Reach from Within

Michal Uryash, Miami Beach, Florida
Essays 2019 / Frum Community

The Rebbe writes that, “ Each and every generation has its own characteristics which have bearing on contemporary problems.” How many of us have grown up with friends that aren’t Shomer Shabbos anymore? How many of us have seen a bright Yeshiva student leave the path of Torah? How many of us have witnessed our own family members disembark in search of a new lifestyle? A large amount of our youth are slowly leaving the path of Judaism and we need to give this issue the necessary attention. We are extremely fortunate to to be a part of Chabad with the Lubavitcher Rebbe as our leader. In numerous places, the Rebbe addresses this specific topic. He gives customized directives for what we are lacking and supplies the tools needed to overcome these challenges. In order for each of us to make a positive impact, we must gain a developed and educated awareness regarding this issue. A mother sent in a question to addressing this concern, she wrote, “ What do I do to ensure that my children don’t rebel against my lifestyle?” We have an obligation to take care of every Jew physically and spiritually. Our own communities must come prior to others. How could we build strong foundations for the youth in other communities if our own are significantly weakened?

Identify the Motive:

This disinterest among the youth in continuing the lifestyle they were raised in did not start here; it has been a consistent issue for generations. Every generation has an essential reason for why their children leave the path of Torah, so what is the specified reasoning for the 21st century youth; why don’t children from religious backgrounds want to follow in there parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps? This can be answered with a term coined as, “spiritual neglect.” Children today feel that they are not receiving the spiritual attention necessary to grow and without this attention it is hard for a young child or even a growing teenager to resist the temptations that the world has come to generously offer. The Rebbe writes in a letter that the secular world utilizes tactics such as “brotherhood” and “interfaith” movements to lure young minds. When the world fights with tools eliciting love, the Jewish community must combat this by acquiring the same weapon. In today’s day in age where war is fought with nuclear technology, no army will ride on black stallions with spears in their hands. As the Rebbe says, “ words coming from the heart penetrate the heart.” We need to use compassion to show children how to truly embrace Yiddishkeit.

We give our children love and care in a parental sense, yet when it comes to Judaism we can instinctively react differently. We have a tendency to easily accept others with respect and understanding, but when it comes to our own we hold them to our own set standard. This causes us to lack patience and understanding when one of our own children do the wrong thing or don’t fit the cookie cutter mould we have attempted to shape them into. This issue is not just a theory, proof is found in numerous stories of teenagers coming from religious homes who have been rejected by the systems we have set up.

A girl from Brooklyn recounted a story that happened to her recently. She was looking for a place for Shabbos and got a hold of the number of an Orthodox organization that hosts guests weekly. When she called up she was greeted with a question. The person on the other line asked if she was “frum from birth” or a Bal Teshuvah? Since she had grown up in a Shomer Shabbos home she answered that she is “frum from birth.” The response she got was that they aren’t hosting people that come from religious homes. They did not want her to take the spot of a potential Bal Teshuvah. After the girl relayed her experience she expressed how bothered she was by this interaction, why was it that she could not be apart of an uplifting Shabbos experience as any other Jew is entitled to. Furthermore, every Jew is in a constant cycle of mistakes and doing Teshuvah, the goal being to grow in Yiddishkeit despite our background. Therefore, every Jew is considered a Bal Teshuvah.

Another story I heard first hand was from two sisters. They were born and raised in England and as they got older they had become less religious then the rest of their family. After they graduated high school they were looking for part time jobs close to where they lived. No one in the community would hire them because of their observance level, so the girls were forced to move elsewhere to find work. I have heard from countless people that they were rejected from learning programs because they were deemed too religious by virtue of their family or school background. On the other hand, they are not religious enough for the programs where their background qualifies. Since when does our prerogative to connect to G-d’s Will through Torah study depend on our religious status categorized by society?

