Daveners of All Ages
The article “A Shul for All Ages,” by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg (winter 2009), brought back memories for me. When I was eleven years old, I went to shul with my father every day while he was saying Kaddish for my grandfather. In shul there were many men who were of my grandfather’s generation (along with my parents’ generation). They were Eastern European immigrants, all born in the nineteenth century, who helped bring Orthodoxy to America. I learned how to daven, and how to be a Jew, from them.
Today, with both my grandparents and parents gone, I am becoming a member of the older generation myself. And fortunately, in my shul at least, I continue to see people of all ages, from the last remaining members of my parents’ generation to the children young enough to be my grandchildren, all davening together.
Kudos to Rabbi Goldberg on his fineportrayal of the sociology of the American Orthodox synagogue movement. I am also struck by how many shuls today advertise that their memberships only reflect a narrow cross-section of ages, as if this were a good thing. “Only 10 percent of our members are over age fifty,” an American shul recently boasted!
A shul is supposed to have a crosssection of many generations davening in one place, and celebrating births, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings together. It’s about all of us growing with and learning from each other.
We are proud that our shul represents the full range of ages. There is nothing more gratifying to me than seeing, when giving a Gemara shiur, an eighty-four-year-old chemist sitting next to a thirty-two-year-old programmer learning Gemara together.
RABBI YAAKOV JAFFE
Hastening the Geulah
The wonderful rabbis and their families who are “frum on the frontier” (winter 2009) are doing an excellent job of rekindling the spark of Judaism, bringing many closer to Orthodox Judaism. Hopefully this is stage one. Stage two has to be educating toward and encouraging aliyah.
Just imagine what the State of Israel would be like if thousands of religious families came on aliyah! This would be a great step towards hastening the Geulah. Can the leaders and rabbis lead the way? I hope so.
Inspiration Begins at Home
I read with interest your recent issue devoted to Jewish outreach (“The New Face of Jewish Outreach,” winter 2009). It is always encouraging to see that Torah Judaism remains an attractive option for those raised in an environment so antithetical to its values, but I believe that the emphasis on “making” ba’alei teshuvah and “marketing” Orthodoxy may ultimately prove to be counter-productive.
The new approach to outreach effectively classifies all Jews into two camps: the frum and the not-yet-frum, with our objective being to transform the latter into the former. What this mentality ignores is that once an individual has reached the “promised land” of frumkeit, the challenge has only really begun. Imagine, for example, the newly Orthodox young woman inspired by the Torah’s vision of marriage or its empowering message of modesty. What have we done to prepare her for the not-infrequent crassness and decided lack of menschlichkeit that she may encounter when she enters the “shidduch market”? Will the inspiring vision of tefillah presented in kiruv seminars hold up when these ba’alei teshuvah enter a real-life noisy Orthodox synagogue? Yeshivot for the newly observant offer generous scholarships, charismatic educators and aesthetically pleasing surroundings; of course, when it comes to their own children’s chinuch, graduates are on their own. Once a ba’al teshuvah is successfully “made,” is there an effort to facilitate his integration into a community, or do we wish ourselves a yasher koach and rush off to the next prospect?
There is, of course, a third category that is often ignored: the no longer frum. Step into a bar in Jerusalem or New York, and you will likely find young Jews on temporary or permanent hiatus from shemirat hamitzvot; sometimes one encounters the tragic irony of now-frei children of ba’alei teshuvah. Whether it is disillusionment or simply inertia that drives them away, it is clear that the message that ba’alei teshuvah find so inspiring has not reached them. Unfortunately, Jews have been leaving observance in droves since the early modern era, and the entire enterprise of outreach would be largely unnecessary were it not for the fact that 90 percent of American Jews who are non-observant are the descendents of people who were born into frumkeit and left it. We ignore this historical trend at our own peril.
We can pat ourselves on the back that we have “inspired” others to shemirat hamitzvot, but if that inspiration cannot be transmitted to their children, then the victory is a hollow one. If we have the resources for weekend-long kiruv retreats, elaborate multi-media outreach presentations and free trips to Israel for curious college students, can’t we place a bit more emphasis on insuring that our own children are equally inspired?
University Heights, Ohio
In the spring 2010 issue, we inadvertently implied that Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein teaches Gemara at Michlalah Jerusalem College. Rabbi Bernstein teaches many subjects to young women at Michlalah but not Gemara; Michlalah does not offer Gemara classes for women.