What Changes in Kiruv Have You Seen Over the Years?

The Hamodia magazine ran an article titled “Whatever Happened to Kiruv? – Three Critical Changes in Today’s Outreach”.

Here are the three changes they spelled out:

1) The character of potential Baalei Teshuva has changed from someone looking to find themselves to someone looking to learn more about Judaism.

2) Kiruv is no longer the exclusive province of professionals, but is being undertaken now by “average” Jews.

3) The goal of Kiruv has changed from bringing Jews to full mitzvah commitment to simply keeping Jews identifying as Jewish.

What’s your take on the above mention changes?

What other significant changes have you seen?

36 comments on “What Changes in Kiruv Have You Seen Over the Years?

  1. Hi Belle,

    While there is more to say on the subject, and I am glad to have that conversation via email, out of respect for the site Administrator who, in comment no. 34, directed me to no longer discuss the topic, I would ask that if you would like to continue the conversation, we move it to email.

    Please feel free to contact Mark Frankel for my email address and send me a message. I am glad to further discuss this subject, but as I say, I am merely a guest on this site and when the Administrator directs me to no longer comment on a topic, it is not my place to further comment.

  2. Considering AF’s position with a large dose of graciousness, which he did not display toward Aish, let’s just say that he prefers the model of Chabad, which is “go to remote areas where there are *any* Jews” vs Aish, which is “go toward concentrations of known Jews, mostly in cities and college campuses to recruit leaders of a movement.” Rabbi Weinberg, founder of Aish, supported the importance of all his students attending the Jerusalem yeshiva, and created funding for students to go to yeshiva. Chabad is not as yeshiva-centric as Aish.

    Ideally I think Aish would like to be able to reach all known Jews, but it is neither big nor wealthy enough to fund remote outposts. Chabad has a vast fund raising machine and yes, its donors support the remote branch model because that is the model created by the Rebbe. It is no secret that Rabbi Weinberg’s goal (actually his “plan B”) was to create an army of mekarvim to teach Torah to non-affiliated Jews. It is a creative organization that is not limited, or necessarily focused on, reaching individual Jews; rather R. Weinberg wanted to create a *movement.*

    However, R. Weinberg did initially support the branch concept: wherever there was someone to fund a branch, he sent a family. It is natural to appeal to younger Jews in college or shortly thereafter, because they tend to comprise the core of the new generation’s leadership. He succeeded tremendously in his goal: witness all the Aish branches and affiliated organizations (Honest Reporting, Fellowships, Aish.com, Pr. Inspire, etc).

    I think there are enough not-yet-frum Jews in the world to be supportive of both models without being bitter. As for AF’s bashing about the wealth of every participant in Aish, from the top on down, (never mind anybody attending any private university) all I can say is he makes many many false assumptions, bred either by bitterness, envy, or class hatred, despite his protestations to the contrary. If in fact he were focused on the middos and modesty of members of the organization, he would be positively impressed by the vast majority, including the wealthy ones, who use their wealth to benefit fellow Jews.

  3. AF, in addition to your Aish bashing, many of your other comments are disparaging to those in upper-income Jewish enclaves. There’s room for criticism of any group, but at this point we think you’ve adequately expressed your opinion, so we’re going to ask you to stop.

  4. AF,

    It seems you have some very concrete issues with the way Aish HaTorah does things. Maybe you should email someone affiliated with them. Who know what might come of it.

  5. Hi Mark,

    I’m confused. My last comment directly explained that what I am talking about is not really about income level, but is in fact about middos. Don’t know how much more explicit I can be than that.

    That said, in order to have a functional conversation, I do reference some demographic cohorts in order to condense references. After all, there are certain middos that are more prevalent among some demographic cohorts than among others. For example: One can certainly have tremendous humility, modesty, and down-to-earth genuine sincerity notwithstanding that one grew up in an upper-income Jewish enclave. However, there are a panoply of factors that make it more rare and difficult to accomplish than in certain other environments. Conceding differences of culture, environment, and cohort trends is not in any way to paint each individual within the cohort with a single broad brush, and I have done no such thing.

  6. AF, your comments betray you. You scoff and mock the rich as a class, without examining specific middos!

  7. 1. I’ve known well-off Jews who did not put on any airs whatsoever and worked overtime for the common good.

    2. If it’s middos and not income levels that make the man (or woman), let’s not get fixated on wealth or the lack of it.

    3. We can find and support kiruv groups that do it our way (assuming we have a way), or start them ourselves on whatever scale is feasible.

