Saturday, September 28, 2013

Turning Parents and Children Against Each Other is Unacceptable

     I'm one of several moderators on the Off the Derech Facebook page for people who have left orthodox Judaism. This past Friday, one of our members, Deb Tambor, committed suicide. She was 33 and had left the orthodox community.
     What many don't know is that when you leave orthodox Judaism for the secular world, and you fight for custody of your kids, you don't always win. The ultra-orthodox community turns against you for leaving and then turns your children against you. That's what happened to Deb. The pain and abuse that she suffered at the hands of the community was too great for her to bear and ultimately drove her to suicide. My heart goes out to the friends and family of Deb Tambor. Nobody should ever be put through the hell that she endured. Abandoning Eden, fellow blogger and friend, writes:
Deb was a lovely woman who often posted encouraging words to others struggling with leaving the orthodox jewish religion, and posted about her own struggles. The last time I heard from her was when she was congratulating me for having a child.  And I got to know some details of her life over the years.  How she had several children with an orthodox jewish spouse whom she divorced. How her own father testified against her in the child custody case because she was no longer religious, and she lost custody of her children. How her children were told negative things about her because she was no longer religious, and how they began to treat her with the same disdain shown towards her by her former chassidic community. 
     I know that many will claim that this was an isolated incident. Except that the only thing isolated about this is the fact that it ended in suicide. Women who want to leave ultra-orthodox Jewish communities are often held hostage by motherhood. Being denied access to your children, or having to fight to retain custody is a powerful deterrent to leaving. I know several women on the many forums in which I post, who have been through, or are currently dealing with similar situations. These are good people who want nothing more than to be good parents but without being chained to a community in which they don't wish to belong.
     There is nothing Jewish about turning children against their parents, whether it exists in kiruv circles or in off the derech (off the path of orthodoxy) circles. This extremist madness has got to stop.

UPDATE: I was given permission to repost this Facebook status update from Chaim Levin, who waited to attend Deb Tambor's funeral:

Status Update
By Chaim Levin
We waited all day, we waited most of the night, we said we would wait until whenever it takes, until we can see our friend Deb Tambor off to her final "resting place."

I echo the sentiments of many of my peers tonight who feel distraught and heartbroken after standing for over 10 hours in front of a funeral home in middle of New Square waiting and hoping that someone who knew more than we did would tell us when Deb's funeral would be. The rumors were spreading like wildfire, it was almost as if the locals were having a fun time pulling up to us in their cars and asking us "So, when's the funeral?" And then pulling away with smirks on their faces. We were their exhibit, their game for today, their "action" as many of them so aptly described us foreigners invading their land because we just wanted to see our friend off on her final journey.

Even though most of us ended up leaving before her actual funeral, even and missed her actual burial that of all times took place at 4 o'clock in the morning after we left, I'm proud to have been part of a group that stood proudly and relentlessly albeit right outside the room where Deb's body was being kept until her funeral because that was our way of connecting with her and her final journey.

Some have dared accuse us as people simply turning this into a "media spectacle", charging that Deb's tragic death is becoming politicized in a way that they claim is unfair to her memory. I see this as just another excuse to feed into the horrendous silence that led to someone as kind hearted as Deb to feel like she was too much of a burden on the world, that she wasn't worthy of living anymore. By not acknowledging these tragic events we are doing injustice to her memory and to her legacy, Deb Tambor didn't have to die but the people who were supposed to love her unconditionally turned against her because she chose a different life for herself.

What Deb Endured as a result of those circumstances are enough to drive anyone over the edge; no one's perfect and almost all of us know someone who struggles with depression, and if you didn't until now and are reading this, hi, I'm one of those people; it doesn't make us handicapped, unable to raise children, or live normal lives like so many others do, it just makes us human. The way we support one another is by reaching out and not isolating or judging other people because their struggle is something we haven't experienced or personally understand.

Deb was the epitome of a modest person and never wanted to burden anyone with her own feelings but she was human just like all of us. Whoever dare blame her for her death and refer to her as a perpetrator because of the people she left behind should forever bite their tongues because they obviously don't understand the virtue of empathy and have not walked even one step in her shoes. Deb was first destroyed emotionally and then she was blamed for her death that was brought on by this torment that she had to endure.

