Monthly Archives: March 2013

A true Jewish response

As I walked towards our children’s school yesterday, the sounds of music and children singing filled the square block surrounding Arie Crown Hebrew Day School on a misty Sunday morning. Hundreds of people filled the streets and sidewalks.  They were all there for one reason.

The Kirshner and Maryles families, together with supporters of the Yechi Reuven Fund, had invited the community to a Hachnosas Sefer Torah in memory of Reuven ben Menachem Mordechai Kirshner zechrono levracha, in commemoration of his first Yahrtzeit, which was this past Shabbos Kodesh. Reuven was a 9 year old student at Arie Crown when he was niftar.  His father, Rabbi Menacham Kirschner, is the assistant principal and his mother, Tovi, is currently the one of the 5th grade girls teachers. The procession was lead by students holding torches as the infamous “Wi-Fi Fire Truck” complete with Kesser Torah on top blasted music in the streets.  Behind the fire truck you could see family, friends, students, faculty, and rabbonim from throughout the community all dancing and singing alongside the chuppah and the and new Sefer Torah.

Eventually the Sefer Torah and the crowd of hundreds made their way in to Arie Crown’s beis midrash/multi-purpose room and the live music and dancing continued.  Rabbi Menachem Kirschner proudly danced with this special Torah surrounded by all. I saw students, rebbes, fathers, friends of the family that came in from St. Louis (where the Kirshner’s lived before moving back to Chicago), Rabbonim from other schools and shuls all there, together. Eventually the males, both young and old, made two lines as they all made a tunnel with their hands, singing as the Sefer Torah went into its new home in the Aron Kodesh.

I looked at the scene, seeing 5th grade boys joining hands with people in their 50, making a connection in celebration of that which connects all generations, the Torah.  I thought about all of the updates and difficult posts that Reuven’s grandfather, Rabbi Harry Maryles had written over the years.  How people who didn’t even know Rabbi Maryles, aside from his blog, davened and learned for Reuven.  I thought about being in this same school for the levyah and how much emunah this family had, as reflected by Reuven’s own strength throughout his illness. I looked and outside the corner of my eyes I saw three man, all friends, all grandfathers, dancing together. They were all in same semicha class of Rav Aaron Soloveichik z’tl. They were together for this event, ultimately because it was learning Torah that initally brought them together.

I took it all in because Hashem’s plans for us are not always what we daven for or think they should be. We hear bad new, experience a tragedy, or get dealt a “bad hand” and how we respond is indicitive of our “Jewishness” and hashgafa (perspective/outlook). The Kirshner and Maryles families response in this situation was, and is, a lesson of emunah, one that is constantly felt by everyone. It is a true Jewish response. Now, thanks to them, Revuen’s neshama will forever be connected with the Torah that he loved so much.

Why aren’t books like these being written for Jews?

The books Dharma Punx and Hardcore Zen are real. I have seen them, flipped through both of them, and marveled at the way they were written. They are geared towards a specific demographic, those looking for something in Buddhism that fits into their lifestyle. Aside from reading Letters to a Buddhist Jew by Rabbi Akiva Tatz and David Gottleib, I don’t know much at all about Buddhism. I do know that these two authors and many within the non-Jewish religious publishing world realize that speaking a generation in their language is important when it comes to getting your message out there.

So, why aren’t books or e-books like these being written for the not-yet-observant Jewish Gen Xer and Millennials? There are, as I see it, two reasons.

  1. It’s exactly the same reason punk music isn’t popular in the Jewish music world. Any BT with a punk music background or FFB who is into punk would rather use their talent towards more “mainstream” music, rather than create any frum punk rock. Once you create something that sounds clearly like non-Jewish music, the odds are that those nice boys (and girls) who listen to it will want to check out the original sources of the music. So, in essence, the frum musician would be indirectly responsible for frum kids listening to non-Jewish music and no one wants to deal with that on Yom Kippur.
  2. They just haven’t been written, yet. They are probably in the hearts, minds and hard drives of slackers who “sold-out” in order to pay tuition for their kids to learn in yeshivos and day schools. When I use the term “sold-out”, what I mean is that they realized that they can be just as individualistic, independent, and iconoclastic without having to look that way externally. Many (and I’d like to include myself) haven’t given up any core values, they have just focused than punk energy into things like Torah, Avodah, G’milus Chassadim, family, work, and community.

Those involved in kiruv know that that Torah needs given over in a way that is customized for each generation. The success of both “campus kiruv” and Chabad on the university level is proof that you have to know how to market to your demographic. NCSY‘s initial success in the, in part, was due to their leadership realizing that teens had a tendency to rebel. They simply give teens the option of focusing their rebellion against the prevailing culture of the 1960 and towards Torah u’Mitzvos. Chabad‘s success, on a family level, is partially due to having excellent pre-school programs and providing amazing day camp experiences for both children and their parents. Ohr Someach and Aish HaTorah have capitalized on providing opportunities for college-aged young adults to get a “yeshiva experience” that give them a taste for more learning.

These alternative sub-culture styled religious books, tend to take punk ethos in one hand and religion in the other and attempt to make the two fit together. With Yiddishkeit, the two can fit, but you have to be willing to accept that the priority is Torah.  The Torah is a constant.  It was around before the world was created and will always be here. I think there’s a whole segment of Jews that we are not reaching.  It’s not because their music is too loud, or their noise-reducing earbuds are to effective.  It is because we have yet to figure out a way to successfully communicate the idea that being mevatar yourself (withdrawing from your ego) or demonstrating bittul (nullifying your will) is probably the most hardcore punk thing there is.