  8. Hi Mark,

    Re the wealth thing, I would beg to differ. I’m not really concerned with “rich v. poor.” I’m concerned with how folks comport themselves. If someone has heaps of wealth but behaves in a manner that does not advertise it, does not lead others to believe that he considers himself above them, and is consistent with real humility and modesty of means, that man is altogether deserving of my respect and that of plenty of others. If someone has very modest means but behaves arrogantly, parading around whatever it is that they do have as though it makes them a superior form of human being for it (say, for instance, a fancy car that they bought on credit that they will have a tough time paying off, or a hyper-expensive degree from an expensive private university that they will be spending the next 30 years desperately trying to pay off), then that’s an arrogant man even if his means actually fall far below those of the first example.

    It’s a matter, again, not of income level, but of derekh eretz. What is the way that you conduct yourself? And you can conduct yourself with humility, modesty (of which, frankly, one’s mode of dress is merely one often-marginal aspect), and decency regardless of income level. But you can conduct yourself with the inverse just as well.

    As one example? If I sit down in my occupational capacity to discuss something with someone else and among the first things that they tell me is where they went to college or graduate school, it burdens any later attempt to take them seriously. Doesn’t make it impossible. But makes it more difficult. How could I seriously respect someone who, after years of working at his trade, is so insecure in his ability to simply allow his competence to speak for itself that he still has an inner need and desire to remind everyone they deal with of where it is they graduated from?

  9. Hi Bob,

    As to the first point, per Hirsch’s “The Nineteen Letters Of Ben Uziel,” speaking Torah truth will, over the long haul, sell itself more often than not.

  10. AF, You’re still confusing the fundraising models of Chabad and Aish – they’re not the same as I wrote above, even though Chabad has big donors underwrite some of their endeavors.

    Also the goals of Chabad and Aish are very different. Both their means and measures of success are very different.

    Thirdly your view of wealth is interesting, you’re either rich, the bad guys, or your working-class poor, the good guys. A closer look will show there is a continuum between rich and poor with a vast middle class situated in between.

    The bottom line is that both Aish and Chabad reach a lot of people and hopefully they’re both trying to do even better. We can sit back comfortably at our keyboards and hurl criticisms at either group, but I think we might see it differently if we were out in their trenches with a true awareness of more real facts on the ground.

  11. Keep in mind that a group promoting kiruv has to:

    1. Speak the truth(this may limit their appeal!)

    2. Bring Jews close or at least closer to Torah MiSinai, but not necessarily close to the kiruv group’s particular sectarian ideology (recruiting is secondary at best, not primary).

  12. Hi Neil,

    I think I touched on this in my just-a-moment-ago post responding to Belle, but the distinction is fundraising vs. kiruv. The fact that one’s donors are wealthy urbanites who live in Jewish enclaves need not mean that one’s kiruv must be confined to same. Look at the major donors who underwrite Chabad’s work in distant corners of the world, far afield of where the donors themselves live. So there are folks out there looking to fund kiruv in places that are not overstuffed with wealthy Jews. Aish and other organizations like it need merely get out there and do it. They’re competent folks. They’ve got fire in their bellies. Ain’t no reason why they can’t get the job done.

  13. Hi Belle,

    You refer to Aish kiruv personnel as living “very modestly” and state that they “do not come from money.” Respectfully, anyone whose parents would pay for them to attend ludicrously expensive private universities, where many of these folks first encountered Aish, or whose parents would pay for them to spend time backpacking through Europe, where many of these folks got a yen to visit Israel, or whose parents would pay for them to stay in Israel for a while, is coming from plenty more money than most working-class American families. That’s a pretty grand amount of luxury for most folks in normal American towns to conceive of. And anyone who can afford to restrict themselves to a select number of highly expensive suburbs of major urban centers is not living “very modestly.” They may not have all that much left over once they pay their Boca Raton mortgage or their Beverly Hills rent, but simply being able to afford to live in a town like that is well more than most folks I know could conceive of. No matter how much of a “priority” they made it.

    You state that there are Aish students of modest means. I will take you at your word. That said, the exceptions prove the rule. Those students somehow had to get to Aish, whether in Israel or a large American Jewish enclave, before Aish could welcome them with open arms. Contra Chabad, which is making a solid effort not just to welcome the Jews who find them, but to affirmatively seek out and find the Jews themselves.

    You state that it would be “financially impossible for a kiruv worker to live in a small (Jewishly) and working class area unless there happened to be a rich donor living there to support the branch[.]” Chabad literally proves this wrong day after day after day. I know multiple Chabad families whose daily lives completely defy that statement. Based on that, I would respectfully suggest that such an excuse is a cop-out. If Lubavitchers from Brooklyn can do it, there’s no reason why Aish folks can’t if they put their minds to it.

