Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 5 May 2014

Depserately Needed OutReach

That Jewish society evolves over time should not come as a shock to anyone.  Israeli society, as a part of the greater Jewish nation, is no different.  Today on Yom Ha'atzmaut it would be a good idea to reflect on how Israeli society has changed, from the ealy days of the first Aliyos to today.
The changes currently occuring are worth paying attention to and, for the Religious Zionist movement, responding to with a new initiative.  Secular Zionism, written off in the surge of post-Zionism after the first Oslo Discord was signed, has started to stage a comeback due to the efforts of its two current champions, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni.  Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, its religious members not withstanding, is about creating a secular israeli movement with cultural trappings of Judaism as long as they don't interfere with secular liberal values.  Much like the original Labour Zionists, Lapid wants to remold Israeli society in a secular Western one with cultural hints of its religious origins.  Tzipi Livni is even more direct as her ongoing opposition to Bibi Netanyahu's efforts to ensure Israel is recognized as a Jewish state indicate.  Having failed to sell out Israel to its enemies through negotiation she is open about her desire for the state to commit cultural suicide and give up its principle Jewish nature.
Against this we have the Chareidi community which, more than ever, wishes to monopolize Judaism to itself, leaving everyone else, regardless of level of identification or observance, on the outside.  For their leadership Israel is a piggybank to be raided whenever desired and then spit on after the withdrawal is made.  Yes there is a large and powerful Chareidi outreach industry but it is not interested in greater Jewisih nationhood, only in bringing people into whatever branch of the Chareidi community the particular organization represents while presenting that branch as the totality of Judaism.
It is therfore imperative that Religious Zionism, still feeling some sense of confidence with the presence and success of Bayit Yehudi, to get into the outreach game.
Religious Zionist outreach should not follow the Chareidi model.  It is not in anyone's interest to hire people to preach to the unattached about the benefits of wearing a kippah serugah and singing loudly on Yom Ha'atzmaut.  Rahter, this outreach should follow the model created by the early Zionists if it wishes to make a real difference.
For those who don't remember, Secular Zionism's early modus operandi was to speak of the "New Jew".  Now, this Jew had very little to do with Judaism and, in fact, defined himself by opposing many Jewish values.  Zionists spoke of the downtrodden, defeatist golus Jews and how the New Jew, unlike his predecessor, would stand upright, be equal with members of other nations and embrace world culture in its fullest.  He would embrace work, culture and enlightenment and these New Jews would show the world that our nation, far from being a different, isolated culture, represented the best of what the family of nations had to offer.
The advantage of this model was that it was global.  It appealed to the non-religious European socialist Jew, the one who already had a foot out the door due to assimilation and the allure of non-Jewish philosophies.  It also appealed to the religous Jew, sick of his ghetto existence, overbearing rabbinic leaders and a life of poverty and wordly ignorance.  The promise of a new Jewish society, even if there was nothing really Jewish about it except the ethnic background of its members, held great appeal.
The main failing of Secular Zionism was that it was geared towards nation building.  One the country was built and running it lost a lot of its appeal.  It's one thing to appeal to a person to become a pioneer and drain the swamp.  The pioneer who becomes a career person and lives in the apartment building where the swamp once stood isn't always as full of idealism. 
The other failing is that its underlying motto, "Let's show all the peoples of the world that we can do whatever they do!" isn't really that inspiring.  Okay, you've built a secular socialist democracy.  So what?  It's been done.
Here is where Religious Zionism must come in.  Like the secular counterpart, Religious Zionism calls out for the creating of a "New Jew".  This model, however, is vastly different from the secular one.  First we must examine what the Old Jew is.  One type of Old Jew is one that practices a Judaism bereft of any national element.  He has a life of common ritual, perhaps even a specific outfit he wears every day like a uniform, but outside of the personal element there is no real application of his Judaism.  Because he doesn't understand the priorities of a nation he cannot fully comprehend certain issues.  The same Jew who will only touch a jug of milk with four hechsherim doesn't feel repelled by cheating on his taxes.  He can understand how tefillin are made, not so much how societies function on a macro level because it's simply not part of his Judaism.  Despite this he sees other Jews, religious and non-religious, and wonders about his connection to them.  He hears the Chareidi propaganda on how evil the State of Israel is but can't udnerstand it because it contradicts the reality of Israel he has seen with his own eyes.
The other type is one that sees being Jewish as an ethnic identity.  Being Jewish means a special type of cuisine, certain holidays, perhaps an appearance from time to time in the local "temple" as a show of cultural awareness.  He might not even been aware of the national concept of Judaism, seeing himself as a Canadian of Jewish background, a Jewish Canadian rather than a Canadian Jew.  Yet when the annual JNF appeal envelope arrives in his mailbox or the newcaster on the radio starts a sentence with "In Israel today..." something stirs within him, a sense that there is a connection to other Jews he has nothing in common with even though he doesn't understand why that connection exists.
(Before anyone starts screaming, I'm not suggesting all Jews other than Religious Zionists fit into one of these two categories.  I'm identifying two specific groups within the Jewish community that I believe are relevant to my point)
Religious Zionist outreach needs to develop a system that reaches out to these two groups.  For the Chareidi the message must be a simple one of completeness.  A Chareidi, by definition, wants to be the best Jew he can be, to worship God in as full a fashion as possible.  Almost two thousand yeaers of exile has caused us, including "the Gedolim", to become convinced that Judaism minus the national component, is a complete package but even a cursory perusal of the classic sources like, oh say, the Tanach and Talmud shows that this is not the case.  Adding the national component to his observance would enhance the Chareidi Jewish practice by reintroducing those long-dormant elements.  Now the Chareidi learns Nezikin and about whose ox gores whose before falling into a pit someone else left in the public thoroughfare.  Imagine approaching these teachings from a perspective of modern concepts in damage.  Imagine that being the mandatory way of learning those gemaras because they are now relevant in daily societal life.
In addition there is a concept of greater Jewish nationhood that Religious Zionism offers.  As opposed to the parochial "Us first and only" ghetto model of Judaism espoused by many Chareidi leaders Religious Zionism offers the Chareidi a chance to be part of a growing, dynamic nation.  Imagine Chareidim in the workplace serving as positive models of strict Torah observance in both personal and public arenae, just like their Religious Zionist counterparts.  Imagine Chareidi soldiers infused with a sense that they are not simply doing their civic duty but performing the mitzvah of protecting other Jewish lives every moment they're awake.
For the non-religious Old Jew Religious Zionism offers the ultimate cultural identity.  For many non-religious Jews our nation is irrelevant because it doesn't seem to offer what modern society does.  Religious Zionism, with its mission to create and run a modern state al pi halacha as much as possible, provides an alternative model.  You can be a modern person, you can be a member of a society, all while expressing Jewish values and behaviours.  If one is looking for a complete cultural identity along with a sense of purpose, Judaism can offer this and, along the way, these folks can learn that through Torah observances one leads a more complete life, feels a greater sense of identity with the Jewish nation and helps move history forward to the completion of the Final Redemption.
In other words, I'm not suggest Religious Zionist equivalents of Chabad Houses or Aish HaTorah seminars.  Yes there are elements of those models that need to be imitated if this outreach initiative is going to succeed but as opposed to how the Chareidi model works, waiting for the non-religious guy to come to them, Religios Zionism needs to go to the people, in both the Chareidi and non-religious communities and show, through example, through vigorous challenge and debate, the value of the complete national approach to Judaism and how it is the future model of our nation.


