Fall 2012: Questions
For the foreword to this issue, click here.
THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX COMMUNITY faces a plethora of challenges, not the least of which is enormous demand on its limited resources. An essential component of the community’s demonstration of its commitment to Torah and avodas Hashem is kiruv (outreach), which also serves as an integral expression of the community’s ahavas Yisrael – its care for other Jews.
In this issue of Klal Perspectives, contributors have been invited to address the varying approaches to outreach currently being pursued, and the appropriateness of the current allocation of communal resources as among these alternative strategies and focuses.
1. What are the most significant dimensions of current outreach efforts, and how effective are they?
2. In light of the various alternative objectives that may be pursued in conducting outreach, by what criteria is success measured? Are the prevailing measurements of success the appropriate measurements? Can results be reliably calculated? And how is the donor or volunteer able to ascertain which target demographic and which approach to kiruv enjoys the greatest realization and success?
3. Has kiruv in America runs its course due to the combination of (a)decades of assimilation that has diminished the number of accessible, non-observant Jews who are halachically Jewish, and (b) the rapidly diminishing sense of Jewish identity among younger, secular Jews? Or, do these factors mitigate in favor a more powerful outreach push, since in a decade or two it may be too late? And finally, what are the new frontiers in outreach that may yet be explored?
Outreach to the non-observant has always been a significant component of the American Orthodox experience. In earlier eras, this outreach took the form of basic, synagogue programming and camp experiences, as most Jews who identified as Orthodox were not necessarily observant. For example, after World War Two, the Young Israel movement created the Young Israel Institute, which offered dozens (if not more) of evening courses in basic Judaism to returning veterans with no formal Jewish education who were seeking a more meaningful religious experience.
In essence, almost every Orthodox rabbi in America of the 1950’s and 1960’s was an outreach professional. Similarly, Torah Umesorah spearheaded a national effort to open day schools across North America, also essentially an outreach effort.
About that same time, formal outreach efforts to the non-Orthodox began, as well. Recognizing that a great portion of families attending its shuls were not fully observant, the Orthodox Union created NCSY, introducing increased levels of Torah observance and study to the children of non-observant synagogue members. And, of course, Chabad initiated the most broadly-based outreach efforts, with programs throughout North America (and later the world) targeting both children and adults.
In the mid to late 1960’s, kiruv began to assume even more formalized dimensions. The cultural upheavals among general American youth in the 1960’s, accompanied by the explosion in Jewish pride following the 1967 Six Day War, triggered the initiation of yeshivas for beginners in Israel, the introduction of the “beginner’s minyan” concept in Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue and elsewhere, and a more aggressive effort by synagogue rabbis around the country to use their pulpits as an avenue to outreach. And these are all mere examples.
Over the more recent decades, outreach has become yet more formalized, more professional and more sophisticated. Certain community kollels include an outreach dimension beyond the Orthodox community. Chabad satellites can be found in large and small communities and on college campuses across the globe. Outreach schools were created to reach Jews from the former Soviet Union. Youth outreach programs extend far beyond the synagogue into public schools throughout North America, and a new, major push was initiated several years ago by the late Zev Wolfson, a”h, to substantially expand campus outreach.
The Internet, most notably aish.com, has increasingly become a source of Jewish education for the unaffiliated. The introduction of Hebrew charter schools, and attendant after-school religious Talmud Torahs, is another new vista in outreach.
Alas, there appears to be little, if any, coordination among these numerous efforts. While the community is eager to ensure the viability and effectiveness of outreach projects and initiatives, supporters often struggle with evaluating the effectiveness and impact of these efforts. Even the stated goals of many projects are often opaque, and seldom are results published. These absences pose serious risks of redundancy and ineffectiveness, leaving a quagmire for the philanthropist or small donor who would like to allocate a portion of their charity dollar to outreach. And the challenge is equally daunting for the young idealist who would like to dedicate his or her life to outreach – but only if the life commitment and sacrifice is likely to produce serious benefits.
The goal of this Issue of Klal Perspectives is to begin a discussion that may provide communal guidance on these questions.
To view the Responses, please CLICK HERE.