Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Spread the Light

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Many of us who read the Yated live in neighborhoods comprised only of our co-religionists. More and more of us have a diminishing degree of regular contact with people who differ from us in religious beliefs, values and lifestyle.

One fallout of this situation is that we have little or no concept of what is going on in the big world out there. We see our frum communities constantly growing and expanding, and we imagine it is that way everywhere.

We tend to forget that Jews are a shrinking minority in the United States; many of us are unaware that Jews are on the way to becoming only 2% of the American population. We don’t realize that even among that two percent, according to recent surveys, only 15% list Israel as one of their top three concerns.

As strange as it sounds to us, it is a fact that Jews in America are overwhelmingly more concerned about a liberal social agenda than they are about the survival of Israel. With intermarriage hovering in the 50% range, Jews are less concerned with propagating the race, than with preserving a woman’s right to choose.

The results of the presidential election underscored this sad reality. Over 75% of Jews voted for John Kerry. Besides casting doubt on their intelligence, the broad endorsement of Kerry points to the great divide between the frum community and the secular Jewish one.

The latter’s primary concern was electing a candidate with the best chance of promoting an agenda that sanctioned if not encouraged “alternative lifestyles” (code for morally deviant behavior). They wanted a candidate who advocated positions on many other issues as well that are absolute anathema to traditional Jewish belief.

Last week, the United Jewish Communities General Assembly was held in Cleveland where over 3,000 Jewish machers attended. Many of you have never heard of this event —the convention of the Jewish Federations. Once a year, all the local federations assemble and ponder the future of the Jewish people and how to disburse the millions upon millions of charity dollars they amass throughout the year.

All the major players in American Jewish communal life attend the get-together. The Jewish newspapers across the county report on the convention as if earth-shattering events are taking place there. In attendance are cores of prominent secular Jewish “leaders” who speak in the name of Judaism and are widely quoted on all Jewish matters.

Typical of their momentous agenda was a major controversy that took place at the gathering. Delegates grappled over whether to send Bush a letter congratulating him on winning re-election. Their devastation at his re-election still has them reeling.

Where Do The Billions Go?

Since 1990, the federations have spent over one billion [with a b] dollars on a potpourri of programs to enhance Jewish life. What do they have to show for it? Do you really think that the Anti-Defamation League’s efforts to stamp out anti-Semitism have made a real difference? Has the American Jewish Committee’s many activities promoting the liberal agenda made Jews in this country safer? What has the World Jewish Congress done to strengthen Jewish practice here?

Yet they and many like them appear before different federation boards, make their pitches, fill out grant applications, use the right code words, and voila, the money flows. JCCs peform an important function, and it is very nice that federations support hospitals and a variety of social service groups. But how many of the federation communal charity dollars go where they are most needed to perpetuate Jewish belief and practice—the key to the continuity of the Jewish people?

If you are the administrator of a struggling Jewish Day School in New York, forget about wasting your time going through the process of applying for a grant. In addition to not being inclusive and pluralistic (today’s code words for accepting all students without regard to their Jewish status and religious commitment), you are too dogmatic. You are too Jewish. Your school teaches Torah, the eternally binding word of G-d and authentic Judaism; instead of a hodge-podge of stories and feel-good customs.

Never mind that authentic religious education is what has sustained the Jewish people throughout millennia. The secular Jewish leadership at the head of the powerful American Jewish organizations finds this very hard to handle.

If you run an outreach program for American youth at risk on the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in New York City, you stand a much better chance of getting a grant. After all, you are contributing nobly to the greater public good, not catering selfishly to your community’s narrow interests.

It is astounding to read of the colossal waste of Jewish money at the hands of secular Jewish organizations. By contrast, the federations at least represent the Jews who, while they are not religiously committed and are misguided in many of their policies, still maintain a Jewish identity and care about Judaism’s survival.

While pondering the misguided judgment of these groups, let’s also think about ourselves. The federations lavish millions upon millions of dollars for causes they hold dear. They gather and pontificate over how to achieve their goals. They lecture and issue press releases to the world about their lofty objectives and accomplishments.

What do we do? We know what the truth is and are committed to it. But are we doing all we can to support and enhance the growth of Torah in this country?

It is very disconcerting to fight daily battles virtually alone, in order to keep a mosad alive. It is so lonely and discouraging when you are fighting heroically to stay open and make a difference in Jewish lives, and no one seems to care.

The Menahel who is forced to spend his time borrowing from Ari to pay Avi in order to keep the teachers from going on strike, has a hard time marrying off his own children because he can barely make ends meet on his meager, late-arriving salary. It is almost impossible to support his own family on it—let alone his married children.

The Mechaneich who teaches Hebrew in the morning, English in the afternoon and tutors till his vocal chords and patience collapse at night - as his wife works admirably to keep the house clean and the children happy – shouldn’t have to feel that his sacrifices and dedication are unnoticed and unappreciated.

