Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Keeping it Hidden

Kiruv'd? Hide your BT status!
     Once upon a time, when I decided to uproot my secular life and become a ba'al teshuva (newly religious Jew,) I was strongly advised by an orthodox woman (who had been, decades before, a BT--ba'al teshuva,) that I should never, ever tell anyone that I was not always religious. "Tell them you're from out of town," she advised. "But don't tell them you're a BT." Of course, in my naivete, I privately laughed at this advice. I'm proud of my background, I thought to myself. I have no regrets, I'm not ashamed of anything I've done.
     Fast forward to the present time. I was researching material on the topic of what happens after kiruv workers convince the non-orthodox to take on an ultra-orthodox lifestyle. (Again, I'm talking about ultra-orthodoxy--meaning any orthodoxy that is past modern orthodoxy in observance and stringency.) I found a lot of interesting material on what those who become orthodox can expect, and much of what they can expect is kept well-hidden from new inductees during the process of becoming frum (religious.) I've included links to some pretty interesting articles, each highlighting different aspects of post-outreach ultra-orthodoxy. From how children of BTs are treated, to how FFB's [frum from birth--those who were born orthodox to orthodox parents] really feel about interacting with BTs, to the stresses of an orthodox lifestyle, to how communities enmeshed in kiruv-work are forgetting about their own community members, I've tried to create a montage of perspectives on what often happens once a person commits to an ultra-orthodox lifestyle. I hope that you'll take the time to click on the included links, and read the articles and the comments for greater insight.
     Rabbi Yakov Horowitz reprinted Catriel Sugarman's article from The Jewish Voice and Opinion, entitled "The Yeshiva World and the Children of Baalei Teshuva: The Ugly Secret," sparking a huge number of comments. Sugarman makes the interesting point that while the newly religious may think they have been fully accepted into a community, they very often find that once they have children, their kids face discrimination in school, social settings, and even later on, when it comes to getting married. Often such innocent-sounding questions on school applications for incoming students asking about the family's history, require the checking off of the box next to the term "ba'al teshuva," and for how long. These students are often treated as social pariahs, snubbed by both teachers and fellow students, regardless of how long the parents have studied Judaism in formal settings. Rare is it that the child of BTs is treated well, the article mentions, although there are exceptions, for instance, if the family is very wealthy and can contribute substantially to the school. The article provides accounts of bullying suffered by children, due only to their BT status in the community. What kiruv professionals failed to tell the parents they brought into orthodoxy was that despite teaching that a BT is considered higher up for having left the secular world and taken on the obligations of the orthodox world, BTs in the orthodox world are often treated poorly and have extremely low status.
     Sugarman's article isn't the only place that you can read about the plight of those who get past kiruv and become orthodox. A 2005 article on the Jewish Worker blog entitled "A Baal Teshuva's Fate in the Haredi World" discusses an explanation made by a woman married to the son of a ba'al teshuva. The problem, which is expressed in various articles around the internet, is that because BTs retain contact with their non-orthodox family and friends, they put the frum [orthodox] community at risk of being influenced towards a secular lifestyle, thus justifying the exclusion and alienation of the very people they worked so hard to make frum. She stated that a relative in education explained the low status and discrimination faced by BTs and their children this way:
He said that many Baalei Teshuva stay in contact with their non-religious families. Therefore they are a tremendous danger to everyone else. After all, the friends may actually see a non-religious person in the house etc.... Therefore she concluded, that it is better to hurt individual baalei teshuva then to put the whole community at harm.1

