A number of years ago, I was conversing with a young scholar who has done much research into his family history, when we began to speak of a relative of his, a Rebbe who came to the United States before the war. The Rebbe, little known outside his immediate circle but greatly revered by all those who came in contact with him, was niftar some five decades ago.
I was vaguely aware that he had at least two children, but never heard of living descendants, so I asked the scholar about them. The story he told me shocked me to the core.
This holy Rebbe, who served Hakadosh Baruch Hu at all times with every fiber of his being, had two living great-granddaughters. Tragically, both had intermarried. Distant cousins have made repeated attempts to try to reach out to them, but to no avail. Thus far, they have refused to even be in touch with religious relatives.
Some 15 years ago, a kollel yungerman with an interest in genealogy made a startling discovery. For decades, it had been assumed that all the descendants of a greatly respected prewar Torah leader had been murdered by the Nazis. This yungerman found out that in reality, a daughter had survived the war, married an irreligious Jew, and had an only child, a son. But he had married a non-Jewish woman, and their children were gentiles.
As Klal Yisrael continues to reel from the murders of four Kedoshim in Paris, Hy”d, there is much discussion about the safety of Jews in France and across the globe and the threat of Islamic terror.
Indeed, it is important and appropriate for the requisite hishtadlus to be undertaken. But at this time of heightened awareness, it is important that we bear in mind that the most serious existential threat we are facing as a people isn’t terrorism or countries like Iran. While these threats are very real, and must not be underestimated, we often allow ourselves to be distracted from the devastating affliction that is decimating huge segments of Am Yisrael. Despite the miraculous rebirth from the ashes and rebuilding of Torah Judaism after the Holocaust, the Jewish nation is dwindling.
A comprehensive 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that intermarriage rates in the United States have skyrocketed over the last five decades.
Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six in 10 have a non-Jewish spouse. Among those who married in the 1980s, roughly four in 10 have a non-Jewish spouse. And among Jews who married before 1970, just 17 percent have a non-Jewish spouse.
While baruch Hashem the population of Torah Jews is, bli ayin hara, growing rapidly, it accounts for only 10 percent of the larger Jewish population, and our growth cannot possibly keep up with the astronomical number of Jews that we are losing to the clutches of assimilation. When you remove religious Jews from the equation, the intermarriage rate in America is greater than 70 percent.
It is a bitter irony that we spend so much time and energy discussing the threats that we can do very little about. Let us be realistic: Despite pundits waxing eloquent, few if any of us can do much about the danger posed by Islamic extremists and countries like Iran.
On the other hand, the primary reason for these tragic, devastating intermarriage statistics is woeful ignorance among the youth about our glorious heritage. There are wonderful organizations and numerous individuals who have dedicated their lives to try to reach out to our brethren. Many of them are gathering this week at the AJOP convention. But the number of Jews who know virtually nothing about Judaism is in the millions, and far more can and must be done.
Existing organizations are often understaffed and underfunded. If large amounts of money would be raised, many more talented individuals would be able to join those heroes who already spend their days and nights trying to be mekarev the millions of tinokos she’nishbu. Many more organizations — each trying different methods to achieve the same purpose — ought to be established.
Parts of the very same technology that is wreaking such destruction upon our people, can — under the careful guidance of Rabbanim — be used to bring people closer to Hashem. A well-planned, high-tech advertising campaign urging unaffiliated Jews to learn about Yiddishkeit and listing available resources to do so would also make a difference.
A commonly heard law-enforcement motto is: “If you see something, say something.” This doesn’t apply only to potential criminals or extremists, but also means taking advantage of every opportunity we have to try to reach out to our estranged brethren. Every smile, every kind gesture — even if relatively minor — can make a difference. As ambassadors of Torah, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that all our actions will create a kiddush Hashem, and that our secular brethren will have a positive experience each time they interact with Torah Jews. We must also continually daven on their behalf.
From their lofty place in Gan Eden, countless precious souls cry out in pain. They include Rebbes and Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshivah and Dayanim, Kedoshim who were killed only because they were Jews and pious Jews who were moser nefesh to keep Torah and mitzvos. They include saintly women, unsung heroines whose only desire was that their children stay true to the path of Torah.
Cognizant of the tragic fate of their descendants, they plead to Hashem that their grandchildren should return before it is too late. Their cry calls out to us, the living, as well, that we should do our part to battle against the devastating plague of ignorance and assimilation.
Their cry asks of us a powerful, painful question: What are you doing to try to save my grandchildren?
We all must look deep into our hearts to find the answer.