Monday, April 30, 2007

What Makes People Frum? II

UPDATED: HA! See this post at BeyondBT - Kiruv Models.

I was fascinated - and yet not surprised - by the range of answers people gave in response to the question I asked early last week. A couple of my favorite responses were the ones given by Chardal and Scraps, both of which touch on the incredible process involved. Another friend and blogger touched on this in a conversation: People's own views of what they were looking for change as time passes, as they delve more and more into whatever path they take. But I was most curious as to what people felt was the driving force behind what made people actually become "frum" as opposed to what drives them to search, and I felt that the answer to this was summed up most accurately by (ironically) Jewish Atheist:
Community and/or meaning.
I think that a search for meaning will get people to look, but it's the sense of community - whether the familial aspect of Shabbos or the closeness of Jewish communities or something similar - which truly "makes" people frum. To some extent, the reverse is true as well. A number of people brought up "what makes people stay frum" in the comments. I'm not sure that's the right question. I think people generally are happy and have no reason to leave. It is those who for whatever reason don't feel a part of the community, who aren't comfortable within the community, that feel 'driven away', or at the least, have nothing that they like about Judaism to make them want to stay, so they search for their own meaning and community elsewhere. Theology comes in a distant second to community and happiness.

But again, it's that search for meaning that gets people to look in the first place. Judaism does not claim to have all the answers, but it does offer a very wonderful sense of meaning, a sense of purpose in life for all. It promotes an incredibly moral lifestyle and sense of giving and humility which is attractive to people. There is a focus on the family and community which one doesn't see to the same extent anywhere else. What's so devastating about improperly acting kiruv organizations or cover-ups and the like are how strongly they turn people away in all instances, having taken away that sense of community, that morality, that feeling of caring.

What is most interesting is how some organizations know this... and that's actually what causes them to ruin things. There are those who understand that in the end, it's the community which "gets" people more than the intellectual discussions, even if that's what brings them to the door. They'll say lines like "the discussions bring people in the door, but it's the chulent which makes them stay." And again, they're often correct. But when they use this reasoning to justify a glossed-over, or even worse, a dishonest approach to get them in the door... that's where the end cannot justify the means.

I may turn this into a series, as there are many facets of this discussion which are important: From the differences between Orthodox and Conservative or Reform "kiruv", to what is the proper approach, to my own experiences with kiruv, and so on.