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Chaya Newman

Klal Perspectives, Spring 2012 Symposium on Connectedness

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

A Time for Inspiration

THE 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. It is the latest manifestation of a struggle that dates all the way back to the time of the Prophets.

בנים גדלתי ורוממתי והם פשעו בי. ידע שור קנהו וחמור אבוס בעליו, ישראל לא ידע, עמי לא התבונן ישעיה אג

“Children have I raised and exalted, but they have rebelled against Me. An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master’s trough; but Israel does not know! My people do not comprehend.”

כי תבאו לראות פני מי בקש זאת מידכם רמס חצרי?… ישעיה איג

“When you come [without feeling] to appear before Me (with offerings), [I say,] ‘who sought this from your hand? You trample My courtyards.’”

Again and again Hashem said that Bnei Yisrael have distanced themselves from Him, and by rote they bring Him offerings.

In these times, when tefilah is in lieu of offering, we find the same disconnect between from the words of our mouths and the feelings in our hearts.

Yet, today as in yesteryear, we have impressive meals on Yom Tov, elaborated seders on Pesach and lots of dancing on Simchas Torah, but Hashem still asks:

החפץ לה’ בעולות וזבחים..כשמע בקול ה’?’ שמואל א טז:כב

“Does Hashem want the multitude of offerings after the sins were committed… as He wants us to listen to His voice”?

Does He only want an elaborate seder table or does He want us to experience the thrill of newfound freedom from slavery as if we were part of the Exodus from Egypt? Sadly, it is human nature to overemphasize the externals and almost completely neglect the internal.

For some unclear reasons, mitzvos are too often observed by rote. Tefilah and a facade of genuine Jewishness is a masquerade, behind which very proper, even Haimeshe people daven and keep mitzvos, though they are on autopilot.

איכה היתה לזונה קריה נאמנה? ישעיה א:כא

 “How has the faithful city become a זונה?”

זונה/זנות in many places in Navi does not refer to illicit relationships, but to idol worship. Idol worship is not an issue today, so what is זנות? I dare say it refers to the new god – the god of money, luxury, and accumulations of goods. That is the god that is worshipped assiduously, more often, I dare say, than Hakadosh Boruch Hu Himself.

G-dliness is no longer felt in the home; “observances” are mostly done as cultural identification. G-d feels that emptiness behind the tefilos and customs. There is so little heart-and-soul in the daily and Yom Tov tefilos and traditions. (On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I would like to believe that most are genuinely praying for their life and health). But generally there is a disconnect between “action” and meaning.

The following is a true story, which is a particularly sad illustration of how badly some are suffering from this problem. Some details have been changed to protect identities.

A frum young lady, of marriageable age, entered an online chat room (after her parents went to sleep) and came across a question, “Is there a frum female person online?” She responded to the inquiry and soon discovered that she shared many mutual thoughts and feelings with her interlocutor – a young man. They agreed to make a date, and though they liked each other, it turned out that she wasn’t “the one” for this young man.

The girl, let’s call her Chana, enjoyed this whole experience of meeting new people this way and was interested in doing more of the same. It wasn’t hard to find young men who were interested and she began meeting more and more new people. While all these young men identified and indeed dressed frum, some of them were not satisfied just talking to each other and she allowed them to do most of what they wanted. This went on for months. That first young man was still in touch with Chana from time to time and she was open with him. Ironically, he was very concerned with her self-destructive behavior and prevailed upon her to see a therapist.

Chana went to a frum female therapist and they were interacting successfully in discussing her loose behaviors. The sixth session was right before Yom Kippur and the therapist asked her “How are you going to deal withעל חטא  and with ווידוי  (the confessions)?”

Chana was perplexed so her therapist elaborated. “How are you going to approach the mitzvah to confess to G-d what you have done wrong, experience regret and accept upon yourself that you will not continue in the same path?”

Chana was even more perplexed. “What does my dating activity have to do with the confessions or with G-d?”

What is the connection between what she does with these young men and G-d on Yom Kippur?!! Did no one ever communicate this to her?

This is but one of many confessions of people who are frum on the outside, speaking and dressing the part, but are not emotionally connected to Torah or halacha whatsoever. This may be an extreme case but it highlights the reality that the fundamentals of our faith are not necessarily reaching our children, despite the behaviors we observe.

Another illustration: There used to be a women’s theater group which produced very professionally plays as a fundraiser for a particular tzedaka institution. Since kosher entertainment is scarce, these plays drew crowds of religious women from all walks of life.

One program started with a few chapters of Tehillim. In the words of an observer, “As we were saying Tehillim, there was a whole group of very modestly-dressed women who were laughing and whispering amongst themselves. When someone asked them about their behavior, their response was, “What is Tehillim doing at an entertainment event?”

It is my strong feeling that we should use the same approach in teaching our own children as we use in the context of kiruv. We must face up to the fact that there is much lacking in the degree of religious fulfillment within our community and that we are suffering as a result. Worrying about money in particular – whether how to make it or how to spend it –seems to be the number one ambition of far too many of us.

I run a Saturday night program on behalf of Torah Umesorah for 10th– and 11th-grade high school girls from some of the top Bais Yaakov schools in my area. The emphasis for the twenty motzoei Shabbos that we get together is “Inspiration” and we have been drawing an average of more than fifty girls a week. Why? Because they are craving inspiration and emotional connection. As much as their schools teach them, they do not focus on being inspirational and, unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen by itself.

Perhaps it is time for all schools and yeshivas to create a curriculum whose main goal is inspiration and emotional connection. Moreover, every lesson should strive to include material they will view as relevant to them. Schools should ask themselves, “If I were doing kiruv, how would I reframe and adapt this lesson?” And they should do it! Of course, not every student needs it, but today, Klal Yisroel needs this urgently. Chinuch must be relevant to their life!

As to the question whether a reliable assessment can be made and the questions answered, I don’t see how this would be possible. There is a much larger group of alienated Jews who cannot fully articulate their disenfranchisement and discontent. Too many have never said it or thought it in their mind; they just act without emotion and feeling. How do we know that? Because their children come out flat, with no warmth for Yiddishkeit or halacha.

It is time for a serious consideration of Kiruv Krovim – reaching out to those close to us.

We are now in the generation of the “footsteps before the coming of Mashiach.” – a time expected to pose seemingly impossible challenges.

ועל מי יש לנו להשען – and on whom can we depend while surviving these difficult times? Only on אבינו שבשמים – our Father in Heaven.

To view the other responses in this issue, CLICK HERE.

Mrs. Chaya Newman is Torah Umesorah’s Director of the National Conference of Yeshiva Principals for Women, and a Certified Family Therapist.

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