I take issue with the notion that the Pew report is an indictment of the Orthodox community, as expressed by a number of contributors to your recent symposium (“After Pew: What Will it Take to Save American Jewry?,” summer 2014). Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the enormous pressures in this country to assimilate and acculturate, as demonstrated by the woeful intermarriage statistics in the Pew report, we have managed to thrive. With all the problems that face our community, be it “kids at risk,” the growing number of singles and a skyrocketing divorce rate, we still have much in which to take great pride, including outreach to the unaffiliated. Be it NCSY, Chabad, college campus programs or the plethora of online Torah sites, we are reaching out. But look at what we are competing against!
The average Orthodox “balabus” or “balabusta” is busy with work, family, mortgages, tuition payments, et cetera and is not preoccupied with global Jewish issues. Nevertheless, such people are the bedrock of our community.
I find it ironic that Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, expressed concern over issues raised in the Pew report. In fact, Federation is part of the problem. When the focus of Jewish life is the “civil religion” of fundraising, the average Jewish young adult can easily feel that fundraising for the environment or any other cause that is not as parochial is just as worthy.
Engaging in triumphalism is shortsighted and foolhardy. But the Pew report demonstrates that it is either the real deal or no deal when it comes to authentic Jewish continuity.
Rabbi David Friedman
Oceanside, New York
There is an ongoing theme in many of the essays that appeared in your symposium on the Pew report that if only people knew about the joys of observance, they would be more attached to their Jewish heritage. I think the reality of attrition is different. Over the past generation, people did not drift away because of ignorance any more than off-the-derech youth today drift away due to unfamiliarity. People who are now secular but were raised Jewishly attended shul, went to Hebrew school, joined USY or NIFTY or Hillel. More than anyone would like to admit, they were pushed away in the process, demeaned by their Hebrew teacher or some other form of leadership. They have been to Sedarim and Shabbat dinners. They light Shabbat candles or display other trappings of Jewish life, including giving generous amounts of tzedakah. But the negative imprint never quite goes away and can be a daunting project to reverse.
Dr. Richard M. Plotzker
Childless in the Orthodox Community
I want to thank Jewish Action for the beautiful article on childlessness (“A Life Unexpected: Frum and Childless,” summer 2014). Writer Bayla Sheva Brenner captured the pain and made it personal without sounding subjective. It was a masterful piece.
I will never forget a woman who participated in a support group I led sponsored by A TIME [an organization that assists Jewish men and women coping with infertility]. She was married seventeen years and did not have children, but she said she never found davening difficult. We were amazed and somewhat skeptical. She explained, “I know that no tefillah goes to waste and that all of our neshamos are connected and affect one another. So, before I daven, I close my eyes and imagine all the babies created as a result of my prayers . . . and that I will meet them and hear their thanks after one hundred and twenty years. I still hope one will make its way to me, but I don’t question the power I yield.”
Thanks so much for sharing such important insights.
Spring Valley, New York
A big yasher koach for the article about the pain of infertility that persists long past the childbearing years.
As a stepmother to a large family, I expend a tremendous amount of time and energy taking care of (now-adult) children and grandchildren who are not mine and whose loyalties lie elsewhere. I often find myself yearning for my own children. I also fully understand the sadness of knowing that my family line ends with me.
I once asked Rabbi Ezriel Tauber what is the purpose of pain. He said that as long as we feel pain, we should use it as an inspiration to daven.