Feeling the Pain


jewish-interfaithBy Rabbi Shmuel Bloch

It hurts.

It really does. Each statistic from the recently released report from the Pew Research Center is a source of agonising fear and excruciating pain.

Yet we need  to focus and discuss this pain because if we do not, we can G-d forbid, become desensitized to our situation even though we have a front row seat watching Jews spiritually die.

Recently, I went to a get together of old friends who had not met since childhood .It always is   heartening to see people after so many years and catch up with what has been going on in their lives .However after chatting for a while, it soon dawned on me that all these people who attended did not have Jewish spouses and were totally devoid of any knowledge of their Jewish heritage. The agony of seeing them in this state was indescribable. I went home in a state of shock and horror and began desperately trying to make some sense out of what I just experienced.

Let us be clear about this – They never consciously chose ignorance .They never had the benefit of a meaningful Jewish education that would allow them to understand how beautiful being Jewish really is. However after talking with them for a few minutes, I suddenly understood the devastating  and frightening reality of our generation  that sent a shiver down my spine.

What hit me harder that a ton of bricks is the realisation that  many thousands of Jews have never lit Shabbos candles in their life. They have never sat around a Shabbos table .They have never tasted in all of their years of living, the taste of Challah. Pork and shellfish have been a staple of their diet. They have never eaten Matzah. They  have never opened a SIddur in their entire life. They are older than thirteen and never ever have  donned Tefillin. They have never seen the inside of a Shul and they have never ever prayed in a Minyan .The throbbing sting of this nightmare is continuing unabated.  That is why I want to cry when I read these statistics. It’s the only valid emotional response.

Yes it is true, our situation is not all doom and gloom. Over the past 40 years there have been courageous and amazing organisations and individuals that have set out to correct this horrid situation .Countless lives have been changed as a result of these heroic efforts. It is so staggering and astounding to see so many Jews coming home. And yet….. There are so many Jews that are slipping through the cracks and are not being reached. They are disappearing forever .Fast.

As a community Rabbi, I have had to say Vidui with someone who was dying .It is a gut wrenching experience watching someone’s life slip away and be helpless to do anything about it. It is equally gut wrenching to watch Jews spiritually die a horrible and gruesome death and disappear in the bottomless pit of assimilation and ignorance. Yet the difference between these two situations is that  we can bring these Jews that are on the threshold of spiritual death back to life. Let us digest our reality that the Jewish people are  haemorrhaging. Let us not pretend it is not happening .It is. If we do not act swiftly and double and triple our efforts then they will be gone and we will be responsible since we could have saved them.

Now, if we never had any tools to reverse this epic catastrophe, then we could turn to Hashem and say: ” Hashem- it’s unfair!! The task is too big, we don’t have the means to cure this patient”.

However this is not the case. Yes, it is true the task that Hashem has set us is vast but Hashem has also given is the tools to achieve our goal.

Virtually all of Torah literature is in English. There is very little that has not been translated for the masses .The amount of Torah articles and audio lectures available on every conceivable topic is massive .Learning partners are available on the phone .Shabbos hospitality on every place on planet earth is easily accessible . Trips to Israel are commonplace and these days one can even go for free. Gaining meaningful Jewish knowledge has never been easier .Hashem in his infinite kindness has provided the medicine to cure the disease of ignorance and apathy. The medicine works. We can turn the Jewish people around if we want to and if we care enough.

Dear matzav.com reader, I beg you from the bottom of my heart, make the effort to reach out to every non-affiliated Jew that you know. Please, please make that call and invite them for Shabbos. Learn with them and help them see Torah for what it really is. Bring them into our world .They desperately want to enter but they do not know where the door is. We need to realise that we could be the only Torah educated Jew they will ever in their entire life meet .We have one chance. We cannot waste it.

During World War 2, we know of incredible stories of people who saved Jews. They put their own life at risk doing this. Imagine you were alive during this turbulent time in history and you had the opportunity to save Jews. Would you have done it? Of course you would have!!! . Seventy Years later when your grandchildren would ask you, “Grandma Grandpa, you lived during World War 2, did you do anything to help the Jewish people?”  You could proudly answer” Yes, I did not stand idly by .I saved Jews and helped the Jewish people in any way that I could”

We are living now during a terrifying time period where the Jewish People are in grave danger .Now it is our chance .We cannot sit idly by and just say it is not our problem. There is so much we can do. Hashem has given us the resources to educate so many Jews with minimum effort.

In 40 years from now, when your grandchildren will ask you “Grandma, Grandpa, what did you do during this turbulent time of Jews assimilating?” have what to tell you grandchildren. Tell them you cared about the Jewish people and helped so many of them reconnect to their heritage.

If we do this we will, with Hashem’s help rectify our situation .When we show how willing we are to help our brothers and sisters, then Hashem will bless our efforts and we, with our very own eyes, will see the Jewish people blossom like never before.

Rabbi Shmuel Bloch is the rabbi of The Port Elizabeth Jewish Community in South Africa.

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  1. Interesting that when the Rabbi was recounting all the things that his friends had missed, he chose only to mention mitzvos bein adam l’makom – “ritual” mitzvos. This may have some connection to the idea that most non-Orthodox have that Orthodoxy is entirely a matter of ritual. Most don’t even realize that there exists a class of mitzvos bein adam l’chavero. If we point out the richness of the human side of Torah to people who don’t know, we might get a more positive response. Pointing out that chesed is actually just as much a mitzvah as keeping kosher might impress the uninformed enough to want to find out the rest.

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