It’s Not Their Fault (It’s Ours)

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clinton-chossonBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Mainstream news outlets have seriously cut down their coverage of news stories. As society dumbs down and spends more time feeding its internet addiction, the news switches to be more entertaining than enlightening, more style than content, and more pop than intelligence. People following current events often find themselves amazed at what passes for news today. The goal in news-reporting was once to inform and enlighten. No more. Today, it’s all about entertainment. Reflecting trends in society, style tends to trump content; trendiness and superficiality have replaced serious values.

Last week, all the news outlets could talk and write about was a flight attendant who snapped while on the job, and, following a tirade against a passenger, slid down the emergency chute and ran home. He rode home to become the biggest hero in America. He had the guts to walk off his job because he had enough and wouldn’t take it anymore.

It is beyond my ability to comprehend what is heroic about a person, whose job definition is helping people as they sit on an airplane, going crazy because a passenger didn’t follow his orders to detail. It is not always easy to reason with people in stressful situations, but an argument with a person who sought to remove a carry-on bag from the upper bin before the plane came to a complete stop doesn’t seem to be the type of act that should cause a service veteran to lose it. A person who was paid to service flying patrons threw away all modicum of decency and became portrayed as the hero of every working person in America.

We notice more and more that people don’t have patience for each other. More often, we note that people who are paid to be waiters, shop clerks, nurses or other types of aides seem to resent when people actually expect to be treated with professional decency.

What has transpired to the national psyche that gives people the idea that they can treat others as they will, ignoring their feelings and rights? You pay hundreds of dollars to fly from here to there, a few more to take along a suitcase, some more to quench your thirst while on the plane, and a few more for some other convenience, and then the people who work for the airline feel empowered to boss you around as if the flying tube were their own private fiefdom. When you resist, they lose it, go crazy, and become American heroes.

Can it be that people have taken the concept of a classless society where all are treated equal overboard? Are we now at the point where people consider it beneath their dignity to assist others with their luggage, meals, or whatever it is they are employed to do?

To be sure, there are legions of fine people who perform their tasks admirably, and thanks to them, businesses hum, orders are processed, planes take off, hospitals treat patients, and government gets you your driver’s license.

Has the culture of refinement become a culture of rudeness? Has rudeness replaced intelligence as a mark of greatness?

A troubling new work ethic appears to have gained traction among those who have been raised to feel a sense of entitlement to the American dream. They seemed to have forgotten that success is a result of hard work, ambition and common decency. Those who rely strictly on their sense of entitlement will fail to move ahead until they realize the need to treat other people with the consideration they seek for themselves.

These people are doomed to failure. Their arrogance and laziness will only get them so far. They can only humiliate and denigrate others only so many times before people get fed up with them. Instead of blaming themselves for their failures, they blame everyone else. They blame the people they are paid to work with. They blame the people they have insulted and treated rudely. They blame everyone but themselves. And the cycle of failure continues.

Blaming others for one’s failures and substandard behavior may appear to work in the short term. But over time, it contributes to a cycle of failure that boomerangs. Everyone loses.

This brings me to the next topic. Religious Jews are up in arms over happenings in the news on two successive Shabbosos. The first week it was a marriage that ticked them off, the second it was a Supreme Court appointment. No, it’s not the same as the flight attendant who lost it, but the two issues are related. All three stories came about as a result of people not accepting blame for their own failings.

How, people wondered, could Elana Kagan, President Obama’s Jewish appointee to the Supreme Court, agree to be sworn in on Shabbos? They don’t realize that, sadly, Kagan is so far removed from Shabbos that it plays no role whatsoever in her day-to-day life. It is like any other day. To her, the swearing-in ceremony represents a glorious milestone in her life and an historic event in the life of American Jews.

We neglect to recognize that we have abandoned her and millions like her. We haven’t reached out to her and so many other unaffiliated Jews. We haven’t brought them closer to Torah and Yiddishkeit. We haven’t made a serious attempt to show her and Jews of her background what they would miss out in not getting a Jewish education. We let her and those like her slip through the net and into the American melting pot.

