Is Your American Orthodox Community Experiencing A Crisis of Spiritual Connection?

Rabbi Adlerstein, Rabbi Rosenblum and a few others have started a new endeavor called Klal Perspectives. It’s similar to Cross Currents with a broader section of writers expressing their opinions on a single area in longer pieces on a quarterly basis. If you like reading opinion pieces, then it’s highly recommended.

The question of this quarter’s issue begins “The AMERICAN ORTHODOX COMMUNITY is experiencing a crisis of spiritual connection, in the opinion of many leaders and observers of the community.” and then asks a series of questions which can be summed up as:

1) Is there really a crisis of spiritual disconnection?
2) What are the causes for those lacking connection?
3) Are there proven methods to help those lacking connection?

It’s great to hear the perspectives of the Klal people, and it’s also important to hear from the people who are living in the communities, the “Orthodox Street” or Prat people if you will.

So what’s your take on these questions?

62 comments on “Is Your American Orthodox Community Experiencing A Crisis of Spiritual Connection?

  1. As per my long comment… I believe a “Growth Culture Shul” is one that provides experiential programming in addition to the usual. It’s one that has tishn, qumzetzn, ve’adim, more singing, etc…

  2. by the way, Mark, I definitely feel that you should continue to lay out your ideas as you wish. please continue to do so. thanks.

  3. thanks. by the way, I also appreciated Bob Miller’s post above, as a way to lead to discussion of this.

    quote: Bob Miller
    April 30th, 2012 13:42

    Mark asked, “What Rav doesn’t want his congregants to learn more, to work on improving their davening, to be involved in chesed activities and to connect to other members.”

    Possibly a Rav could believe his own approach is optimal for accomplishing these things and other approaches are not. This belief may or may not be accurate. end quote.

  4. Steve, good point. I will be providing a beginning framework of the elements of a growth culture on ShulPolitics over the next few weeks. Hopefully people will contribute and help to refine it.

    I’m also thinking of running a series on growth here, because I think that’s one of the defining characteristics of BTs and as we integrate into the larger community we probably sacrifice that orientation to some degree.

  5. I’m a little demoralized. did we raise this topic just to negate all of its significance?

    mark frankel wrote: A growth culture is not a new idea, in fact it’s what Judaism is all about. What Rav doesn’t want his congregants to learn more, to work on improving their davening, to be involved in chesed activities and to connect to other members. The world stands on these foundations. Emotional Judaism, no matter how innovative, described in many of the KP articles only goes so far, we need to engage all of our facilities, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

    We need to get back to the basics – Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim – we can call it TAG Judaism if we need a new package to get good press.

    Growth does make some people uncomfortable because it requires change from the norm, re-evaluation and work, but I think the majority will appreciate and thrive in a growth culture. END QUOTE

    Mark, your ideas are fine. if “growth culture” has a specific meaning for you, then that’s a good thing. but then I would suggest that you not negate your own efforts to promote new ideas by claiming that there is nothing new about them.

    there’s nothing new about “teaching children” either. or ‘running a country’, having a family, leading New York, writing books, dancing, singing, jumping reading, talking or eating. yet all of these things regularly call forth new ideas and new forms of human endeavor. can we please not yank the rug out from under our own ideas by noting how non-new they are? or lacking in newness. completely oblique to the concept of newitude.

    in short, I’d prefer to stay away from semantics and over-conceptualizing. please, if you have an idea, let’s just discuss the idea. there;’s no reason to worry about being pigeonholed by others and then pre-emptively pigeonholing ourselves in advance as some sort of advance measure.

    hope you understand my musings. :-) thanks.

  6. But, a shul Rav, especially if he is a “full-time” shul Rav (which is far and few in Chicago) has a derech and an agenda. I am sure learning (which is growth) is part of that agenda.

  7. Mark asked, “What Rav doesn’t want his congregants to learn more, to work on improving their davening, to be involved in chesed activities and to connect to other members.”

    Possibly a Rav could believe his own approach is optimal for accomplishing these things and other approaches are not. This belief may or may not be accurate.

  8. A growth culture is not a new idea, in fact it’s what Judaism is all about. What Rav doesn’t want his congregants to learn more, to work on improving their davening, to be involved in chesed activities and to connect to other members. The world stands on these foundations. Emotional Judaism, no matter how innovative, described in many of the KP articles only goes so far, we need to engage all of our facilities, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

    We need to get back to the basics – Torah, Avodah and Gemillas Chasadim – we can call it TAG Judaism if we need a new package to get good press.

