Rachel begins by writing
Amazing what adrenaline can do. I was hoping for an early night. Just half an hour ago, I was lying in bed (half-asleep) and ready to turn in. I decided that I’d let the blog go for the evening or the week but, by-the-by, found an article in the blogosphere that took my article (this one) out of context to promote different and oppositional ideas so now…I’m awake. I’d rather not draw anyone’s attention to this blog because I don’t agree with the writer at all but I would like to acknowledge the style of the writer’s (Rebecca’s) article. Rebecca didn’t attack me in any way or at least I don’t feel attacked by Rebecca personally but some of my writing was misinterpreted to fit with her agenda which I don’t love. Rebecca- we’re women- so let’s put it all out there. You’re my Jewish sister. Let’s get real. Really real. Therefore, friends, I give you: La Responsa.I do sincerely hope that Rachel got a good night's sleep afterwards. For the record, I do try to be very respectful of those I criticize. Just because we disagree doesn't mean that we're not each deserving of respectful dialogue. I want to thank Rachel for recognizing that I wasn't attacking her personally. She continues:
1. In my article “Blowing the Head Off Of Campus Outreach”, the goal for most kiruv professionals is to help a student feel more connected to Judaism, God, other Jews, and to develop (from that connection) a stronger commitment to Judaism. Most kiruv professionals that I’ve spoken to (and I talk to the most fanatic!) do not want carbon copies of themselves or even to force a student into an “orthodox lifestyle” (her words). A the goal for most kiruv professionals is to help a student feel more connected to Judaism, God, other Jews, and to develop (from that connection) a stronger commitment to Judaism. to reflect that connection is not the same thing as forcing someone into a little cookie-cutter mold called “orthodox”. True story.I have to agree and disagree here. I do agree that "the goal for most kiruv professionals is to help a student feel more connected to Judaism, God, other Jews, and to develop (from that connection) a stronger commitment to Judaism." However, it's what those words mean that I find troubling. For a Jewish student connected to a non-orthodox yet Jewish lifestyle, "stronger commitment" means increasing levels of observance. Because the outreach worker happens to be orthodox by default, that person will be emphasizing "a stronger commitment to Judaism," but through orthodox practice. Because orthodox Judaism doesn't recognize the more liberal factions of Judaism to be valid expressions of Judaism, kiruv workers will not be encouraging students to practice Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or Humanist Judaism. Ms. Eden suggests that encouraging students "to reflect that connection [a student's stronger commitment to Judaism] is not the same thing as forcing someone into a little cookie-cutter mold called "orthodox."" However, she then appears to contradict herself in her second statement:
2. My “brazen” (her words) mention of students needing inner-strength to live a more Jewish life even when friends and, at times, family take exception…Where to start? We all (should) make choices at some point that don’t sit well or even threaten others. Whenever I go on a diet, I inevitably encounter people who are threatened by my new choices and I need to fortify myself to eat healthy and exercise in the face of such people. OK, not quite. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a real diet but the principle is there. It is hard for certain types of people (usually the insecure types) to feel comfortable when someone else is making choices to live a healthier, happier life (I’m not just talking about Jews). The idea is that those who truly love us will be happy we’re happy and support us. If not immediately, then eventually. Rebecca: Why fear change? Change can be good! In that vein, why fear questioning? The definition of “brainwash” is to adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure. The ability to question is a person’s only chance NOT to get brainwashed and I certainly hope you aren’t trying to brainwash your readers, Rebecca STRONG people QUESTION. WEAK people bury their heads in the sand.Let's go back. Ms. Eden said before she doesn't believe in forcing people into orthodox Judaism. Let's give the benefit of the doubt here, and get rid of the word "forcing." (To clarify, I don't believe that people are "forced," but are rather completely misled to believe that orthodox Judaism--the only type of Judaism being peddled by kiruv professionals--is the only valid expression of Judaism.) I see this second statement as contradicting her first statement. If students aren't being pushed or influenced towards orthodox Judaism, then the following should be unnecessary: "We all (should) make choices at some point that don’t sit well or even threaten others....It is hard for certain types of people (usually the insecure types) to feel comfortable when someone else is making choices to live a healthier, happier life (I’m not just talking about Jews)." What choices would these students be making that aren't sitting well with others? Is she talking about a move towards ... wait for it ... orthodox Judaism? Ms. Eden suggests that I "fear change." Again, what change would that be? If nobody is pushing orthodoxy, then there is no change. Except that's not true. As I've said before, I have no problem with people coming to orthodoxy by their own volition. The problem I have is when people are willfully misled by kiruv workers who teach that the all-encompassing cozy blanket is "just Judaism." It is not "just Judaism." It is specifically an Ashkenazi brand of orthodox Judaism.
