Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

How Do You Combat Apathy?

There's no question that apathy is common in all parts of Western society today.  The vast majority of people live lives of quiet desperation, working to make money to pay the bills and not much more.  Greater causes, common goals, meaningful things to believe in, are far and few between.  This apathy has not ignored the Jewish nation, including the Orthodox portion.  How may yirei Shamayim approach davening with genuine fervour all the time, learn as if their lives and the world itself depend in it every day?  How many show up for davening and learning because it's part of the routine, something they just do?
In a small community the problem is even more acute.  On one hand it should be the opposite way around if you think about it.  When there aren't lots of folks on hand those that are have to try harder.  A minyan isn't guaranteed. If people don't step up, shiurim don't happen.  Yet in the small community I live in there seems to be an apathy that is getting worse over time.
Back in September, for example,  the local UJA sent out a mass e-mail with a list of classes the different synagogues were offering for the new Jewish year.  The Conservative synagogue had about ten, the Reform a similar number but the Orthodox shul?  Nothing.
The previous year we'd offered half a dozen, all of which died out by Chanukah.  Since then one rabbi continued offering his own shiurim which I guess the shul could claim since he held them there and a few other guys got together for regular chavrusa settings but in terms of organized, shul-specific classes, there was pretty much nothing.  The worse part was that no one seemed to notice except me.
Over time the crowds are getting smaller at the routine davenings.  Less and less of the Orthodox crowd, the folks who you'd think would reliably show up because, well, we're supposed to, come out.  I'm just as guilty, by the way.  I pretty much make it out for Shabbos Mincha and that's just because I have a chavrusa afterwards.  If he's away, I pretty much finish Shabbos at home.
Now from the other side one has to note that the shul in our community is partly to blame.  Over the last several years there has been a conscious effort to reach out to the non-religious and non-attached folks in town in order to grown the congregation's size.  There's a good reason for this: more members equals more dues equals more financial solvency for the place.  To achieve this the shul's Rav has done what he can to make the place more parve.  What was an Orthodox shul with a sign on the sanctuary door asking married women to wear a head covering during prayers is now a community shul with Orthodox-style prayers with a sign on the wall asking congregants to mute their cell phones during prayers.  Prayers on Friday night and Saturday morning aren't so much services as programs with exciting Carlebach style singing and the same chazzanus for Mussaf week after week after week. 
My own lack of attendance mostly arose from getting tired of finishing my silent Amidah after the chazzan had whipped past Kedushah or had finished Maariv.  Yes, over the years my davening might have slowed down slightly but not that much.  Given the choice of rushing or praying at home at a slow pace, I chose the latter and I'm guessing many others did too.
So now we sit in a situation where apathy reigns.  If the Rav were to try to draw us out with new shiurim that were above the basic let's-not-alienate-the-non-religious-folks level we'd roll our eyes and say "Let's see if it survives three or four weeks".  We have stopped caring which is going to eventually hurt the shul because the same people he's been so active in reaching out to are the same folks who will never show up during the week when you really need them to.  They come for the free food and bouncy castles and we don't have those at 7:15 am on Tuesday mornings.  So without them and us, what will he have?
(Please don't suggest: hey, have you tried talking to him?  Let's just say such a tactic would fail and leave it at that)
How does one combat such apathy?


RAM said...

Is this the only available (or conceivable) shul in your neighborhood?

micha berger said...

First reaction: Who cares?

But (hopefully) humorous logic play aside...

By definition, the apathetic aren't ready for getting much out of programming aimed at them. Particularly voluntary programming, they won't be coming. Upgrading how the minyan itself is run may have more potential, especially if the community has no other choices, which I assume from your "the shul in our community", so that the programming is closer to mandatory. (To the extent they feel compelled to daven with a minyan or can be bribed with a qiddush to come.)

I don't think this will break through the rabbi, who clearly sees his job more as broad tent and preventing loss of affiliation than inspiring. You're going to need to volunteer, just to get programming that does inspire. Could you offer to run a hashkamah minyan? You might be able to / have to bribe the rabbi with an offer to have a soapbox in which he can sermonize at a higher level.

Garnel Ironheart said...

RAM, the problem with living in a small community with one shul is that any attempts to make a second one splits the community. This is bad for a few reasons, one being that we barely have enough resources to keep one shul afloat, second we're a small group so the split would be very noticeable and third, there's a good change most of the frum people might bolt for the new shul which would embarrass the Orthodox Rav in the old shul, something no one wants to happen.
So you might ask: why not more than one minyan in the shul, like a Carlebach in the main minyan and a side minyan with normal davening? The Rav has made very clear there will be one minyan, period. Don't like it? Too bad. Live here and like it.
Michah, there's a passive aggressive way the shul is run. Could I volunteer to start a hashkamah minyan? Sure, but first the apathy will hurt more than help. Second, I'll be told "Sure you can!" but when I actually go to organize it "roadblocks" will suddenly appear. Again, this is probably for the same reason I mentioned to RAM - it looks bad on the Orthodox Rav if all the frum people leave his minyan. Better we stay at home invisible than congregate in another room.

micha berger said...