    Growth does make some people uncomfortable because it requires change from the norm, re-evaluation and work, but I think the majority will appreciate and thrive in a growth culture.

    Take a look at ShulPolitics.com over the next few weeks as we describe components of the Growth Culture model.

  9. To continue with this, I think the shuls that have been bringing in diverse outside speakers or scholars-in-residence may be the most open to new ideas.

  10. Neil, is it fair to say that not every shul Rav would like his shul to offer approaches other than his own for consideration? I don’t see just any shul as being ripe for the growth initiatives this post advocates.

  11. Bob wrote:

    Part of the issue is that one man’s spiritual striving, seeking, and growth may appear to another man as a dangerous deviation from the local or ideal norm.

    Growth has to be viewed as part of the frum lifestyle. The problem is that it’s difficult to market this. That’s why we need a “culture of growth”. The easiest place for this to develop is in a shul. Mostly, I think, because if families will feel like they are part of something, and not the lone wolves going against the pack.

    A major issue in Yiddishkeit (that isn’t addressed enough, in my opinion) is that most of the “Gedolim” types are not cookie-cutter clones of each other. Each major posek has their view, each Rosh Yeshiva has a difference educational emphasis, and even the most cosmetically similar shuls have many differences. We are all different and that’s ok.

    Growth isn’t one size fits all. I’m working on a project now to promote growth-geared shiurim and my wife wisely pointed out that I should include other options (like Daf Yomi) and not just the shiurim I deem as important.

    People want to feel that they have options, that’s part of Generation C, the customizable content generation.

  12. Part of the issue is that one man’s spiritual striving, seeking, and growth may appear to another man as a dangerous deviation from the local or ideal norm.

  13. I will chime in with a quote and then try to steer back to Micha’s issue.

    “He who is strong in his conviction is even strengthened by the clear exposition of the opposite viewpoint. He who is strong in his conviction will welcome an open discussion based on mutual respect for the opponent’s opinion. Mutual intolerance betrays mutual weakness. Only he who is fully convinced can afford to be fully tolerant towards his opponent and yet remain adamant and stand his ground.” -Rav Schwab zt’l from the essay known as “These and Those” aka “E’ilu v’Eilu”, published in SELECTED ESSAYS.

    To address Micha’s issue, I think that striving to grow more and become a better Jew isn’t considered “Yeshivishe +” or “MO +”. When your kids see that you have struggles and issues that your are working on it shows them that growth is a good thing.

    If kids grow up hearing and seeing good things in the community instead of hearing about the gripes of the community, it makes a difference in how they see things.

    I have seen, in general, if you are passionate about something (take growth in Yiddishkeit, for example) then kids pick up that it’s important to you. It’s also important for kids to hear from their parents that there isn’t just one way to grow.

  14. “Although certainly not all the time, I have found many people who have these discussions with intellectual thoughtfulness and not with fear and defensiveness.”

    I believe that “YMMV”. Here are two recent quotes about this(perhaps the forum and nature of the topic is the key here):

    “It no longer tastes like the Torah we were first offered, when those with clout invalidate sincere questioning by dismissing it as being presumptuous. When people only feel unafraid to voice their doubts and questions as anonymous comments on frum blogs, we can be grateful for these opportunities for suppressed voices to be heard, but it also highlights that a fear of speaking up is prevalent”

    (“Aren’t We Supposed to Question?”, Bracha Goetz, Jewish Press, 1/26/11)

    “I would advise that at an appropriate age students understand the arguments on both sides. After that, rabbeim can and must take a stand to present a conclusion as they understand it should be, and without resorting to mockery and put-downs. I have a colleague at a high school where I teach very part time whose chinuch was to the left of mine. For years, we “debated” each other. Each of us took the OPPOSITE position of what people would have expected of us. After we finished, we each told the audience why we disagreed with what we had presented earlier! Confusing? Not at the appropriate age. (We did this usually for young adults, but sometimes for high school students.) We did succeed, we think, in demonstrating that we could both be passionate, disagree vehemently with each other, and still be civil, collegial and respectful”

    (R. Yitzchok Adlerstein, comment to “Chumrah Done Wrong”, Cross Current, 3/20/12)

  15. Mark wrote:

    “It’s clear that not all halachic and hashkafic opinions are created equal.”

    Ain Haci Nami- R Meir Shapiro ZAL once commented that American Jews could make Kiddush, but did not know how to make Havdala. Unfortunately, R Meir Shapiro ZL’s observation remains a factor-even in the Torah observant world.

