Fall 2012: Responses
For the questions, click here.
In an impressively comprehensive piece, Rabbi Edelstein, director of Ner LeElef, builds on his assertion that the global kiruv movement has expanded far more rapidly in the last ten years than it did in the previous thirty. Acknowledging that no one has yet cracked the code of how to measure success, he offers an approach in the areas of campus and community-based kiruv, as well as a series of steps through which global outreach can be raised to an entirely new level.
Rabbi Feldman fears that the American Orthodox community’s view of itself primarily as an observant community rather than as a model community has created a culture that virtually closes the door to the non-observant. This reverses the “open-door” policy of kiddush Hashem exemplified by Avraham Avinu, whose chesed reflected both a belief in One G-d and a profound faith in human beings as tzelem Elokim (reflections of the Divine). If we hope to hasten Moshiach’s arrival, we must return to the footsteps of our forefather, who brought G-d into this world and made His name known by reaching out to affirm the immeasurable greatness of all people.
Rabbi Eliezrie chronicles the success of a mushrooming network of Chabad centers, and reports that increasing numbers of those who are far from observance are nonetheless eager to affiliate with local Chabad establishments because they are greeted non-judgmentally and with genuine ahavas Yisrael. A younger generation of Jews does not bear the burden of the anti-Orthodox prejudices of their elders, and are therefore happy to affiliate with a community shul that offers Jewish authenticity.
Rabbi Buchwald questions the effectiveness of some of the kiruv strategies that worked in the past, and even some that have become popular more recently such as campus outreach, that he believes are failing today. He urges more efforts to take advantage of the success of Birthright, a shifting of campus priorities to retention of Modern Orthodox students. and more investment in using social media as a vehicle of outreach.
Rabbi Bentzi Epstein: “There’s a Makom Torah in Dallas: How Community Kollels are Raising Communities”
Rabbi Epstein details the workings of the community outreach kollel, using Dallas as the model. He shows the variety of activities and programs that can be assembled under the rubric of bringing people directly closer to Torah, not to observance. He believes that even with waning interest in Judaism outside of our community, so many people are receptive to the power of pure Torah that what we need the most is more capable and caring young couples, ready to lovingly guide other Jews through the steps of growth and commitment.
Lori Palatnik showcases a new strategy for kiruv that targets Jewish mothers, as people capable of immediately carrying along other families on their journey back to their Jewish roots. The success of her program requires the quick development of kiruv resources in the community beyond those of the kiruv rabbi. She is developing them through a mentoring project with local observant families.
Dr. Schick believes that the “bloom is long off kiruv,” and that there needs to be a change in attitude, as well as strategy. In particular, there needs to be more emphasis on assisting those who are interested – and in not turning them off with negativity, elitism and with classes and prayer services that are not accessible enough to them. Seeking to attract those who are not interested has not shown itself to be as effective as many would like to think.
Rabbi Butler adds to the hard questions the editors posed with some pointed questions and analysis of his own. He emerges with a firm resolve to maintain focus on young Jews on campus. He presents multiple reasons why this continues to be the best investment of resources. He opines that even if costs are high, they should be allocated across the new family members that the new baal teshuva predictably will bring to the community in the space of a short number of years.
Rabbi Steve Burg & Dovid Bashevkin: “Stuff People Say about Jewish Outreach:Toward an Assessment of the Contemporary Outreach Movement“
Rabbi Burg and Dovid Bashevkin maintain that kiruv is not an activity so much as an articulation of a Torah community that is sensitive, altruistic, and united. When kiruv is pursued as salesmanship, many of the customers will in time show buyer’s remorse. The best choice in kiruv programming however remains the teenage years, when young Jews have reached an age of responsibility, but are not yet burdened by the accountability they will face just a few years later.
Rabbi Karlinsky aims at upending crisis-driven kiruv, which he sees as flawed on theoretical and practical grounds. Among other things, it produces inordinate and counterproductive focus on numbers, at the expense of quality. Kiruv today ought to aim more at deepening the experience of people interested in Yahadus, rather than broadening the “customer base.” Only Torah study – including months-long stays in yeshivos – can provide Jews with the depth and authenticity they need to live fulfilled, balanced Torah lives.
Rabbi Simmons weighs in on a variety of innovative projects inspired by the legacy of Rabbi Noach Weinberg z”l that emergency times require emergency measures. Especially important is transforming laypeople into energized and educated mekarvim, and helping them begin community outreach centers. In particular, he showcases the web presence of Aish, which has enormous penetration in far-flung locales and traction with Jews who have near-zero interest in Judaism.
Rabbi Klatzko argues that kiruv should not need justification. It is not an item on a Jewish to-do list, so much as a natural outgrowth of living a proper Torah life. The diminishing returns we witness in outreach today are consequences of the same failings that promote alienation among FFBs. Kiruv, as well as the general state of Torah Judaism – would be in far better shape if we could reemphasize Torah as primarily a relationship with Hashem, and also reaffirm the sense of global mission that is the raison d’être of Klal Yisrael.
Rabbi Feldman takes a dim view of superficial outreach strategies that do not lead to true commitment. Efforts at preventing intermarriage, in particular, are ill-advised. Substantive kiruv must promote emunah in Hashem and his Torah, must allow for individual difference rather than one-size-fits-all presentations, and provide ample opportunity for significant time spent with mentors.
Rabbi Gewirtz offers a mission objective for kiruv organizations: making an appreciable and lasting impact on the greatest number of people. This might mean, in many cases, moving away from casting wider nets for people to come through doors that may prove to be revolving. Appreciable and lasting impact requires a larger commitment to follow-up than most organizations can afford; this should be outsourced to a cadre of volunteers in the community.
TWO MEMBERS OF THE Klal Perspectives Editorial Board offer personal reactions to the issue, and to the state of kiruv.
Jonathan Rosenblum reports confidently about how the kiruv movement continues to pump vitality into the communities he visits around the world. Should some of the resources of our community be redirected at kiruv kerovim, as a perhaps higher priority? Rabbi Rosenblum argues that the two cannot be separated. A frum community that would turn more insular will have less reason to correct its faults; one less concerned with making itself attractive to outsiders will be less attractive to insiders. Most importantly, it would be a dereliction of duty to the concept of Knesses Yisrael.
Rabbi Adlerstein is less forgiving about the inability of most contributors to provide hard data about their performance. He recounts his malaise after reading some of the pieces, which soon has him pondering the differences between kiruv two decades ago and today. His equilibrium is restored, however, after reading the contributions of Rabbis Avraham Edelstein and Ilan Feldman, both of whom deliver for him the confidence in the effectiveness of contemporary kiruv, as well as a simple prescription for success.