I hope that for Deb's sake we'll spend less time arguing over whether we should or shouldn't be talking about this and remember that tonight was a turning point in history. #AfterDeb will always be remember as the time that so many of us stood up as a community with love and acceptance for one another because of what we believed in. #AfterDeb we must come together and do everything in our power to make sure that children will never be ripped away from the arms of their parents by evil forces who value control over what's best for the people involved.
Update to the Update: The burial didn't actually happen at 4AM and is currently going on, as per information from another source, seen at 1:04PM, Monday, 9/30/2013.
Failed Messiah states that
Deb Tambor was allegedly sexually abused by a family member before she left New Square. I'm told that when she told the Sqvere rebbe about the sexual abuse he accused her of lying and was exceedingly mean to her.
Sqvere leadership treated her horribly, allegedly heaping money and support on her ex-husband and demonizing Deb, all in order to make sure she did not get custody of or normal visitation with her children.
Sqvere won that fight, but the demonization of Deb did not stop. Instead, Sqvere rabbis and teachers worked to alienate her children from their mother.

Read Failed Messiah's full post on Deb Tambor here.
Update to the Update to the Update: Read Shulem Deen's "In Death of Ex-Hasid Estranged From Her Religious Children, a Mirror for Trauma of Many: A father reflects on his own efforts to stay close to his children after deciding to live a secular life" in Tablet. This is a very important piece. 
Read this: Ex-Hasidic Woman's Apparent Suicide Sparks Funeral Chaos With Skver Leaders: Deb Tambor Buried Away From New Square Amid Controversy
Haaretz: Writer Allison Kaplan Sommer quotes me in "Routine Emergencies, Online pain and outrage follows ex-Hasidic woman’s suicide."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Individual Truths Revealed Through Satire

     Back in 2010, orthodox blogger Heshy Fried wrote a post entitled "The Top 10 Kiruv Indoctrination Practices" on his blog, "Frum Satire." (For those unfamiliar, Frum Satire is a blog in which Heshy writes about orthodoxy and issues important to orthodox Jews using satire.) This is what Merriam-Webster has to say about satire:


noun \ˈsa-ˌtī(-ə)r\ : a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

     In my opinion, it's very telling when someone within the orthodox world comes forward and calls  acts of kiruv "indoctrination practices" and refers to those who've become orthodox as having "drank the Kool-Aid." According to Heshy, the top ten kiruv indoctrination practices are as follows: Shabbos Meals, Gematria (which A. Nuran explains in the comments section as "superstitious numerological nonsense which allows you to “prove” any damned thing you want by assigning values to letters and letting the Law of Large Numbers lead you astray. Search through a big enough text with it and you can find any message you want including “No matter how you slice it it’s still baloney,”) Motivational Speakers, Frum Theologians or Scientists, Former Ministers, Beginner's Minyanim, Pay You, Free Trips, Books Written by Famous People Who Became Frum, and The Internet. Under each heading, Heshy gives about a paragraph of explanation. For example:
Pay you: I never thought the day would come when I could get paid to attend services or come to a class, but on college campuses this is starting to become the norm for non-Chabad Rabbis to do. They tell you that if you come to class every week they will give you $500 or a “free” scuba diving trip (another chance for kiruv indoctrination.) I have also heard of rabbis paying people to attend services, or put on tefillin every day.
While I agree with all of those he's listed (and several that didn't make the cut,) the best part of his article was--you guessed it--the comments. But before I go there, I want to mention again that Heshy Fried is an orthodox blogger pointing out some of the issues in orthodox society. I've been reading his blog for years, I've had the pleasure of sharing in several email exchanges with him, and I find him to be refreshingly down to earth. When Heshy puts up a post, we accept that he's showing us the world through his eyes. The comments that come up usually run the gamut from pure hatred of his blog posts to agreement with his sentiment, to further explanation by those who have had direct experiences with the subject of the specific post. About two weeks ago, I received an email from someone who accused me, based on reading my blog,  of hating religious people and harboring great hatred towards the religious community. Unfortunately, as I've stated in other posts, it's been my experience that many in the orthodox world, both publicly and privately, label people who disagree with them or find fault within the orthodox world as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. My response to the email was simple:
I believe you're mistaken. Critical analysis of the practices of certain factions of a larger group does not translate to "anger" or "hatred."
What needs to exist is a safe space to offer criticism of groups that we either are, or were, a part of, in order to offer our knowledge and opinions of these subjects--in this case--Jewish outreach--so that they can be found by others who are searching for other perspectives. Heshy's post on kiruv practices gave way to a safe space for open debate and shared conversation. I'm posting some of the comments here for further discussion. I also want to point out that only in the interest of clarity have I corrected some of the spelling and grammar, but otherwise, the comments are as they exist on the original post.