    For instance, the above quoted comment and similar voiced opinions all too often seque into an inability to make Havdalah between Gdolei Talmidei Chachamim and Baalei Hashkafa who merely have different views within the Mesorah, and confuse such views with those who articulate views that anyone with a reasonable degree of intelligence would agree are beyond the pale of traditional Torah views.

  16. Shmuel wrote:

    “I am not suggesting that I don’t discuss various practices as I understand them as Talumd Torah –but I try to be careful not to “pasken” while doing so. Quite frequently, I hear people (lay people, I am not talking about Rabbanim who lead communities) doing so. But are they really in a position to decide a dispute between Mechaber and Rema, between Magen Avraham and Taz, etc.? I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but it’s so clear to me that I am not in such a position, I just learn Torah without presuming to decide, follow the psak I get from my rav, and keep my mouth shut about what others are doing (other than a respectful friendly conversation”

    I think that the above quoted excerpt confuses the process of Psak Halacha which is reserved for Poskim who are capable of deciding both the difficult and relatively easy issues, as opposed to Limud HaTorah, which AFAIK, includes being aware of a Machlokes Rishonim and/or Acharonim so that one at least as an ability to appreciate the often multiple issues , options, and halachic ramifications ( “Nafkeh LMinah LMaaseh) before one speaks to a rav about a halachic inquiry. Merely “learning” without becoming aware or being aware of the same strikes me as more akin to a rote recitation of a text, without comprehending what one is learning, which many Acharonim, most notably the SA HaRav question as to whether there is any Kiyim of the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah at all.

  17. I would agree with Mark’s comments, but would add one caveat-halachic and hashkafic opinions that are within the Mesorah of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim are equally valid options to those who practice and cherish the same.

  18. You don’t think the observation that tatty is yeshivish plus, or daddy/abba is Mod-O plus, tells the child that the norm is insufficient? That the masses are not a suitable religious community, they aren’t benei aliyah.

    I’m suggesting that one can easily end up non-conformity without passing along the passion that gets them to pursue the same place away from the norm as you are seeking.

  19. Mark: I don’t disagree with anything you said in response to my comment to you, but my point is that people can and should do all that but it rarely or never should require putting down other people or other approaches.

  20. Micha, I’m probably missing something in your last comment, but is it hard to teach that different people are in different places and therefore follow different practices as long as they are growing and doing positive things and eliminating the negative.

    If it doesn’t seem like the community in general is growing, I would say that growth takes place on the inside, external, in different middos and at different rates. We can’t always be sure by external appearances who is growing, even though it’s sometimes (often) an indicator.

  21. Shmuel, I agree 100% that you need to follow a Rav, but you should also be able to look things up in the Mishneh Berurah and know what to do.

    As you also pointed out it’s also important to grow in your learning and understand why you are doing what you are doing and why other practices might be less than optimal.

    And as it turns out in halacha and is clear in Mesillas Yesharim, practice is often dependent on where a given person is holding. For a beginning Baalei Teshuva, a good Rav will lean towards leniciencies. As the BT matures, his observance of the halacha should also mature.

    Finally, if you don’t think the practices you are following are the correct ones for you, in your situation, then you’re probably doing something wrong. Perhaps that is why people think there way is the right way, because hopefully it’s the right way for them.

  22. Micha, why do your kids learn something negative about the community? If (for example, the same statement could apply to everything else you listed and more) you go to a Carlebach minyan rather than the “standard” local minyan, it doesn’t have to mean that you think the other minyanim are “insufficient,” it can mean that this is the way you personally do things, and the holy Jews who live next door do it differently. Of course it depends on the parent’s actual attitude, but shouldn’t something like this be our attitude?

  23. I didn’t mean anything about teaching plurality. My intent was more along the following lines…

    Say (and we are just pretending — the following list aren’t all true of me) I go to a Carlebach Minyan, I go to the miqvah before Shabbos every week, I practice hisbodedus, hisbonenus, keep a daily cheshbon hanefesh, do some mussar avodah every day and chant behispa’alus, etc…

    So what do my kids learn?

    1- From society they learn that all of these are extras. If they aren’t similarly inspired — and how many teens would be inspired enough to non-conform? — they aren’t going to emulate.

    2- From me they learn that society’s norm is insufficient. They learn that much of what passes for hashkafah is “ar and defensiveness masquerading as intellectual thoughtfulness”.

    IOW, they learn a negative lesson about all the O communities, leaving them with no communal home.

