As someone who’s been reading Frum Satire for many years, I always find Heshy’s stuff interesting and provocative. Reading Heshy’s analysis of the Kiruv velt, I thought it would be helpful to add the perspective of someone who’s been in that world for many years and can offer a little insight.
First, let me say that as a whole the people who are in the Kiruv world, be it in Chinuch, Kiruv Kollels or Rabbanus are tremendously sincere people who demonstrate continuous Mesiras Nefesh. Besides some Chabad swindlers (and we’ll get to them), the people who go into this field do so for the “right reasons”. Sure there are some Yeshivish people who think a Kiruv Kollel is a great way to “stay in learning” and earn a better paycheck, but those people don’t last very long. And it really is a thankless and underappreciated job. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Shuls in the New York area (or other large Frum communities) and heard the Rabbi talk about the importance of Achdus, or rail against assimilation or intermarriage. And how we should all “do our part”. What a load of crap. These Rabbis aren’t doing squat to further any of those causes. For most people in those Shuls, reaching out to assimilated Jews consists of inviting over for a Shabbos meal the family in which the wife wears pants when picking up the kids from Day School. The Kiruv professionals are actually doing it, and there should be greater Kavod shown to them. A “Kiruv Rabbi” isn’t just some guy whose learning wasn’t good enough for them to get a good Rabbanus job or become a Rosh Kollel, he’s probably just as qualified as all of those guys, he just wants to make a real impact.
That being said, the world of Kiruv is all over the map. I’ll look at three branches of the Kiruv world: Chabad, Yeshivish and YU. There are certainly more, especially Aish, but I don’t know as much about Aish, so I’ll focus on the things I think I understand:
The Background: Over the past 20-25 years, the Yeshivish community has entered the fray and become a major player in the Kiruv world. Yeshivish “Kiruv Kollels” have been the most prevalent method, but there they have also made their impact in the Chinuch and Rabbanus fields as well.
Who does this Type of Work: It’s really a mixed bag. In the Kiruv Kollel world, it’s mostly guys coming from Eretz Yisroel, just finishing up Kollel. Some guys are FFB, some BTs. Again, most of them are doing it to “make an impact”, while some are to get a better salary and continue learning. In many ways the type of couple is determined by the type of Kollel. Some Kollels are based in Frum communities, and reach out more to Ba’al HaBatim and those that are already affiliated. They learn with people at night, or even during the day, give a number of different classes, and are generally around. They don’t necessarily do a lot of creative programs or reach out too far into the secular world. Other Kollels try to have a larger reach, so they do more creative programs and try to connect with the wider Jewish community as well. These Kollels need more outgoing, worldly types who won’t scare away the lawyers and investment bankers with people who only talk Yeshivish and mumble when they talk. But hey, you can’t always find princes like that, so they sometimes have to compromise a little.
Their strengths: These couples tend to have a pretty clear purpose and are aggressive in their approach.
They want to make people Frum. They also have shown perseverance in working with a community. We’re now into the second decades with many Kollels, with a number of members living there for that same amount of time.
But you need to be clear on one thing: Their goal is not to just help make people Frum, it is to make them “Yeshivish Frum”. That is their ultimate success. To get the corporate lawyer to start keeping Shabbos, that’s nice. But if he quits his job to drag his family to learn in Israel for three years? Now that’s a success. There are some Yeshivish Kollels that have softened their approach and broadened their definition of success, but it’s still a work in progress.
In many ways it makes sense. People in the Yeshivish world chose a certain path for themselves and have lived in insular communities where everyone around them was living and thinking the same way. That constant reaffirmation makes it natural to convince yourself that Yeshivish Judaism is the best Judaism. To a certain extent we all do that. However, it’s much stronger with Yeshivish people than in the YU world. If a YU person helped someone become Shomer Shabbos, and they became Yeshivish, they would look at that as a successful venture. However, if a Yeshvish person helps someone become Frum and they become YU/Modern Orthodox, they have mixed emotions, because Yeshivish people LOVE ripping YU/Modern Orthodox types. They love it. The worst part is, they‘re making fun of a world they don’t really understand.
