Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Klal Perspectives

Readers of this blog will most likely be very interested in a new publication that has sprung into existence with a strong initial entry, Klal Perspectives:
Klal Perspectives’s goal is to provide the Torah community with a forum to address and debate the major issues confronting the community today. We envision a quarterly journal in which a diverse group of rabbinic and lay leaders will share their varying perspectives on a given topic in each issue, with an eye to not only describing problems but also pointing to possible solutions. Input from the broader community will be sought and published as well, in order to broaden the discussion and enlist as many talents as possible in developing strategies for the future.
The mixture of people they've enlisted on this first issue is rather impressive, particularly considering the difficulty in drawing submissions for a first-time publication such as this (as the editor noted to me via e-mail). The journal wisely asked three questions to the writers, and let them decide where to go from there. I've had a chance to read a couple of the pieces so far, and they were fantastic.

In particular, it is heartwarming and comforting to see that this will not be a publication dedicated to either sugarcoating the problems we face as a community nor bashing individuals, organizations, or groups - nor is it unafraid to look at new approaches and to correct accepted assumptions and approaches which may no longer work as they once did (if they ever did at all). In short, it is genuinely and properly dedicated to solving real problems for the long-term rather than complaining about the ones we currently face.

One especially excellent essay is by Moishe Bane, on the Unintended Consequences of Compelling Strategies. He discusses briefly but thoroughly as examples three "representative topics" which are worthy of being addressed, including:

  • The Decline of Fatherhood - the increasing lack of fathers taking a major role in the education of and involvement with their children's lives and education
  • The Consequences of Isolationism - and how attention should be paid to "the impact that has had on both the broader Jewish community and on the frum community itself".
  • Communal Infrastructure - my personal favorite.
A choice quote: 
Attendant with the expansion of the population and its affluence, local educational and service organizations have blossomed – but without coordination or objective consideration of communal priorities or implications. At the forefront of communal failures has been the virtual absence of even the effort to engage in deliberate, long-term planning, except in extremely select, localized instances. Despite the increased sophistication and affluence of the Torah community, communal decisions are made incidentally and with virtually no accumulation of data or infrastructure expertise. At the same time, the community confronts increasingly complex and serious social and educational challenges – challenges which are expected to grow.
Similarly, the community fails to engage, or even encourage, efforts at evaluating community priorities or eliminating duplication and inefficiency. Institutional transparency and economic and programmatic accountability remain elusive, as even active and influential philanthropists decline to impose such basic expectations on the beneficiaries of their largess.
The ability to recognize these issues and how they must be analyzed will be key to solving these issues, and the new journal seems dedicated to doing so, and doing so properly. In the original questions, the journal takes for granted that there simply is a large lack of empirical data to go on from which to design the future, and asks what data needs to be gathered to be successful. This is absolutely the proper approach, as data is the backbone to understanding what exists, what is real and what is perceived, and what is realistic as we try to move forward as a klal.

I wish the journal much success and look forward to its future, and suggest readers sign up to receive their quarterly journals. I believe it can have a strong positive impact on the Jewish Community's future, both in the short-term and especially in the long-term.


  1. "this will not be a publication dedicated to either sugarcoating the problems we face as a community"

    Funny, I saw major doses of sugar in nearly every article. There was some serious introspection and criticism going on, but almost of all of it was surrounded with caveats and reminders that we are, of course, amazing. Perish the thought otherwise. It doesn't detract from the bitter pill which is still very much present, but it's kind of a sad commentary that such sugarcoating was intuited as necessary by almost all the writers, considering that the publication is apparently meant for movers and shakers much more than the masses.

  2. Really? I didn't think so, though I've only read the first few so far. Bane certainly didn't sugarcoat, and I didn't feel Zwiebel did either.

    They aren't speaking in "bashing" tones, either, and they are noting that there are positive sides to things, but ultimately they were focused nicely on what needs to be done (particularly Bane).

  3. They were the least critical. Read Rabbi Adlerstein's, for example, and his many caveats about how he could be wrong, his statements should probably be challenged. While these are all good points, they are also meant to soften the blow and be more tentative. I don't remember others offhand, but I suggest when you read the others you pay attention to how many of them apparently mean to cushion the blows. Maybe we're thinking of "sugarcoating" differently.

  4. Softening blows in general isn't as bad - I could see that being a style particularly for a first edition to draw people in and plant the seeds of ideas in their minds, rather than coming off as a direct affront to what some people may think coming in. You don't want to turn people off or away from the discussion by seeming too blunt.

    That said, I'll pay attention to the others as I continue. I thought that the questions posed and Bane's in particular were very straightforward.

  5. Fair enough. I just have the feeling that sometimes the humility and caveats, if it goes too far, give the person you are trying to reach an out from considering the argument. I know that it's a delicate balance, but in this case since these are *all* establishment figures, and not closet troublemakers or heretics, there is a chance that their words can be taken at face value. When they themselves slightly take it back, that may be all that gets heard from those who don't want to accept unpleasant truths. But I think most of all, the fact that they felt it necessary to write in such a way is a little pathetic. IIRC one of them, after writing about divorce and other problems in marriage that certain lifestyle choices may be causing, he dilutes it all by suggesting that this lifestyle is the best, the happiest, etc.

  6. Agreed, and it is certainly a delicate balance. And yes, some will shy away if they don't want to hear it... but those people would also likely reject outright if it were harsher because of "tone". The objective is to get the reasonable majority who perhaps have to get used to the possibility of an idea, before having it presented as "hello, this is a major problem!!"

    I'll have to see the example when I get to it.

  7. I just read Rabbi Hauer's article (chose that one particularly because of my great respect for Rabbi Hauer) and thought it was VERY on target and not apologetic at all about pointing out some issues that are in place in the Orthodox community. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the journal.

  8. Anyone who intends to get real things done has to bob and weave a little in the presentation so as not to appear threatening. opposed to some flamers in blogs who delight in their own aggressiveness but don't exactly plan to move mountains.

  9. The reason there are so many problems seems pretty clear to me:

    You're all New Yorkers.

    I'll show myself out now.