  24. Mark Frankel:

    It’s clear that not all halachic and hashkafic opinions are created equal. But it’s funny how, without much exception, everyone seems to think that their halachic and hashkafic opinions are the correct ones and are best supported by accepted sources and process.

    To me, the best path has always been to follow what I’ve been taught (I am a very big proponent of “aseh lecha rav”) and not presume to comment on what others are doing. When I become a posek and community leader (i.e. never) I can worry about pronouncing what and who is pasul if necessary.

    I am not suggesting that I don’t discuss various practices as I understand them as Talumd Torah –but I try to be careful not to “pasken” while doing so. Quite frequently, I hear people (lay people, I am not talking about Rabbanim who lead communities) doing so. But are they really in a position to decide a dispute between Mechaber and Rema, between Magen Avraham and Taz, etc.? I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but it’s so clear to me that I am not in such a position, I just learn Torah without presuming to decide, follow the psak I get from my rav, and keep my mouth shut about what others are doing (other than a respectful friendly conversation).

  25. I’m sad to hear that’s Rabbi Feldman’s experience.

    Although certainly not all the time, I have found many people who have these discussions with intellectual thoughtfulness and not with fear and defensiveness.

  26. Mark,

    Thanks for the MP3 link.

    R. Feldman implies that there is a process of weighing hashkafos; he’s seems to be referring to a lack of thinking(in addition to the idea of tolerance, as he expresses it). As he says:

    “But mention Modern Orthodoxy’s approach to Israel at a Yeshivish table, or Lakewood’s position on smartphones at a Modern Orthodox table, and you will inevitably observe examples of fear and defensiveness masquerading as intellectual thoughtfulness. The result of these conversations, repeated ad infinitum in formal and informal discussions throughout one’s teenage years, is a fundamentalist, judgmental, narrow-minded religious world filled with angry, uninspired, indignant adults. Inspiration as a rhetorical and pedagogical tool is rarely practiced”.

    He also mentions limits(“we believe in Torat Emet, in Olam Haba, in serious and eternal consequences of a non-Torah life..”).

    http://www.ou.org/jewish_action/03/2012/the-orthodox-family-of-the-21st-century-a-symposium/

  27. I was taught that all halachic and hashkafic opinions are not created equal and they have to be supported by accepted sources and an accepted process.

    There are cases where two positions may be equally acceptable by a given Rav, but that’s not the norm.

    In regards to tolerance and respect of other opinions, Rabbi Mayer Schiller gives a sophisticated treatment of the subject here:

    http://www.beyondbt.com/mp3/R_Mayer_Schiller_Achdus.mp3

  28. Rabbi Ilan Feldman discusses this balance in the Spring 2012 Jewish Action(“The Orthodox Family of the 21st Century: A Symposium”):

    “Where is this message expressed? From the pulpit, in the classroom, at the Shabbat table, in the yeshivah. By nature, a discussion about lifestyle and mission, meaning and purpose, right and wrong, almost inevitably requires the authority figure to justify his or her position in comparison to other positions. Each group must rationalize its existence; in doing so, it is so easy to fall into the predictable trap of condemning others. Why do/don’t our children serve in the Israeli Army? Why do/don’t we subscribe to Torah U’madda? Only the most disciplined, tolerant, secure, and loving authority figure will explain the answer while leaving room for, even respecting, an opposing view”

  29. True. I have found that it’s easier to show my son (we’ve had this one-sided issue) that there are other mutar views, instead of putting down the teacher.

    Case in point, the night before Yom HaAtzma’ut my son asked what I do regarding Hallel and/or a bracha.

    I told him what my Rabbeim told me and (it turns out) that our school also does the same.

    Had he told me that the school does “X” and that we do “Y”, I would have then explained why Y is acceptable and why X is acceptable, too. Ending the conversation with the fact that we hold by Y.

  30. Micha asked, “Does refusal to conform to a culture of rote necessarily mean inadvertently teaching one’s children to be critical about the derakhim they are exposed to?”

    The irony is that the parents in this instance are expected to be very tolerant of the range of Orthodox derachim, including those of their children’s teachers, but the teachers, etc., may be very one-sided in their own views.

  31. A more general question raised by this discussion of the special problems of Baalei Teshuvah.

    Is there a healthy way to raise a child in today’s Orthodox Community/ies while still pursuing one’s own spirituality? Does refusal to conform to a culture of rote necessarily mean inadvertently teaching one’s children to be critical about the derakhim they are exposed to? Community provides stability, social context, and of course teens follow peer pressure. What are the effects of joining a thinly spread group of people seeking connection and thus cutting that anchor for one’s children?