    Bear in mind, again, that I am not criticizing Aish’s fundraising practices. But fundraising sources need not be the outer perimeters of affirmative kiruv outreach. Again, look to Chabad. Chabad has major, major massively wealthy funders who underwrite some of the most remote Chabad Houses in places where there are no funding sources–for example, the Chabad Houses in some of the former Soviet Republics. Those funders do it not to get a “return on their investment” in their own backyard. They trust, have faith in, and believe in the mission of Chabad, and understand that even if they themselves never set foot in East Remotistan Former S.S.R., the mitzvah will permeate the olam anyway.

    So what I’m saying to Aish is, if you hold yourself out as doing something, and if there are other folks out there who are doing it, then either stop holding yourself out as doing that thing (i.e., just admit that the mission is really “Reaching out to Jews who are already surrounded by Jews, friendly with lots of other Jews, and living in places where being Jewish is quite common” or some such) or man up and do it. Because they CAN do it. They just need to WANT to do it badly enough to put their desires into action. Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu will help with the rest.

  14. I don’t work for Aish HaTorah or Chabad, have no previous affiliation with Aish HaTorah or Chabad, and I don’t currently have family members who are involved in Aish HaTorah or Chabad (but I wish I did).

    Of course, Aish HaTorah and Chabad will target professionals. Every organization and corporation needs to make a revenue. As someone who became frum at age 16 (I am now 42) I have seen what both Aish and Chabad have done both online and in the real-world. Their goal, which most will agree with, is to educate and brings others closer to Hashem. That takes money. I frequent both of their websites and benefit from them. I also respond to the occasional emails asking for a donation.

    Chabad is above the bar when it comes to marketing. They are right in step with current advertising, both print and web-wize, because they have people in advertising who are sympathetic to their mission.

  15. It’s ironic that Aish is being bashed for not being big or broad enough — a sign of its sure success. The truth is that Aish is a relatively young organization (basically one generation old) created and staffed mostly by baalei teshuva themselves, many of whom live very modestly and do not come from money. They are in major jewish population centers because each branch is separately funded, usually by one or more donors who live in that city and want Jewish programming there. However, once in a city, of course they welcome every Jew, and I know for a fact there are many many Aish students of very modest means who are fully embraced.

    It would be financially impossible for a kiruv family to live in a small (Jewishly) and working class area unless there happened to be a rich donor living there to support the branch, as the mekarvim themselves have to have at least enough money to live (like Mark said at least $50k per year,or more if there are several children) plus the money for programming and overhead. There have been branches that folded for just that reason. People were idealistic but the money ran out so the mekarvim had to move to where there was someone to fund them.

    Aish was able to grow as big as they have due to the inspiration and dedication of some BTs who do have big money. So that’s the reality– you need many wealthy people in order for the non-wealthy to be reached.

    Another factor in the economics of kiruv is that some mega-donors, who keep the whole “industry” afloat, have very demanding statistical follow up requirements, and they are results-oriented. i.e., how many come to various programs, how many come to Shabbos, how many shomer shabbos, etc. It is a huge debate internally whether that is fair or right, but it is the donors’ money, that could be going to other very needy Jewish causes (remember the tuition crisis?), and they have to justify the money.

    Anyway the branch-city model is one way that kiruv is changing, as that doesn’t seem to be the wave of the future anymore. I see more recent programming to be college-oriented, Israel-trip oriented (linking to Birthright, etc), and grass-roots oriented (Project Inspire and Partners in Torah/Torah Mates, etc).

  16. Hi Rivka Leah,

    Your comment raised a few issues, so I’ll try to address them all, but please forgive me if I miss one.

    Taking one out of order, you said “I hear some resentment and hurt that you feel unappreciated by an organization that you feel overlooks the potential of Jews like yoruself, where Chabad does not.” Absolutely, categorically, unmitigatedly no. This is not a concern about me or my access to Judaism. Believe me, whenever I have wanted a particular Jewish amenity, I have been able to find it and access it. After all, I walked into an Orthodox shul for the first time of my own volition and without having ever met a single “kiruv worker” in my life. And whenever I have wanted to find a minyan, or folks to read with on Shavuos, etc., it has never been a problem.

    Personally, you might say that I exist outside of kiruv. Kiruv had nothing to do with me walking into a shul (frankly, most kiruv folks would probably have never think from my physical appearance, my accent, my mannerisms, or my outlook that I was even remotely Jewish). And kiruv has had nothing to do with nurturing my ongoing movement along the route of Torah Judaism. Sure, to the extent that Chabad is engaged in kiruv, it has in several instances been the most readily available Orthodox outlet–but in every instance, I sought them out, not vice versa.