Religious Jews are appalled that a nice Jewish boy would marry a Methodist, on Shabbos no less, dressed in a yarmulke and a tallis, under a chupah, and sign a kesubah to boot. “How can he?” they ask. “How can he trample on Shabbos and on halacha like that? A yarmulka, a chupah, a kesubah, a rabbi… on Shabbos?! Sacrilege! Shame!”

And it’s all true.

But whose fault is it? His or ours? Why is it the boy’s fault? Does he know better? Was he brought up any different? As far as he is concerned, he is a proud Jew. He proudly showed how far Jews have advanced in this country. He married the only daughter of a former president and the current secretary of state, and he did so with Jewish pride. He didn’t bury or hide his religion; it was out there for all to see.

This young man is a tinok shenishbah. It is not his fault. It is ours. Our community has failed this boy and his family. His grandparents were, in all probability, people who sacrificed for Torah, for Shabbos, and for fidelity to halacha. We could have perpetuated that golden chain. But we have failed his future – the beautiful Yiddishe kinderlach he could have fathered and brought up in the path of his forbears.

Instead, we stay locked in our comfortable neighborhoods and ignore the masses of Jews assimilating into oblivion right next door. We give lip service to the idea of reaching out to wayward Jews and educating them about their glorious heritage. And then, when they marry out of the faith, we blame them. When a proud Jew wears a yarmulka and a tallis and tramples on the holy Shabbos and everything else dear to us to marries out of the faith, we wonder how it could be. We write columns condemning him. We sermonize in synagogues across the country bemoaning the action of the tinok shenishbah bein ho’amim. But we fail to point the finger at the guilty party. We fail to accept the blame for the 70% of Jewish kids who don’t marry Jews.

Of course it is not realistic to expect us to be able to reach each and every Jewish kid and teach him what it means to be a Jew. It may not be feasible for us to sign up every child in a Jewish school. But do we care that we are losing the majority of Jews in this country to assimilation? Do we try to reach them? Do we throw them a lifeline?

In a related matter, we are flippant about not accepting children into our schools. And no, we are not talking about non-religious children. We are referring to children in our own communities who, for whatever reason, are left out in the cold as their parents try to grapple with the reality of their children being school-less. We have parents who actually impose their will and desires on school administrations regarding the type of students who should be accepted in their school.

Our grandparents and forebears would be mortified to witness child after child being rejected from frum schools, left with little to no options. And while it may make some people feel uncomfortable, it is time to stop making believe that this problem doesn’t exist. It is real and it is tragic. It is a phenomenon that has resulted in children leaving the derech haTorah, searching for satisfaction and recognition elsewhere. We send children and their parents flying, because they don’t fit the mold and we don’t care.

Last week, we commemorated the yahrtzeit of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. In 1944, he founded Torah Umesorah to create a sea-change in the attitude of American Jewry to Torah education. Prior to Rav Shraga Feivel, immigrant Jews believed that in order to succeed in this country and to be perceived as loyal Americans, it was incumbent upon them to send their children to public school.

Torah Umesorah successfully challenged that paradigm and introduced the concept of widespread Jewish education through the medium of the Hebrew day school. Over the course of twenty years of incredible hard work and mesirus nefesh, Dr. Joseph Kamenetzky and his staff managed to convince all towns home to more than 10,000 Jews to open a day school and to provide meaningful full-time Jewish and secular education to generations of children.
Today, some 65 years later, Torah Umesorah proudly lists approximately 700 such schools educating in excess of 200,000 children across North America in what ranks as an all-time historic achievement in the hatzolah of an entire country. Prior to Rav Shraga Feivel’s innovation, Jewish children became semi-Jews, and then non-Jews, as they progressed through the educational system.

If you examine those numbers, you will see something very frightening. The vast majority of those children are in frum schools in the New York area and in cities with large religious populations. Very few of those schools and very few of those children are of the type that Rav Shraga Feivel had in mind when he founded his beloved organization. Yes, there are many, and the work of Torah Umesorah is to be commended, but we are so far from the realization of Rav Shraga Feivel’s dream. The percentage of Jewish children enrolled in religious schools in this country is in the single digits. Millions of Jewish children are being lost every year, because we have abandoned the dream of enrolling them in yeshiva day schools.

