Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Questions to Ask Yourself When They Question You

Guest Post by Mechel Bukyer

“Excuse me, are you Jewish?”
In that one question – just a few simple words – many things happen. For starters, the questioner has now legitimized his or her entry into the target audience’s life (not that unlike the somewhat clichéd, “Is there a doctor in the house?!”)  Moreover, he/she has set the table to engage the mark’s natural societal desire to please others, and the asker has attempted to leap over the first line of defenses that we all intuitively have to protect us from those who may not have our best interests at heart…and there it begins.
So, you may wonder, what’s wrong with kiruv? Now, I don’t know that I’m about to say anything new – in fact, I’m sure it’s not – but I’ll add one more voice to the list and count off some of what’s so bad about it. Under normal circumstances the first questions we should ask ourselves when a stranger approaches us with any kind of proposition are: What do they want? What’s in it for them? How will this affect me?  And, is it good or bad for me? So let’s start by asking those questions:
1.     What they, in this case outreach/kiruv professionals, want is to add you to their ranks. Plain and simple. Their goal is to take you along on their ride, to live their life, with their rules and with their goals. All this at the expense of whatever you currently think, hold dear, care about, or desire for your future.  There can be no argument about this simple truth – no kiruv worker can deny it.

2.     How it will affect you is also not hard to imagine: You will, to some degree or another, turn away from your family, friends, career path, interests and freedoms, while devoting time, money, resources, and emotions to this endeavor. You will significantly change your personal relationships, as you recede from your world and enter theirs.
3.     What’s in it for them? Many things actually: The continuity of their hopes and dreams. Validation of their lifestyle. New blood and new revenue streams to add to the growth of their institutions and ‘market share.’ The individual’s personal ego and power trips that they get with each new doting student and fan, which includes the thrill of manipulating and directing someone else’s life (and this doesn’t have to be overt and obvious and ugly, but it is part of life, and generally exists even subtly or subconsciously.) And let’s say that this specific kiruv professional isn’t really (overly) like that, there is a lot of internal scorekeeping in mind. Each new recruit gives their life (or mission) additional meaning and scores them points for the world to come.  

4.     The question of whether or not it’s good for you requires a longer answer – one that might be beyond the scope of this piece – but there are things to consider that can help guide you. For example, are you prepared to be a second-class citizen, to become other people’s projects, to be dictated to about how you should live, to leave the security and current support group that you know with the non-guaranteed hope that the world you’re entering will do as well or better than the one you’re stepping away from? Are you willing to deal with the anxiety and stress of being an eternal outsider, of not knowing what parts of your past to share with your children, your friends or your leaders? Are you comfortable with the many varied and artificial limits (and by that I mean they differ from group to group and are often ubiquitous but without a clear basis) on what you can allow in your home or in your mind? Can you happily change your political views and embrace a world whose establishment is very different from the society that you are familiar with? 

There are many similar questions, and each person has to make their own specific list. But before I get too far down this road, let me clarify that I don’t mean to suggest that everyone’s (or anyone’s) non-orthodox life is flawless or rosy, but I do suggest that the changes and the risks are much greater than any ‘mekurav’ can ever realize.

Now, nothing that was said until this point should be remotely surprising – and, no doubt, for this reason it is only a statistically few people who actually take the kiruv plunge. But it brings us to the next set of questions to address, such as: Kiruv techiniques. The ethics and morality of Kiruv. Kiruv professionalism (or lack thereof).  But I think I’ll leave that for next time.   

The author is a currently grey-haired product of various orthodox institutions of, at best, mediocre learning, and one of the many formerly religiously inspired members of the orthodox community, who now continues to mumble Hebrew words throughout the day because he thinks he knows where his bread is buttered. 

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