Excited?!

There is no empirical data, so we can’t definitively say that it is true. This is a subjective observation, which hopefully is not true, even though it probably is. The observation is that there are so many young people who we see observing Yiddishkeit but who are simply not excited about it. It is something they must do, and they actually do it, but without the enthusiasm and the excitement.

I thought about this while standing at that window in Port Carling, Ontario, watching the trees swaying in the wind. It was an experience that cannot be described. It took me back to my childhood and years as a bochur. That window was the window of the shul in Camp Agudah of Canada. It was in front of that window, a window in the camp’s shul, that I had davened for two of the ten years that I spent in the camp. It was in front of that window that I had felt a connection to Hashem, a connection that I wish I could recapture today…

Fun and Ruchniyus Combined

This summer, I returned to camp just to visit – to see the old bunkhouses that meant so much to me; to walk around the old dining room where we sang Shabbos zemiros for hours every Shabbos; to go down to the beautiful, shimmering lake of clear water surrounded by dark green trees that projected such a feeling of peacefulness. (It also reminded me how we had once unceremoniously thrown the head counselor into the lake, but that is a different story…)

We had so much fun, yet we were also enriched with so much ruchniyus. It was in camp, not in school, that the seeds of desire to become a ben Torah were planted. It was in camp that singing the words “shivti bevais Hashem” took on practical meaning. Indeed, for so many bochurim, camp was the prelude to the successful yeshiva and kollel years that followed.

The purpose of this column is not to engage in one of those nostalgic rants about how “things were so good back then and things are so bad now.” Firstly, that would not be productive. Secondly, it is not true. In fact, in many ways, things are so good now that the purpose of frum camps and the job of frum camps had to change.

Then and Now: The Differences

In truth, things are very different today than they were back then and, therefore, what worked back then might not work today.

In those days, Yiddishkeit was not as developed as it is today. The structure that we have today in many ways did not exist, so a young person was able to take much more initiative – especially if one was out of the New York area – than one can today.

One of the things that build excitement and enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos, and overcoming spiritual hurdles, is simply undertaking things that you do not have to do.

For example, if a boy’s schedule on weekdays, Shabbos and Yom Tov is not mapped out for him, then when he takes the initiative and decides that even though he could be playing ball or reading a book, he will undertake a seder so that he can finish a masechta on his own time, he has carved out a remarkable way to build up his love for Yiddishkeit, his enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit, and his feelings of closeness to Hashem.

If a girl, on her own, decides that she will not wear something that is technically permitted but just does not feel so refined, not because she was told that these are the rules and not because anyone will send her home, but just because she comes to the conclusion that “this is not who I am,” she creates a tremendous fervor for Yiddishkeit from within. If a girl decides on her own that she will stop listening to a certain type of music because it is not so aidel, then the fact that the decision was made as a conscious one to come close to Hashem results in a tremendous feeling of spiritual elevation that cannot be overstated.

When a bochur decides to stay and learn night seder in yeshiva even though it is officially not part of the schedule, he is immeasurably enriched.

Because I Want to, Not Because I Have to

What brought such feelings of nostalgia and closeness to Hashem from visiting camp was the fact that it was there that so many decisions were made, both as a camper and a staff member, that impacted the ensuing years of life. Conscious decisions. Decisions that were not forced, but were made of one’s own volition.

Whether it was undertaking to daven tefillah b’tzibbur as a child or adding sedorim as a bochur, or even dressing like a ben Torah, donning a white shirt and wearing a hat and jacket in public, all of those things were not taken for granted back then.

There was a time when a bochur had to fight to stay in yeshiva when so many were going to college. There was a time when becoming a kollel couple was a critical decision that a couple had to make on their own.

The Givens of Today, the Initiatives of Yesterday

Today, a challenging byproduct of the tremendous spiritual strides that our community has made is that so many of these things are givens. Every bochur knows that he will go to mesivta, followed by bais medrash and kollel. Every girl goes to a school that makes many demands on them and belongs to a community whose norms need to be followed.