    So no, there’s no personal resentment. Kiruv has not been relevant in my life, so I have never felt that I was missing out on anything for not having been touched by it. After all, if a Long Island-bred kiruv worker had tried to reach out to me, the cultural differences would have probably been so vast that we would have repulsed each other like opposite-polarity magnets!

    As to your reference to the relative difficulty of finding Jews who are not living in Jewish enclaves, well, it’s the folks at Aish themselves who promote themselves as reaching out to Jews all over the place in their Inspired video series and other media. I didn’t create the standard–they did. I’m just saying “hey, if this is what you hold yourself out as to the public, time to man up and do it.”

    As to your reference to “attractive poster boys and girls,” I can only say that I personally have often found myself thinking “Gee, why on earth would they actually choose to featuring such a wealthy J.A.P. as [insert ‘attractive poster boys and girls’ names] in their promotional materials? That person’s culture and background is so revolting that I can’t relate to them at all.” But maybe that’s why I never really connected with the affluent-oriented kiruv groups. (And let me be clear that I am NOT blaming the “poster boys and poster girls” for the environment in which they were raised. That’s not their fault. But when they describe how they found Torah in that environment or after a kiruv experience shortly after that environment, it is very difficult for me to relate. That’s all I’m saying.)

    You also suggest that it may not be fair to fault an organization for trying to “shoot fish in a bucket.” Again, go back to what the organization itself chooses to represent itself as. I would suggest that if the organization held itself out as “The Kiruv Organization That Will Reach And Mekarev All Of The Wealthy Jews Who Already Live In Affluent Jewish Communities, Are Already Surrounded By Other Wealthy Jewish Friends, And Are Chasing After Lucrative Careers Via Ludicrously Expensive Universities,” then there would be absolutely no gap between the advertisement and the real efforts on the ground.

    I agree that Chabad has a very different strategy/recipe. But if you took Aish at its word, you wouldn’t think so. Aish essentially represents itself as having the same scope, strategy, and mission as Chabad. What I am saying is, if you’re really only targetting a small strata of Jewish demographics, then just have the honesty to admit it. That’s all. No hard feelings if everyone is being honest and straightforward.

  17. I think there is one aspect that the “aspiring father” is overlooking to blithely. Aside from the (perhaps mercenary) pragmatism shown by targeting a wealthier or more influential subset of klal yisrael, it’s simply much much harder to find, let alone engage Jews who are “off the grid”. Additionally, Jews who live lives further removed from the geographic centers of Jewish life, often are further away from having a Jewish interest, more likely already in relationships with non-Jews, etc.

    They are certainly harder to find, harder to influence, and harder “to seal the deal” into full observance.

    You can fault an organization for preferring to “shoot fish in a bucket”, as not being high-minded enough, but is that fair?

    They may truly feel that they are motivated out of love of ALL Jews … AND they want metrics of success, money to fund their programs, attractive poster boys and girls (I’ve heard that complaint too), because all of that helps their mission.

    B”H that Chabad has a different strategy/recipe. One of the things I think we (and kiruv professionals) can learn from them (aside from Ahavas Yisroel), is their emunah that Torah will draw people to them – they set up shop and expect the Jews to then come out of the woodwork. Which they do, but that should be a chizuk to us who believe in the Pintele yid.

    In summary, I hear some resentment and hurt that you feel unappreciated by an organization that you feel overlooks the potential of Jews like yourself, where Chabad does not.

    I guess I’m trying to say that it may indeed focus elsewhere, but they’re just doing their best to succeed as they see fit. And I do know for a fact that plenty of not well-connected Jews were and are received well in their yeshiva and events stateside when they do arrive.

    I had an argument once with a someone influential in campus kiruv programs about whether the kiruv done at Ivy League schools was more highly leveraged than that at less prestigious universities. I thought that assumption ridiculous — ESP that the more “intellectual” they perceive themselves to be, they are often harder to reach — but he sincerely believed that the higher- achieving students had a greater impact, in turn, when they “converted”.

    Do I think there is ego involved in that train of thinking? Yup.

    But ego is necessary for all tough undertakings, and I guess my POV is that it’s not personal.

  18. The shift in kiruv toward social activities puzzles me, but I’ll take y’all at your word that it’s what appeals to young Jews these days. As you know, for me, there never was any appeal in Jewish social activities–my interest was strictly limited to Torah and G-d… but I suppose there are other young folks out there who care more about the social activities. (I don’t mind social activities, but I hardly ever fit in around Jewish social circles–my social activities are usually with my friends, most of whom are not Jewish.)

  19. Even though the saying goes, “What’s old is new again,” we’re not going to bring back the Sixties. People are searching for different things from what the Boomers were looking for. It’s not necessarily a criticism of either the Boomers or the MilleniaLs.

