t the work of sickos or miscreants. This is, too often what Orthodox Judaism has evolved into. Discomfort with this is not because they “by definition [are] coming from a diametrically opposing worldview.” Adarabah! They are interested in values and Judaism (otherwise they wouldn’t still be around after collecting their $400 for “Learn and earn”). THIS is where R. Feldman’s insights — exaggerated as they might be — highlight one of the main reasons why kiruv isn’t as effective as it could/should be. What kind of communities are we inviting them to join, without the resources and support needed for THEM to develop into one of the model families they visited along the way?

  • Meir Goldberg (Kiruv Rabbi)

    Rav Karlinsky, I agree with what you say, but too often, the critics and the blogosphere (I am not referring to R’ Feldman here) focus in on the 10 or 20% of our community’s weak points, instead of looking at and trying to build on the 80 – 90% of the good that is in the frum world. The question is, has there been another community in the history of Klal Yisroel that it is the ‘model community’ that R’ Feldman speaks of? Perhaps during the time of Dovid Hamelech, but we know what happened 2 generations later. Was Europe of 80 – 250 years ago better, when, in many locales, people were tripping over themselves running away from yiddishkeit? Perhaps Spain of 500 years ago when half the Jews decided to convert instead of leave? The SMA”G writes that Moshiach won’t come because Jews are too dishonest. How about sinas chinam during the second bais hamikdash?

    All great and inspiring leaders have one thing in common – they identify and discuss problems and they look for realistic and POSITIVE solutions and build on the good that exists. THAT is what inspires people towards positive and substantive change, not the poisonous negativity and pessimism which has too often become the public discourse (Our negativity, btw, is influenced by our overexposure to the secular media, which peddles negativity as a way of making money).
    So while the bloggers and critics criticize, I and my naive, young and idealistic buddies on campus will look to positive leaders (such as yourself) and try to inspire others by building on what we do have and showing them a realistic yet beautiful picture of Klal Yisroel.

  • cvmay

    Well said, M. Goldberg.

    A lesson for us all, to focus on the 80% – 90% goodness that Judaism has to offer.

  • David F.

    Rabbi Karlinsky,

    Judging by your age, I assume you’ve been in Kiruv longer than I have, but my experience couldn’t be more different than yours. In my almost 20 years of working with secular Jews, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been asked about book banning, eliminating pictures of women, raising money for predators, school acceptances, or Kosher consumerism. I suspect that the same is true for many of my colleagues. While the Slifkin affair was dominating the blogosphere, I informally polled friends of mine in the field to see how many of them faced questions on the subject, and not one [out of approximately 7-8] had.

    Do these issues pose challenges for the BT once he’s in the system? Certainly some of them do, but they’re a far cry from the full picture of Orthodox Judaism, which has far greater shortcomings than these and greater upsides as well.

    To contend that these issues are what dominate the field and play a major role in the decision of the average college student or suburb dweller to attend an Aish seminar or weekend Shabbaton, is simply inaccurate. No more than someone considering attending your fine institutions would highlight the former Darchei Noam student who now is an outspoken gay activist, or the former Midreshet Rachel student who writes nasty screeds about Orthodox Judaism, as the sum total of your alumni.

  • Yosh

    [this is somewhat personal, so I’m choosing to stay anonymous]

    Although I had significant exposure to parts of the out of town frum world for a lot of my life, it never really occurred to me that Orthodox Judaism was relevant to my lifelong desire to impact the world positively.

    For a good decade or so before I became frum I would have agreed that Orthodox Jews were probably the closest to correct of anyone out there, but I saw frum Jews as, essentially, a nation of monks living their own cloistered lives. Probably holy, but not very relevant to the rest of the world.

    My impression was that the most authentic form of Orthodoxy was total separation from the rest of the world coupled with stringent ritual observance. (Which, probably not un-coincidentally, is how many frum Jews seem to see it too.) I thought it may be a good place to retreat from the world and live an alternative lifestyle – like a punk with better family values – but that’s about it.

    I only decided to seriously pursue frum Judaism after acknowledging that the secular ways of trying to improve the world weren’t satisfying and I feel very blessed to have been shown that. I constantly meet extremely idealistic secular Jews who did not have that same privilege. Only after that did I discover that my initial impression was very wrong.

    That general impression of Orthodox Judaism and, by extension, Torah, as essentially irrelevant seems to be what R’ Feldman is getting at in his piece. Creating kiddush hashem means showing the world (and at the least, other Jews) that Torah and HKBH are directly relevant to your own life, and capable imbuing it with connection and purpose.