Gevaldigger June 28, 2010, 6:51 PM Kiruv in the college scene has turned into a real business (non-profit of course). You must see these Yentes shout out on the campuses, wow; “Are you Jewish?” “Oh, you look Jewish, come to my house for shabbos”"Come on, I know you’re Jewish!”
It’s a real bizayon to find out they keep elaborate databases of all the students they’re involved with. There’s a whole group of students that are fighting the college campus kiruv movements; especially frum students, since they make it a point to shoo the frummies away since they aren’t cool enough apparently.
I laughed when I saw my friend’s picture on the pamphlet for one of the trips. She’s not frum at all, she just loves to party and gets paid to promote the program....
 I’m really glad you’re exposing this in a positive light, since as much fun as being frum is (ok, just a teensy bit of sarcasm there), we really don’t need members of our community going out selling orthodox judaism as as a bunch of cheap thrills and free trips.
Something I give credit to Rabbi Rabbs (ok buddy, don’t get ahead of yourself, I didn’t say I agree with everything you say) [ha'omer bshem omro meyveee.......]:
If you’re worried that the Jewish nation will disappear, you lack emunas hashem. Clear and Simple, God made a promise. Our nation will not disappear.
So it’s really time for these college campus movements to stop selling OUR Judaism short. No more motorcycle riders, no more ex-priests. How about for once they bring in a few greasy shucklers from Philly or Mir and let ‘em all know about the Gishmake Thurs night cholent instead of the Kegs sponsored by unknowing donors. 
Devorah June 29, 2010, 11:20 AM What a great post! Soo true. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments section also.… I’m glad to see that others feel the same way about the tactics of some of these organizations as I do…it really is an obscene amount of marketing, with slick, well-spoken rabbi’s (in both Aish and Chabad), glossy websites, and giving away freebies like they’re going out of style (why don’t they divert all these funds to improve their own schools, and get genuine, truly learned, nurturing teachers, who actually know what they’re doing, and smaller class sizes? Then maybe so many kids wouldn’t go OTD).
What pisses me off is the way these movements target people in vulnerable situations, such as college students who are on their own for the first time in the big, wide world, away from their families, prisoners, sick people, new immigrants (including olim).
I also think it sucks when kiruv organizations shoo frum people away from their cool programs, (despite the fact that they advertise them publicly), as if it can destroy their marketing ploy. In Jerusalem, I needed a Shabbat meal, and I heard that a Chabad Rabbi in the old city had big ones going. I got told that no, i couldn’t come, I was too religious, and I’d be taking up a potential spot of a non religious person who could show up at the last minute. This sort of attitude definitely goes against what Chabad kids are taught from the cradle: “God may have put you on earth for 70 or 80 years just so you can do a favor for someone else.”
The best way to attract people to Torah and Mitzvot, is to just be kind to people. That’s it .... You are doing a Jew a favor because he needs it, not because you hope to make him frum.  
effetexas June 28, 2010, 8:01 PM I have to admit I was drawn to Yiddishkeit through Shabbos meals and beginners' minyans. My frustration was after they pull you in they expect you to : 1 put on a black hat (I like my medium sized knitted kippah, thanks.) (2) move to NY , Baltimore, or Chicago.... (3) this is Chabad-centric but, wear a gartel when davening and hang on every “Rebbe released from jail ” story like it's gospel. If you don't do these things you're a lost cause apikorus or worse—Modern Orthodox!! gevalt……shanda….. gevalt!'
Drew Mazanec June 28, 2010, 8:09 PM What got me was the Shabbos meal and the local Jewish Learning Center, where Haredi kiruvites give free classes, where you get invited for Shabbos meals, until you realize you’re spending every Saturday with the frum community because you are getting more meal invites than you can take, from people who seem so nice! After a few months, I moved into the community (cuz where else do you know absolutely everybody who lives within a half mile radius?) and a few months later it dawned on me.
It dawned on me like it dawned on Nebuchadnezzar. Remember him from Daniel? He went mad for a while, eating wild grass, being driven from men, until his hair grew wild like eagles’ feathers and his fingernails like talons? Imagine how he must have felt when his mind returned to him, looking at his ragged condition asking “What the hell just happened?”
Yeah, that’s how I felt. “Holy crap. I’m frum.” Yet I did not go off the derech at that point. I was too connected to the community. It took a move to a different city to successfully break off from frumkeit. Escaped by the skin of my teeth. If I had been successfully shidduch’d, I’d have been sealed inside.
Anonymous June 28, 2010, 9:25 PM I’ve seen all of these, except the former ministers; none of them really got me hooked. But when the Chabad rabbi on my college campus showed up at the AEPi house (where I was living) to help the brothers build a sukkah, I could have guzzled a gallon of koolaide. Sure, it took some false starts before I became fully shomer mitzvos, but you shouldnt think kiruv is a small-minded effort, with standard tactics and no creativity.