  20. Bob, the low hanging fruit were the searchers who over the years since 1967 have been exposed to Torah. Many of us might fall into that basket.

    Subsequent generations have been much less interested in searching for truth and their connection to Judaism starts off at a much lower level so there is less low hanging fruit.

    Even in the most active area of Kiruv, colleges, the appeal is social activities and trips to Israel. Take a look at the last 2 issues of Klal Perspectives for more information.

    Let me moderate my comments above, and say they are true only if you look at helping people become Shomer Shabbos as the primary objective of kiruv.

    I personally think we need to get beyond the making-people-frum perspective of Kiruv, and see it more in terms of teaching Torah, building Jewish communities, and helping people achieve spiritual connection, specifically to G-d.

  21. Mark wrote,
    “In Kiruv, the low hanging fruit has been pretty much been picked.”


    I would naively expect that new low-hanging-fruit opporunities would be emerging every year or at least every generation. Are you saying that there was a finite supply that has now been mostly exhausted? If so, why are there so few developing opportunities of that sort?

  22. Hi Mark,

    When I watched the Project Inspired videos and saw anecdotes focused on kiruv in Manhattan, Monsey, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, & Los Angeles, I did not get the impression that they were trying to reach beyond the enclaves or the low-hanging fruit. That said, those videos do appear to have been produced a number of years ago, & maybe they have since begun trying to reach more Jewishly-remote areas; if so, good; if not, time’s a-wastin’! :-)

  23. Actually Aish is trying to do something about it. They recognize that there are not enough Kiruv professionals to reach all American Jews, so they started Project Inspired to inspire non professionals to reach out to their fellow less affiliated Jews.

    In Kiruv, the low hanging fruit has been pretty much been picked. And it turns out that on a per-capita basis the metropolitan areas have fewer kiruv workers.

    There’s also a whole discussion to be had on the goals of Chabad outreach, Aish outreach and community building based outreach.

    Have a good night.

  24. Hi Mark,

    The “Derekh Eretz like benefit of the doubt” (nice one there, :-) that I render unto Aish (and other organizations–this is not just about Aish, but about all of the various similar organizations) is that I believe they can do it. Low expectations–excusing the isolated reach of an organization holding itself out as “loving all Jews”–would be an insult to them. If an organization represents itself as trying to be a driving force toward the ingathering of the Jews in returning to Torah then I look at Chabad, I say “hey, they are getting it done better today than they were 20 years ago, than they were 20 years before that, etc.” And I say “okay, you’re holding yourself out as wanting to reach out to all Jews. You say you’re capable of it. I see that Chabad is doing its level best to get the job done. So I’m going to take you at your word.”

    It would be an insult to Aish and the people working at Aish to not take them at their word and say “Okay, you say you’re trying to reach out to all Jews, so that’s the standard. Do it.”

    Besides, the Jews in the urban and near-urban enclaves are the low-hanging fruit. Their friends are mostly or entirely Jewish. Their derekh eretz is the same as the derekh eretz that the kiruv worker, who grew up on Long Island, came from. They grew up going to a Reform Temple for at least a few years or some such. Their parents have the money to fly them to Israel for a year if Junior really wants to go. Etc. Come on out and meet some Jews who have one Jewish parent (yes, the mother), who have a few Jewish friends but not many, and pitch Torah without being able to fall back on “all your friends are Jewish and everyone you know attends Temple B’nai Avodah Zarah anyway, so why not explore the real deal”. THAT’s a challenge to a wealthy Jew from Long Island. If hordes of Lubavitchers from Brooklyn can do it, then the folks at Aish can. They just need to decide to do it.

  25. It comes down to what is financially viable based on the business model. Standard kiruv organizations are constrained by budget limitations and they have to determine if the area justifies raising the $50,000 per family required.

    Chabad’s model is unique in that they basically give a shliach a franchise in an area for life. It’s basically up to the Chabad person to pay his own way and make and raise the $50,000 minimum that his family needs to live. It’s a great model and Chabad gets a lot of credit for having so many people willing to commit to small towns world wide for life. In some of the best franchises, Chabad Rabbi’s make a very very nice living.

    The problem is that it makes Chabad Rabbis very territorial and there are often disagreements when other Rabbis infringe on their territory. This is a known fact.

    So give a little Derech Eretz like benefit of the doubt to Aish and the other Kiruv organizations who work very hard raising money to serve as many people as practical.