I do agree that it is very important to give people the ability to question. Of course, this goes both ways. In kiruv, outreach workers encourage their students to question their own non-orthodox lives in order to change their lives. In the real orthodox world, students who question orthodox doctrine, who question orthodoxy, who question their parents and their teachers, are often alienated from the community, rather than given the room to explore other expressions of Judaism, education, and personal satisfaction.
Since we're talking about allowing people the option of questioning, this seems like a good time to point out this line from Ms. Eden's first paragraph: "I’d rather not draw anyone’s attention to this blog because I don’t agree with the writer at all." By not providing a link to my blog (which is the writer's prerogative,) and by not providing even the title of the blog, nor the title of the post, Ms. Eden has robbed her own readers of their right to view and question a view that opposes her own. I don't fear questioning at all. The reason I started this blog was specifically for people who are looking for information and who are questioning. By providing information that is often left out by people in kiruv, it helps those who may not want to be steered towards orthodoxy to understand the underlying goal of outreach. This brings us to Ms. Eden's third point:
3. My step-to-step guide of how a kiruv professional develops a relationship with students does sound contrived and, in fact, is contrived. I’m not being facetious when I tell you that I’m not naturally sociable and don’t enjoy socializing, per se. The result of these steps is actually an organic relationship. Proof? My husband and I were “set up” on a blind date that led to a (short) series of dates before our engagement. The whole process was forced, contrived. However, my marriage is anything but contrived. It is very real. One can go through a premeditated series of steps and the outcome of the connection between those two people will depend on those two people- not the steps that got them there. My best friend is dating a guy who had a crush on her for two years and used the pretense of friendship to solidify a bond with her. Was he being dishonest? Honesty isn’t even in the equation. The honesty was his intention to connect and whether they’d end up together was up to their chemistry. Same with my relationships with students. Either we end up having a deep and long-lasting friendship or the chemistry isn’t right.The steps are contrived. Regardless of the outcome, the steps themselves are in place to form a relationship that otherwise would not exist. Whether the relationship is good or bad as an end result really isn't the issue at all. Here's an example: A woman is raped. As a result of that rape, she ends up pregnant. For her own personal reasons, she decides not to have an abortion. She decides to keep the baby and the child gives her joy throughout her life. The fact that she loves her child more than anything does not suddenly make rape acceptable. These are two separate issues. Part A--rape is wrong, no matter what the outcome. Part B--the woman has a child whom she loves. In the case of kiruv, Part A is also separated from Part B. The relationship is contrived with a specific goal in mind. If the relationship works out for both parties, that's wonderful, but it doesn't negate Part A.
Let's look at the fourth point.