Additionally, anecdotal evidence shows that as a result of the economic downturn, day school parents are unable to make their tuition payments and are removing their children from day schools and placing them in public schools. Can anything be sadder? Schools founded with immense mesirus nefesh are emptying out and their students are being lost to the Jewish people.

Does it make sense for us to sit back and revel in how far we have come since the days of Rav Shraga Feivel?

For many of us reading this column, yeshiva education is a given. The chareidi school system in our circles is vibrant and flourishing. The substantial number of Hebrew day schools across the country reinforces the misguided notion that we are impacting Jews everywhere and that we have done all we can in the field of Jewish education and outreach.

Yet, there is so much more that can be accomplished if we were to dedicate ourselves towards that goal. How sad to contemplate the outcome years from now if we fail to meet this challenge today. How tragic it will be to witness the massive numbers of Jewish children lost to their people, because our generation was not concerned enough about the spiritual genocide unfolding beyond our communities.

In Eretz Yisroel, Lev L’Achim and Shuvu, among others, have successfully recruited tens of thousands of secular children to religious schools. In this country we are all familiar with groups such as Oorah, which reach out to assimilated Jews and seek to bring them and their children tachas kanfei haShechinah. There are people such as Rabbi Nate Segal, Torah Umesorah’s Community Development Director, who is always on the prowl for a new town in which to open a shul, a kollel, and eventually a school, but we don’t support him nearly enough. In this country, people such as Rabbi Zev Dunner, Project Seed’s director, are working painstakingly to open a religious school in Florida for the children of yordim who are currently in public school. Yet, Rabbi Dunner is forced to grovel for the few dollars he needs to make the school a reality.

Returning to the jarring scenario of a young man attired in tallis and yarmulka marrying a Methodist girl in a ceremony under a chupah on Shabbos, let us hear the message a bit differently. The Jewish chosson was telling us that had we reached him, we could have returned him to his heritage. Had he been signed up to study in a Hebrew day school, Marc Mezvinsky would have later stood under the chupah with a daughter of his own people. He might have grown up to be an observant Jew bringing nachas to his family and to Am Yisroel.

As the school year gets underway, let us stop shifting the blame for the Kagans and Mezvinskys of this world. We cannot all change the world, but we can try to understand why people do the things they do and try to show that at least some people care. You can show that at least one person wants to make a difference. If enough of us show that we care, instead of shifting blame, we can make a difference. We can then commit more generations to Torah and be machzir atarah leyoshnah.

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  1. Why do you think that the Yordim who fled Israel to a BETTER LIFE in the USA would want to send their children to a charedi day school. Isn’t that the tyrannical backwardness that they escaped in the first place by BECOMING Yordim?

  2. dead-on. one of the most successful kiruv organizations ever is the Heritage House in the Old City of Jerusalem. The House is being forced to vacate our current location and needs support to secure a new one and continue the amazing kiruv work of bring thousands of Jews closer to their Jewish Heritage in the heart of the Old City!

  3. Your points are on the mark. However, it’s much easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. If you want a community that promotes kiruv you need be open to accepting someone less than perfect into your home, school, shule and community. You need to listen to the other person’s questions, perspectives and paradigms.
    One truly needs to make room in your hearts to love people who think differently than you do. Otherwise, you are left with a good feeling but without true acts of conscience. Rav Yehuda Amital ZT”l, would give over the same message year after year prior to Neilla. During the month of Ellul and Assere Yemai Tshuva we fill our hearts with Hakadosh Boruch Hu’s awareness. We seek Dvaykut. Umoll Hashem Elokecha et Levavcha…… At Neilah, it’s time to open our hearts to Clal Yisroel, to our families and to Hashem. The greatest act of emunah in Hashem
    is to recognize and accept the tzelem elokim in all of humanity. Begin with the Jew who is distant and slowly you can make Hashem’s house a house of prayer for all the nations.

  4. Right on. However, as important as kiruv is , Im not sure if our valuable after tax dollars should be spent on anything besides our own childrens tuition.

