Sunday, March 3, 2013

Upcoming News and A Non-Outreach Encounter

Upcoming News: This coming Saturday, March 9, 2013, at 7pm EST, I'll be a guest on The Kurdled Jew podcast over here. I'll be discussing "The Missionary Position" with hosts Arthur and Eli, and will cover all things related to dealing with missionaries, especially those of the kiruv variety. I hope you'll tune in. 
Later this week, The Beacon will be publishing an article of mine about one of the (many) aspects of kiruv/outeach that I find troubling. I'm particularly excited to have the opportunity to open up dialogue with the Modern Orthodox community on this issue. As soon as it is up on their website, I'll post the link.

     This morning found me in the supermarket, doing my weekly shopping with seemingly everyone in my town. I was dreading having to run into the Passover aisle for a box of  egg matzoh, one of two Passover weaknesses I have (the other being Polaner's seeded Raspberry preserves,) and must purchase weeks in advance of the holiday. I expected to find, amidst the holiday displays of matzoh and gefilte fish, young orthodox women giving out booklets on holiday observance. The thought of having to navigate already crowded aisles with a full cart was mind-numbing, and while I'm usually open to conversations with strangers, I was in a rush to get home. Much to my surprise, the section reserved for Easter and Passover shopping was relatively empty, save for two couples who reminded me of the parents of my childhood friends.
     The slender woman with the large glasses and the most incredible brown Jew-fro I've ever seen, was discussing their Passover shopping with her husband, who held a case of Yartzeit candles. She stood with her arms folded over the shopping cart handle, listing the pros and cons of purchasing their kosher for Passover perishables during this shopping trip. The other couple stood by the immense stacks of matzoh, deciding which five pound box to take home.
     The few minutes that I spent in that section of the store, observing these couples--both women in pants,  their hair uncovered, talking with their husbands who wore neither kippahs nor hats, and filling their carts--these few minutes made a huge impact on me, and reminded me why I'm involved in anti-kiruv activism. Moments like these, when I catch regular Americans who happen to be Jews, engaging in something as mundane as shopping for an upcoming holiday, give me a feeling of contentedness that I don't feel when I see Lubavitch women standing behind a table, handing out literature. People should be able to shop in peace, without pressure to conform to an orthodox standard, without their own observance being undermined by a stranger pushing his/her belief system because he/she doesn't approve of anything not orthodox. With so many Jewish holidays celebrating how people managed to maintain their beliefs in the face of opposition, contemporary non-orthodox Jews shouldn't have to face opposition from their orthodox counterparts in order to celebrate in a way that is personally meaningful.


  1. What a notion. Judaism in people's lives that is not a number one, all encompassing, overpowering, life smothering, domineering, creativity killing system of ultra orthodox, subservient, repressive, idiotic, cult like behavior. Just a thought.

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  3. "What a notion"?? What a stereotype. It's entirely possible to live an orthodox observant lifestyle that is none of those ugly adjectives you've listed. I grew up secular and assimilated and found community and Judaism to be lovely--and the orthodox community's sense of brotherhood/sisterhood much more appealing than the politically correct, halachically-a-joke but predatory, misogynistic Reform community where all new women (especially single ones) were looked upon as potential husband/paycheck-stealers and treated with contempt. I suppose it depends on each person's experience and since kiruv and orthodox Judaism were far more fulfilling in my family's life than any of the alternatives, I'm puzzled by the hate-fest being promoted here.

  4. What struck me about your observation was the fact that these are people who are clearly committed to observing Passover despite the fact of outwardly-Orthodox garb.

    This could describe my parents and most of the people that I grew up with.

    While I'm not anti-kiruv, I do think that it has its flaws. Too many of those in kiruv lack the vocabulary to acknowledge that these types of Jews exist. I also find the same lack of understanding in the OTD (off the derech, ie. formerly Orthodox) community, where "Orthodox Judaism is the only real Judaism" is often the last belief to remain unquestioned.

  5. I wouldn't say there's a hate fest being promoted. I would say that, as you mentioned, each person has different experiences and is going to respond differently. A person who has only had negative experiences with orthodox Judaism will see things differently from a person who has found fulfillment and a loving community. Being from New York, I can assure you that a non-orthodox person settling in the small liberal modern orthodox community in Staten Island, where women can comfortably wear pants will have a very different view of orthodoxy than if he/she settled in Satmar Williamsburg.
    My intention with this blog is not to promote hatred of any group but to educate people who may not be aware of the huge machine that kiruv really is. I'm sure that many Jewish parents educate their children to some degree about missionaries. Kiruv professionals are missionaries as well, just missionaries for orthodox Judaism. There's no reason why one group of Jews should treat another as if their beliefs must be changed. If liberal Jews started a campaign to recruit orthodox youth out of orthodoxy, wouldn't the orthodox community fight against it? Wouldn't they up their education to reflect their beliefs more strongly and tell them which groups to look out for, while celebrating the good within their own groups? Why should it be any different on the other side of the spectrum?

  6. JRKmommy,
    Thank you for your comments.
    Like you, I'm not anti-kiruv in every instance. I do believe that there are still well-meaning people out there who, just by being good, friendly people to all people (Jews of all persuasions, non-Jews of all persuasions)without any ulterior motives can ultimately give non-orthodox people a more positive view of orthodoxy and of Judaism in general. One of the problems with kiruv is that it's become a business, with success determined by the numbers of people recruited.
    I also agree with your statement about the OTD community. A person can be OTD from any faction of Judaism. I am assuming that many who were raised in the orthodox tradition, were taught (just as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis states) that Conservative and Reform Judaism are not legitimate Judaism and still have trouble accepting it as such. In no way do I agree with the statement by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, I just think that maybe for some people, it's hard to suddenly change everything about how they were taught to view the world.

  7. Thanks.

    I would go a bit further and say that I'm not opposed to all efforts to teach or encourage my Jewish observance, but I think that it should come from a place of honesty. I also believe that genuine love and acceptance is a value unto itself, and that it is very different from faking it for the purposes of kiruv.

    One rabbi earned my respect by opening the door to EVERYONE. You could be a homeless alcoholic or unmedicated schizophrenic, and he would treat you with respect. The come-as-you-are feeling permeated the shul, and it didn't feel as though the rabbi was just chasing donations or pushing people far beyond their comfort zone.

  8. On a somewhat related topic (to this blog, not necessarily to this post), I wanted to share a blogpost I just wrote:

    1. Hart,
      I tried to comment on the blog, but despite my correct human answer for the anti-spam box, I kept on getting a negative response from the site. So, I hope you'll read this, and I'll just post my comment here for you:

      Thanks for posting this link on my blog. First of all, I just want to say that Amanda Palmer is one of my favorite musicians of all times, so it was quite a wonderful surprise to see her talk referenced here. Secondly, I think that in many ways, your ideas are right on target. Asking without expecting anything in return seems to be a good policy. I agree with this, especially as a person who has shared holiday dinners with friends of varied faiths, and never once felt any pressure to be anything other than who I was when I walked through the door. Inviting a guest for Shabbat dinner without having ulterior motives, without making that person a "kiruv project," sends a good and positive message, especially when there are too many instances of guests being invited, not because the host genuinely wants to get to know them or spend time, but because the host wants to add another notch to his/her kiruv belt.


Your respectful comments are welcome.