Who Are We Reaching Out To?

To an extent kiruv (Jewish outreach) requires a suspension of reality. This is not necessarily a bad thing because from a religious Jewish standpoint, the reality of American life is harsh. The many good people who engage in kiruv blot out circumstances that suggest that their efforts are akin to a steady uphill climb. We should admire them all the more because of what they have accomplished.

As I point out in my latest Jewish Week column, we are in the second generation of mass intermarriage. In most situations, the consequences of intermarriage are not reversible. It is certainly true that the impact of intermarriage is cumulative, so that with the passage of time, halachic ties to the Jewish people are weakened and this is also true of social ties. Put otherwise, with each passing year, the percentage of those who are identified as American Jews who are not halachic Jews inevitably goes up.

Our kiruv activities appear to be oblivious to this truth. Far more than we may realize, kiruv is conducted today much the same as it was conducted a generation ago. For all of the efforts, real or imagined, to restrict kiruv to halachic Jews, the statistics of American Jewish life suggest that this is not possible. I am not suggesting that we abandon kiruv; I am suggesting that we be more cognizant to what is happening.

Interestingly, as we continue to reach out to those who are quite distant from religious life, we continue to do far too little to retain the many of a religious background who are falling away. One possible explanation is that kiruv efforts get more support and are more appreciated than inreach efforts.

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3 Responses

  1. Micha says:

    It’s “common knowledge” amongst people doing kiruv for Aish (the outreach arm of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah) that they’re racing the clock. There will be a time when the majority of people in the non-Orthodox Jewish communities will not be halachically Jewish. When that comes, kiruv may well be over. But it’s not here yet!

  2. Gershon Seif says:

    Dr. Schick, you seem to assume that there are endless dollars out there for kiruv, so why doesn’t the community redirect some of that towards education. As a fundraiser for NCSY in the Midwest, my experience is quite the contrary. Our region reaches out to over 2,500 kids in 7 states and does so on a shoestring budget. While the census shows that number of intermarriages is going up, we are actually reaching out to more Jewish teens each year. Some are in Public School clubs, others attend our conventions, many go on to study in Israel, and almost all will not intermarry. If we had more, I know for a fact there would many more success stories. I am certain that if there was more money for outreach, there would be more kids we could reach.

    Some of that money is raised from Jewish sources outside the Orthodox community. Those donors often won’t be giving to formal Jewish education institutions, because they don’t perceive those schools as “their cause”, whereas they can relate to outreach, often for kids that could have been their own. That means that of the cost per capita, some is from outside our community – but it’s not enough.

    I’m out there in the field meeting those teens every day. They are just as sweet and Jewish, and their potential for their Jewish future is just as great, as the kids you’ll meet at the Jewish schools you visit. If you convince the Orthodox community to direct their money elsewhere, it will be people like me that will have to report sometime in the future, that we know where the Jewish kids are who could have come back to the fold, but our hands are being tied by lack of support. Please think about that long and hard.

    Are the non-Orthodox kids not our family too? Would a parent write off one of his own kids because they’re not as talented or smart as the others? If the parent knows of a way to help that child, wouldn’t he sometimes even spend more to help him? Believe me, all of our efforts are a far cry from what they could be, and our sole limitation is funds.

    As a previous comment put it, because the intermarriage rate is climbing that is precisely why we can’t neglect giving even more to outreach.

  3. Ron Coleman says:

    From what I am hearing, the uncomfortable truth — and one that I cannot believe is not known in the precincts of NCSY — is that the number one leak in Jewish commitment right now is in the liberal wing of modern orthodoxy. There isn’t even enough pressure left in the “Conservative and Reform” (a fairly meaningless degree of detail) tires. That’s not to see there aren’t charedi / chasidic dropouts. But the dirty secret from what I am observing with my own eyes, and hearing back from outreach people, is that like the Conservative Jews of 50 years ago, there are meaningfully large sectors where modern orthodox behavior is virtually indistinguishable as Jewish. Unlike 50 years ago, however, the norms of the society at large are all but non-existent — meaning that those who cross this line have little chance of ever crossing back.

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