  5. This article is untrue and also offensive. Why does the writes cloack himself in a holier than thou attitude? Why does he feel that I that raise my family and my Talmidim, Bederech HaSHem am responsible to go out and do kiruv.
    In my school system they would not even accept a child whose standards are even one inch below the school’s level.
    When did Yeshivisher Roshei Yeshiva in America tell their Talmidim to go do Kiruv? Maybe we should perfect ourselves first?
    I dont have the answers, I am merely pointing out that I don’t believe that you do!
    We need Daas Torah!

  6. To #7:

    Your terrible attitude is what Rabbi Lipschutz is referring to. We only are concerned with ourselves. We live in our little cocoon, and forget there are non-frum yidden who are searching for something real. In order to comfort ourselves, we say “that is what Kiruv organizations are for, let them do the ‘dirty’ work”. Baloney. We are all responsible for our fellow non-frum yidden. We all have to open our hearts.

  7. Mr. Normal,

    Every Yom Kippur before Kol Nidrey we make a declaration of Anu Matirim lehispallel im Hoavaryonim. LeHalacha your fasting may be useless if you can not make room in youre life for those who are not where you are. The Kitores did it’s work because it had Chelbinah which represented those Jews who were distant, those who the clal needed to unite with inorder to be clal yisroel.

    I think your paradigm of what is Biderech Hashem is quite faulty. G-d made all of humanity with the tzelem Elokim. Not just you and your ilk.

  8. It’s not his fault, it’s ours? That’s pushing it. There is such a thing as personal responsibility, perhaps of his grandparents or parents, whomever it was that first left the path. Our community makes efforts, but is way too tiny and far too burdened to bear responsibility for couteracting the powerful forces that have swept away so many. Is Rabbi Lipshutz planning on leaning Monsey and settling in a secular Jewish community so he can invite them for shabbos? Or is this just words?

  9. #1, you have no idea. As a person who worked with “yordim” in sunny south FL, I can tell with certanty how most would love to send their children to real Frum schools (if its packaged correctly).

  10. In yiddishkeit the ends never justify the means. The reason why we are weary of focusing to much on kiruv were beautifully articulated by Sheldon and R’ Pinny, we do not and will not compromise even a drop on our high standards of chinuch, nor will we send our talmidim “Out” of the “mishkan”.
    Reb aharon used to say “Ah yid learnt torah in Lakewood un a yid iz nisht mechalel shabbos in pariz”!- We light a torch of torah and kedusha and it shines far… Let us focus our limited resources ($) and koichos keeping our heiliger mosdos afloat, There is much work to be done within our heiliger machanos just keeping the level of kedusha up and keeping our own childeren close – “Karov”.

  11. I believe the school being opened is a day school. I believe the tone of the article is that we should be encouraging our non observant fellow Jews towards educating their children in a way that will allow them to be part of klal Yisroel by knowing their Jewish heritage. I also believe that daas torah spoke out about this years ago when reb Aron spearheaded the founding of the hundreds of day schools opened in the fifties and sixties – he clearly saw this as a priority worthy of his precious time and efforts. Likewise all the other gedolim who have stood st the forefront of the fine organizations mentioned in the article were leading by example.

    It is worth considering that we all have second or third or indeed first cousins who are not frum – usually because of a choice made by one of their grandparents somewhere down the line. Likewise we are for the most part frum because of decisions made by a parent or grandparent. We therefore get little of the reward because we largely are coasting on the efforts put in by those who were Moser nefesh in earlier generations. We should therefore pause for thought and wonder what we would look like had we been wearing our cousins or grandfathers shoes.

  12. we cant even get a frum boy, from a frum home who is a high achiever and a great and motivated learner, into a “mainstream ” right wing yeshiva because the parents werent born in this country, what gives? Wonder why Moshiach isnt here? This is a true, first hand story. How can we be mekariev others when “we” can’t get it right in our own frum community? Please someone explain this to me.

  13. Intermarraige happens all the time.Yes, It’s true that all jews are resposible for one another. But he also had free choice and he made the concious decision to marry outside the faith, just like the rest of all the traitors. They know it’s not right. Kiruv has got nothin to do with it.

