Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rebellion, Zumba, and A Funny Outreach Speech

     There's a lot to write about today on many subjects. So, we'll start at the beginning. So, here we go. Thank you to all who have read and contacted me about "Total Immersion," a short story I wrote that was published on JewishFiction.net. Thank you for your comments, both positive and negative. I've been writing fiction for over twenty years and only within the past few years have I actually pursued publication. If you checked out the story, stay a few minutes over there and look at Jewish Fiction's incredible editorial board. I'm thrilled that my story was selected for this issue. (They've also published work by Elie Wiesel. So I feel very honored.)

     I just had the pleasure of reading Pop Chasid's blog post "It's a Baal Teshuva's Job to Rebel Against the Orthodox World."I suggest going over there and reading it, but here are some juicy tidbits. Pop Chasid makes the point that once religious,  baal teshuvas (BTs, newly religious people) begin to "realize that a culture does not equal truth."1 He talks about how BTs "come to Judaism with a fresh perspective" and how it is their job as BTs "to turn every part of the world inside out, and that includes the orthdox one."2 (As a former BT, this actually explains why many former BTs who ultimately leave orthodoxy still retain ties to the community in hopes of changing it.)
     Pop Chasid is right--the job of the BT is to offer new views. What becomes problematic is when kiruv workers look to stifle those views and churn out carbon copies of themselves, instead of giving BTs permission to keep the things that make them unique. Permission, you ask? Yes. I've read complaints from BTs about feeling pressured to give up activities that they love because the rabbis who led them to orthodoxy come from communities who eschew these things. Currently, the new thing to ban is zumba.
In the document issued by the Rabbinical Court of the Ashkenazi Community in Beitar [Israel] and headlined "warning," women are explicitly forbidden from running or taking Zumba classes, deemed indecent because they involve moving parts of the body.
"Recently our city has seen the opening of classes employing the South American 'Zumba' method,” it reads. “After having established that both in form and manner, the activity is entirely at odds with both the ways of the Torah and the holiness of Israel, as are the songs associated to it, I hereby announce that the organization and participation in such classes is forbidden.3

Click to enlarge. Hat tip:VDN
I'm still trying to understand how women dancing with women in an exercise studio and having a great time and a great workout in a non-judgmental atmosphere (yes, I've zumba'd in combat boots, un-coordination and all,) can cause rabbis to enact a ban. I know, I know. You're thinking "how does this impact on the US?" Well, "Brooklyn Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein said that the dance craze can lead Jewish women towards pole dancing and prostitution. He said: “Zumba will become pole, pole will become prostitution and you will lose all of your kids… The whole world is just falling apart.”4 Ironically, pole dancing and zumba are a great way to burn off all of those extra calories from heavy carb-laden foods like kugel and cholent. And what does this have to do with kiruv? An unfortunate by-product of bans and newly enacted religious strictures is that they tend to cause a shift towards the right in the religious community. There are those who support these bans because they believe in them. There are others who go along with them because they don't want to make waves. Community pressure keeps people from disagreeing loudly and publicly. After all, if you want to zumba/wear shorter skirts/not cover your hair with your community's accepted hair covering,  then you may have to suffer the consequences of having your children not accepted by the schools of your choice, losing out on good marriage prospects, etc. Even those who disagree with what their rabbis say are often silenced in order to maintain the status quo.
     The Lakewood Scoop (see picture) reported as far back as 2011 that the Gym Lakewood was getting rid of their Zumba class offering because of complaints. You can read the comments here. They're quite entertaining.

