Letters: Spring 2022

The Rewards of Aliyah

In his letter (“Is Language a Barrier to Aliyah?” [winter 2021]), David Green discusses how his grandfather, who escaped Hitler’s Europe and settled in Brooklyn, experienced a language barrier for the rest of his life.

Similarly, my grandparents spoke Yiddish, and their children, all born in the shtetl, had to help them maneuver the intricacies of daily life in Brooklyn. But if they hadn’t left Europe to endure the language problems, it’s painful to imagine what might have been.

Responding to the concern about the language barrier faced by olim, Rabbi Dr. Avidan Milevsky writes that “studies show a direct correlation between language proficiency and immigration success.”

What is the frum community doing about learning to speak our native language? Are we teaching Hebrew as a living language? Are the gap year programs in Israel providing intensive ulpan classes for students?

As a proud oleh for thirty-seven years, I believe that olim thrive on challenges. Is there anything in life that doesn’t involve risk? Moving out of one’s comfort zone is certainly stressful, but then, aliyah has rewards that are immeasurable.

Diana Schiowitz

Jerusalem, Israel


Debating Inreach vs. Outreach

The contrast between the two main articles in the winter issue could not have been greater. I was inspired by the heroic efforts of twentieth-century shtadlanim.

Sadly, I was demoralized by the lack of vision and commitment from those who commented on the 2020 Pew survey of American Jews (“The View from Pew: Where We Are” and “Where Do We Go from Here?” [winter 2021]). In an era where the Orthodox community has financial means unparalleled in any previous generation, and therefore the ability to fund both kiruv rechokim and kiruv kerovim, the message that we can’t afford Jewish outreach rang hollow and self-serving.

Jewish Action should devote an issue to those of us who have lived our lives on the front lines of Jewish outreach, often at great sacrifice. Speak as well to the countless individuals, myself included, for whom kiruv rechokim was life-changing and has resulted, baruch Hashem, in both quantifiable and unquantifiable outcomes. Our job is to do our hishtadlut. Only Hashem will determine the success.

Lauren Shaps 

Ottowa, Ontario, Canada


While the numbers in the Pew study can be debated, the point that Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter makes cannot. The volume of resources poured in to allow one neshamah to see the light of Torah is certainly noble and worthwhile, but we can sometimes miss those closest to us who may require some extra support in their avodat Hashem. The dream of changing the course of the lives of those lost souls should not preclude us from our communal responsibility of “aniyei ircha kodmin” (the poor of your city should come first). We must provide continuous inspiration for those whom we may take for granted simply because they grew up in a frum household.

This particular issue is increasingly apparent in my hometown. I have watched the city in which I was born and raised morph into a completely different town. For the most part, non-frum Jews have left the day school, and more frum families have moved in. As I have watched the terrible assimilation of those Jews who have left the fold, I have also been struck by the burgeoning necessity to have inspiring Torah for the frum as well. We must do everything we can to save, help and inspire every Jew.



Orthodox Jews Shift Politically

Dr. Erica Brown’s first, and therefore I assume primary, area of concern with regard to the recent Pew study is the large increase in Orthodox Jews voting Republican. Rather than seeing this as a reflection of diversity, she portrays it as fragmentation. Dr. Brown characterizes the shift as causing a coarsening of political literacy and an increase in polarization, and then presents educational options to counter this assumed change in political dialogue. Dr. Brown might have explored the reasons for this change in political affiliation; instead, she simply calls it “understandable.” But by avoiding criticism of the left, she focuses her biased criticism on the right.

Education should never be used to sway youth away from a political party, especially if the sins of that party are shared by the party that benefits from the education. I am not a Republican, but I value fair treatment of all schools of thought. Each person should have the liberty to choose without the subtle persuasion of public educational institutions.

