As many of you know in the past I have written about two end the madness shabbatons ( the first one) (The second one)I have attended, and although they were shall we say “a bissle shvach” I still like the organization and think Chananya Wiesman the founder of End the Madness is doing a great job to try and shed some light on the problems with the shidduch world. I recently received this email from him and wanted to share it with you. I am curious to hear your insights.
THE BEGINNING OF END THE MADNESS
When I first started End The Madness, I never envisioned it being any more than a web site. The main section would outline the essence of what was really wrong with the shidduch world, explain why conventional attempts to solve the problems were doomed to failure or very limited success, and present a solution that would address the root cause of the problems — namely, a corruption of Jewish values and thinking. Those who agreed (and I was sure there were many such people scattered about the Jewish world) would sign a “covenant” of basic Jewish principles that had somehow become controversial, and thereby give chizuk to their like-minded brethren who felt trapped in a system that they knew was corrupt.
Those who were uninformed would be educated, those who felt isolated would see they were far from alone, and those who felt compelled to make choices that weren’t right for them would see that they had a choice after all. Those who were convinced that everything was just fine and the problem was television, secular studies, or some such thing were more than free to continue on their merry way. The idea was never to change the minds of those who are essentially out of reach, but to give support and helpful information to everyone else.
There was no single life-altering event that galvanized me to create ETM, but rather a culmination of years of witnessing the madness. (Those who suspect that I created ETM as a response to personal difficulties are way, way off — I hadn’t even started dating. Those who jump to other conclusions about ETM tend to be similarly way off.)
One event that comes to mind was the graduation ceremony of my sister from a Bais Yaakov high school (separate seating, of course, since apparently no one could be trusted to behave themselves). The principal wished the girls a mazal tov and quipped that “now you’re kallah maidels”. The girls giggled, the audience laughed, and good times were had by all. Except one young man in the audience, who saw madness. After all, the school had a rule that any student caught speaking to a boy would be summarily expelled. My own sister had some explaining to do after being seen with me in a pizza store, and the emissary of Big Brother didn’t know that I was HER big brother. So the girls were supposed to go from interacting in any way with their male counterparts as the most forbidden of all forbiddens to establishing a successful marital relationship with one of these people with little delay. Makes a whole lot of sense, if you’re insane.
The other incident that sticks out in my mind is a series of lectures I attended on the topic of shidduchim. I went to hear what people were being told. What they were being told included the following:
One should preferably not date a ba’alas teshuva because one would then not have observant in-laws to visit for Yom Tov.
If the mother of the girl one is dating is a “fat woman who watches television all day”, that’s what the girl will be like in 20 years. It was stated just like that, as a fact.
People who are unmarried should not set up their single friends on dates. Apparently this mitzva and most important personal favor is reserved for married people, who, one assumes, knows what they’re doing so much better. Of course. All those married shadchanim are doing such a fabulous job that the immediate friends of singles have no business making an introduction. Heck, I only wonder why he didn’t suggest (or, rather, rule) that only people who have been happily married for 20 years or more should set people up. Why not go all the way with the idea?
What disturbed me most about these lectures was not the outrageous things the standing-room-only crowd of 20-ish yeshiva and college students were being told. What disturbed me most was the way they were furiously scribbling down notes, and no one thought to question, let alone challenge, some of the things they were being told. I wondered how many of these people would break up with someone they were dating because of what they were being told. I wondered how many shidduchim that should happen would not. I wondered what the rabbis making these comments would say in the next world to explain themselves before the ultimate court.
Shortly thereafter it dawned on me that I needed to do more than vent to those I know (who, God bless them, were subjected to many impassioned monologues in those days). I needed to help spread a different message. And the Internet was just the powerful tool that would allow me to communicate this message and unite like-minded Jews in a grassroots campaign.
One day the following summer I wrote the text of the main section of the ETM web site in one feverish, inspired sitting. I then arranged to meet a longtime friend and chavrusa in the waiting area in Penn Station, where I told him my crazy idea to change the world. He liked it as much as I did, and agreed to serve as the volunteer webmaster for EndTheMadness. We registered the domain name 5 years ago today, October 8, 2007.
I shared a printout of the text with Rabbi Moshe Tendler the following school year, and he suggested some edits. (To those who are vitally concerned about these things, I never asked him for permission to go ahead with the project, just for any input he might have had.) I was convinced that once people saw the message the changes would come about in a flash. I was so confident that I bragged to Rabbi Tendler that everything would be fixed in a year. He replied that it would take ten years.
Well, so far it’s clear that my prediction was wrong, and I only hope that his turns out to be right. Ten years to produce a monumental social change isn’t bad, either.
A short time later the web site went up with the main text, the covenant, and the signers section. That was it. To me, that remains the key component of the ETM campaign, despite being so easily overlooked. The essence of ETM is identifying the root of what’s wrong, promoting the proper Jewish values and ideas, and uniting an “army of normal people” to stand behind them. This group cuts straight through the demographic lines, stereotypes, labels, and other over-hyped forms of classification. The only “type” of person who is capable of signing the covenant is a Jew who has thought through what he believes, proudly stands behind it, and feels a passion for being part of something great.
The publicity for ETM was simple. I plastered the Yeshiva University campus with fliers on which were printed ENDTHEMADNESS.ORG in large block letters, and nothing more. I figured a few people would be curious enough to check it out, and some of them would be excited enough to send annoying emails to everyone they know. I was right, and people started signing up almost immediately.
We started getting e-mails. We got supportive e-mails. We got wacky e-mails. We got stupid questions. The flame had been lit, the message was starting to spread, and I didn’t have the slightest idea what I had gotten myself into.