  26. Hi Mark,

    Respectfully, I think the concept of “many different types of people on campuses and cities” may be viewed very differently if you live in a large city rather than in a smaller town (or even, in the case of Aish, a smaller city). An urban Jew may very well consider a crowd to be diverse if it consists of upper-income Persian Jews, upper-income Ashkenazi Jews, upper-middle income Russian Jews, upper-middle income Israeli Jews, etc. That’s not real diversity. Nor is it diverse to have a mixer where most of the single men are young Jewish men pursuing medicine, young Jewish men pursuing law, young Jewish men pursuing accounting, young Jewish men pursuing investment banking, and young Jewish men pursuing nuclear physics. Nor is it diverse to do kiruv programs for Jews at Columbia, University of Chicago, Brandeis, Harvard, Emory, University of Texas, UCLA, University of California at Berkeley, etc.

    When you navel-gaze at cohorts of Jews for a long enough stretch, penny-ante distinctions that don’t really matter much in the end can seem important. But the truth is, the distinctions in the foregoing paragraph don’t really matter a whole, and they certainly don’t matter compared to the far greater distinctions between Jews who grow up outside of major urban Jewish enclaves versus Jews who grow up in such enclaves and who grow up believing in Graduate Degrees Uber Alles, Uber Alles Im Der Veldt. It might do organizations like Aish a bit of good to get out there and meet Jews who live in the real America (there’s quite a few of us out here, but over more than a decade of observance it has become painfully clear to me that most of my fellow small town Jews don’t get interested in authentic Judaism because practitioners of authentic Judaism often don’t care enough to meet them where they are!).

    What about the Jews attending Central Miscellaneous State University? What about the Jews who went to trade school, got their electrician’s license, and are apprenticing for John Smith Electrical, Inc. in Peoria? Those Jews have every bit of the neshama that their wealthier brethren have.

    I don’t begrudge an organization fundraising among donors likely to have the wherewithal to make large contributions. I’m not really talking about their fundraising. I’m talking about their kiruv, which one would like to think would not be restricted to the same areas where they go to find their donors. When your kiruv is basically limited to places where you will encounter either the potential big donors who can pour large sums into your organization, or younger folks who aspire to go into fields in which they will one day become said potential big donors, you are turning kiruv into a “pay to play” enterprise.

    What it boils down to, frankly, is that a lot of organizations out there talk about how their guiding principle is “love every Jew.” But when an organization, through its actions, has a de facto mission of “love every Jew, but love far more the wealthiest Jews and their children at the most expensive universities and in the most lucrative fields,” there’s something very disappointing about that.

    As I say, though, what I see from Chabad is a gradual and growing recognition of the fact that there really are Jews “out there” in places that don’t qualify as Jewish enclaves, and I see Chabad actively reaching out to those folks. It just disappoints me that other organizations, such as Aish, don’t seem particularly interested in making the same effort. That could change tomorrow if the people running the central and branch offices of Aish and other similar organizations decided to make outreach to Jews living outside of the enclaves a priority. I suppose the point of my comments on this blog post is that I really hope someone from an organization like that is listening and cares enough to do something about it.

  27. Aish reaches out to many different types of people on campuses and cities, although they’re generally not in the smaller towns. Their organization is more centralized than Chabad and they need to raise a lot of money each year to fund all their programs. It’s perfectly logical that they would fund raise among the wealthy like every other centralized organization.

  28. Hi Avi,

    Yeah, that’s the impression that I’ve gotten (admittedly, from afar in my case). The bottom line for Jews like me who don’t live in affluent Jewish enclaves, who couldn’t afford to do so (even if we wanted to–which some, like me, have no interest in), and who can’t afford to fund an organization like Aish, is that we basically don’t matter to them. There is no financial payoff that would or could result from “putting the kiruv” on someone like me, because I simply do not have the wherewithal to fund an organization in any significant way.

    As I mentioned, supra, however, it is interesting to note that Chabad does not seem to have a problem reaching out to folks like me. And, while for a couple generations Chabad was primarily focused on reaching the major Jewish enclaves, they are now making a very serious effort to plant themselves in far more “peripheral” places.

    Even the Internet resources that Chabad and Aish put out vary in this regard. Aish’s internet presence is very, very, very heavily geared toward folks with aspirations or established careers in high-income fields. Their anecdotal stories, their videos, their other media, usually tend to revolve around Jews in fields like law, medicine, public relations, entertainment, journalism, etc. The people providing testimonials in their videos are usually lawyers, accountants, doctors, engineers, etc. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Aish article, letter, video clip, or otherwise that references a Jewish auto mechanic, a Jewish janitor, or a Jewish carpenter/woodworker.

