Initially, I thought my gradual shift had to do with an acknowledgement of the fact that I apparently stink at kiruv.
My husband, on the other hand, is really good at kiruv, especially with fellow Israelis. He has positively influenced many Jews.
But as for my own kiruv "skills"...
Even the one person I ever influenced to become shomer mitzvot was an accident.
It happened before I ever officially went into kiruv.
Once, I went to meet a secular friend whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, due to living in different parts of the US.
I didn’t know it at the time, but she was intrigued and nervous about meeting up again, wondering if I’d changed since I'd started keeping mitzvot. She’d also been thinking about getting frummer and wanted to see what that looked like up close in someone her own age.
So when we met, little did I know that in her eyes, I still looked normal, but just with a longer skirt and longer sleeves. And apparently, I was still comfortable to be around – in other words, no disturbing personality changes.
So she thought to herself, “Okay. I guess I can do this too.”
And that was it.
I didn’t even do anything or have any clue. Anyway, it was SHE who was open to the idea of getting frummer. I never even suggested it to her.
And she only told me this years later. And she’s not even a very committed frummie. According to how she describes her lifestyle, she does the minimum she can to consider herself frum.
So that's my total tally: one person (that I know of) who was already open to strengthening her mitzvah-observance anyway – and ultimately not a very committed frum person (although something is MUCH better than nothing, to be sure).
And this is despite having worked alongside my husband when he was rabbi of a little shul which was nearly all secular, and then later as part of a kiruv kollel.
In other words, ample opportunity and nothing to show for it.
Nourish Those Roots!
But that’s okay. I realized that I have more than enough to work on within myself, strengthening my own Yiddishkeit, let alone getting others to strengthen theirs.
Also, I live in Eretz Yisrael where it’s enough to be an approachable-looking frum person who is pleasant & achvah-oriented (“Hi ya, sis!”) toward non-frum people.
Even this blog is meant to be a Here’s-What-You-Can-Learn-from-My-Mistakes-portal or discussing what much greater people say (like Rav Shteinman, Rebbe Nachman, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Miller, Rav Arush, Rav Bender, Shlomo Hamelech, etc.) or what example we can learn from those much greater people (including non-recognized but very special "regular" Jews).
But from what I can tell from comments and emails received to this blog is that most of the readers are like-minded people who are anyway already somewhere on the scale of frumkeit and we are all just linking arms to support each other, each of us shining whatever light we can for each other, as we trudge & stumble our way to the Geula.
In other words, I have as much to learn from them as they do from me.
The Jewish Future Lies in the Orthodox Community
As of 2007, North American & North African Jewish populations showed zero population growth.
Oceania (which I assume primarily means Australia because, really, how many Jews are in New Zealand or Fiji?) showed growth of 0.9.
All the other countries showed population shrinkage...except Israel.
(Israel’s growth was 1.5.)
And as the report discussed, the definition of who is actually a Jew isn’t clear within the statistics-gathering.
A great many non-Jews with fake conversions or Jewish fathers identify themselves as Jews.
So the population shrinkage is probably even worse than shown.
Based on these numbers and personal experience, I can’t imagine that, outside of the Orthodox community, there will be Jewish communities in the USA in another 2 generations.
Yes, I’m far from the first to note that the future of American Jewry lies within the Orthodox community.
But personal experience shows that the intermarriage and fake conversion rate is so high among non-Orthodox Jews, especially outside of major Jewish population centers.
Even if there will be Reform or Conservative places of worship, they will likely be populated by a non-Jewish majority (as you'll see below).
Furthermore, the percentage of people who don’t have children is increasing over all the Western world, including in the non-Orthodox Jewish community.
I've already seen this in my family.
One Dead End after Another
One of his sons is his spitting image—a handsome Jewish face with an identifiable Jewish surname and one of those Biblical first names that are in fashion now. (Think "Jacob Goldberg" with dark soulful eyes and dark wavy hair.)
Yet this young man is totally not Jewish.
That is the end of the line for my cousin. He leaves no offspring—not biological offspring and not in mitzvot either. A dead end. Literally.
At the same time, because my cousin's wife underwent a completely invalid "conversion" via a Reform rabbi, she (and I think one of the children) self-identify as Jewish.
