By: Sholom Kesselman
It is a fact that Chabad is becoming increasingly modern. I’m not suggesting that the movement or the ideology is becoming modern; rather that vast numbers of our young are settling for a “lighter” version of what it means to be Lubavitch.
While there have always been such people in Lubavitch and in every other Frum sect, we are now seeing more than ever before unprecedented numbers of youngsters embracing this modern Chabad lifestyle.
The question needs to be asked, why? Why all of a sudden are we seeing this turn to modernization?
I believe that there are four major factors that contributed to this and understanding them will help us find the way to stem this tide.
- Technological Revolution. 20 years ago, the world was closed off to the average Lubavitcher. It was difficult to find “the world” and besides for a few exceptions, most youngsters didn’t know about much else other than Torah, Chassidus and the Rebbe. But technology and the internet changed that all. All of a sudden the world was opened to all and this presented a big challenge to all Frum communities, Chabad included.
- Gimmel Tammuz. There is no question that this played a major role. Lubavitch for 40 years was a movement in which the Rebbe was everything. The average Chossid’s life centered very much around the Rebbe and Gimmel tamuz was unthinkable. When it happened, we were totally unprepared. The older generation didn’t suffer as much but the young found themselves lost. The Lubavitch they knew had drastically changed and many were left confused and angry.
- Machlokes. The years after Gimmel tammuz were tumultuous to say the least. The vacuum of leadership gave way to extreme machlokes. Whether about Moshiach, shlichus or Rabonim, Chabad was engaged in heavy dispute. To a young adult growing up in such an environment, this can be extremely off putting and often leads to them saying, “I want no part of this.” This is especially true when the machlokes involves Rabonim and causes us to see the ugly side of our spiritual leaders. A Rav represents the truth of Yidishkeit and when they are reduced to petty fighting and name calling it is very damaging.
- Shlichus culture. There was (and maybe still is) a culture that prevailed in Lubavitch, where if you were worth anything as a Chossid you had to go on Shlichus. The Shluchim were the pride and joy of Chabad and anyone else was Nebech a loser and second class. For those that became Shluchim this was great for, but for those that didn’t, the feeling of not making it and being less worthy quickly led to what we’re seeing today. After all, if one is anyways not a “real” chossid, why even bother.
On top of all of this, I believe a further problem existed in our schools and yeshivohs and that is where the solution can ultimately be found.
You see, even though we faced all these challenges, had the schools and Yeshivos been more understanding and sensitive to the changes in the air, they would’ve been better prepared to deal with it.
Instead the schools and Yeshivas kept teaching the same ideas and in the same way they had for the last 40 years, without realizing that there was an entirely new set of challenges that had presented themselves.
I’m not suggesting that the principles of Chassidus had to change chas vsholom, but the emphasis, delivery and packaging had to.
The new generation needed to be taught in a way that they could relate to and when that didn’t happen… here we are.
Once the schools and Yeshivos start to address these new found challenges and give our youth the tools and motivation to stay strong, Chabad will once again flourish and be the pride of the Frum world.