These experiences can easily affect people, making them feel unwanted because of where they stand in their Yiddishkeit. This could go as far as to push a person away from wanting to live a religious life altogether. We know that the Alter Rebbe writes, in Perek Lamed Bais of Tanya, that it is beyond our intellectual capacity to ever comprehend one’s Neshama and where they truly stand in their relationship with Hashem. Therefore, we can never judge a person and have a direct commandment to love every Jew. The Rebbe addresses this exact point by saying, “ certain it is that the energies thus expended have been at the expense of vital areas of Yiddishkeit, where there is a crying need for strengthening the Jewish faith and practices within our own ranks, especially among the young generation.” The Rebbe doesn’t just mention that we need to remember to instill a love for Yiddishkeit in our children, rather, the Rebbe goes further and says that we are actually using our energy that is meant to be directed towards our own youth and we are using it for others. In our generation we do not have major physical struggles to maintain our basic necessities, yet we are in a spiritual drought. The Rebbe reminds us that, “ we have been blessed with freedom of worship, and do not face persecution and constant peril… yet, so many of our younger generation are lost to us daily by default, negligence and misdirection of the leaders who should know better.” We, as the Jewish nation, have the responsibility and therefore the ability to give guidance to the youth of our generation. The Rebbe writes in a letter that when we realize things must be done to strengthen Yiddishkeit we drawdown additional forces to meet the challenge. “It is high time to replace interfaith with inner-faith and concentrate on dialogue with our own misguided youth (Quote of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)!” We can not sit back and watch as our own children turn away from Judaism, we must rise to the occasion and provide the means necessary to facilitate a true love and pride for Yiddishkeit.

Our Main Tool:

As I was doing research on this topic, I stumbled upon an article written by a Rabbi of a non- Chassidic Yeshiva. He was concerned about boys who came from Orthodox backgrounds and went through the entire Yeshiva system, yet somehow these boys did not feel any connection to Judaism. The lack of connection had lead these boys to slowly leave Yiddishkeit and they were connecting elsewhere. The Rabbi went on to explain that he decided to open a new Yeshiva that would cater to these boys and he instituted Chassidic texts into the curriculum. The results were astounding, as he writes, “It is this belief that has struck a powerful chord in the heart of the modern Jew seeking to reestablish contact with his soul.” The boys became extremely receptive to Chassidus and it strengthened their connection and understanding towards Judaism. We could see from here that just by instilling Chassidus into our children’s daily lives, we are taking one step closer to keeping them on the right track. The Bal Shem Tov told us that, “Moshiach will come when the wellsprings of Chassidus will be spread out.” Chassidus is spreading and turning the world around for the better.

How much more so, as Chabad Chassidim with the Lubavitcher Rebbe as our guide, do we have the responsibility to take Chassidus and provide practical applications in our own communities. Each Jew is born with a Neshama and no matter how far they go or how close they seem to be, we have the commandment to treat them as equals. Every Neshama thirsts for a connection with Hashem and whether a child was born into a religious home or not, they must be given the same quality of inspiration to feed their soul. We can not assume that because a child was born keeping Torah and Mitzvos, it will stick with them and pull them through their deepest struggles. Today every desire is within arms reach, we are one click away from accessing any longing we wish to satisfy. Because of this, even children growing up in completely religious communities need to be given tools to withstand societal influences and social pressures just as a child coming from a secular background.

Be Proud:

A key aspect that is needed to live a religious lifestyle is pride. For example, a girl that enjoys shopping and fashion it is hard to be tzinius when the entire world around her degrades the concept of dressing modestly. Society convinces us that dressing modestly suppresses our feminine expression. With these ideals being imposed upon us how can one stand against them and stay strong. In an adaption from the Likkutei Sichos of the Rebbe, the Rebbe describes a debate held between the Chachomim of the Gemara regarding pride. Some speak very harshly against it because it could lead to arrogance, while other Rabbonim stress how pride could direct awe and respect. The Rebbe goes on and interprets that from here we learn that pride, which is usually a form of ego is actually crucial in our Avodas Hashem. Satisfaction derived from pride facilitates inner joy and fulfilment, which in turn enables us to strengthen our bond with Hashem. When a child is taught from a young age to enjoy participating in religious activities it generates a sense of pride, which later on plays a large role in standing up for what is right. Even as the child grows older and reaches teenage years we need to continuously feed healthy Jewish pride to the child so that they will never feel ashamed to practice Judaism. This will strengthen their Jewish identity as they move into adulthood and one day this same Jewish pride will be passed down to future generations.

