How Can We Reach People Where They Are Holding?

As we noted last week, there were many good articles in Klal Perspectives and Rabbi Eliyahu Fink who is the Rav of the Shul on the Beach in Venice singled out Moishe Bane’s article in a post on his blog.

One paragraph that Rabbi Fink quoted from Mr Bane’s article was this one:

There must be a renewed emphasis on deepening the basic social connections between members of the Orthodox community. The importance of friendships with others who share one’s values must be emphasized and facilitated. Time spent with others within the community must be encouraged. It is critical that the expansive role that observant people play in their professional and business environments does not redefine them socially, as well. Connecting with G-d begins with connecting to Klal Yisrael, and these efforts must be forged through shuls, schools and other communal organizations. Attending shiurim or learning in chaburas often provide the needed camaraderie, as do chesed endeavors, but not all Jews have access to these opportunities. Ordinary social interaction, per se, among frum Jews must also play a critical role.

Mr Bane is the former national chairman of NCSY, and currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Orthodox Union. The OU is working hard to strengthen Shul Growth and one of their initiatives is the OU WINGS program which stands for “We Inspire New Growth Synagogues”.

WINGS is headed by Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn who is the mara d’asra of the West Side Institutional Synagogue. In the OU Wings post, it says that in the five years since he arrived at the West Side Institutional Synagogue, Shabbat morning attendance has increased from 12 to over 300.

There is an interesting chat with Rabbi Einhorn on the blog of Rabbi Alan Brill, PHD an expert on Judaism and World Religions who is a Division Chairman at Seton Hall University.

In the interview on his blog, Rabbi Brill writes:

Einhorn found his spirituality when he discovered the world of motivational management books and could not get enough of them. He devoured the books on how to improve one’s leadership, how to motivate those under you and how to push yourself to your potential. An action centered gregarious form of self-fulfillment in the real world. He also read Rick Warren and the other motivational Evangelical but they were only part of the broader quest for tips and ideas for self-motivation.

Rabbi Einhorn is absolutely sold on Tony Robbins’s program for fire-walking to be transformed and to release the potential within. Not only has he undergone the fire-walking seminar, he encourages other Orthodox rabbis to do the same. Einhorn has also attended Landmark seminars (a derivative from Werner Erhard’s EST) and appreciates the importance of Neuro-Linguistic Programing for motivating others. (Be prepared for ever new emphasis on emotional manipulation in the Orthodox youth organizations.-Rabbi Brill)

Here are some questions:

What are the boundaries of secular knowledge integration?

How far should we travel to meet people where they’re holding?

Can we make the Torah’s teachings more appealing to a wider audience?

13 comments on “How Can We Reach People Where They Are Holding?

  1. IMHO, a lot of secular Jewish women have been negatively indoctrinated to view Orthodox Judaism as misogynist fundamentalism, with the sheitel being equivalent to a burqa. It is vitally important for intelligent educated Orthodox Jewish women to reach out to unaffiliated unobservant Jewish women and show them living examples. Let them see a wig-wearer with a high-paying professional career also raising normal healthy well-adjusted Jewish children within a respectful functioning Jewish marriage.

  2. I think, ultimately, that what got me was the way that Orthodox Jews interact with each other, particularly in the area of men and women. I saw a far healthier interaction and dating scene in the frum olam than in the outside world, and we’re talking back in the nineteen-seventies. I was also blown away by the level of what might be called “social trust”: i.e. if you’re a frum Jew in a strange town over Shabbat or Yom Tov, you’ll get invited by total strangers for meals and lodging, something that never happens in other communities, due to mutual fear.

    I have also found that giving of oneself without strings attached or expecting anything in return(whether it is money, time, a listening ear, a book, a simple Jewish object such as a washing cup or cheap Seder plate) is very powerful in this day and age of extreme selfishness (when “nobody does nothing for nobody”).

    Basically, if one is tired of living in the mud and the sewer, a tiny bit of light, a little bit of a reminder that human beings are not always and not necessarily animals, but can actually strive for something better in their lives (a Don Quixote, so to speak, to remind us that we can be Dulcinea rather than Aldonza), that can wake up the spark in even the dullest soul.

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zatzal, wrote his books Rejoice O Youth and Sing Ye Righteous for seekers (he even subtitled Rejoice O Youth “A Jewish Seeker’s Ideology”). He didn’t tailor the message and he didn’t water down Judaism. Genuine authentic truth doesn’t need a candy coating for intelligent adults.

  3. Ultimately, an honest presentation of Judaism must talk about about a binding covenant with a G-d who most definitely CAN tell me what to do – to an audience/culture that worships “personal choice”.

    Ultimately, you have to talk about growing up – to an audience/culture that embraces “spirituality” and “personal growth” precisely to avoid really growing up.

    This approach was tried with previous waves of outreach.

