Friday, May 28, 2004

BT fatique

I have been keeping statistics in my (snail)mailbox recently. I received in the last three months exactly 332 letters at my home address. Living in Stamford Hill as I do it is obvious that two thirds of these are invitations to weddings and Barmitzvahs, the vast majority of which I have no intention of attending or even acknowledging, in line with the wishes of those who sent them. Like much in our community the tradition of inviting everybody on the shul list to every wedding reception is one nobody knows the origin of and nobody has yet had the courage to abolish. So like everybody else I open the invitations and scan the names quickly. If they look familiar I say “Mazel tov! so Mendel is marrying Mindel” and if not they fly into my big bag of IFUs (Invitations to Families Unknown).

The next most popular form of letter is from some institution or other. It begs me to support their wonderful and inspirational task and showers my family and me with blessings and best wishes. Only good fortune and happiness should befall us in the zchus of this great and holy mitzvah I am being given an opportunity to perform. The language they use is sometimes remarkably similar to English.

The institutions asking for money are as often as not involved in the business of kiruv (returning lost souls). I have lately decided that I am no longer supporting the kiruv cause. I am all for people returning to their faith. I feel that there is much that we, who have been frum all our lives, can learn from those that chose to become frum. In fact I regularly have BTs (Baalei Tshuva or the newly religious) at my table. I like to talk to them about their reasons for becoming frum and I like my children hearing their perspective. On the other hand I do not know why the disaffected unwashed are more worthy of my hard-earned money than those who have suffered all their lives for the cause.

When I was 18 years old and contemplating leaving the fold for good, the one thing that held me back was the fact that I would have to break with my family, friends and entire society. While I felt intellectually unfulfilled I did not hate myself, or everybody around me, enough to justify such a drastic step. I believe becoming a BT is a similar experience and requites similar impetus.

It seems to me that as long as we have inside our own community people who are unhappy or disaffected enough to leave, and looking around it is obvious that the list is growing rather than shrinking, it is the height of irresponsibility to be investing money in importing the disaffected from outside. The amounts of money we send each year to support those institutions in arranging seminars in luxury hotels to proselyte the lank-haired youth should instead be spent improving the lot of those who feel trapped and lonely inside our own homes and shuls. Otherwise there will come a time when we all will dread the arrival of the next invitation and the horrors of the latest unsuitable match.

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