Our Focal Point:

“And you shall teach the Torah to your children and you should speak about it when you are at home and when you wake up (Devarim 6:7),” Chinnuch is applicable to every Jew as the Rebbe explains, that when the Posuk says “children” it refers to being a child in relation to knowledge. Yet, we have the ability to target the youth of the generation in a literal sense, therefore we need to understand why the younger years of a person are an ideal time to educate. First and foremost, when a person is young they have an innocence that is non existent during any other part of a person’s life. The Rebbe explains how the youth are untouched by the negative aspects of the world and are able to grasp Torah with a clear and malleable mind. The Rebbe writes, “Young people are not burdened by family responsibilities and are full of youthful energy, they should make the fullest use of their opportunities.” Hashem created the world with an order giving us a specific time to be educated and attain the foundation we need to go out into the world. Therefore, we must utilize this distinct period in one’s life to learn and understand what it means to become close to G-d and follow in the ways of the Torah. The Rebbe goes on and explains that, “ with our youth and the will of our elders we will proceed to the ultimate redemptions.” The efforts of the children is what will bring Moshiach. If this is the case, we could understand why the Rebbe put such emphasis to educate and enable our youth to appreciate Judaism without feeling neglected. After all they are the way to the Final Redemption.

Practical Application: In Reach

All the points mentioned above describe the ideal way to raise a child in this day in age. All parents strive to reach their potential as a parent so that their children could reach their utmost potential. Parents consume a large amount of energy to give over Jewish values to their children, but for some reason it isn’t always sufficient. However, this can not stop us, as the Rebbe says, we are mountain climbers, we can never stop moving upwards. When we take action it will cause others to take action. The solution is in reach. In reach is a relatively new idea, it puts emphasis on helping people who come from religious backgrounds to stay on the path of Judaism. Whether they are actively leaving the religious lifestyle or just need to be strengthened in their connection to Yiddishkeit in reach is there. The Rebbe responds to a concerned mother stating that children are more inclined at times to get guidance from a friend. Many times children interpret their parents advice as the parents way of looking down on a child and insinuating that they are immature. Every parent does their best to create a conducive environment for their children to grow, yet sometimes guidance from outside of the home and school is needed.

The Rebbe writes to a youth program organizer that, “Youth responds more readily to youth, as it is more readily influenced intuitively than through the medium of reason.” It is an innate habit for children and teenagers to listen to the advice of their peers over authority figures. Hence, if we create an environment where a person’s peers are doing the right thing they will naturally be inclined to follow. The Rebbe writes that, “ Every individual has only a limited resource of time, energy, and influence, while every right-thinking person must feel a sense of responsibility to accomplish something on behalf of the community in which he lives.” This is a lesson for us, we need to integrate programs to inspire the youth of our religious communities. In recent years it has been brought to the attention of many Rabbis and educators that something should be done to help religious teens and even families stay connected to Judaism. When the Rebbe discusses the idea of Shmita he brings in that boredom and lack of interest in children could veer them away from Yiddishkeit. During this time of “Shmita”, when one stops working the land and finds large chunks of idle time, they need to use this time for learning Torah and doing Mitzvos. Today children and teens have so much time on their hands, this time needs to be put to good use. If we create an environment where teens could enjoy themselves while learning Torah and doing Mitzvos they will not have to look elsewhere for entertainment. We need to make Judaism exciting, not just inside the home but outside as well. When children leave home to find activities to fill their time with they will have a place to turn to. It is not an easy task and creating these programs is not something that could happen instantaneously. If we use joint efforts, as communities and as a nation, we could overcome any obstacle. As we mentioned before, just by coming to the realization that we need to help strengthen Yiddishkeit among the youth we draw down the power to transform our plans into a reality. The Rebbe writes, in reference to organizing youth programs, “ I may say that as much as they help the movement, the movement helps them even more,” not only are the youth benefitting from these programs but the ones who support these programs will reap major benefits as well.

Binding it All Together:

Bearing everything mentioned above, we now know that we have the ability to yield the influx in Jewish teens turning away from Judaism. The Rebbe has given us a perfect guide of what measures to take to give our community the correct spiritual attention. In reach, which creates a stimulating environment for growth could be a major game changer. With the power of Chassidus children will be able to feel Jewish pride and a sense of belonging all within the parameters of Yiddishkeit. This will bring us to the ultimate Geulah!

Jewish Action: The Magazine of the Orthodox Union
Letters of the Rebbe Volume 1
Letters of the Rebbe Volume 2
Likkutei Sichos Nissan/ Iyar 5740
Likkutei Sichos Vol. 1