The Kollel member who exemplifies everything he was taught and is blessed with an equally idealistic wife who wakes early every morning for the daily commute to her 9 to 5 job, wonders how much longer he can hold out.

The lonely young man who runs a community Kollel and Kiruv center exerts a serious impact upon his surroundings, but when he appeals to us to help him and his wife spread Torah in the hinterlands, we shrug him off with a small check.

The unsung heroes know they will persevere and promise to never give up, but day by day the promise gets harder to keep.

What are we doing to help them?

Why is it that yeshivos and organizations of good will go begging for dinner honorees? Why is it that we discover the Mitzva of humility only when we must invest money and hard work for a good cause?

Why should it be that an edifice of Torah like Bais Medrash Govoah of Lakewood cannot find honorees for its annual dinner? How can you say no to a yeshiva that in size and output of Torah-learning surpasses all others in modern history? How can you tell the Roshei Yeshivos that you have other obligations? How can you tell 2000 Kollel people that there are some things more important than the meager rations the yeshiva honors them with?

Alone But Standing Erect

“Vayivaseir Yaakov Levado, Vayeiaveik Ish Imo,” Yaakov was all alone and a man wrestled with him until morning. Chazal explain that “the man” referred to here was Eisav’s angel. He was unable to subdue Yaakov and satisfied himself with hurting his “Gid Hanasheh.” At daybreak, when it was time for the angel to leave, he blessed him, saying, “From now on your name will no longer be Yaakov, it will be Yisroel.” The malach refused to tell Yaakov his name and with that he was gone.

We all know that Maaseh Avos Siman Lebanim. In the darkness of the Golus, men of faith are lonely. People attack us, try to tear us down, but if we remain faithful to the Torah and hold strong to our ideals, we can survive all assaults. All through the ages, wherever Jews have found themselves, we have been targeted for destruction. Through the merit of our forefather Yaakov, as long as we were true to the mission of Yisroel we were spared. We have been bruised, just as Yaakov was, but we have remained standing long after Eisav—and those who fight his battles in each generation—have disappeared from the scene.

At times it can be lonely and difficult holding up the banner of Torah. We are in the minority and always forced on the defensive. Sometimes Eisav appears in the guise of a brother; sometimes he sends his men to do his dirty work and at times he appears himself. We have to be prepared to do battle with him and his fan club. We have to be prepared to be lonely and unloved.

It is only when Yaakov is “Levado” that he survives. It is only when we stay apart from the Eisavs of this world that we can survive and prosper.

But the Bnei Yaakov have to join and work together, we have to support each other with more than pachim ketanim. Instead of being reactive in our public comments, we should be pro-active. We should look for ways to help support and spread Torah in our communities. We should join forces and seek out Talmidei Chachomim who need support. What about setting up organizations to help mechanchim survive? Why must those who dedicate their lives to the survival of the Jewish nation live barely above the poverty line?

Parents are over-taxed, tuition is a huge burden, but there are ways we can each raise some money to help struggling hard-working people hold their heads above water; make Yom Tov; and marry off their children.

If we really care about Torah, we need to show it by supporting those who labor in its vineyards far from the spotlight. There are noble and valiant people among us who are barely holding on. There is grandeur in what they do and how much they accomplish, but we hold them in low esteem perhaps because they lack a certain polish. Is that right or fair?

Just because the Talmid Chochom struggling to make ends meet lives around the corner, and not in some distant place, doesn’t mean there is no Mitzva to help him out.

Look in the paper and see the ads calling on you to help families who can’t make it. Don’t wait until they collapse. If your neighbor is struggling to make ends meet, make an extra effort to show them compassion and find a way to channel some assistance their way.

There are so many ways we can help people who are doing G-d’s work, but the first thing we have to do is care. We don’t need to raise millions of dollars and we don’t need federated organizations to carry out our obligations. We don’t need bureaucracies and fancy paperwork, but there is a lesson to learn from them.

It was reported last week that the UJA of New York will be giving $1.8 million to establish a so-called leadership institute for directors of reform and conservative synagogue schools. 40 school directors will have to participate in two extensive 10-day training sessions. They will also have to attend six one-and two-day seminars over the next three years. The institute will culminate with the predictable trip to Israel in January 2006.
We sit with mouths agape at the waste of almost $2 million dollars and think about what a difference that kind of money would make in the lives of heimishe mechanchim. But is there anything stopping us from going out and raising some money in our world for our people?

While not every one of us can raise six digit figures or close to it, we can help out in small ways. Picking up the phone and asking a few friends to give something small to help someone in trouble doesn’t take too much time or cost too much money. Every dollar helps and it shows that we care.

Let’s not just talk about it, let’s start doing something real, now. Every little bit we contribute increases the light in this world and chases away more of the prevalent darkness.

Our actions will help defeat Eisav in all his many guises and lead to the kiyum of “Vayizrach Lo Hashemesh,” for each and every one of us, Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home