Every child goes to cheder and, of course, participates in Avos Ubonim on Motzoei Shabbos and myriad other programs. Even Purim morning has Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik.

Let me issue a disclaimer that I am not advocating turning back the clock. These programs are great, and the hard-earned gains that we have made as a community are wonderful. It shows how seriously Yiddishkeit is to us and how we are always looking to improve.

Nevertheless, part of me feels bad for today’s kids. So much has already been decided for them that it is much more difficult for them to take the initiative and be buoyed by the amazing bounce afforded by forging one’s own path in Yiddishkeit.

Because Yiddishkeit was not as developed in the ‘70s and even the ‘80s, young bnei Torah possessed a tremendous temimus. They were not in any way jaded, because they had precious little to jade them. That is why our counselors in camp were such role models and had such a profound hashpa’ah on us as kids. They themselves reveled in their Yiddishkeit. There were no learning camps during those years (with the possible exception of Camp Ohr Shraga), so the most idealistic bochurim were actually our counselors and our learning rabbeim. It is hard to describe the impact that a counselor who is just a few years older and is a true yeshiva bochur and ben Torah can have on a child or even a young bar mitzvah bochur.

How to Feel Yiddishkeit

So what is the solution? It is nice to wax sentimental about the past, but the fact is that in so many ways, we are far better off than we were back then. Nevertheless, we must seek ways for young people to take initiative on their own, enabling them to feel elevated by Yiddishkeit and become close to Hashem because they want to, not because they have to.

There are numerous ways to achieve this, and the truth is that virtually all young people who are truly excited about their Yiddishkeit have done it in one form or another.

Since this writer is “over the hill” and from the previous generation, I would like to open the floor to young people wherever you are. Tell us by writing to the Yated’s Readers Write column what you do to increase your hislahavus and enthusiasm for Torah, avodah and all matters of Yiddishkeit. We will bli neder devote another column to this issue in the future. There is no empirical data, so we can’t definitively say that it is true. This is a subjective observation, which hopefully is not true, even though it probably is. The observation is that there are so many young people who we see observing Yiddishkeit but who are simply not excited about it. It is something they must do, and they actually do it, but without the enthusiasm and the excitement.

I thought about this while standing at that window in Port Carling, Ontario, watching the trees swaying in the wind. It was an experience that cannot be described. It took me back to my childhood and years as a bochur. That window was the window of the shul in Camp Agudah of Canada. It was in front of that window, a window in the camp’s shul, that I had davened for two of the ten years that I spent in the camp. It was in front of that window that I had felt a connection to Hashem, a connection that I wish I could recapture today…

Fun and Ruchniyus Combined

This summer, I returned to camp just to visit – to see the old bunkhouses that meant so much to me; to walk around the old dining room where we sang Shabbos zemiros for hours every Shabbos; to go down to the beautiful, shimmering lake of clear water surrounded by dark green trees that projected such a feeling of peacefulness. (It also reminded me how we had once unceremoniously thrown the head counselor into the lake, but that is a different story…)

We had so much fun, yet we were also enriched with so much ruchniyus. It was in camp, not in school, that the seeds of desire to become a ben Torah were planted. It was in camp that singing the words “shivti bevais Hashem” took on practical meaning. Indeed, for so many bochurim, camp was the prelude to the successful yeshiva and kollel years that followed.

The purpose of this column is not to engage in one of those nostalgic rants about how “things were so good back then and things are so bad now.” Firstly, that would not be productive. Secondly, it is not true. In fact, in many ways, things are so good now that the purpose of frum camps and the job of frum camps had to change.

Then and Now: The Differences

In truth, things are very different today than they were back then and, therefore, what worked back then might not work today.

In those days, Yiddishkeit was not as developed as it is today. The structure that we have today in many ways did not exist, so a young person was able to take much more initiative – especially if one was out of the New York area – than one can today.