  32. It’s not really Dr. Cahn’s fault. She was asked to do a study on Baalei Teshuva and she correctly identified issues which are problems.

    The problem was the somewhat sensationalist marketing of the talk. To give the benefit of the doubt there, in the ever increasing e-info world we live in you need catchy titles and sometimes we inch over the line.

  33. That article and its underlying study was the basis of this year’s Dr. Pelcovitz’ AJOP presentation about Baalei Teshuva and OTD kids. I had spoken to Dr. Pelcovitz before AJOP and he assured me that this study and a more detailed one from Israel found that BT kids are not at greater risk then FFB kids. He also addressed my concerned of another knock against BTs by insisting his goals are never to pathologize, but rather to help people improve.

    Because the study was commissioned to study BTs, I believe Dr. Cahn still managed to cast a shadow on BTs and did not strongly (if at all) make the point that FFBs have similar problems.

  34. One of the articles in Klal dealt with integration of BTs. That article alone, IMO, should, at least, be worthy of serious reading by those interested in the issue.

  35. Belle,

    That is an issue that is touched upon by a few people in Klal Perspectives. Rav Dovid Goldwasser put it beautifully like this at the end of his article:

    , when the Chofetz Chaim immersed in the mikvah, he found the water to be very cold. He questioned the caretaker, who insisted that he had heated up the water before adding it to the mikvah and even showed him the kettle he had used. The Chofetz Chaim first felt the kettle, then he put his finger into the water of the kettle, and found the water to be lukewarm. He explained to the mikvah attendant, if boiling hot water is added to the mikvah then the water will become warm. However, he noted, if the water is only lukewarm when it is poured into the mikvah, the water will remain quite cold indeed.

    Similarly, if we are trying to ignite within our children an excitement and fervor for Yiddishkeit, we ourselves must be piping hot with enthusiasm. If our ardor for Torah and mitzvos is tepid and unenthusiastic, how will our children be energized and invigorated?

  36. I am wondering whether the bracha we have as a community is contributing to its downfall. That is, the fact that we have our children in yeshivos from the earliest age, they have all their judaism handed to them and they have it easy. The explosion in the community equals explosion in the size of our schools, for many, may contribute to standardization of chinuch. So kids “go through the system” and learn the right things and do the right things, but they never have to think for themselves about whether they believe all this or not. They grow older, and if they are not receiving hashkafa at home or in yeshiva, they have not been really challenged intellectually and spiritually as to why they believe all this, so eventually people become disconnected.

  37. “In any case, my attempt to close with a quote shouldn’t become a distraction from an important topic”

    It’s not a distraction, but fundamental to the subject of personal growth, and perhaps a component of the Klal Perspectives questions when examing the subject comprehensively as some have already written !

    As the Klal editors concluded in the preface, they “scratched the surface of this central topic” and “there was very little discussion about the relationship between actual happiness and success and the feeling of being connected to G-d”.

    I can see why it could be a broader direction though, so feel free to return to the subject at hand :)

  38. SoG: I was suggesting my take on how to be happy even in the midst of tragedy. Belief that “Gam zu letovah — this too is for the good” even if it’s not too great in-and-of-itself. But that requires belief that one is being aided to travel in a good direction.

    In any case, my attempt to close with a quote shouldn’t become a distraction from an important topic. I just don’t know how else to reply to an anonymous comment.

  39. “If Ben Zoma meant happy with where they are now, his would be a recipe for complacency”

    Some places this is discussed, quoted in footnote 22 of Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin’s “Pursuit of Perfection”(available online):

    רבי שמואל אויערבאך (ספר אהל רחל, מהד’ ג’ עמ’ קנד’ – בשם הגר”א ש”איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו” [אבות ד:א] הוא גם
    ברוחניות [וכן בבספר “עטרה למלך”, מרבי אברהם פאם בשם השפת אמת, עמ’ קסז’],

    ובספר מתנת חיים (רבי מתתיהו סלומון, קנינים ח”א, עמ’ רלז’-רלט’):
    להיות “שמח בחלקו” [ברוחניות] אין הפירוש שלא להתאמץ בכל כוחו ולהיות מסתפק במועט, אלא הכוונה הוא להיות שמח בכל
    השגה שמשיג, אף כשהוא שואף יותר [עמ’ רלז’]… כי השמח בחלקו ואינו מתעצב על שלא השיג יותר, קונה לנפשו מנוחה ושמחה
    להמשיך הלאה בלימודו.