The average Yeshvish person thinks that YU is 1,500 young Dr. Norman Lamm’s walking around, praying to the altar of secular studies, the State of Israel and academic Torah learning. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. YU is a mix of people who want a good college degree and to learn on the side, people who want to learn and get a degree on the side, Yeshivish people who hate being there but are forced to by their parents, really modern or non-Frum people who don’t want to be there but it’s the best college they got into, and a sprinkling of nerdy intellectuals who love talking about Girsa discrepancies in the Yerushalmi and the exact location of an obscure city mentioned in Shmuel Bet. You do not want to be trapped in an elevator with the last group.
But Yeshivish people don’t seem to understand that. They’re actually starting to understand that a little more, and the existence of Chovevei Torah has helped YU seem less liberal, but they still have a pretty inaccurate picture. You’ll rarely hear YU people make fun of Yeshvish people. Sure, they’ll rail against Kollel families who don’t work, and every YU/Modern Orthodox community has a number of kids living the Yeshivish life being sponsored by their American YU/Modern Orthodox families, so there is plenty of discussion about that, but that’s usually as far as it goes.
But Yeshivish people have no problem bashing YU without abandon, and it’s really unnecessary and destructive. Really, the downfall of the Jewish people is a bunch of twenty year olds learning Gemara until 3 PM, and then spending the rest of the day studying to become an accountant, lawyer or Doctor? Really? Learning about Beowulf and Chaucer is going to ruin the minds of our youth? I’d be more concerned about “The Family Guy” and the all the Internet has to offer. It is certainly true that some guys go “off the Derech” at YU (or maybe were never on the Derech), but that doesn’t mean the institution isn’t good for the Jewish people. Anyone who’s been to the Mir (and I’ve spent a lot of time at the Mir) and sees a bunch of guys hanging out and smoking during morning Seder knows that Yeshivish Yeshivas aren’t the answer for everyone, and are not perfect in their success rates.
Be that as it may, the Yeshivish Kollel couples are pretty committed and ideological, work VERY hard, and stick with it. They’re becoming more and more creative, and are very tech savvy. In many ways they’re more tech savvy then their YU counterparts. They’re not afraid to reach people where they are, and reach out to Jews wherever they can find them.
I don’t hear this talked about much, but young Yeshivish couples tend to be very immature, especially the guys. Yeshivish Ba’alei Teshiva less so. You have to understand that Yeshivas do not breed maturity. The learning style is such that it promotes constant questioning, which is great, and a very loud, abrasive nature. Plus, being in a “guys only” environment for many years creates a looseness with personal hygiene, appropriate talk and behavior, and slight boorishness. Plus, guys that age, in general, tend to be a bit stubborn and extreme in their opinions, and have trouble seeing shades of grey. The Yeshiva world helps promote that, as there are very few shades of grey. But when you take someone who’s been in that environment for so long, and then put them in Madison, LA or Columbus, there is going to be a long adjustment process. They adjust, but it takes them much longer than YU or Chabad. Plus, they’re pretty unfamiliar with concepts like being on time, listening to a boss, time management, etc. They’ve had very little work experience, a this would happen in whatever profession they chose. It really is baptism by fire, and many a Kollel have struggles because of these issues.
2. Working with or Against the Modern Orthodox Community
Again, the Yeshivish Kollel does not feel comfortable in the Mod Ox world; they usually view it as a necessary evil. Most cities don’t have Yeshvish communities, only Mod Ox ones, and that can create a lot of tension. Most Yeshvish people look at a Mod Ox community as Bideved, and the more it can be Yeshivisized the better. It can mean trying to change the Shul, or starting a new one. Trying to change the local day school, or starting a new one. Many communities have brought in Yeshivish Kollels thinking they would partner with them in growing the Shul, only to find out that was not the case. Political wars have been fought over this(see Dallas and Phoenix as prime examples). Now, its fine for Yeshvish people to want institutions that work best for them, but it’s not ok to come to a community under false pretenses. Rarely will a Kollel say to the local community, “we thank you for supporting us and paying our salaries and giving us a warm welcome, just know we think your community is Krum(Yeshvish people LOVE that term), and our plan is to change it any way possible.” If that’s your true goal, fine, then be honest upfront. But very often Kollels see themselves on covert missions to change Mod Ox communities. And if the community pushes back, then they’ll just start their own, and to hell with the people who brought them in and supported them.
So, you may ask, then why haven’t Mod Ox communities brought in YU Kollels? Wouldn’t that make more sense? It would, but YU was twenty years too late in asking that question, and only now is trying to catch up. We’ll tackle this is Part 2.