     For a bit of fun, I highly recommend watching "The Funniest Outreach Speech Ever," given by Hilly Gross back in 1986. He talks about Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald (of Lincoln Square Synagogue) and how he'd send people out to families for Shabbat meals right after services.
Let me tell you why I love this speech and why I generally have no problem with this. First of all, Lincoln Square Synagogue is Modern Orthodox synagogue. People who are interested in Judaism come in for the Beginner's Minyan. Rabbis are not out recruiting, and are not out telling people that this is the only option. I also like the humorous honesty that Hilly Gross uses to give his speech. He wants to speed through davening, make a quick kiddush when he gets home, eat, and go to sleep. And he talks about being irritated that these beginners want to do it all, drawn out, the way they do it "at Effy's house." I like his self-deprecating sense of humor, and how it's not used to denigrate other forms of Judaism. (Having sat through many lectures by kiruv rabbis, it's nice not to hear insults hurled, even with humor, at Reform and Conservative Jewish practice.) Above all, I love how non-judgmental he is, and how he talks about his own spirituality being lifted by that of the Beginners. Hilly Gross doesn't try to cover the fact that after a while, one's spirituality may wane, that one may not always be as inspired as he/she was in the beginning, and that sleep sometimes seems like a better option than singing zmiros (Shabbos songs) around the table. I remarked to a close friend of mine that in the world of Big Kiruv, the truth as put by Hilly Gross, would never be put out there as bluntly as in this speech. Nobody tells kids and young adults getting involved in these kiruv organizations that yes, there will be a time when the rosy kiruv glow wears off, and you're back to life as usual, just with a lot of Jewish responsibilities. And I don't recall ever being told that really, it's okay not to sing every single verse of "Shalom Aleichem" on Shabbos. Modern Orthodoxy, for people who want to be part of mainstream society and still have an orthodox connection to Judaism, is a wonderful way of maintaining that connection without becoming completely overwhelmed, and without being pressured to leave one's whole life behind. Why this lifestyle is not being offered by kiruv workers is something I don't understand. There's no reason to churn out copy after copy of Aish-type BTs who think they have to upend their entire lives, family dynamic, and social group in order to have Judaism in their lives. Judaism should not have to destroy a life to enhance it. Oh, and by the way, Modern Orthodoxy allows zumba.

Whether we like it or not, our job as baal teshuvas is to always rebel.  It is to turn every part of the world inside out, and that includes the orthodox one.  - See more at: http://popchassid.com/baal-teshuvas-rebel-orthodox/#sthash.1CyN3EWS.dpuf
we realize that a culture does not equal truth.
we realize that a culture does not equal truth.

04DecIt’s A Baal Teshuva’s Job To Rebel Against The Orthodox World


When a person, like a baal teshuva, decides to leave his culture and join another, the beginning of the process is one of rebellion against the culture he grew up in.  A big, healthy part of the process is realizing all the lies of the world he lived in before.  Realizing how empty it is and why he’s choosing to follow a different path.  Often, he’s rebelling against his own parents.  Rebelling against everything he learned.
The problem is that most baal teshuvas think that the rebellion ends there.  I felt like that for a while.  I know many others who still feel that way.  They think, “Okay, that world I left was bad, so now I need to fit into this new world as much as possible.”
But there is a problem: the orthodox world, unfortunately, is just as messed up as the “outside”.
Most of us don’t realize this at first because we connected through some outside force, like a Chabad house or a yeshiva in Jerusalem or something else.  And in that world, we lived in our own culture, sheltered from the universe we were about to enter.
But eventually we run into that truth.  We enter the culture and we find out that there are many rabbis that can’t be trusted.  We realize that not everyone is as idealistic as the people who brought us into the fold.  And that perhaps some of the people that brought us into the fold weren’t as great as we thought they were.
In sum: we realize that a culture does not equal truth.
- See more at: http://popchassid.com/baal-teshuvas-rebel-orthodox/#sthash.1CyN3EWS.dpuf

04DecIt’s A Baal Teshuva’s Job To Rebel Against The Orthodox World


When a person, like a baal teshuva, decides to leave his culture and join another, the beginning of the process is one of rebellion against the culture he grew up in.  A big, healthy part of the process is realizing all the lies of the world he lived in before.  Realizing how empty it is and why he’s choosing to follow a different path.  Often, he’s rebelling against his own parents.  Rebelling against everything he learned.
The problem is that most baal teshuvas think that the rebellion ends there.  I felt like that for a while.  I know many others who still feel that way.  They think, “Okay, that world I left was bad, so now I need to fit into this new world as much as possible.”
But there is a problem: the orthodox world, unfortunately, is just as messed up as the “outside”.
Most of us don’t realize this at first because we connected through some outside force, like a Chabad house or a yeshiva in Jerusalem or something else.  And in that world, we lived in our own culture, sheltered from the universe we were about to enter.
But eventually we run into that truth.  We enter the culture and we find out that there are many rabbis that can’t be trusted.  We realize that not everyone is as idealistic as the people who brought us into the fold.  And that perhaps some of the people that brought us into the fold weren’t as great as we thought they were.
In sum: we realize that a culture does not equal truth.
- See more at: http://popchassid.com/baal-teshuvas-rebel-orthodox/#sthash.1CyN3EWS.dpuf
1. Pop Chasid. It's a Baal Teshuva's Job to Rebel Against the Orthodox World, Pop Chasid, December 4, 2013.
2. ibid.
3. Sommer, Alison Kaplan. Haredi Rabbis Ban All-Female Zumba Classes. Haaretz. September 9, 2013.
4. Levin, Joe. 'Zumba makes you a whore’ says US Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein. TOT. December 5, 2013.

