Monday, November 3, 2014

Kiruv above the neck

I have said this many times before--I rarely buy services magazines published under Orthodox auspices unless there's an article of interest to me.  Kiruv articles qualify, and so I actually plunked down some coin on a copy of last week's Mishpacha Magazine.  Not only was there an article on the roaring success of the Shabbos Project, but there was also a roundtable discussion on the success of kiruv.  According to the article, more Jews than ever were learning about the wonder and beauty of Torah observance through lectures, open Shabboses, and of course, the campus Chabad.  (In my day, the campus Chabad was a home for ex-frat boys who wanted cheap rent and plenty of booze.  Slap on a kippah, grow a beard, change your name to Menachem and you're good to go.)  There are plenty of people with a need, and it's easy to believe that Orthodoxy will fill that need.
However, booze, cholent and divrei Torah will only take you so far.  Getting people in the door is relatively easy.  Keeping them in the fold, however, is far more difficult.  As the article stated outright, about 150,000 Orthodox Jews are baalei teshuvah.  However, there are about 330,000 adults who were born into Orthodox families but are no longer observant.  In other words, for every person you bring in, two have left.  And that doesn't include the former BTs who bail.
So what's the problem?  If the Torah is so profound, why do our own children bail?  As Pirkei Avos states, "Any love dependent on a specific cause dies with the cause."  Let's face it--being Torah observant is capital-H HARD!  The lifestyle is expensive, the dress code both restrictive and conspicuous, and there are rules about everything from light switches on Saturday to music in the summer.  Once the bloom is off the rose, what keeps someone from saying, "See ya"?  You have to get above the neck.  And there's more to that than Midrash and Gematria.
Remember those "needs" I mentioned?  Well, if our community doesn't meet them, then the motivation to stay wears a bit thin.  Someone sold on those beautiful families around the Shabbos table may grow discouraged after years of sitting single (or being trapped with an abuser who lays tefillin every morning before coming home to scream at his wife).  If you want to emphasize community, then genuine inclusion is a necessity.  There can be no talk of "bad influences" as the BT and his or her children are rejected from schools and excluded from playdates.  For me, it was hearing that Torah study makes you a more moral person.  If we want to say that and mean it, then we have to let the Torah get above our own necks.  It must be more than skirt lengths, velvet kippot, and four hechsherim on your cookies.  We cannot condone any act of abuse, theft, or dishonesty, ever.
(To be continued...)