Thursday, June 13, 2013

Partners in Intolerance, Part 2


Rabbi Meisel's response, part 1. Click to enlarge.
Part 2. Click to enlarge.
     The last post I wrote (Parters in Intolerance, Part 1,) discussed the negativity that kiruv/outreach volunteers volunteering with Partners in Torah have towards Conservative, Reform, and public schools. After eight weeks of reading responses to Rabbi Meisels initial question regarding which type of school is best for a non-orthodox Jewish student to attend, he finally gave his response this week. He writes: "I would therefore suggest that one not adopt a universal approach to the question. Instead, one should take into the particulars of the case [e.g. family, school, public school, etc.] before making a decision, and then only with the input of a recognized authority competent to evaluate such a question." While I agree that one shouldn't take a universal approach to most issues, I have trouble with the second half of his statement. In my experience as a former public school student, a parent who has sent kids to both orthodox yeshivas and public schools, and as an educator who spent many years teaching at a public high school, most parents who are involved in, and concerned about, their children's academic success take many factors into consideration when approaching the school years, and it is often a very personal decision. Expecting parents to consult a "recognized authority" before making decisions on the schooling of their children is preposterous and, to modern parents, insulting. This insinuates that non-orthodox parents are incapable of making these decisions on our own. Instead, we should contact a "recognized authority." From an orthodox perspective, this is usually one's local orthodox rabbi (or LOR, as it is often abbreviated.) Most non-orthodox parents are not about to involve a rabbi in their decision-making process on the education of their children unless specifically concerned about their kids' Jewish education. Most (non-religious Jewish and non-Jewish) parents I have met were more concerned with giving their children a well-rounded kindergarten through twelfth grade education that would enable them to get into either a trade school or college so that they would be prepared to take on the world. Most public school parents who want their kids to have religious training in the religion of their choice send their kids to after-school programs that meet their needs. Parents who feel that their needs are not being met by these after-school programs usually remove their kids from public school and send them to private schools that are religious in nature.
Part 3. Click to enlarge.
     What I have described here differs greatly from the original intent of Rabbi Meisels' originally posted question. In my explanation, the parents are making the decisions. How a family chooses to educate its children is a very personal decision. In the original question, and in last week's blog post, we can see that it's not the parents who are trying to figure out which school to send their children to, but rather, the kiruv worker/volunteer who is trying to influence the parent with whom he is working and convince him that there is a need to remove his children from public school and put them into a more Jewish environment. The original question directed towards Rabbi Meisels expressed the exasperation that the kiruv volunteer was feeling, having worked for three years with this person who still has his children in public school and seems to have no intention of changing this arrangement. The failure here is not in the parents for not pulling their kids out of public school, but in the kiruv workers and volunteers for not accepting that people have different values, different familial arrangements, and different religious preferences. Their responses (summarized in the pictures in this post, and shown in last week's post) prove that outreach from Partners in Torah isn't about the individual, but rather about pushing their own brand of orthodox values that don't take into account the reality that is today's world and the reality that is very often part of today's families. Pulling a child out of public school, or a liberal Jewish school, so they won't be exposed to "the downward spiral of western culture," assumes that we're all starting with the same values and that we all feel that we're on a downward spiral. At some point, non-orthodox Jews who are working with Partners in Torah will start to realize that it isn't a lighthearted Jewish identity that is being celebrated, but rather, an orthodox Jewish agenda that is being pushed. Pushing these beliefs to the point of trying to convince people to change their lives is counterproductive to Judaism as a larger culture and serves to alienate the very people these outreach workers are hoping to inspire.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for that very good post, Rebecca! Another tactic I've noticed kiruv uses is "dumbing down." Meor, for instance, stakes out Ivy League & top 100 colleges. While they might not be able to get those kids to drop out of school, they can persuade students to take easier classes in order to remain in school. Kiruv Judaism, like all cults, takes up a tremendous amount of time that might otherwise be spent studying.

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