Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Spanish Speakers, Be(a)ware!

Partners in Torah wants to know! ?Hablas espanol?

(click to enlarge)

     An email update I received today from Partners in Torah requested that Spanish speaking mentors contact them in order for them to reach Spanish-speaking non-orthodox Jews in South and Central American countries. Partners in Torah is an outreach organization with the goal of teaching orthodox Judaism to their non-orthodox "partners" who are interested in learning about Judaism. While some realize that the organization is teaching orthodoxy, not all who get involved are aware that their goal is to subtly push orthodox Judaism.
     This email mentions that Partners in Torah is partnering with JWRP--the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project, whose mission statement is "to create a movement that brings values back into the world." While the group's original eight women were a mix of orthodox and non-orthodox women, One of the JWRP's major projects is bringing women (specifically women with kids under 18 years old) on TAG (Transform and Grow) retreats to Israel. JWRP's website states:

Our flagship program, T.A.G. (Transform and Grow) Missions to Israel, offers women a special gift: a highly subsidized 9-day action packed trip to Israel. Women travel as a group, grow as a group and continue their journey back to their communities as sisters, having shared an incredible experience together.  They share a common vision of self growth and personal development to reach their potential as Jewish women, wives and mothers. To date JWRP has brought close to 2,000 women from 40 cities and 7 different countries.  In 2013 we plan to bring 1,000 more from around the world. Please note that this trip is primarily designed for women who have children at home under the age of 18.1

Based on this email, it seems that the women Partners in Torah is looking to reach are Spanish speakers who recently returned from a TAG trip to Israel. In what appears to be an effort to push these women towards greater orthodox observance, Partners in Torah is jumping in.
     While many kiruv organizations seem to work independently, they all seem to have a common goal and often unite in order to more thoroughly push their collective agenda. These groups refer people back and forth in order to keep participants on the orthodox track. While this is obvious to the average orthodox person, this is not evident to the unassuming non-orthodox person who has never heard the word "kiruv" and has no reason to believe that any of these organizations are looking to push him/her towards orthodoxy.

1. http://www.jwrp.org/


  1. They're a Jewish missionary group targeting women with kids under 18. What the hell is "self growth," "personal development," and the "potential," they boast about? It's all nebulous, airy fairy, ethereal hogwash. What they're really doing is looking for vulnerable women to recruit into ulta orthodox Judaism. Where is the part about wearing a wig, dressing like 1860, leaving your secular family, going on a restrictive, expensive diet, and turning your back on the world as you "develop?" Groups like this make me sick.

    1. Notice how the Israel trip is "highly subsidized." I've mentioned this in earlier posts--many groups offer highly subsidized trips in order to lure people in who otherwise wouldn't get involved. Who can turn away a free or almost free trip? Of course, the trip isn't free at all. You lose a lot more later on.
      I like that you mentioned the "self growth," "personal development," and the "potential" they talk about. It's sad to think that these groups don't see people for who they are, but instead see them all as potential recruits, and what they can become in terms of orthodox Judaism.

  2. Birthright is free. BTW, "wearing a wig, dressing like 1860, leaving your secular family, going on a restrictive, expensive diet, and turning your back on the world" is not accurate; the wig is optional, you aren't required to leave your secular family (my experience and that of my friends is that more often they leave you); the "restrictive, expensive diet" which you condemn is really no different than the vegan or vegetarian meals I prepare for my non-carnivorous friends and family. And if you don't like the product, don't buy it. If you buy it and later decide it's not for you, you can leave.

    1. (Birthright is free but JWRP, Aish, and various campus outreach groups offer trips with the bulk of the cost offset by donors, however, some of the money is still paid by the traveler.)

      I think that there are as many stories of people becoming religious and their experiences as there are of organizations promoting orthodox lifestyles. I don't discount anyone's experience because I've had so many of my own, and I know that they're all very different. While I do agree with you, aliyah06, having family who became modern orthodox on their own terms (didn't lose family, sleep, jeans, or their own uncovered hair,) I've also had the privilege of meeting people who lost family to ultra-orthodox lifestyles, despite struggling to maintain familial relationships while the still-dazzled BT (ba'al teshuva/newly religious person) was never given adequate instruction on how to still be a mensch despite the changes he/she was personally experiencing. I think that much of this has to do with the age--after all, a huge portion of kiruv is geared towards college students and young professionals, who are still developmentally at a stage where they're still very self-centered. An older BT will be more understanding and accommodating and expect to have to give something in order to maintain the relationship, whether offering to help with food preparation or cost, or even by involving parents and siblings in their personal changes and maintaining communication. Unfortunately, people I know were personally discouraged from keeping healthy family relationships intact while becoming religious, and even in my personal experience, I was urged to not eat at my parents' table because even my kosher food would be rendered treyfe (not kosher) by eating it there. (This is absolutely false but this is what someone told me when I was exploring orthodoxy in college.)
      I also want to point out that again, I completely agree that "if you don't like the product, don't buy it [and] if you buy it and later decide it's not for you, you can leave." that's often easier for a person who discovered orthodoxy later on, or whose spouse is on the same page, or who hasn't invested that much in the orthodox world. Kiruv aimed at college students and young professionals not only tries to get these young people into outreach yeshivas for several weeks to a year or longer, but then works on marrying them off to other newly religious people in the BT pool. Those who aren't done with college don't always finish, and there are many young people who become BTs and end up finding employment within the orthodox community (I am basing this statement on what I've been told from people who were either in this situation personally, or who had family or close friends in this situation, and from articles/interviews I've read over the years.) Once a young person becomes dependent on the community for livelihood, and finds him/herself attached due to marriage, it becomes very difficult to leave, largely due to real and/or imagined peer pressure.
      An interesting comment was left this morning on this post http://stopkiruvnow.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-response-to-criticism.html from a person who works/has worked in kiruv, and briefly talks about two different types of Jewish outreach and is worth reading.

  3. Aliyah06, why aren't BT's told the very points you mentioned as they're being recruited? Why not tell them that joining an ultra orthodox judaism will probably result in dividing their family, and that friends and parents will generally leave their life unless it happens the other way around? Don't you think a recruit is entitled to that information? Dividing families seems like a pretty big point to not mention, especially when a good part of the kiruv line is about creating Jewish families. I've got news for you, those kids are already in Jewish families. The lack of consideration and deliberate undermining of healthy relationships is more than appaling. It's immoral.


Your respectful comments are welcome.