One of the things that build excitement and enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos, and overcoming spiritual hurdles, is simply undertaking things that you do not have to do.

For example, if a boy’s schedule on weekdays, Shabbos and Yom Tov is not mapped out for him, then when he takes the initiative and decides that even though he could be playing ball or reading a book, he will undertake a seder so that he can finish a masechta on his own time, he has carved out a remarkable way to build up his love for Yiddishkeit, his enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit, and his feelings of closeness to Hashem.

If a girl, on her own, decides that she will not wear something that is technically permitted but just does not feel so refined, not because she was told that these are the rules and not because anyone will send her home, but just because she comes to the conclusion that “this is not who I am,” she creates a tremendous fervor for Yiddishkeit from within. If a girl decides on her own that she will stop listening to a certain type of music because it is not so aidel, then the fact that the decision was made as a conscious one to come close to Hashem results in a tremendous feeling of spiritual elevation that cannot be overstated.

When a bochur decides to stay and learn night seder in yeshiva even though it is officially not part of the schedule, he is immeasurably enriched.

Because I Want to, Not Because I Have to

What brought such feelings of nostalgia and closeness to Hashem from visiting camp was the fact that it was there that so many decisions were made, both as a camper and a staff member, that impacted the ensuing years of life. Conscious decisions. Decisions that were not forced, but were made of one’s own volition.

Whether it was undertaking to daven tefillah b’tzibbur as a child or adding sedorim as a bochur, or even dressing like a ben Torah, donning a white shirt and wearing a hat and jacket in public, all of those things were not taken for granted back then.

There was a time when a bochur had to fight to stay in yeshiva when so many were going to college. There was a time when becoming a kollel couple was a critical decision that a couple had to make on their own.

The Givens of Today, the Initiatives of Yesterday

Today, a challenging byproduct of the tremendous spiritual strides that our community has made is that so many of these things are givens. Every bochur knows that he will go to mesivta, followed by bais medrash and kollel. Every girl goes to a school that makes many demands on them and belongs to a community whose norms need to be followed.

Every child goes to cheder and, of course, participates in Avos Ubonim on Motzoei Shabbos and myriad other programs. Even Purim morning has Yeshivas Mordechai Hatzaddik.

Let me issue a disclaimer that I am not advocating turning back the clock. These programs are great, and the hard-earned gains that we have made as a community are wonderful. It shows how seriously Yiddishkeit is to us and how we are always looking to improve.

Nevertheless, part of me feels bad for today’s kids. So much has already been decided for them that it is much more difficult for them to take the initiative and be buoyed by the amazing bounce afforded by forging one’s own path in Yiddishkeit.

Because Yiddishkeit was not as developed in the ‘70s and even the ‘80s, young bnei Torah possessed a tremendous temimus. They were not in any way jaded, because they had precious little to jade them. That is why our counselors in camp were such role models and had such a profound hashpa’ah on us as kids. They themselves reveled in their Yiddishkeit. There were no learning camps during those years (with the possible exception of Camp Ohr Shraga), so the most idealistic bochurim were actually our counselors and our learning rabbeim. It is hard to describe the impact that a counselor who is just a few years older and is a true yeshiva bochur and ben Torah can have on a child or even a young bar mitzvah bochur.

How to Feel Yiddishkeit

So what is the solution? It is nice to wax sentimental about the past, but the fact is that in so many ways, we are far better off than we were back then. Nevertheless, we must seek ways for young people to take initiative on their own, enabling them to feel elevated by Yiddishkeit and become close to Hashem because they want to, not because they have to.

There are numerous ways to achieve this, and the truth is that virtually all young people who are truly excited about their Yiddishkeit have done it in one form or another.

Since this writer is “over the hill” and from the previous generation, I would like to open the floor to young people wherever you are. Tell us by writing to the Yated’s Readers Write column what you do to increase your hislahavus and enthusiasm for Torah, avodah and all matters of Yiddishkeit. We will bli neder devote another column to this issue in the future.