4. Rebecca seems overly concerned with families who “try to figure out how to relate to their children and how to weather the growing pains of the baal teshuvah”. To me, a healthy and loving family views a member’s growing devotion to Judaism as a positive thing and accommodates the family member’s request for, say, kosher food. If my children ask me to serve them food that is more “kosher” than I’m accustomed to eating, I would be happy that they want to strive for a stronger commitment. I would commend my own parenting efforts because, after all, I taught them the importance of being Jewish which led to this self-discovery. I don’t want my kids to follow my path in Judaism. I want them to follow theirs. Abraham was happy to have Isaac and not another Abraham. Those two were different and had very different paths towards God. Both were good. Neither one should be judged. Abraham wasn’t preoccupied (I assume) with the fact that Isaac didn’t embrace the kindness of hospitality the way he did. Rather, he was proud that Isaac developed the trait of self-restraint and discipline.Let's look at this scenario through a different lens, but let's start with Rachel's statement, "I don’t want my kids to follow my path in Judaism. I want them to follow theirs." If Ms. Eden's children were to decide that they no longer believed that orthodox Judaism was the way to go, and instead, opted to live as Humanist Jews, would Ms. Eden be as accommodating to their needs as she expects non-orthodox parents should be to the needs of their BT children? Let's assume that her children are simply following their own path in Judaism. Would she "commend [her] own parenting efforts because, after all, [she] taught them the importance of being Jewish which led to this self-discovery?" If we are expected to understand that "Abraham and Isaac ... were different and had very different paths towards God" then we should understand that all Jews are different and have different pathways in life, making kiruv unnecessary. But that's not the case. A kiruv rabbi who has been commenting on this blog as anonymous but signs off as "AM" ("Anonymous Mekarev") states that:
1. It is the firm position of Halachic Judaism that all Jews have a responsibility to influence others to the realization that there is a creator of the world and that there is a correct code of conduct for human beings in general and Jews (as His reps to the world) in particular.These statements actually disprove the idea that the orthodox kiruv worker believes all Jews to have different pathways in life. Sure, maybe in the non-spiritual realm of their lives, but as far as their spiritual lives, outreach professionals believe that those pathways need to be paved with halachic Judaism as defined by orthodoxy. Based on this, it is my belief that while Ms. Eden thinks that non-orthodox parents should be happy to change their own lives to meet the new needs of their grown children, she would not necessarily be quite as happy to do this in the opposite situation.
2. We are to do this by any peaceful means including persuasion because we are held responsible for others' actions and welfare to the amount that we can influence them for the better. We have a moral obligation to educate people about this code of conduct who - through no fault of their own - do not yet understand what is incumbent upon them being born as Jews. (AnonymousDecember 17, 2013 at 4:28 AM)
Ms. Eden ends her response with number five:
5. Finally, Rebecca’s (and her commenters’) plea for more transparency in campus outreach. I can only speak for myself and my husband when I say that our prayer for our students is a heightened awareness and connection with Judaism. We never made any other claim. Those students that I’m closest with (and are probably reading this) know I bust their chops about dating non-Jewish people because I love them and feel close enough to discuss my opinions openly with them. In return, they discuss their honest opinions with me. I’ve debated some extremely opinionated students in my day and one girl (who I feel very close to) has, indeed, left me changed. I believe she has made me a more open and less judgmental person. I hope I have made her more proud of her Judaism. How much more transparent can I get?I will admit that I did chuckle at Rachel's last sentence. Many of my friends on Facebook probably saw my 2013 Halloween picture, in which I sported a pair of purple devil horns. I wear mine openly. Although I will admit that I gave up the wig years ago.
If you have an opinion – whether you agree with me or you don’t- I’d love to hear it.
Rebecca- whoever you are, wherever you are- I love you girl. Before you judge, how about listening with an open heart? You may be surprised there are no devil horns beneath my wig.
Let me just take a quick moment to thank Rachel Eden, and my commenter AM, as well as any other kiruv professionals who have read and taken the time to respond to this blog--either as a whole, or in part. While we may not all agree on kiruv (my issue is deceptive kiruv,) I really hope that we can all continue to engage in a mutually respectful dialogue. I recognize that coming out to counter my posts may be daunting, but it shows that you are dedicated to your work. And even if I am not a fan of your work, I do admire your devotion to it. I've said in private conversations that we may disagree on this issue, but that doesn't mean that we disagree on all issues. As a rule, I attack the issue and I don't condone personal attacks. After all, we're not family. (That's a joke.) There are many people who comment on my blog who have suffered greatly because of deceptive practices, so understand that sensitivities often run high. For many, kiruv is a very emotional issue.
I also want to thank those of you who have supported this blog by commenting, by reading, and by sharing these posts with your friends, family, and/or followers. I want to thank those of you who have reached out via email and Facebook to share your very personal stories with me. I am humbled by your willingness to open up to me, a total stranger. You folks are the reason I'm still writing about kiruv.
I hope that by providing this side of the story, all of us--regardless of what side of the issue we support--can learn from each other.
Except for the material referenced within the body of the post written by anonymous poster AM, all quoted/indented text is from:
Eden, Rachel. "La Responsa." This Way to Eden. December 17, 2013.