  40. The essence is, as Neil Harris put it in his Manifesto for a Culture of Growth, is to promote that culture of growth. The Mussarists referred to Chassidim and themselves as “benei aliyah”, people actively working on ascent. If we view the task as “מִי יַעֲלֶה בְהַר ה — Who will ascend Hashem’s mountain?” (Tehillim 24:3) then we can say that different people, starting their ascent from different point at the foot of that mountain will need to travel in different directions to find the peak.

    This is the meaning of Shelomo haMelekh’s dictum, “Chanokh lenaar al pi darko — teach the youth according to his ways.” Each of us have our own abilities and proclivities, and therefore each will find the different ways of viewing the Torah’s ideal more or less fitting. Do I see that ideal in terms of who I am to become? What kind of relationship I am to forge with G-d? With the world? And if I do see it as personal refinement — do I take the German Jewish approach of personal dignity or the Mussarist focus on various middot? What kind of relationship with the Almighty is ideal? What aspects of how He appears to us am I capable of relating to? And so on. All following the same goal. But with different ways of viewing that goal, we will end up with different paths and different prioritzations.

    So I will focus on the meta-issues, the culture of growth. How do we become benei aliyah?

    I think the first step is to invest more time studying aggadic texts. One needs to see how various mesoretic voices describe the ideal, have a developed notion of what that ideal is, before developing a program of working toward it. Not just what the ideal is, but how to frame that notion in a way that fits my personality and talents.

    But while finding a model of the Torah’s ideal that I am more able to pursue might be primarily an intellectual pursuit, following that ideal is more experiential. We all know the problem of akrasia, even if that word is Greek to you. It is the question of why people do things they know is wrong or against their best interests? Knowing what’s right is not enough. “Veyadata hayom vehasheivosa el levavekha — You know today, and you will answer your heart.” Our minds know things that still need to make their ways into the core of our beings to change who we are and how we act.

    AishDas has had success forming ve’adim (literally: committees) that follow those composed by R’ Shelomo Wolbe and found in Alei Shur vol II, sec. 2-3. The va’ad concept is a product of the Mussar Movement, and those ve’adim in section 2 are more middos oriented. However, reviewing the topics in section 3 shows that the same format can be applied to goals such as adding passion to Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. On the meta-level, it is a format that provides experience interacting and living up to a text, and a group of peers working together who you can turn to for support. Regardless of which approach up the mountain the group is taking.

    So what is a va’ad, as I am using the term? It’s a small sized group that studies a text regularly (like a chaburah). But, they also explore how to apply the text to their own lives. Every session ends with some daily excercise they take upon themselves to grow incrementally in that area. Eg: Not to express anger at dinner time. To spend time lingering on each word of one sentence of Shemoneh Esrei, feeling as many connotations and implications as they can before moving on.

    And so, a vaad meeting typically begins with a discussion of how things were going with the excercise, or with any other part of one’s avodas Hashem (service of G-d) that they want the group’s input in. Then the text study. Then thoughts about how the ideal in the text applies to the lives of the members. And finally a discussion of the exercise, which may be tailored based on prior progress.

    A sefer like Alei Shur has the advantage of already presenting sequences of texts and exercises. This creates the ability to have a group even without the commitment of someone ready to prepare material. Obviously, a synagogue rabbi could learn to produce material for a vaad, just as they do for lectures and shiurim.

    Anyway, I deeply feel the path up the mountain is setting the mind on a goal through learning, and making impressions in the heart through more experiential modalities.

    “Ben Zoma said… Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” If Ben Zoma meant happy with where they are now, his would be a recipe for complacency. Rather, I believe he is telling us to be happy with our entire lot from birth to grave, the path Hashem places us upon.

  41. I completely agree with Mark Frankel’s comments, quoted below.

    It is hard to phrase it better. I have some thoughts which may add later. I wanted to simply quote Mark’s comment though, partly because I really do feel that we are in a crisis. we have an obligation to at least support those who speak up. i totally agree with mark’s basic approach. so that’s why i wanted to add my support and to quote it here. thanks.

    QUOTE: Neil,

    I think the Shul is the natural unit of growth because that is our natural unit of gathering as a group.

    Other activities are valuable but we need to focus on the Shul as the unit of growth.

    Another key component is creating a culture about caring about other people’s growth. We need to encourage people to go beyond their individual needs of a good, quiet minyan and understand that creating a growth culture will help everyone.