  14. to normal

    r dovid schustal (bmg) has a partners in torah chavrusa. r shmuel kamenetzky talks all the time that we all have a chiyuv in kiruv

  15. Very well written and well said.

    But I always wonder why the mention of Oorah and not the mention of Chabad? Don’t they too do great kiruv work? Let me re-reword that, aren’t they the pioneers and leaders in kiruv?

    Rabbi Lipshutz is right on. But if you want a role model of not blaming others, not looking down at others, of literally thousands of yidin who devote their very lives to the message of this very article – than look at the Chabad Shluchim.

  16. TO NUMBER 16# RAV SHUSTAL’S CHAVERusa is a recent thing up until 3 years ago he nver did any kiruv no tjher lakewood roshei yeshiva do kiruv rav ahron never did kiruv rav shlomo miller doesnt do kiruv rav elya ber doesnt do kiruv rav shach didnt do kiruv

  17. several of you are very focused on the $$$’s, as my Rav says, in America al shlosha devarim haolam omaid–kesef, mamon & gelt!
    each one of us has a CHIYUV (you know, like Shabbos, kashrus, davening, tzitzis) to DO something, if you have an opportunity, invite someone for a Shabbos or Yom Tov seudah, that doesn’t cost too much. You don’t have to turn someone into the Chazon Ish to be successful, you never know what hashpaa may result.

  18. “tinok shenishbah” The last time I recall learning about tinok shenishbah, I understood it to mean, a jewish child, not knowing he was Jewish, being raised like a goy, then finds out he is Jewish. All these people today, know they are Jewish AND WANT TO LIVE LIKE GOYIM.

  19. It is true that kiruv is a newer phenemnom, mainly since it has taken years to fortify, solidify and maintain the foundation of Jewish life in USA. Reb Noah, Rav Bulman, Rav Henoch of CC were loudly advocating KIRUV while the rest of the yeshiva velt was busily fixing themselves…
    How many calls do you need? Be a mensch, greet others with a pleasant face and voice, judge only when you are in their shoes and righteousness righteousness pursue were doctrines given at HAR SINAI..
    The downward descent of klal yisroel is attributed to the nearness to the is the time to stand up and proclaim ‘kavod shamayim’. As one who spent 2/3 of married life with a house full of kids ‘out of town’,
    educating them in dayschools (yep, that means coed till 6th grade), davening in ‘singing & shabbas rabbi speeches’ with American & Israeli flags on the bimah….would have pleasure and nachas to see my married families and their children today. It works since Hashems brochos surround you….TRY IT…

  20. They may be pioneers in a sense, but they were by far not the first. The Young Israel and Zeirei Agudas Israel movements were active in Kiruv decades before the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt’l came to America in 1940 (see Amos Bunim’s ‘A fire in his soul’, amongst other historical works). His pioneering initiative was to send his Chasidim/Talmidim out to where there are no Jews. In a sense, this is part of the the issues mainstream Judaism has with Chabad (aside from the messianic issues); they contend they are the sole propegenitors of Torah True Judaism, while making compromises other organization with equally qualified leaders would not, in a sense ‘watering down’ Judaism, which is no better in some ways than reform.

  21. To # 18- all those gedolim have the Jewish’s worlds problems on their head. They should not be the ones involved in kiruv. (R’ Shmuel has set up a program in the yeshiva where community boys come in to learn once a week plus R’ Shmuel is very involved with the community and many new and becoming baalei teshuvah.)

  22. I agree with the general idea of the article, but I have two points to add:

    1) As far as the flight attendant being a hero, I think the adulation he received speaks to the tremendous frustration of working-class America, which of course includes many frum yidden. We’re working longer hours for less pay. And small-business owners haven’t been helped at all by the government (unlike the banks and large corporations), and will face tremendous costs with the new health-care bill. There’s a lot of stress and frustration out there, and I think it’s totally understandable. In that sense, I think it’s highly unfair to criticize the flight attendant for what he did and claim he had an entitlement mentality. These past few years have been very difficult for a lot of Americans (and frum people included). The guy certainly wasn’t a hero, but I think the author’s attitude shows that he is very much out of touch with the difficulties faced by many people today.