Guest June 29, 2010, 2:23 PM Those that were healthy and balanced going in, can easily maintain/reacquire their sense of normalcy, after the fact, as long as they don’t buy into this notion that now they are frum, they have to forget about all that introductory fluff, and realize that Judaism is about conformity, restricting freedoms, and maximizing self-denial. That approach may have worked for people in the 16th century, but is not sustainable for many of us now. Or desirable.

Esther July 1, 2010, 3:48 PM As a new immigrant at the age of 14, I ended up in an Orthodox yeshiva designed to turn ignorant Russian Jews like myself into good Orthodox ones… I recall shabbos meals, staying over at religious people’s homes so they can school us, sitting through a never ending Pesach seder with nobody explaining anything and our English being severely inadequate at the time… I don’t recall anyone offering to pay though. That could have sealed the deal. As it was, my mom pulled, nay, yanked me out of there and placed me in a public school as soon as she noticed that I had been in an all female setting so long and I had no idea what to do around boys. Thankfully, all that’s changed now. At this point, I wouldn’t know what do without them.
     There are many opinions about orthodox kiruv practices. And many of these opinions may be viewed as negative. However, when you have people within the orthodox community who find that these practices are problematic, I have to wonder why Big (and little) Kiruv isn't taking a closer look in the mirror. Where is their faith? Commenter Gevaldigger makes a great point and maybe those involved in deceptive kiruv need to listen harder: "If you’re worried that the Jewish nation will disappear, you lack emunas Hashem [faith in God.] Clear and Simple, God made a promise. Our nation will not disappear."

All quotes, including comments are from:
Fried, Heshy. "Top 10 Kiruv Indoctrination Practices." Frum Satire. 6/28/2010.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Project Inspire's Yom Kippur Make Them Orthodox Fundraiser!

     This afternoon, the following Yom Kippur fundraising appeal from Project Inspire graced my inbox. I've taken the liberty of highlighting a few noteworthy phrases.
PI_YK13_email_header 2
Dear Friends,

During these days of Tishrei . . . you and I joyously proclaim and coronate Hashem as King of the entire world . . . but 90% of the Jewish people have no idea what that means. Please join Project Inspire’s unique mission of thousands of committed Jews bringing back our 5 million swiftly vanishing brothers and sisters to Avinu Shebashamayim.