    Chabad tends to reach out much more broadly. Years ago, I met a very nice guy working on the loading dock overnights at a large national retailer. A few years later, I went to a shabbos afternoon lunch at a Chabad House in a town that nobody on this blog would consider a large Jewish enclave. Lo and behold, sitting right there, is the guy I met at that Chabad House. Somehow, the rabbi met him, figured out that he was Jewish, and invited him for lunch. Notwithstanding that this guy was not and would never be capable of funding Chabad.

    It’s unfortunate. Because most of the folks at Aish who can’t be troubled to put serious time and effort into reaching out to Jews without wealth who live beyond the larger Jewish enclaves are themselves descended from Jews who grew up dirt poor in the western reaches of the Russian Empire. Many of the men with that mentality would consider themselves too good to do outreach to their own great-grandfathers. And many of the women with that mentality would consider themselves too good to marry their own great-grandfathers.

    There is something wrong with that.

  29. The aish thing is kind of interesting. I worked at aish in a support position and this is my general take on the situation. Aish approaches wealthier people in a specific way. They have a “pitch” for a lack of a better word that goes something like this. “Do you want to help us save the Jewish people? Of course you do, I am a teacher, you are a business man, lets make a deal, you will help me save the Jewish people from assimilation. How can you help you ask? simple, by donating money you can fund projects that will stop intermarriage, and educate people about living Jewishly” It is a perfect kiruv approach. The professional does not have time to give, nor does he have the knowledge to give over to people, but he sure does have money! He feels more connected to the cause, he feels more connected to Jewry, because of regular substantial donations. It is fundraising as kiruv! The fact that as a side effect of this kiruv approach is that Aish now has money to work it’s college programs is almost secondary. It is a genius model!

  30. I was told by a major Rosh HaYeshivah and dayan and posek that it is important to prevent non-religious Jews from becoming even worse than they already are; for example, it is important to prevent non-religious Jews from converting to alien religions or intermarrying with non-Jews, even if they never become religious.

  31. Hi R. Klempner,

    As to the Aish-affluent thing: I think that it may just be a cultural disconnect. There are Jews who simply cannot afford to live in areas like Long Island, Westchester County, the wealthier San Fernando Valley suburbs, Mercer Island, Bethesda, Boca Raton, etc. But I think that many folks who invest themselves in kiruv basically ignore those folks or write them off as not worth the effort. Most kiruv organizations (although Chabad is getting better at this, gradually over time) zero in on the affluent Jewish towns and put their resources there to the exclusion of areas that have Jews but do not have Jewish population centers.

    In my limited experience, Aish is among the best examples of this. Many times during the over 11 years that I have been meandering on the road of Torah, folks have suggested that I get in touch with Aish about various programs that they have. But in my part of the country, Aish basically has one office in one major Jewish population center and that’s about it. They don’t take the time or the effort to try to reach Jews in genuinely middle-class (as opposed to genuinely upper class or upper-middle-class) or lower-middle-class suburbs.

    Chabad, by contrast, may have been in the same relative place 30 years ago, but these days they are doing their level best to put themselves in places with a Jewish toehold but not necessarily much else. I know of towns where the only synagogue of any sort is Chabad (that’s right, no Reform, no Conservative, no nothing else, just Chabad). Obviously that raises concerns in re the “moshiach” meshugas, but leaving that aside for the sake of argument, they really are trying to put themselves in less overabundantly wealthy places. And in my life, that has been a great thing.

    Anyway, Aish in their programming seems to focus on “professionals,” using the word not as I understood it growing up (a professional is someone who gets paid for doing what they do, while an amateur is someone who does not get paid for what they do), but in a “my occupation is better than your occupation” sense, i.e., the glorification of doctors, lawyers, etc. What about folks who just work regular jobs? I have met Jews while working the overnight shift on a loading dock at a large retail store chain. And these guys weren’t the managers, they were the regular working joes. But while Chabad goes out of their way to reach out to those Jews, Aish doesn’t seem interested in them.

    Maybe it’s a matter of needing to bring in the sort of BT’s who will make enough dough to be able to turn around and fund the program that got them frum. Maybe it’s more benign than that. But I just have not seem the kind of effort from Aish to reach out to Jews of more modest means, living in more modest places, that I would like to have been able to expect of an organization that is now what, over 40 years old?

    The sort of people who I am talking about are people who, like me, had the following response when exhorted in their early 20’s to “spend some time in Israel”: “With all due respect, I realize that the Birthright trip is free. And I’d love to go on it. And I’m sure there are ‘extended stay’ programs that are also paid for by the kiruv organizations. But my friend, if I don’t work this summer, I will not be able to afford to [pay rent & utilities, buy books for the next semester, buy groceries, etc.].”

    It’s not a cop-out. It’s the practical reality of living a lifestyle where private universities are not realistic options, where “taking a trip to Israel” is not affordable as a matter of time off–let alone as a matter of cost, and where you can go through your 20’s without ever taking a single vacation that lasted longer than an extended weekend.