    2) I thought the second part of the article was terrific. I thought Kagan and Mezvinsky were unfairly criticized. But perhaps instead of just looking at the symptoms, let us also look at the disease. Why did they, their parents and grandparents assimilate and stay assimilated? What lessons can we learn? How can we improve out chinuch system to make sure nobody else slips through the cracks? How can we work together with Torah leadership to make this happen?

    3) I’m tired of hearing about how people are “forced to grovel for dollars” to raise funds for mosdos. This is obviously a great cause, but let’s face it – people are struggling. Is there still enough money to go around to cover every cause? At a certain point, you have to wonder.

  23. Kiruv is a two way street. If you don’t have the training and a very strong backbone for your and your families, DON’T TOUCH IT. It may
    (and lots of time does) do just the opposite. I know of many people who are sliding off the derech for their own taavos, and chocolate coating it with KIRUV. I know real and proffessional kiruv people who’s own children went down the drain rch’l as a result of this.
    Yes, we have to be good TO everyone, but not WITH everyone. As far as intermarriage is concerened, WE are fighting it from day one when our children are born with the chinuch that we give them. Before going into kiruv, ask your RAV, REBBE, ROSH YESHIVE etc. if it is for YOU. Hatzlacha.

  24. #26 are u just being emotional or have facts/figures to back up your statements?
    You will find that more kids sliding off the derech has occured in town, including big name brands and in the ‘bestest’ of yeshivos.

    Attend a few INSPIRE classes and u will lead back the wayward, it is evident from ur words that u are far from the reality. Besides the point, ASK YOUR SPOUSE FIRST before anyone else if this is what u are cut out for.

  25. Rav Aron Kotler, Rav Reuvein Grozovsky were the leaders of Torah Umesorah, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rav Elya Svei and many others were actively involved. Rav Aron Kotler was moser nefesh for Chinuch Atzmai in the days when it was saving kids from the street. Rav Shach was the primary forced behind Lev L’Achim. To say gedolim were not into worrying about Yaldei Yisroel who looked different than them, is not only wrong, and foolish, it is slander.

  26. To Usher,

    That these people are treted as and have the status of tinok shenishba is based upon the psak of the Chazon Ish. Due you still want to continue this line of argument?

  27. The Rabbi writes “The chareidi school system in our circles is vibrant and flourishing”

    Not true. Most Chareid schools are in trouble financially. As evidence one in Lakewood closed a few days ago.

  28. People weep over the tinokos shenishba whose grandparents or great-grandparents went off the derech, and congratulate themselves on their own devotion to Torah.

    Well, the reason a lot of those immigrants went off the derech was very simple – the six-day work-week and the employers who told them “If you don’t come in on Saturday don’t come in on Monday.” I knew personally people who had to find another job every Monday because they wouldn’t be mechallel Shabbos, but most people couldn’t reach that madregah. For them it was a choice between Shabbos and feeding their children. Now, we have the five-day work-week and a Civil Rights bill to protect us. That kind of economic hardship is a thing of the past.

    Or is it? Think of the current economy, and think of the avreichim that are going to be looking for jobs or already looking and in many cases not finding. We are going to have to find solutions or risk a repeat of people drifting away because of parnassah problems. I once asked a Rav who knows about these things to name the greatest cause of kids going off their derech. He told me, “poverty.” Poverty, and the strains it causes in society and at home.

    There really is a “crisis” in parnassah in the frum community, and we’d better get moving and start finding answers, or we could end up ch’v with another generation of lost ones.

  29. sheldon, dont miss quote the chazon ish, he was talking about kids abused by the Zionists not Americans who are just so liberal they cant understand the concept of following halocho….

  30. Kim , talk about misqouting the Chazon Ish. He never says anything about kids abused by Zionists. That is a machination of your imagination.
    Second, For liberal Americans not understanding the concept of following halacha; maybe the frum world’s concept of observance may be so myopic that it has become irrelevent to the world atlarge.


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