By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA
Director: Jewish Professionals Institute www.jpi.org/
Author: The Second World War and Jewish Education in America www.jpi.org/holocaust/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For over 40 years I have been involved with Kiruv Rechokim in various ways. I am now in my 60s and since my early 20s I have been part of and watched the Baal Teshuva Movement and Kiruv Rechokim become household words in the Orthodox world. There was much idealism and high-mindedness among young secular Jews during the post World War Two years, especially in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
In those days the talk was about assimilation and the rise in intermarriages. The Orthodox world of those days was viewed as a solid monolith that many secular Jews started to be attracted to. In those years, for example, there was in the USA the NCSY youth movement, the growing worldwide efforts of Chabad-Lubavitch, and the founding of the first Yeshivas catering to the new inflow of Baalei Teshuva, such as Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv in the United States and Ohr Somayach and Aish HaTorah in Israel for young secular Jewish men as well as Nevei Yerushalayim for young secular Jewish women interested in exploring their Jewish heritage and Torah roots.
The Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 that saw Israel miraculously defeat multiple enemy armies added to the growing pride in being Jewish that inspired Jews everywhere. In the old Soviet Union there was a dramatic re-awakening of Jewish pride and identity and the Refusenik movement saw idealistic intellectuals and thinkers clamoring to learn more about Judaism and wanting to make Aliya to Israel.
Those were heady days indeed, thousands of secular Jews attended all kinds of outreach programs run by various Orthodox groups that began to spring up wherever there was a Jewish community to be found. This upbeat spirit stretched from 1950s into the 1980s when new trends began: Assimilation was overtaken by rampant intermarriage among secular Jews in the 1980s and 1990s as verified by all sorts of official Jewish population surveys.
Then slowly, one started to hear that even among Orthodox Jews there was a new trend of people leaving the fold, and by the time the 21st Century came around this trend had gotten a name that stuck: “Off The Derech” (“Off the Path” of Judaism and Torah Observance ) or “OTD” in short.
By now in 2016 this trend has sadly grown to the point where the Orthodox establishment is trying to counter it with what is now termed “Inreach” to those wanting to abandon Orthodoxy in contradistinction to “Outreach” which still means “reaching out” to secular Jews by Orthodox Jews who wish to “Mekarev” or “bring closer” to Torah-True Judaism as many secular Jews as can be reached by the new army of “Kiruv Professionals and Outreach Workers” as well as by any private Orthodox or Frum Jews in their places of work and communities where they live.
For any Kiruv Professional and Jewish Outreach Worker who has helped the Baal Teshuva Movement and Revolution happen it is very bewildering to watch the Off The Derech saga unfold. On the one hand we see secular Jews being attracted to Yiddishkeit and giving up their prior secular lifestyles to become genuine Bnai Torah. On the other hand there is another less pleasant trend of Frum people going “Off The Derech”! A true paradox and conundrum if there ever was one!
Just as the Baal Teshuva Movement sees people from all walks of life and of all age groups find an attraction in the Frum world, on the darker side there are all kinds of people from all groups and of all ages that for some or other reasons are deciding that the Orthodoxy and the Frumkeit of the families they were born into and brought up by, and the Frum communities and life they are part of, suddenly become less attractive and they are drawn to what they imagine are the lures of the secular world not just the Jewish secular world but the secular world at large.
What can be learned from the very successful Baal Teshuva Movement that can be applied to the disappointing Off The Derech Movement? that in Israel has the bizarre name of “Sho’alim BeShe’eila” (“Askers of Questions”) as differentiated with the trend of secular Israelis becoming Frum that are known as “Chozrim BeTeshuva” (“Returnees and Repenters” to Judaism).
One important principle that makes for successful Kiruv Rechokim is when meeting non-religious Jews (or as someone put it years as “Frum To Be” Jews) is NOT to be judgmental about them! When encountering a secular Jew you are happy to meet him or her and you always remain happy to know him or her for as long as you will know them. This spirit of being non-judgmental is important when encountering any Frum person who seems to have started the sad decline of going Off The Derech. Screaming and shouting at them will have no effect. Instead, family members and friends need to try to “reach out” to them simply by showing them that you still accept them for who they are and that nothing will ever change. This may seem like a tall order but it is the first necessary step that is required to even try to stop the downward spiral of going Off The Derech.
To be continued…