     "Humpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall," an article on Beyond BT, takes us on the journey of a person from pre-outreach to kiruv to BT to  leaving orthodoxy. The writer, whose byline is Little Frumhouse on the Prairie, vividly paints the picture of orthodox life as a BT wife and mother. She shows us how frum life can be frenzied, hectic, and both financially and mentally stressful, and can easily lead to a person leaving that lifestyle, even if the person was raised in a stable, non-orthodox environment.
     Finally, in
"Chabad Fails Its Own Long Term Members, Chabadnik Says" an article found on Failed Messiah by guest writer Chabad Spring, the writer wants to "Turn Chabad Upside [down] and focus on in reach",[sic.] Chabad Spring urges his own Chabad community to curtail funding to outreach/kiruv efforts to non-religious Jews and to help their own community to maintain a decent standard of living. He talks about the extreme poverty that community members face due to the high cost of raising large families and sending them on to expensive yeshivahs. Instead, the writer points out that their own community's costs could be offset with funding that is put towards bringing more and more non-orthodox Jews to this lifestyle (including the costs of helping those on shlichos, or outreach missions--such as the families of college campus rabbis, those families running Chabad Houses in foreign cities, small towns, etc.) Chabad Spring writes:

Reality is, and it’s no secret, almost all our resources are going towards fishing for new Jews to join into our system, and making more frie[secular] people frum[orthodox].  We have Friendship circles, holocaust survivor circles, release time, youth programs for college kids, youth programs for kids who come to Chabad house, Camp Lemaan Achy,   Camps for yalday hashluchim [the children of Chabad's outreach workers],  you name it if you are not yet Frum = Chabad has something for you. Every sheliach [Chabad missionary] out there is doing his best to be mekarev yidden [get non-orthodox Jews to become orthodox], yet the fact of the matter is that there is none or little programming funds, resources, or attention paid to us, who are actually living the Chabad Working  lifestyle.[sic]2 

      In conversations on social media, I have been accused of trying to keep people from becoming orthodox. Rather than keeping people from orthodoxy, I think that most rational people understand that in making important life choices, it is beneficial to be presented with all information on these choices. That includes even the information that may be viewed as negative. Some may see this blog as providing that negative information, and question why I don't give the other side of the story. Well, that's where all of the outreach workers and their organizations come in. I am filling in the other side of the story, the side that you have to scour the internet for because those in kiruv would rather this side of the story remain hidden.

1. Bluke. A Baal Teshuva's Fate in the Charedi World. The Jewish Worker. 9/17/2005. Accessed 7/24/2013.
2. Chabad Spring. "Turn Chabad Upside and focus on in reach." hosted on Failed Messiah. 7/24/2012. Accessed 7/24/2013.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Messiah Complex

     The first time I read "The Catcher in the Rye," I was probably about 16, and taking a high school literature class called "Psych. Lit." Several years later I had the opportunity to teach it as part of the curriculum at the high school where I was teaching. If there was one major point that never failed to make me think, it was that of Holden's Messiah complex--the inherent need to save and protect others (sometimes at the risk of one's own livelihood, happiness, success, etc.)--which comes out many times during the course of the novel. defines the Messiah complex as "a complex in which sufferers have a desire to redeem and save others, some sufferers have harboured[sic] the delusion of being a saviour[sic] of people."1

