It is axiomatic in business circles that the quickest way to lose money is to invest and then fail to monitor the return on investment. Analytics is from the fastest growing fields in IT, giving business owners and investors more and more data they can use in every way imaginable. Metric on top of metric are compared and analyzed, sliced and diced until every drop of data is squeezed out of them. Google and Amazon have built global empires primarily on the enormous amount of data they collect and analyze.
Granted, a community is not a corporation nor a business concern, but the need for accurate data is no less essential. There are many voices hawking what to them is the “primary issue” facing Haredi Jewry today. Kids at risk, Abuse, Financial concerns, Yeshiva policies, Shidduchim are just some of the “crises” supposedly facing our community. But how do we know that it is so? Undoubtedly, these problems exist, but without accurate information, how can we determine what’s the ikar and what’s the tafel, what we should sound the alarms for and what can be handled with lesser urgency? Our resources are limited and stretched to the breaking point as it is, shouldn’t their allocation be governed based on the severity of the need?
As it stands now, problems are determined subjectively and on anecdotal basis, as well as through crowd-sourcing (everybody knows…) and rabble-rousing (whoever screams the loudest wins). Is there no better way to figure out what’s truly going on?
Klal Perspectives (a fine and perceptive periodical) devotes it’s entire spring issue to what it determines to be the “single greatest challenge facing the Orthodox community” i.e. “the increasing numbers from across the spectrum who feel no meaningful connection to Hashem, His Torah, or even His people.” .How do they reach that conclusion? They tell us: By soliciting the opinions of thirty community leaders and educators who mostly agreed with the above conclusion. I would suggest that their research does indicate a legitimate concern, but from there to “the greatest challenge facing the Orthodox community” is quite a stretch. Are the of opinions of thirty people, as wonderful as they may be, a true reflection of the community at large?
This is not to pick on them or anyone else. They are not to be blamed, they’re doing their best. How should they know which issues are the “greatest challenges” and which issues are not? Nobody knows! Without accurate data, scientifically gathered using proven methods, it is impossible to truly take the pulse of a community half a million strong.
Identifying problems accurately is not the only reason to acquire a true picture of what’s going on. It is needed to implement accurate solutions as well. How can we determine whether a specific solution is progressing as planned if we don’t accurately measure its results? How much time and money is being wasted on solutions that don’t work simply because we’re flying blind? Not to mention that we are depriving ourselves of the tremendous boost and chizuk we would get were we to see the fruits of our labors in front of our eyes. Success breeds success, but not if you cannot see it.
By knowing almost nothing about Haredi society and what it’s people are doing, by having nothing more then educated guesswork as to the opinions, struggles and hopes of our members, we are essentially throwing things up against the wall and hoping something will stick.
We also thereby allow our detractors to define us. When we are accused in the media and elsewhere of being freeloaders and lazy, uneducated and unhappy, we are reduced to unconvincing rebuttals and inadequate responses. Why? Because we have not the data to disprove the lies and distortions that fester about Haredi Jews. We cannot fight misconceptions and falsehoods about us and our lifestyle with svaras alone: cold, hard facts are essential to win hearts and minds or at least cool down the rhetoric.
Why has this not been done? For several reasons. First, our default, Torah-mandated, position of insularity and separation from the outside world discourages any outside probing of the contours and composition of our machne (camp). We neither want nor need publicity. In addition, it may very well be that we simply haven”t gotten around to it yet. Haredi Jewry in America is very young and still getting it’s sea legs under it. Bouncing from crisis to crisis as we have, we haven’t had the time to catch our breath and take stock of where we are and where we are going.
Having accurate data is by no means a panacea and can easily be manipulated. As the saying goes, there are lies, bigger lies and statistics. The rise of the “study” industry has gotten so out of hand that the Pentagon recently commissioned a study to study the studies (I’m not kidding)! However, rather than avoiding getting the information we so desperately need, we should ensure that it is done properly This means using people we trust, people without an agenda other than helping the community. Let’s allow the voices of our community tell us themselves what’s going on and where we are headed.
UPDATE: This is a good start.