    And as I said above the vehicles of growth are the time tested learning Torah, doing mitzvos, improving our davening and doing chesed.

    We don’t need Chiddushim, we need to focus on making the tools that we have work. It can be done, there are many growth oriented Shuls and people in my neighborhood.

  42. For those interested, in late December, I underwent emergency life saving surgery . As a result, on the day after Isru Chag Pesach, I underwent a reversal of that surgery which enabled me last Thursday to recite Asher Yatzar Kdarcho with the most intense Kavanah in my life. When I recited that Bracha , I thought of the words in the first Bracha before Krias Shema and HaShem’s enabling doctors and other scientists to serve as partners with HaShem in Maaseh Breishis on an ongoing basis, even under trying circumstances. Baruch HaShem, I was discharged Erev Shabbos, recited Birkas HaGomel, and was able to attend my niece’s chasunah today.

    I would suggest that most of us can gain and have a relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu as Avinu Malkeinu even without being placed in a Makom Sakanah, aka “a foxhole” where even atheists, let alone anyone who could be properly be classified by Rashi as one of the Ketanei Emunah would at least have a semblance of such a relationship with HaShem Yisborach.

    When you are a patient in a GI ward, you have two means of expediting your recitation of that Bracha-you walk and drink. I walked the lenghth of my ward and down the floor overlooking the pavillion in the lobby beteeen two day rooms which faced the east and west sides of Manhattan. Once I was awake early in the morning, and at the proper halachic times, I was able to daven, and learn as well.I thought of RAS ZL, and his essay that he penned in Tradition while recovering from a stroke, and the testimony of his grandchildren, that as RAS ZL negotiated the stairs of his house, he would recite “Achas VAchas” etc from the Avodah of YK, as his personal Avodah.

    I reccomend RHS ‘s MiPninei HaRav and the sefer of R C Karlenstein ZL on Sefiras HaOmer which both led me to a great explanation as to why I was reciting Birkas HaGomel only after the most recent surgery-just as one does not recite Sefiras HaOmer on the first night of Pesach or even at Maariv on the second night, according to many Minhagei Chasidus because Zecer Ltzias Mitzrayim is only 1/50th of the way to Kabalas HaTorah, so too, a Choleh Shenisprapeh should recite Birkas Hagomel when the true Refuah has occurred.

    One aside-the chaplain in the hospital where I was is IIRC, is a female Satmar, who inquired on a daily basis on my behalf.

    One more aside-when you are in a ward, you walk back and forth and talk with your fellow patients-each has a story why they were in same ward as you. I met a Chasidishe Yungerman whose wife was in the ward, and on one night, my wife and I walked with the couple and her parents. I commented to the woman’s father-when it comes to Bikur Cholim, your community has no equals, and that we go to Williamsburg for simchas, and when we went years ago to buy our kids Shabbos clothes and coats, one could sense a feeling of Chesed and the special spiritual preparations associated with Chodesh Elul in that small neighborhood-where I have searched in vein to find in many other communities, until I watched the pre Pesach shopping in KGH , and then walked down Main Street on the first day of Pesach without any open stores, and far less traffic than on an ordinary weekday. Sometimes, one can sense the Shechinah in our midst even by a simple walk-if one’s eyes, ears and spiritual antennae are available and one has at least delved in some manner into what consititutes the Kedushas HaYom in Mitzvos, Tefilos, etc.

    One last aside-when we were on the verge of being discharged, we realized that we would be unable to prepare for Shabbos. Our shul’s incredible Chesed Committee’s Members enabled us to enjoy Shabbos without any worries. Little gestures of Chesed and hakaras hatov for the same are the ingredients for being aware of HaShem’s Presence in our midsts on a daily basis.

  43. i thought that the articles were all superb in identifying a lack of feeling of connected to HaShem and what we, communally and individually, can do to implement incremental changes to address the issue. I agree with Mark’s comments that a shul where the membership is geared to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim as part of their Avodas HaShem is an absolutely non negotiable goal.

  44. It has to be a partnership. The Rav leading from his position and the members and lay leadership influencing by their actions.

    My Rav said the growth oriented actions of fellow Shul members has a greater impact than the Rav’s drashas from the pulpit.

  45. Mark, to what degree does the Rav have to take the lead in fostering growth and to what degree should the shul’s lay organization spearhead this?

  46. Neil,

    I think the Shul is the natural unit of growth because that is our natural unit of gathering as a group.