    There are a lot of Jews in this country who live that life. And many of them have terrific values. But you’re not going to find them shopping at Whole Foods in Overland Park or Skokie or St. Louis Park.

  32. Regarding these items:

    1) The shift from “finding yourself” to want of increase knowledge is systematic of living in the Information Age. We live in a Google and Wiki society where the emphasis is on knowledge, not the persons. The real Kiruv Professionals will take note and change their own approach to accommodate this.

    2) While I am an advocate of “average” Jews engaging in Kiruv, we still need the professionals who have a specific skill set and resources. .
    3) I think the long term goal hasn’t changed, being that the potential BT end up living a life of Torah u’Mitzvos. The means have changed. The Kiruv world realizes what Chabad and Barnes & Noble have know for years. If you create a relaxing, inviting, non-threatening environment, you will eventually get customers and retain them. Getting people to identify as Jewish is the first step.

    One thing that has changed is both the role of females in Kiruv and also, what I will call the “one-stop-shop” aspect of Kiruv. Now in many communities you will find an outreach program that has ties to a Kollel/Shul/minyanim. It’s much easier for the BT these days to start out, grow, and stay in the same small population.
    Of course, this also bring up integration issues that often find voices on the web.

  33. I LOVED this article when it appeared in HaModia. Living in a very pro-Kiruv community, I’ve been noticing these changes for a couple years now.

    The thing that I’m really happy people are picking up on now is #3. There has always been a problem with the goal of making a shomrei Torah u/mitzvos person out of everyone who walks in the door, because so many in kiruv start looking at their “customers” as a prospective notch on their belt. Any “customer” who doesn’t fulfill this goal, or doesn’t do it “fast enough,” potentially becomes a “failure.”

    Loosening up on the goal–whose achievement is really in HaShem’s hands–and focusing on our personal role–which is to love our fellow Jews, to give unconditionally to them, and to offer them Torah when they ask for it–is much healthier for both the kiruv activist and the newcomer to yiddishkeit. Plus, it means that the speed a newcomer takes on Torah and mitzvos moves at the pace that works for them. Beyond BT has talked before about people who later go off the derech because the assumed mitzvos too quickly.

    (I also take objection with Aish being geared towards wealthier BTs. That comment must be based on a limited experience with Aish. I’ve seen Aish professionals and families go through great lengths to help newcomers who have very little financial umph.)

  34. As to #1, I am glad to hear it. Any number of kiruv rabbeim who I have dealt with have been very confused that I came to Torah Judaism out of a desire to be closer to G-d rather than out of the Jewish equivalent of a Navajo vision quest, a loincloth-clad Hindu pilgrimage to the Ganges, or a few too many bad acid trips in San Francisco. It is heartening to hear that more people are coming to Torah for Torah’s sake (and G-d’s sake) than for the sake of a need for a personal identity.

    As to #2, I have always found that the folks who most advanced my Torah learning and doing were regular workaday folks. That is not to minimize the tremendous positive influence of my rabbi and rebbetzin friends, but rather to recognize that there are a multitude of perspectives within Orthodoxy to be gained from interactions with people who never got smicha. I would never have been introduced to Samson Raphael Hirsch if it had not been for a very dear friend of mine who had me over for many shabbos lunches and took the time to show me his favorite 19th century German rabbi.

    I do know that, while I have had tons of interactions with Chabad (many of them during shorter or longer periods during which I was living in areas where Chabad was the only source of Orthodox Judaism around), I have had essentially no interactions with Aish. But over the years, and as I would occasionally browse the Aish web site or read their articles, I realized that Aish is geared far more toward the wealthier potential BT’s, and their outreach does not really seem to extend to areas outside of major Jewish enclaves. So I was never someone that Aish would have considered relevant. But Chabad has been outstanding for being an outpost of Orthodoxy in some of the more Jewishly dispersed locales where I have found myself from time to time.

    I have no idea about #3. I’ve never had a Jewish cultural identity. For me, Judaism is solely and exclusively about Torah and G-d. I have, though, gotten the impression over time that this is not usually the case–that most BT’s are attracted first by the identity and only secondarily by the whole “Torah & G-d” thing.

  35. Number (1) probably is about right, as far as it goes. Number (2) is probably also about right — while there are more people than ever “working in kiruv,” a larger percentage of frum Jews are involved than a generation ago. As to (3), I don’t know if “the goal” has changed, but there is more comfort with the idea of an intermediate goal than there was in the old days, yes.

  36. Anyone who wants to even tackle this query should look at the recent online Klal Perspectives and Responses.

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