10/02/2006

Toward a White String

Jeff Woolf laments the fact that religious communities tend to insulate themselves on Yom Kippur, rather than trying to include segments of the population that observe Yom Kippur (which is still the consensus) in an inviting way. He mentions Tzohar, the organization that I work for, specifically our initiative to create welcoming Yom Kippur minyanim. We estimate that we reach about 40,000 to 50,000 people, but that means that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who still could use a 'home' for Yom Kippur. I'm not talking about 'kiruv' or dragging people to shul, kicking and screaming. I'm talking about the average Israeli who fasts and doesn't drive a car on Yom Kippur.
In my
own neighborhood in Modiin, I davened at a new minyan (about a month old - the neighborhood is just now starting to fill up) in a local school. This was not one of Tzohar's 'official' venues, but I saw that a bunch of Tzohar's user-friendly machzorim were available. Many of my non-observant neighbors (chiloni by any definition) attended, especially for Kol Nidre and Ne'ilah (Tzohar also publishes a shorter Machzor with just Ma'ariv and Ne'ilah). It was actually very, very nice. During the highlights, the place was packed, there were tons of kids, and I noticed that many of these non-observant 'newcomers' were singing along to the common tunes. I gave my own machzor to a fellow who looked like he could use it; I knew where we were and what to expect, and he looked like he didn't. I shared with someone for the parts I didn't know by heart.
I 'm happy t
o report that I did not see a single car in motion in my 'mixed religious-secular' neighborhood for the duration of Yom Kippur. Rather, the streets were filled with kids on bikes, roller-skates, scooters, and wagons. I thought it was beautiful (a friend was lamenting all the bikes, until I pointed out that there's really no prohibition against riding a bike on Shabbat).
An
other really nice thing was seeing all of the Sukkot that my neighbors, 'religious' and 'secular', were out building tonight.
All in all,
one of the greatest 'discoveries' I've made sinse arriving in Modi'in is that, contrary to what I've always learned in the religious enclaves, secular Israeli culture is not bankrupt and not devoid of Judaism. There's something very shabbesdik about sitting on a beach with a watermelon that we may be missing out on. I believe that we have something to offer by making out shuls more inviting; but we must be willing to accept certain invitations as well.
Tz
ohar is truly doing wonderful work in this regard, not just by generating the opportunities for encounters, but by trying to effect a sea change in the entire relationship between these segments of the population, and beginning with the community Rabbis themselves. They can go as far as their current funding will take them, but to go where they envision going, we're talking about a budget that is simply a different order of magnitude. Hint, hint.
R' Dr. Jeff c
oncludes his post with the following:
I blame myself, and those like me, who have the tools to communicate and teach, but spend their Yamim Nora'im in religious enclaves. Bli Neder, I intend to find a way to do Teshuvah for that. I urge others to do the same.
It's for this very reason that we chose to live in a city where the random, neigborly encounters offer opportunities to 'communicate and teach' - and, I'd add, to learn. As wonderful as Efrat and Gush Etzion are (I use those examples because I know that I have readers there), and they are truly wonderful, they do not provide those opportunities for chance encounters that cosmopolitan cities provide.
Perhaps it's time f
or the Religious Zionist communities to 're-engage' the urban centers (which are not just composed of oligarchs and Ha'aretz reporters) with all of the confidence and strength that it has accumulated over the past 40 years of incubation on the hilltops (see my series on R' Shimon b. Yochai for more perspective on this phenomenon).
Then maybe we'll begin t
o see some white in that string.
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