    Other activities are valuable but we need to focus on the Shul as the unit of growth.

    Another key component is creating a culture about caring about other people’s growth. We need to encourage people to go beyond their individual needs of a good, quiet minyan and understand that creating a growth culture will help everyone.

    And as I said above the vehicles of growth are the time tested learning Torah, doing mitzvos, improving our davening and doing chesed.

    We don’t need Chiddushim, we need to focus on making the tools that we have work. It can be done, there are many growth oriented Shuls and people in my neighborhood.

  47. What struck me was the pervasive problem in the schools where the spiritual message often doesn’t get through as it should. Have we arrived at the point where too few of the teachers “get it” enough to impart it to students? Or are the teachers stymied by timid or unimaginative administrators who frown on originality, inventiveness, or anything else that could conceivably rock their boat?

  48. Mark, I think you’ve touched on a bunch of key points.

    I think, as you do, that all three questions revolve around GROWTH.

    The issue of teens/adults in-risk, at-risk, OTD, and disconnected is primarily due to lack of growth.

    If kids don’t see parents growing (by learning, working on middos, involvement in chessed etc) then why should they grow.

    If an adult doesn’t see friend growing, then why should they grow.

    I have found, personally, more growth by involvement with a small group of people revolving around learning a sefer or working on a specific avodah. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy gemara and am part of a daf hashavua group.

    We, as an observant community, have to create a culture of growth. I wish there was a simple way to do this, but there isn’t. It takes Rabbanim, shuls, laypeople, battei midrashim, etc to work together.

    While I, personally, loved reading the view of so many people who have inspired me over the past 10 years, the question is: Now what?

    The suggestion of vaadim/chaburos will work for a specific group, daf yomi works for others, Tomchei Shabbos works for some.

    Hopefully by putting this issue on the table, we can get things rolling.

  49. Thanks Bob. I have Rabbi Bergman’s book and it’s great. Can’t say I’ve implemented as well as I wish.

    Can you share an insight that had an impact on you from the Klal Perspectives.

  50. Years ago, I began reading the Breslover literature about talking privately to HaShem in one’s own words. This made a great impression, and seems to have had a positive effect on my daily tefillos, too. I’ve been remiss in not doing it enough or to a schedule, but it really helps.

    See http://azamra.org/Essential/hisbodedus.htm

    and http://www.azamra.org/Earth/field-02.html

    This is a good (and witty) book-length treatment of this topic by Rabbi Ozer Bergman:
    http://www.amazon.com/Where-Earth-Heaven-Kiss-Bergman/dp/1928822088

  51. I was very favorably impressed by the quality and insight of the new Klal Perspectives issue referenced above. Understandably, I’ve not seen all the described phenomena up close from my vantage point, but the description rings true.

    Overall, we have problems when potential leaders won’t lead and potential followers won’t follow. Things get dicey when seemingly desperate segments of the elite speak at people using the language of edicts and threats (which are ignored, anyway) and not to them.

  52. 1) Is there really a crisis of spiritual disconnection?

    I’m not sure whether we label this a crisis is really important. I can understand why Klal Perspective (KP) in choosing its topics needs to put a crisis label on it.

    Clearly there are people in our diverse Orthodox communities who are experiencing disconnection to differing degrees. In my opinion, it’s worth addressing whether we label it a crisis or not.

    2) What are the causes for those lacking connection?

    It depends on the community and attempts to artificially create one American Orthodox Community is incorrect and possibly unhelpful.

    Man has 4 components physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual and we’re challenged in all those areas to differing degrees depending on our inherent capabilities and our environment.

    If I had to generalize, I would say that the problem is that spirituality is by definition beyond our five senses and it’s hard to know when we’re really experiencing it.

    A more specific problem is that America has become more and more emotionally oriented over the years and we’re effected by that environment and seek emotional stimulation. Rabbi Dessler encourages the use of emotion to access spirituality but he warns against confusing the two.

    3) Are there proven methods to help those lacking connection?

    I’m not sure how the word prove is being used since spirituality can not be measured and proving usually involves measurement. I guess the editors at KP are talking about observable spiritual success which can be a false indicator.

    Whether proven or not, improving our Torah learning and mitzvah performance, improving our davening, and improving our Chesed to others are the time tested accepted approaches.

    Improving implies growth and I think that’s the key. We need to be constantly growth oriented and our KP writers and our communal leaders need to clearly demonstrate that they’re with us on this journey, and are working on growing just as hard as we are.

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