     One of the many problems with ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach is the existence of this savior complex. Among individuals it may seem mild and innocuous, but on a grand scale it does exist, and I believe that it forms the basis for kiruv in the first place. A few posts ago, I wrote about the Emergency Soul Saving In Progress, in which I quoted from Project Inspire's video, "Rescue Mission, The Time Is Now." In the video, a huge point is made about how it's time to save the non-orthodox Jews from secularism. He stated that "when klal yisroel [the Jewish people] is in danger in a big way, when HaKodesh Baruch-hu's (God) children are in danger with millions of nefeshes getting lost, we need to have that same kind of outcry.... We need to help save the Jewish people."2 In this case, each person is important to bring Jews back to the fold, to save them.
     I recently read another piece written by Aliza Bulow, a convert to Judaism who has been doing kiruv for decades. In her article, she reflects on her very first time as a "Partner in Torah," in which she helped another woman learn about Judaism. When Bulow's young children asked her about her volunteer work she tried to explain that the woman she was working with wasn't "lucky" enough to grow up in an orthodox household and never learned about this type of Judaism. Bulow's children, not understanding how this was possible, responded by asking if the woman had been kidnapped when she was little. Aliza Bulow explains in her article that "she was kidnapped by pogroms that sent her family to America, by a harsh reality on these shores that was not conducive to mitzvah [commandment] observance, by public schools whose goal was to assimilated [sic] all within it’s[sic] walls, by uneducated grandparents and disconnected parents. Her neshama, [soul] and the neshamas of thousands like her, was kidnapped and held hostage, for generations, with the only ransom being Torah knowledge and the only one who can pay it being a Jew who cares enough to take the time."3 To make the connection that not being raised orthodox is like being kidnapped from Judaism upbringing is a pretty big stretch. We, the readers, should walk away with the understanding that thanks to Bulow's efforts as a rescuer of kidnapped souls, another Jewish victim of assimilation is being saved. The woman she's teaching is now regarded as having victim status. But if Bulow is the savior, and her Partner in Torah is the rescued victim, then who are the culprits? In Bulow's narrative, the parents and the grandparents are to blame, as is the public school, whose role, she believes, is to assimilate everyone. (Rather, it's to give kids a balanced education, something too often lacking in the ultra-orthodox world.)  Mrs. Bulow, a career kiruv worker who loves her job states that:

Not only do I get to do kiruv, but I get to help others do kiruv as well. Sometimes I feel like a honey bee, flying right into the heart of a city’s kiruv flower, gathering the nectar of good ideas and getting covered by the pollen of excitement and dedication so prevalent among those devoted to Klal Yisroel, then I fly to another city and pollinate: spreading enthusiasm, sharing inspiration and strengthening spirits. 
I work for Ner LeElef, a Jewish leadership training organization based in Israel, with branches throughout the world.
It’s[sic] goal is to generate growth and vibrancy in the Jewish people by cultivating strong leaders who can effectively develop and guide Jewish communities. In addition to training rabbis and their wives, and sending them out “into the field”, Ner LeElef seeks to ensure success by offering follow up care to it’s[sic] graduates as well as to other kiruv professionals.4
Aliza Bulow is sort of like a superhero-fairy, spreading good kiruv vibes to other kiruv workers, saving kidnapped souls, and attempting to influence non-orthodox Jews to take on an orthodox lifestyle. (Notice that her organization's goal is to "generate growth and vibrancy in the Jewish people by cultivating strong leaders who can effectively develop and guide Jewish communities." This is a diplomatic way of saying that they're training kiruv workers to come into your community in an effort to transform the community from secular to orthodox.) Is this outreach work even necessary? It really depends on your perspective.
  Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, a man with a very interesting history, wrote that doing kiruv is important because it will bring Moshiach [the Jewish messiah] and because it will get you a place in "the world to come." He explains that:
Even if he is ready, the Moshiach [Messiah] cannot come unless we repent. The Gemara (Sanhedrin, 67) discusses this in detail, and the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva, 7:5) records it as follows: “Every single one of the prophets commanded repentance. Israel will never be redeemed without repentance. The Torah promises that ultimately Israel will repent at the end of their exile, and immediately they will be redeemed…
This means that the only requirement for the coming of the Moshiach and the redemption is repentance. We have to repent. And what about our brothers…B’nai Yisroel [the children of Israel/the Jews] who are far away from fulfilling the commandments? They have to repent, too! And we have to help them come close to repentance.