5 comments:

  1. Your last sentence said it all: Judaism should not have to destroy a life to enhance it.

    The problem with kiruv is that it does.

    Whether a BT just "isn't hungry" for something Mom cooked (without mentioning that it's because Mom's food isn't kosher), or doesn't feel like going to the movies, (because most movies show immodestly clothed women, or kissing or “worse”), or decides to go on a free trip to Israel instead of coming home for Spring Break (because a kiruv rabbi pushes a Birthright trip with a kiruv agenda), the result is the same; a child giving up ambitions and important relationships for a cult like religious group.

    Many BT's are systematically broken down and their lives destroyed.

    The ambitions of college kids are frequently dumbed down for more “meaningful” and “spiritual” pursuits that are in line with Orthodox roles. Examples might include a boy with a gifted ability for public speaking who wanted to become a politician deciding to become a rabbi. A girl who set out to become a doctor deciding that Social Work is fulfilling.

    Relationships change dramatically once kids are kiruv’d. Old friends who are not religious or are gay are dropped. Parents who object to the influence of kiruv rabbis are labeled “haters,” “anti-religious,” and “hostile.” BT’s are encouraged to live in cloistered communities away from anyone who might ask “what happened to you?”

    Eventually, a BT’s old friends are gone. Their old family is alienated. Their old community doesn’t know what happened to them. Their old lives are destroyed.

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  2. Good piece, I can see that Zumba would be threatening for precisely the reasons you found it non-threatening; it's non-threatening for individuals, it is a context that is not the fruit of the community, and it is non-judgmental...'mental' here is the mind of the community, 'judge' is the orientation of maintaining parameters. All the rabbonim need do is allude to fears and assumed consequences that make only the slightest sense.

    On the previous comment, not all BTs have a charedi experience and that really should not have to be said. Not everyone was m'karev Chabad, et al ...BT yeshivot and seminaries know full well they can't stay funded on a handful of rich alumni alone! It's old news that many such larger places have programs precisely in a trajectory for those already on college/career paths, some no longer even offer smicha, etc (Shappell's), and facilitate you finding contexts in Israel and/or your home country compatible to your lifestyle ambitions. The institutional economics are such that poor alumni simply can't contribute!

    Seminaries/yeshivot aside, I was sold on Torah and moved to very large community outside the NYC orbit in 1998 and left in it all 2011 - the good number of BTs I've known over that time maintained their professional trajectories to one degree or another (especially married families), Charedim and r/lw Modox. The *family* economics are such that being 'poor' simply doesn't pay (and doesn't make for shalom bayit and lifestyle contentment), except Israel.
    Noe (FB group, OTD)

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  3. Think of it this way: you have a new hire at your company. You think you've got a geat company and that the new guy is pretty luck to land a position in it and you're probably right but after a few weeks he starts pointing out some design flaws in the way the office is set up, some of the policies, etc. Nothing big at first but you can respond one of two ways.
    If you're a secure person you'd sit down and want to get his impression of the concerns he has. You could address them and explain where you think he's wrong and should adjust his expectations and where he's right and yes there's things you could do differently.
    If you're insecure, however, you'll get defensive. Who is this rookie to you about your company? What does he think, that you've been waiting around for him to discover America? No, you'll sit him down, explain to him that this is an excellent company with excellent policies and if he wants to fit in he'll strictly adhere to them, otherwise he simply won't work out.

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  4. A slightly more restrained version of the Zumba speech, but it still slut-shames and includes uncalled-for references to race. http://www.ishtetl.com/index.php?/topic/2961-tznius-overload/?p=103351

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link and for your comment, Warren.

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