Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Real Issues

This Shabbos we were talking at the table about the situation in Eretz Yisroel and Iran.

Someone said, "You know, Netanyahu is right. It's 1939 again, and Germany is Iran. Unfortunately, Jews haven't learned their lesson. Sure, there are teshuva movements bringing people back, but not nearly enough people are coming back."

I thought about this for awhile.

While I don't disagree with that, I think there's a much bigger problem.

I remember a few weeks ago standing near the Kosel with a group of people. I saw a young Frum man talking animatedly with a group of Christian tourists. I edged closer and listened in. They were heatedly arguing about religion. Judaism is this, Christianity is that, Judaism believes in this, Christianity believes in that, so on and so forth. I waited until the discussion broke up. Then I went over to the man and asked him why he felt it necessary to convince people that we are right and they are wrong. In my words, "Jews don't proselytize. What's the point?" He replied, "We are supposed to be a light unto the nations. We should show them what the right way is." I strongly disagreed with him. I said, "Being a light unto the nations means to lead by example, that people should look up to us by the way we live." It doesn't mean to go out and try to convince the world that we are right. Our job in this world is to do what halacha requires of us, to do what we're supposed to do. When we do that, we will be a light unto the nations.

It's not our fault that Jews grow up in different parts of the world without knowing their history, heritage or religion, but it may be our fault that they don't come back. What is the perception that an irreligious Jew has of Frum yiddishkeit? Only what they see and hear.

And what do they see and hear?

This scandal, that scandal. Violent disagreements. This group in court feuding with that group. Again and again. Publicly. Mobs of people violently protesting in Yerushalayim. Destroying city property and physically assaulting policemen. I'm not arguing if the cause is just or unjust, I'm just talking about the way things are done and looked at. Of course the media just loves to play these things up as much as possible, and that only strengthens the outside perception. But it is our people doing it to begin with.

Obviously this is only a small amount of people, but it's enough to create the perception. When the shining jewel of yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel deteriorates into violent skirmishes, what is an outsider to think of yeshivos and those that study there? When those who are called ultra-Orthodox (whatever that means) spend their time squabbling in the courts and worse, what are outsiders to think of us? When the schools who educate our children use government programs improperly, what are outsiders to think? When individuals get plastered on the front pages for finanical impropriety, what are outsiders to think of us?

We are supposed to be a light unto the nations of the world and yet we aren't even a light to our own nation.

Not everyone can be involved in Kiruv, but we can all be involved in helping Kiruv work. And we should certainly not be involved in making sure it doesn't.