Yet they are not.
Other non-Jewish-but-think-they're-Jewish family members send me photos of themselves celebrating Chanukah — among all the fake converts and regular non-Jewish spouses and children, not one person celebrating Chanukah in these photos is actually Jewish.
In one branch of my family, the last Jewish member of 3 generations died recently.
This last one is also a dead end.
His Jewish son from his first marriage married a non-Jewish woman — no Jewish offspring from that union.
His second marriage was with a fake convert, meaning no Jewish offspring from that marriage either.
A dead end on all fronts, despite 2 marriages, including 1 to an actual Jewess.
What this last Jewish man (and the Jewish man who died before him) have left behind are their fake “convert” wives and their non-Jewish children, their childern’s non-Jewish spouses, and non-Jewish grandchildren, plus a farce of holiday celebrations and other Jewish rituals performed with or by non-Jewish family members for whom it’s not at all meaningful. Not really.
Furthermore, all these remaining non-Jews plan to hold the yearly Seder they enjoy (yes, Jewish rituals are actually quite enjoyable — a fact that some frum people need to be reminded of) — without one bona fide Jew in attendance.
No Dead Ends Yet, But Almost Total Assimilation
This assimilated Jewish family celebrates nothing (save for maybe Chanukah presents?)—no Pesach Seder, no Yom Kippur, no Shabbat candle-lighting…nothing.
Interestingly, from one set of assimilated Jewish parents, 3 children happened to marry Jews. (Maybe because they’re in New York and it’s a cultural thing—more comfortable to do so — although that didn’t help my generation of New York relatives, who all married non-Jews.) So one child is raising Jewish children in the same completely assimilated manner she was raised.
Another adopted a non-Jewish child and plans to have no biological children with his Jewish wife.
The third child is frum with a family of Jewish children — but that child lives in Eretz Yisrael.
As far as the American family line goes, the assimilation is almost complete.
Statistically speaking, it is unlikely that the children/grandchildren raised by completely assimilated parents, who were also raised by assimilated parents will marry Jews.
(Don't forget: As the non-Orthodox Jewish population shrinks, that means less Jews available for marriage, even in the larger Jewish population centers.)
And despite the power of the kiruv movement, most Jews just aren't becoming frum.
Even those exposed to frumkeit (via frum relatives or nice frum people or outreach attempts or trips to Eretz Yisrael, etc.) remain apathetic and do nothing to improve their own observance.
(I keep forgetting this because of where I live; the return to observance is thriving. But then I look behind me and realized that it really isn't the majority. Far from it.)
Case in point: In the above example, the older parents visit their frum child in a frum Eretz Yisrael neighborhood twice a year for extended visits. They've been doing this for almost 2 decades. They've been there for Shabbos and chagim, met the very nice frum neighbors and...nothing.
All the frum experience and frum information available doesn't touch them one iota.
So going by the majority, those children raised by assimilated parents will likely not become frum and not marry Jews. If they have daughters, the halachic Jewish line will continue, but it probably become unknown at some point.
Annihilation with a Smile
But they sure deserve it!
In the generation above mine, it was clear that no one would’ve married a non-Jew outright (the people I knew, anyway).
No matter how much they wanted to marry their non-Jewish girlfriend, they would’ve resisted had not the halacha-contortionists stepped in to perform fake “conversions” of convenience.
Yes, these nice, smiley, well-intentioned, genial “rabbis” managed to annihilate an entire generation in one go.
And they're still doing it with great gusto. Not one shred of remorse.
Strengthen Our Core with Dedication & Joy
Maybe it’s a sense that the Torah community is where the upcoming future lies, and that’s where Hashem is guiding me.
That future is no longer so distant. Outside of major Jewish centers in America, it’s already upon us.
BTW, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from kiruv rechokim. If you have the opportunity to do it, if you’re good at it, then by all means — DO IT.
I once needed kiruv and I’m eternally grateful to the people who were there to do it for me.
We need those people.
But I think that even more, we need to strengthen ourselves from within.
We’re not just the core, we’re also the very near future, which is only a generation or 2 away.
And we need to do everything we can to make sure that this core and this future are iron-clad with dedication and joy.