Dr. Irving Cantor

Jerusalem, Israel

Dr. Erica Brown Responds

To clarify: My primary concern in my response to the Pew study is that we are losing, through attrition, a significant percentage of students who, despite a dozen years of Jewish day school or more, feel disengaged and that some of our outreach efforts to the not-yet religious should be invested instead in those who are already committed but flagging in their interest. The political point was ancillary but important and perhaps misunderstood by the reader. Strengthening efforts in civic engagement and a proper education in the way the government works is decidedly non-partisan. Like the reader, I, too, believe it is never the role of a school to convince students to vote for a particular party, years before they can even vote. But I do think it’s the job of schools and homes to create a safe and informed climate of inquiry so that future voters understand what each party stands for and learn to treat the political process with respect on both sides of the aisle.


America’s Moral Decline

The winter issue of Jewish Action was full of eloquent ideas for stemming the Orthodox defection rate. But one critical idea needs more attention—namely, that the characteristic approach of Modern Orthodoxy must be reevaluated in light of massive changes in the culture around us.

Modern Orthodoxy focuses much attention, in theory and practice, on interactions with the outside world. Much of America is in a precipitous moral and social decline. Toxic, socially corrosive concepts and a redefined “equity” have made inroads into sectors of our own educational institutions. In our business, professional and academic worlds, we are now knee deep in territory that is conceptually hostile. So how can we maintain the same relationship with the outside world that we’ve fostered until now? The same balance between Torah and madda, now that madda is frequently corrupted and politicized?

Notwithstanding its past successes, Modern Orthodoxy must conduct, consider and implement a thorough self-review on the highest level.

Bob Miller 

Indianapolis, Indiana


Opportunities for Job Seekers

The series of articles entitled “Rethinking the Economics of Frum Life” (fall 2021) presented many excellent points about how frum Jews can make changes in their lives and attitudes that will lead to financially sound career moves and using their money more wisely. I particularly appreciated the advice about having realistic salary expectations and thinking long term about career growth.

As a grant writer for Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh (JFCS), I frequently hear of job seekers helped by the JFCS Career Development Center who find employment at entry-level salaries with the understanding that in time they will advance in their fields. Motivated workers often do advance within a few years to their desired salary range, whether at the original employer or by leveraging their skills to find a job elsewhere.

I was disappointed that the cover story focused heavily on entrepreneurship and professions and did not explore other fields of work that have opportunities for stable salaries and growth.

The Orthodox community should be focused on creating viable job opportunities for community members and partnerships with organizations that are tapped into job market trends.

Susan Jablow 

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Don’t Embarrass the Reader 

The excellent article by David Olivestone (“Inside the Mind of the Gabbai” [winter 2021]) noted that in many shuls attendees feel free to shout out corrections to mistakes in the Torah reading. This is very unfortunate because it often embarrasses the reader, a grave outcome in and of itself. In addition, loud and emphatic corrections often disturb the reader’s concentration and chip away at his confidence, often leading to more errors than would otherwise have been made. I have observed that loud shout-outs have discouraged bar mitzvah boys from continuing to lein on future occasions, a very regrettable outcome. With two attentive gabba’im on the bimah, it seems to me that virtually all errors should not only be caught at the bimah but should also be corrected quietly and respectfully, which will avoid embarrassment of the reader and prevent other counterproductive consequences.

Tom Furst 

Great Neck, New York


Counting a Child in a Minyan

For many years now, my favorite columns in Jewish Action are those by Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky, whose “What’s the Truth about . . .” columns are always well presented. I enjoyed his recent article “What’s the Truth about Counting a Minor with a Sefer Torah toward a Minyan?” and have a suggestion for why Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik recommended that a child counted in a minyan should hold a siddur. The Yerushalmi Berachot (7:2) and Bereishit Rabbah (91:3) referenced in note 5 state that there is a division of opinion between Rav Huna and Rav Yehudah as to what the Amora Mar Shmuel said. One said that the child must know the berachah well, and the other said that the child must know to Whom he is reciting the blessing. The Rav may have wanted to fulfill the requirement of “knowing the berachah well” by giving the child a siddur.

One more point: Rabbi Zivotofsky’s articles should include a warning: “Do not read this article late at night.” I had so much fun looking up the sources that I stayed up until 4 am. Yasher koach, Rabbi Zivotofsky!

Yitzchak Gross 

Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

This article was featured in the Spring 2022 issue of Jewish Action.