Why should the frum people leave a Carlebach minyan? If you're talking about apathy... the folk who want to get to dinner a little faster and are squirming in their seats through the Carlebach minyan are acting a more apathetic than those who want to be moved. Even if by song whose words they don't even try to understand.

(That said, I prefer minyanim that actually sing, rather than replace a traditional nusach with the same set of Carlebach tunes week after week. And what's wrong with trying other songwriters?)

I also do not know the shul. But if every suggestion will be met by "yeah but" because of details unavailable to me, there is little I can add to the conversation.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Carlebach, ecccchh. First of all it's every week. Every week! Secondly, there is zero variation. It's the same exact tunes, the same amount of "na na na" after the tunes to drag them out, the same "spontaneous" dancing around the bima precisely three times. Yet when we hit Maariv the chazzan hits the jets and they whip through it. That's what bugs me. Fun tunes? Sure! Time to daven? Pheh!

Mr. Cohen said...

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch:
In 1858 CE Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch wrote a letter to Isaac Leeser, in which he mentioned the sad state of Judaism in Germany and America. He explained that the apathy of the observant was an even greater problem than the treachery of the Reform.

MICROBIOGRAPHY: Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch was born 1808 CE, died 1888 CE, this great Talmudic scholar was the father of Orthodox Judaism in Modern Germany.
He was a Chief Rabbi, Member of Parliament and an important author.

SOURCE: Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman (chapter 27, page 312), 1996 CE, ArtScroll History Series, Brooklyn 11232, ISBN 0-89906-632-1.



“One of the principal lessons of Jewish history has been that repeated verbal slanders are sooner or later followed by violent physical deeds. Time and again over the centuries, anti-Semitic writings created their own fearful momentum which climaxed in an effusion of Jewish blood.”

SOURCE: A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson, published by Perennial Library in year 1988 CE in New York, ISBN: 9780060915339 ISBN: 0060915331

MICROBIOGRAPHY: Paul Bede Johnson (born 1928 November 2) is an English journalist, historian, speechwriter and author. He was educated at the Jesuit [Catholic] independent school Stonyhurst College, and at Magdalen College. His religion is Roman Catholic. He wrote around 22 books about history and around 33 book about other subjects.





Anonymous said...

You have to do what's best for the shul. If the loss of interest in supporting the shul by the community's core Orthodox population is to the detriment of the shul, you can't let the inclination not to go against the rabbi keep you from achieving the greater goal - as long as you're convinced that the machlokes is l'shem shamayim.

You can be firm but respectful. Gather a group of like minded individuals with a meeting with the Rabbi. Let the Rabbi know that you all feel that the shul is no longer serving your spiritual needs. If the Rabbi and shul can't find a way to be more accommodating of the groups needs, then it's not personal, but you'll have to find an alternative. Emphasize that it's not your desire to create a break away, that you would all like to continue at the shul if the shul can be more accommodating. (Be prepared to define what more accommodating is whether it's limiting Careback to every other week, a hashkmah minyan, or parallel Fri. night minyan, etc.) Let him know that if there is no change, then there will be a home based Fri. night minyan going forward.

Of course everyone there has to be committed to the plan of action. If the Rabbi doesn't see the light at the end of the meeting, you need to have that Friday night minyan. But, unless he's completely clueless, he'll then see the light, and be willing to negotiate a plan that will make the shul a better place, and serve the needs of all members. Yes, I know that many will say that "threatening" the rabbi is wrong. I agree, it can't be just a threat. It has to come from a sincere place of deep feelings that you're needs are not being met, and like any committed Jew, it's your job to see to it that you have makom tefillah that meets the needs of you and your family, even if it means creating your own.

Mr. Cohen said...

אורנה ניצבת. דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים said...

If you are speaking about Canada, then I hope that all the "missing" where wise enough and came home already! That would be a great reason! No?
Purim sameah, hopefully in Eretz Israel.

micha berger said...

Please. There may good reasons to make aliyah. Primarily, the most tzcah to do so, and the millenia of Jews who dreams for the opportunity we have. But shuls that address our religious meeds are easier to find inNorth Amrica.

אורנה ניצבת. דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים said...

Please, read.
I just copy-paste, for I could not say it better.
Go deep into your Jewish heart. What do you see?
Are you the 80% death, or 20% survivors of mitzrayim????


אורנה ניצבת. דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים said...

Now shake off the apathy of you, dear JEW, come to ERETZ ISRAEL, for it is time and Hashem is harvesting all His holy sparks true the world, and giving you a chance to be part of it.
Why do I care?
If you are Jewish, you are part of me, us, the sparks are Hashems neshamot, his daughters, in every new, giving to us as a slave, His own daughters!
What did you do with your Jewish NESHAMA? And how do you dare to bring her in danger? Read the sign on the wall, open your eyes.
Come home.