Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bnei Akiva's New Recruitment Campaign

Happy Birthday Rav Shlomo
Last night, Rena and I traveled to Modiin to participate in a birthday party for a good friend, Rav Shlomo Sobol, the rav of Kehillat Shaarei Yona Menachem in Modiin, and also a founder of the Barkai Center for Rabbinic Training (based out of his shul). The shul was throwing the party (which is rather unique. I can't think of another shul that I know of that threw its rav a birthday party. It speaks to a really special relationship between a shul a its rav.), and they asked me to say a few words.
I mentioned to the community that we became close with the Sobol family over the four years that they spent in Metro Detroit, he as the Rosh Kollel of the Kollel Torah Mitzion. We ran programs, taught Torah, and spent many hours together, and today the Sobols are close friends. I also noted how the Kollel, following the Sobols' instructions, spoke about aliyah, and the importance of aliyah, at every turn. Pretty much every shiur was about aliyah and every conversation ended up leading in that direction as well. At some point I went to Rav Sobol and told him, "Stop talking about aliyah! Yes, it's important, but no one wants to hear it anymore, and they're starting to tune you out." The Kollel tuned the message down a bit, and things worked out fine.
Ironically, I guess, my family listened, as here we are.
I've been thinking about this issue especially in light of B'nei Akiva's recently unveiled campaign to recruit new Shlichim to represent and work for the organization around the world. I opened an Alon Shabbat and saw the following ad:

The caption: The plane is ready. Now it's your turn.
I don't question the great work that B'nei Akiva does, nor do I doubt their sincere desire to encourage aliyah. Yet, I wonder whether this ad campaign is all that realistic, or even true.
Sure, communities want B'nei Akiva representatives, and pay a great deal of money to bring them. Yet, they're not simply bringing representatives of Nefesh B'nefesh. They want these dedicated young people to teach their children a whole host of values, including devotion to Am Yisrael, the importance of the Jewish State, the religious value of serving the Jewish people, educational aspects of Religious Zionism - the list goes on and on. And, if exposure to these great role models inspires a young person to want to live in Israel - terrific.
But that doesn't seem to be the message of the ad. It's seems to encourage the notion that the shlichim are being sent to bring as many bodies as possible back on Aliyah.
I wonder how the communities in America feel about their shlichim being marketed in this manner.

Even more surprising is the other ad in the campaign:

Caption: There are Jews that this doesn't seem strange to...

To the best of my knowledge, most (if not all) B'nei Akiva shlichim in the United States are hosted by Orthodox communities. While these communities may not be chareidi, the vast majority of their members aren't putting up Christmas trees, last I checked. I wonder how many opportunities these shlichim will have to interact with families that are both lighting a Channukiah and also setting up a tree for Christmas?
I wonder what kind of expectations the new crop of recruits will have, when they land in Cleveland to discover that they're not going to save the world, nor will they successfully fill a plane of Olim who will jump to accompany them back on their return flight home. Rather, they're going to staff a Snif, create meaningful programs for children, teach Torat Eretz Yisrael, and hopefully instill a sense of Religious Zionism in the people they work with.
It seems that today, those laudable goals are no longer sufficient to attract good recruits. You have to make them believe that they really will save the world.
I just hope that next year's shlichim are not overly disappointed when they discover that reality isn't so exciting.

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