RAM said...

RZ would get more traction if the public RZ political leaders could curb their ambition.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I had a similar discussion with a young neighbor from Yeshivat Siah over Pesah. In the early days, the Mizrahi had a large societal vision and as such was involved in the early years especially in national education and social welfare. These are the years when Efraim Kishon wrote his laudatory essay about the the Bnei Akiva-type hevra, Hakippah Haserugah. After the Six Day War our efforts shifted to building throughout the newly liberated territories of Israel. Not a bad thing per se; but it became a focus and struggle that left little room for the other issues - and THAT was a bad thing. We need to restore our vision and work promoting all sectors of Israeli society, especially those areas that directly impact on spiritual and social welfare. Some of that is happening; but it needs to be once again the thing we are known for. Although I wasn't his student, I think this is precisely the sort of thing Rav Yehudah Amital was concerned about in his lifetime. We need to revive some of the forgotten visionaries of the Mizrahi, and breathe new life into their visions.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I stumbled across this relevant article today:,7340,L-3511151,00.html

Y. Ben-David said...

I am sorry but there is a LOT of Religious Zionist kiruv going on. First of all, there are the organizations Mayanei HaYeshua and Rosh Yehudi who work out on the streets and contact people. There are also the Garinim Torani'im which are spreading out all through the countries living with all kinds of other religious, traditional and non-religous Jews. RZ Jews are found in all branches of society, industry, business, the arts, science, the IDF and on a day-to-day basis coming in contact with lots of people, and breaking down barriers that built up largely through ignorance over the years.
A good examaple is someone who told me that new recruits in the IDF who come from non-religious backgrounds very frequently start attending synagogue. No one is is "mekarving" them, it is a natural curiosity that draws them and seeing how religious soldiers act. Often for the first time in their lives they see kiddush made on Shabbat, they see holidays being observed, yet no one is "working on them" to make them religious, it is all very natural.
I think this is much more effective kiruv than setting up some high pressure seminar with high carbohydrate, low protien diet designed by pschologists to subtly pressure someone to become religious in a certain way.

Temujin said...

Regardless of outreach done by various RZ groups and individuals out there, Sir Ironheart's points still stand. Unfortunately. One has met scores of people, in or out of the Orthodox streams, who are either unaware of options, or consider anyone not in black and white with a Borsalino on top as "Jewish-lite." This is especially true for the ba'al teshuva and prospective converts who are quickly snatched-up and "adjusted" by the Hareidi streams.

It's Temujin's wager that RZ kiruv will remain as a minor player, i.e., largely ineffective, until it can approximate Aish and Chabad in terms of kiruv and actual services to Jews from all walks of life. It's not enough to publish brilliant hashgacha in scattered blogs and glitchy websites or as amateurishly produced, samizdat-quality pamphlets. It's not enough for a Jewish business traveler seeking fellowship in a strange land, a shul to daven in or a host for Shabbat to have to call the secretary of Rabbi Ploni, who will spend half a day trying to orient him.

People should spend the time and effort in research and in-depth study, in tracking down people in the know, in making connections and planning places to visit or stay at. They don't and they won't. Most people are not eager for adventures and challenges, especially when facing a life cycle event or when traveling. They won't experiment and seek out that treasure of a bistro on a side street, but will go to a McDonalds (chas v'shalom, of course). Unfortunately, the requirements for the kind of kiruv Sir Ironheart speaks of require centralized, even charismatically-led top-down coordination, professional management expertise, rank discipline, solid social bonds among the members, significant seed capital along with reliable long-term revenue sources, bold and effective marketing and services, and a unified leadership and philosophy; all qualities and conditions which are not yet in place in the Dati Leumi, Religious Zionist camps.