    One would likely not discover that from casual contact with the frum world today, and R’ Feldman’s point is that we are capable of changing that. This is the real issue, not the scandals.

  • Y. Schwartz

    Although I haven’t had the time to read much of the new issue, I did read the intro from R’ Shalom Kaminetsky and applaud him for perhaps stating the obvious, but the obvious does not always appear to be the path people pursue. I believe it was 2 years ago that R’ Shmuel Kaminetsky exhorted the audience at the AJOP Convention to remember the well-known idea that Avraham Avinu performed kiruv with men and Sara Imeinu worked with women. I am not a kiruv professional and I am not here to judge, but it seems that one of the “hot” kiruv pursuits the last 5 or so years has been campus kiruv and many of those getting involved in it, are not prepared or are not protecting themselves from the real potential danger of dealing with the opposite gender. About 7 years ago, I was offered a campus kiruv position out-of-town with relatively good pay and my Rebbi advised me not to take it, even though that meant I would be joining the secular workforce instead, because their guidelines for dealing with the opposite gender were not in-line with what he believed was proper according to Torah guidelines. In a session 3 years ago at the AJOP Convention, R’ Moshe Efros advised men against studying with women and said if “you have to,” there should be no less than 6 women learning with one man. The danger is clear and present and I just hope that people understand and protect against it.

    As to the discussion in the comments section… as I stated, I am not a kiruv professional; however, I have a relationship with a teacher in Ohr Somayach who asks me to monitor and develop relationships with his students that decide to integrate into Orthodox communities in the NY area, I have found the most difficult issue to deal with and explain to them is the un-orthodox behavior of many in the community. Orthodox communities do tremendous things within and without; however, as we all know, the negative news seems to gain greater prominence and it is not easy to explain away. Perhaps the best form of kiruv would be to work on the frum communities to get all people in line with the Torah way in every aspect of life as that will provide the greatest picture for a not-yet-observant person to appreciate the benefits of an observant lifestyle. There is an organization that encourages those in the secular workforce to get involved in kiruv as they may have the best access and thus, the greatest potential to positively influence not-yet-observant people; however, we need to make sure the observant people are providing the right example out in the secular world to properly influence others.

  • Dr. E

    A few comments on Kiruv today, in connection to Rabbi Feldman’s article:

    Kiruv has become broadly defined. There is outreach there is inreach. There are NCSY Shabbatons, Chabad Houses, and Aish.com websites. Some programs have a long track record, which there are many start-ups. Some have gone very high-end with weekend and Pesach retreats with glitzy ads and 5-Star accommodations and cuisine. I guess the perspective is you gotta spend money to reach Jewish neshamos. There are quirky telethons and Chinese auctions that we are bombarded with. It’s the commercialization of Kiruv that concerns me.

    We often see Kiruv “professionals” who are the second generation products of Kiruv legends who started out in a different time. Most have attended Right Wing Yeshivos and some return home to be supported in what has essentially become a family run business. With that background, their worldview is more narrow and less nuanced. They have been informed by Rabbi Feldman’s “observant community” and not by a “model community”. The Poskim and Roshe Yeshiva with whom they consult are either out of touch with the realities going on. Just take a look at video clips of some askanim cheppering Gedolim on camer in the hopes of getting the soundbite they want or a haskama for their institution. Or they provide guidance in the hopes of the outcomes contributing in numbers and dollars to the observant community.

    Kiruv has become very quantitative in nature. The more numbers produced the better. For some there is the self-ascribed existential imperative to replenish pre-Holocaust numbers. Some focus on somehow lowering the intermarriage percentage. Kiruv Rechokim is the goal, rather than “Kiruv Levavos”. The outcome metrics and returns on financial and emotional capital is measured in how many products now look like them, dress like them, and send their kids to the same Yeshivos as them. And the Right is a constantly moving target. I would venture to way that perhaps most targets of Kiruv would benefit from Centrist or Modern Orthodoxy as a balanced landing place. Yet, those end-games are seen as somehow b’dieved. We saw some of this in Rabbi Feldman’s article in which those hashkafos outside of the narrow “observant communities” are disparaged at the Shabbos tables, with or without the newcomers seated there.