With your help, Project Inspire will reach out to the masses of our brothers and sisters. PLEASE CLICK ON THE AMOUNTS BELOW TO DONATE:

  • $54      One on One Learning – enables a frum person to learn
                 b’chavrusa with a secular Jew

  • $250   Series of Inspiration - after work networking event with dinner
                 and Torah speaker

  • $500   Shabbat Retreat – connect hundreds of less-affiliated Jews with
                 frum families and communities

  • $1,000 J-Inspire Life Changing Trips to Israelsend hundreds of
                 secular women to Israel with our trained and motivated lay frum
With your support . . .
  •  Hundreds of not yet observant women will go on a life-changing 10 day trip to Israel accompanied by (anything but) ordinary frum women who through J-Inspire recruit and take responsibility to follow up with the women so that they in turn may influence their entire families to increased Jewish commitment.
  • Our Community Kiruv Shabbatons in frum neighborhoods will host a thousand-plus marginally affiliated students, singles and families for an unforgettable Shabbos.
  • Project Inspire’s “already observant” population will experience the joy, inspiration and z’chus of reaching out to the Almighty’s children AND THEREBY strengthen themselves, their families and often at-risk teens and adults that they know . . . or what’s known as Chizuk and Kiruv Kerovim.
  • Hundreds of less observant Jews will be matched to study Torah one on one with Project Inspire participants.
  • Monthly Evenings of Inspiration in Manhattan restaurants and offices host 50 professionals, less connected Jews invited by Project Inspire participants, to connect with each other and learn about Judaism
  • Thousands of less connected Jews will receive Holiday gifts and inspiring cards from frum neighbors, co-workers and relatives to connect them to Judaism and Jews.
When we stand before Hashem, let us declare that we have done all that we could to connect our fellow Jews to the Melech al kol ha-aretz.  May our Kiruv actions hasten the Bias HaMoshiach, bimheira vyameinu.  Thank you for your contribution to Project Inspire.

Best wishes for a Gmar Chasimah Tovah,

Rabbi Chaim Sampson                                                        
Director, Project Inspire                                       

Rabbi Mordechai Tropp
Executive Liaison

P.S. To donate by mail, please mail your check to Project Inspire 5774 Campaign at the address below.

    Before I get to the more serious part of this post, I'd like to thank Project Inspire for taking the time to try to keep us non-orthodox Jews from vanishing. *Poof* I hate when that happens. Unfortunately, Project Inspire's methodology in keeping Jews from disappearing en masse, is to make them all orthodox.
     Once again, understand the problems inherent in Project Inspire's message to its supporters, and bear in mind that Project Inspire is affiliated with Aish International (Aish HaTorah,) a major outreach organization. There is a huge lack of respect for non-orthodox Jews, evidenced by the very words they use to describe those who are not orthodox: "less connected Jews," "less observant Jews,""marginally affiliated,""less affiliated," and my personal favorite, "not yet observant." Project Inspire is making gross assumptions about other Jews,  all the while convincing their orthodox supporters, or as they call them the "already orthodox population," that non-orthodox Jews are somehow inferior, non-practicing, lacking in knowledge, spirituality, and/or a connection to the Jewish community. Project Inspire also believes, based on their wording, that it is their responsibility to change those they meet.
     Project Inspire doesn't try to hide that their goal is to churn out newly orthodox Jews. The use of the phrase "not yet observant" makes this exceedingly clear. Not yet implies that something hasn't happened by the present time, but it is expected to happen at some point in the future. While that should be obvious, it still should be considered closely. Further proof of this is in Project Inspire's  use of the term "already orthodox," implying that this orthodoxy has happened to a certain portion of the population by the current time.
     Of the kiruv rabbis and former kiruv rabbis I've encountered, and from blogs, comments, and opinion pieces I've read, it seems that a lot of people in kiruv are quick to deny that their goal is to make anyone orthodox. And yet, Project Inspire, which bills itself as "A Program of Aish International" and has a copyright, is very open about trying to make non-orthodox people frum--at least when it comes to attempting to attract donors for  their fundraiser. But I wonder, are they this honest about their intentions when meeting with the "not yet observant?"