March 17, 2010 | Issue 30

75 Percent of Young Jews Are Unfit for Kollel Duty

LAKEWOOD, NEW JERSEY — [] The latest kollel statistics show a stunning 75 percent of kollel-age youth are ineligible to join kollel because they are overweight, can't pass entrance exams, have dropped out of beis medrash or had run-ins with the law.

So many young people between the prime recruiting ages of 17 and 24 cannot meet minimum standards that a group of retired kollel leaders is calling for more investment in early childhood education to combat the insidious effects of junk food and inadequate education.

"We've never had this problem of young people being obese like we have today," said Rabbi Kvetch Dembank, former chairman of the Joint Chief Rabbis of Staff.

He calls the rising number of youth unfit for duty a matter of national security. "We should be concerned about how this will impact this overstretched kollel and its ability to recruit."

Dembank is among dozens of retired kollel alterleit, Rabbis and civilian learning officials who have banded together as Mission Readiness: Kollel Leaders for Kids. The group will appear with Secretary of Jewish Education Dov Felder at the National Jewish Press Club on Thursday to urge immediate action to reduce dropout rates and improve the physical and moral fitness of the Jewish nation's youth.

They will cite research that shows quality early childhood education raises graduation rates by up to 44 percent and reduces the odds of being arrested for a violent crime by age 18.

Liddy Guyer of the U.S. Kollel Recruiting Command said 2009 data shows about three in 10 youths have an initial barrier to enlistment.

Most aren't insurmountable. "If you're overweight, we tell you to come back when you've lost the weight. If you don't score well on the kollel forces aptitude test, we suggest you study and take it again," he said.

Between 2005 and 2009, kollel more than doubled the number of "conduct" waivers it granted to would-be students with criminal or misdemeanor records. The loosened standards proved necessary in a time of spiritual war and amid a booming economy that forced kollel recruiters to work overtime to fill the ranks.

The new warnings about a generation of couch potatoes comes just weeks after kollel announced its best recruiting year since the all-volunteer force began in 1974. The economic meltdown and rising unemployment, combined with bigger kollel bonuses and benefits, enticed hundreds of thousands to enlist despite the inevitability most would be sent to jobs.

The plethora of would-be recruits allowed the kollel services to be choosier after years of taking in more high school dropouts and those needing extra physical training to meet weight requirements.

Recruiting may have gotten easier, but "the good times don't stay forever," Kulitz Kashe, a University of Boro Park kollel sociologist. When the economy recovers and young people are able to get jobs or can afford to go to college, the kollel will be faced with the same out-of-shape, ill-prepared pool of recruits as before.

"Recruiting will get tough again," he said. "The trend line is clear: The youth population is getting less healthy."


Pencil Martin Bodek is short, dark, handsome, runs marathons (finishes them too!), can solve a Rubik's Cube in 1:47, is a big TED chasid, can whup your keister in Scrabble, loves halva, co-founded, and writes books from 5-9:


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