    There is very little “post Kiruv support” for those brought into the fold. Many have a lifelong stigma of being BT’s. Many have to have given up family and friends. And many have seen their careers either sidetracked or derailed and now find themselves with all of the challenges of large families, expensive tuitions, expenses of Kosher food and clothing. Mesiras Nefesh? Maybe. But, many have been encouraged to throw the baby out with the bathwater during the years of their hiskarvus. Years later they can no longer benefit from educational credentialing due to lapses and gaps during the beginning of their spiritual journeys. Obviously, they were adults and made adult decisions at the time. But, they were in essence making a priori decisions for their children—many of whom decide that they also want out, but in the opposite direction. I am not saying that becoming observant was a bracha l’vatala. But, many “professionals” are wholly untrained to deal with the peripheral consequences of aftermath of their work.

    Many of today’s programs and initiatives are predicated by a posture of triumphalism. We have the gospel and they don’t. We are authentic, have maintained the Mesorah, and have all of the answers. We are the paragon of morality (despite all of the moral failures of Choshen Mishpat and Even Ha’ezer). After all, we are an observant community, have all of the Glatt kosher amenities. We even have minyan factories and Friday night “Bais Ment”’s, so we don’t have to walk the extra three blocks. And we have Gedolim who validate us to the exclusion of all others. So, of course we have to show others the light!

    Kiruv is a very important and needed endeavor. I myself am involved in it, albeit in an amateur and not-for-profit place. But, its commercialization, institutionalization, and “franchization”, have become normative and therefore are a departure from its roots a couple of generations ago. The leadership and mindset have changed. But, the consumers, their needs, challenges, and goals have not.

  • L. Oberstein

    I could reply to Dr E in person but I will share. If Kiruv is dominated by the “right” and chinuch is dominated by the same , whose fault is that? The common answer is one of bitul. The “right’ are ignorant of secular skills and incapable of making a decent living except in Jewish endeavors.Modern orthodox or “centrist” youth have options like law, medicine, etc. and thus are not drawn to the rabbinate, chinuch or kiruv. Maybe the answer is not that way but that the right wing has mesiras nefesh, emunah shleimah and and ahavas yisroel. In Rabbi Feldman’s city, a shul that had too many Baalei Teshuva was not a draw to the sophisticates who are “modern” they wanted their own circle of people who were open minded as long as they stuck with one another and didn’t have to mix with frumies. The fault can be spread, but there is too much smugness in the “modern” community.

  • David F.

    Dr. E.

    “Many of today’s programs and initiatives are predicated by a posture of triumphalism. We have the gospel and they don’t. We are authentic, have maintained the Mesorah, and have all of the answers. We are the paragon of morality (despite all of the moral failures of Choshen Mishpat and Even Ha’ezer). After all, we are an observant community, have all of the Glatt kosher amenities. We even have minyan factories and Friday night “Bais Ment”’s, so we don’t have to walk the extra three blocks. And we have Gedolim who validate us to the exclusion of all others. So, of course we have to show others the light!”

    I am amazed and truly impressed at your ability to intuit so clearly what transpires in the hearts and minds of the thousands of mekarvim. It’s a truly wondrous feat you’ve accomplished and a clear demonstration of incredible ahavas yisroel.

    Essentially, what you’ve done is decide that mekarvim are promoting themselves, rather than Torah and mitzvos. Thankfully, that’s not the case. The mekarvim I’m familiar with believe that they are personally far from special, but that the Torah and mitzvos that HKBH has granted His people, is great and worth sharing with others even if it requires great sacrifices on their part.

  • question

    Just a question? With ALL due respect…and I really mean it! Who are we to go around “questioning” people and why should we not “overlook” certain things (as long as they are not dangerous or harming children) I feel your blog very often points fingers and HONESTLY I just want to understand how this is Torah?

  • Formerly Orthodox

    Once again the Klal Perspectives publication, and especially Rabbi Felman’s article, has clearly identified and eloquently and poignantly expressed a key problem in the Orthodox community. For those who ask what drives people from frumkeit, I would say that in our case, it was a combination of the growing insularity and intolerance of the frum world, the unmanageable stress of an observant lifestyle, and a lack of intellectual and emotional fulfillment (which was the subject of a previous KP issue) that propelled the two of us, who had become BTs in our early twenties, to leave Orthodoxy after 25 years. In addition, acknowledging a point in Rabbi Broyde’s letter posted on Dec. 30, we now find ourselves ideologically in a different place from Orthodoxy, or we might still be sticking with it.