There is something wonderful in the book Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon, Chapter 4): “A person’s good deeds alone do not make him suitable for the reward of the World to Come. G-d considers him suitable only because of two other things that he must also do: one, that he should teach others about the service of G-d and guide them in doing good…
This concept is awe-inspiring. If a person does not “teach others about the service of G-d and guide them in doing good,” then he will not be worthy of the World to Come… Everybody who is involved in Torah needs to know this…especially today, when we are in such a dreadful situation. The only solution is for Moshiach to come, and Moshiach will only come if Am Yisroel [all of Israel] repent. That means everybody! Every member of Yisroel must come back in repentance.
We repent as individuals, but it does not seem to bother us that there are thousands of Jews who are far from Torah and the commandments. We do not even think about them. May the Heavens have mercy, we are not worthy of redemption. Every avreich [newly married and/or yeshiva student] who is occupied with Torah must help bring the unobservant back to G-d.
A leading Rav has determined that everyone is required to give a tithe of their time to helping others, which would amount to approximately one evening a week. Just once a week! Go to some place where non-observant Jews live and help them come close to Torah and the commandments.5
Rabbi Wolbe stresses that one's final redemption in the "World to Come" rests on one's responsibility to bring other Jews back to Judaism so that all of the Jews can repent and the messiah can come. His approach is to instill fear into his followers. If they want to ultimately get into heaven, they must fulfill this mission of bringing the non-orthodox to orthodoxy. Whether or not Wolbe wants to be the big savior isn't even an issue. His concern is all about getting the messiah to show up and, dammit, if that requires the saving of some souls, that's what needs to be done.
     The underlying problem with Project Inspire's video, Aliza Bulow's articles, and Rabbi Wolbe's writing is that they are all being incredibly self-righteous and selfish. They are pushing their personal agenda without regard (and in many cases, without respect,) for those who will be personally affected. Their work is for their benefit and what they think will benefit all Jews. But not all Jews are alike or support their efforts, or even want to be orthodox. Rabbi Wolbe wants to save all of the Jews by making them orthodox and bringing Moshiach. Project Inspire wants to save all of the lost souls. Aliza Bulow wants to rescue those who were "kidnapped." Holden Caulfield in "The Catcher in the Rye" also wants to save people--children, to be exact. But he's a kid, and can barely keep his own head above water. The difference is that Holden, despite being a fictional character, is sitting on a couch in a therapist's office. He'll probably be able to work through this Messiah complex. The others? I'm not so sure.

1. "What is Messiah Complex?" Psychology Dictionary. accessed 7/18/2013.
2.  qtd. from Project Inspire. "Rescue Mission--The Time is Now."
3. Bulow, Aliza. "My First Partner in Torah." A Bite of February 15, 2008.
4. Bulow, Aliza. "Honey Bee Kiruv." Horizon Magazine. A Bite of 2007.
5. Wolbe, Rav Shlomo. "Rav Wolbe Zt”l’s Vision." July 23, 2012.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Increase in College Campus Outreach Planned

(Photo Credit: Bentzi Sasson for
  (This is hopefully a glitch-free version of the previously posted piece.)
     The last weekend of this past June 2013, "more than 800 men, women and children gathered . . .  at the Sheraton Hotel in Parsippany, N.J., for the
on Campus International Shluchim Conference, an annual event for the families who run Chabad Houses on university and college campuses around the world." This event was set up in order to exchange ideas, knowledge, and provide support, structure, and programming for the Chabad Houses on college campuses. Currently, there are over 191 Chabad campus centers, and, according to Sara Esther Crispe's article, Chabad is preparing to increase their campus outreach by 20%, in order to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. In a country with thousands of colleges, (see recent statistics here) one might be inclined to think that 191 campuses worldwide shouldn't concern anyone. But if you consider that there are other Jewish outreach groups making their homes on and around college campuses, it's something to think about. And to bring it all home, Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Executive Vice President of Chabad on Campus "shared some astounding statistics highlighting the impact that Chabad has on campuses throughout the world. He explained that any given week there are 12,000 students learning Torah, 9,000 attending Friday night Shabbat dinners, and 81,000 active relationships currently being nurtured."