    Most of us have seen – or hosted – the curious “pre-BT” who soaks up the warmth and “geshmak” of traditional family life and the Shabbat table – but is unable or unwilling to connect the dots and take up the real-world commitments that produce that result.

    Or the “instant expert” whose carefully “tailored” Jewish studies have led them to believe that they’ve acquired “mochin d’gadlut” in 6 weeks.

    Is it success to get narcissistic, superficial drifters to drift through Judaism for a while?

    In that context, “tailoring the message” often means omitting the “hard stuff” – which means any suggestion that Jewish life is lived beyond narcissism or superficiality.

    So what exactly has been “experienced”?

  4. With the prevalence of communities containing Jews from many places and backgrounds comes a relative lack of long-established local minhagim and of unified spiritual leadership. This tends to foster a more eclectic approach by many who don’t recognize when a practice is inapproprate in general or for them.

  5. IMO, Mr. Cohen has outlined in broad strokes issues which reflect Chumros that not everyone is capable of adhering to ( RT Tefilin, kemach yashan) Minhagim that reflect distinctly minority views ( not eating Gebruchts), adopting Minhagim that were previously the subject of only those with such a Mesorah to adhere to the same ( upshirins) and Minhagim that many Poskim view as Minhagei Shtus or worse ( key challahs) as well the costs that are inflated simply out of the need to keep up with the Jones in how one makes a Simcha. I agree that 350 page books on Tznius that distort the views of Poskim such as RMF, and which many seminaries discourage their students from using as a source for the same, and banning the Net wholesale do not aid in a discussion of Tznius or how to properly use the Net.

  6. Beyond BT said:

    “Can we make the Torah’s teachings more appealing to a wider audience?”

    My answer:

    The Torah commands us to not speak slander, and to not listen to slander and to not believe slander. We are also commanded to judge each other favorably and not humiliate each other.

    Emphasizing these things is 50,000,000 times more important than: kemach yashan, Rabbeinu Tam Tefilin, key challahs, not eating gebruchts on Pesach, upshirins, banning the internet, 350 page books about tznius, vort celebrations, spending huge amounts of money on simchas, and lots of other nonsense that “Frum” Jews mistakenly consider to be important.

  7. I commented heavily both on Rabbi Brill’s blog and also via emails with R Einhorn about this.

    I will give my 2 cents about the posted questions:

    What are the boundaries of secular knowledge integration?
    If secular knowledge is seen through the lense of Torah, then there are few boundries

    How far should we travel to meet people where they’re holding?
    I recall the story about Reb Yakov Kamentsky coming to see Yeshiva of the South Shore and noticing the mezuzah was closer to the middle of the door post, so that the children could kiss it. He said it should be at the halachic height, and we should raise our children to the Torah and not lower the Torah.

    Can we make the Torah’s teachings more appealing to a wider audience?
    The quick answer is “Yes”. The problem is that you have to be careful. Tailoring material to your audience is part of teaching. Not everyone is skilled enough to do that, though.

  8. Mark,

    Regarding cults, the mention of Werner Erhard (alias for Jack Rosenberg) and EST in this post brought cult methods to mind.

    Copied from WikiLeaks site, which also has a video and transcript of Suppressed CBS News 60 Minutes on Landmark cult leader Werner Erhard, 3 Mar 1991:

    “The current incarnation of the est training is now known as Landmark Education, with its course the Landmark Forum. Landmark Education is run by CEO Harry Rosenberg, who is Werner Erhard’s brother, and General Counsel and Chairman of the Board of Directors Art Schreiber, who has acted as Werner Erhard’s lawyer. Werner Erhard’s sister Joan Rosenberg also sits on the Board of Directors of Landmark Education.”

  9. R Brill’s comments are on the mark-one sees summer projects in the MO world that provide opportunities for rebuilding a tornado wrecked town or building housing in poverty stricken portions of the Third World are not just inspiring ways of spending a summer and a form of Tikun Olam, but as a means of using one’s Torah knowledge in an everyday sense. Of course, the unanswered question in the room is whether such programs can create Bnei and Bnos Torah, without a concomitant committment to serious Torah study.

  10. Firewalking IMO should be viewed with caution as a motivational tool. I would suggest that a Tische, Kumsitz, Shabbos meal with zmiros and Divrei Torah, arriving at a Pshat in a Pasuk or a passage in Gemara that was suggested by a Rishon, Tefilos where one can feel the walls of a shul figuratively shake during the Tefiloos on Shabbos, YT and Yamim Noraim and a leibidke Simcha, which are rooted in enhancing of being Lifnei HaShem are far more successful motivational tools that can be accessed by anyone who chooses to increase their Avodas HaShem and do not involve issues of Mimhagei Shtus.

  11. Bob, can you be more specific, cult is a loaded word. More than one BT has been accused of joining the Orthodox Cult.

  12. I hope we won’t be using cult-like methods. Even if they work on some level, they are dangerous.

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