    At this conference "participants were introduced to new initiatives and support in areas like Torah-study classes and event programming, in addition to marketing, branding and fundraising." Notice the use of the word "marketing." These are their words, not mine. While many in the orthodox world of kiruv may not want to admit that what they are doing is marketing Judaism, this article, written for a Chabad news organization by a well-known writer in the Chabad online community, implies that support in these areas (marketing, branding, and fundraising) are important in coordinating outreach efforts to college students on campuses. It is further stated that "immediately following the conference, Chabad on Campus International Foundation launched right into action holding two full day seminars dedicated to fundraising and marketing techniques with an expert in the field." While I understand that many regular readers of this blog will say "yes, we already know that marketing is taking place," I want to point out that when I use the word "marketing," it's not just me editorializing--it is readily admitted by some organizations, in this case, Chabad.
     Whether or not this article was meant for my eyes, or the eyes of people possibly on the receiving end of Jewish outreach, it is important to note that the friendly Chabad family on campus is not just a random orthodox family who is nice enough to welcome you to their table for challah, songs, and gefilte fish. They have an agenda and are trained specifically to engage, to teach, to raise funds, and to turn you on to a specific branch of Judaism. They attend yearly conferences and courses, and maintain an extensive network with each other in order to offer support when needed. Campus kiruv is not just an innocent dinner invitation. As my local traffic and weather station often repeats, "know before you go.

All quotes taken from:
Crispe, Sara Esther. Chabad on Campus Poised for Expansion. July 5, 2013.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jewish Missionaries and a Great Link

     What a thrill to have found that someone was inspired by this blog and went on to write an exceptionally insightful piece about Jewish outreach! Sharon Shapiro of Kol B'Isha Erva, posted about Jewish Missionaries. She reminisces about her own experiences and thoughts as a ba'al teshuvah (person who became religious later in life) and discusses them in terms of Jewish outreach. She is frank and thoughtful, stating that "so many rifts are formed between newly religious young people and their non-religious parents, based on the guidance of kiruv workers," a truth that many in the orthodox world are reluctant to admit. This is just one great point in an article of great points. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and read!
     Read Kol B'Isha Erva's post about Jewish Missionaries here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Innocent Face of Kiruv: A Guest Post

Hi Rebecca,
I can't post this with my name or identifying myself in any way- it has to be anonymous. If that is ok, and you think this could resonate with someone and help them think twice about getting involved- then feel free to guest post it. 
(Name Withheld By Request)

It is more than okay. Thank you for sharing.

"Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few…" 

     She will be young and cute, wearing a denim skirt and an expensive sheitel that will take you a while to figure out is not her real hair.  She will try hard to give off the impression that she is interested in your life- the boyfriends, finals you think you failed, spring break plans.  Actually most of your typical secular American life repulses her.  But she will be non-judgmental, responding with lots of uh huh’s, and then redirecting the conversation to the amazing “coincidences” between whatever you have just told her and the theme of this week's Parsha. 
     Her husband, despite the beard, comes off like a sweet, slightly dorky, regular guy.  He seems friendly and easy-to-talk to, except  that he won’t shake your hand or sit directly next to you.  In another environment, he would have avoided contact with you completely.   But he has been trained to override this for the greater good of not scaring you off.
     They have been selected for their personalities, looks and charisma to slowly retrain you to accept that whatever you believe is important, healthy and normal really isn’t.  They will exploit the normal doubts and vulnerabilities that you have as an opening to get you to doubt yourself entirely.  And open the door to being remolded in their image. They will offer you a Shabbat meal, a trip to Israel, free classes, and little packages of holiday food that will remind you of Hebrew school or summer camp.  One on one “learning” with a partner who will become your friend, mentor, life coach.  An ear to listen and a person to lean on….  Perhaps the promise that “at the right time” they can help you find a nice Jewish boy.
     Behind the easy friendship and “anything goes” attitude is a well-funded organization, with big donors and lots of market research.  You are the target and the goal is total indoctrination. If you fall for it you will be alienating your parents, the friends you have known your whole life- and yourself.    And if you don’t fall for it, you will soon be replaced by another eager college student or lonely single professional.   
"...Don't lend your hand to raise no flag, atop no ship of fools." ~Grateful Dead