Why, oh why, do I insist on reading Rebecca’s blog before bedtime?!? It must be my alter ego, a sixteen year old girl who knows not of consequence and insists on pulling all-nighters at whim. She doesn’t know my children who have the habit since birth to wake me at the crack of dawn. Anyway, I did look at Rebecca’s blog. And I did look at Rebecca’s comments. Then I fixed myself a strong drink (peppermint tea from Trader Joes- what did you think??) Then I reread the comments. While I realize the conversation could end here, I am eager to counter some of the arguments I just read. So here we go.
Firstly, kiruv is the organized attempt to connect Jews to Judaism by Jews. Rebecca started a blog with one singular purpose: to foil such attempts. A very naive part of myself is flabbergasted that such a blog exists. Rebecca is a nice lady. I have private messaged her and public messaged her. While I don’t know her, I’d genuinely love to hang with her because she seems personable and kind. Maybe over a couple nice hot mochas, we could talk about the destructive words published on her blog. In a world filled with so many bad guys, I like when the good guys work to build up the good. Sadly, this isn’t happening on her blog. The very existence of this blog is upsetting to me which is why I have chosen not to publicize it.
Reading cynicism and bitterness at this level is destructive to everyone and I wouldn’t even let myself read it if it weren’t for the purpose of representing a silent group of people who don’t know this exists. She does have a steady stream of devout followers and one of them submitted her blog link in the comments bar of my blog which I approved. I’m not one to censor even when censorship might be appropriate (gasp!). I’m not afraid of what will happen if someone I know and care for reads her blog. I just truly feel sorry to spread it. Her blog takes a beautifully intended model- with room for improvement (like all things)- and twists it beyond recognition.
Her (and her followers’) core issues, as I see it, are the following:
- Jewish outreach professionals want those around them to observe Judaism in the same way.
- To accomplish this, people in Jewish outreach mislead other Jews
Rebecca makes a couple outrageous comments and points that are too ridiculous and off-the-wall to address but the above two essential themes keep coming up again and again. Generally in debate, people react in a knee-jerk fashion. We are very ready to defend our or our team’s actions and attitudes. In order to not fall into that trap, I decided to let these two ideas just sit in my mind and I really considered them. Is there a part of me that wants other Jews to act just like me? That wants other Jews to be the same? And then: Have I created false relationships to achieve that? Let’s Pause and really THINK. Click if you please:
Ok. Now that I’ve put myself under a microscope for a minute, here’s what I’ve come up with.
YES, I do hope that students who’ve joined me for a cup of coffee at the Starbucks near campus will observe Shabbat more wholly, invest time into their relationship with God, identify more strongly as a Jew, be a more dignified and modest person, feel more connected to other Jews, honor their parents, opt to raise a Jewish family, celebrate Jewish holidays, the list goes on and on and on. I too hope to change for the better from these experiences and there’s no question in my mind that the list I just wrote above would enhance any Jew’s life. But let’s get a few things straight:
- I don’t care about the color of your yarmulke.
- I don’t mind if you like classical music or jazz or Jewish.
- I do think Jews shouldn’t eat pig or lobster but if you want to be a vegetarian- go for it- I’ll happily accommodate you at dinner.
- How you choose to express your creativity is totally up to you within the confines of the Torah (obviously).
Be YOU. And YES> Be Jewish.
As for the second point (misleading students) – I agree to a point. I would not approach Jewish students and say “I’m hoping that after hanging out with me you won’t marry the non-Jewish person you’re dating.” I would say, “I’m a religious director here at USC. Can I do coffee with you and get to know you?” I guarantee you that every single Jewish student I end up befriending knows that the point of my presence is to create a Jewish student community and enhance their observance of Mitzvot. I didn’t move to South Central LA for the frat parties.
Now to address the deluge of comments. Like this one by “Tuvia” on Rebecca’s blog:
“They (people in kiruv) are all to be treated as the enemy for not permitting open inquiry and frank discussions with those who have diametrically different approaches.”
(Mouth agape, speechless) Uh….. What in the world am I doing behind this computer screen if not engaging in a frank and open discussion in real time? Seriously though, a girl goes out on a limb to speak for an unrepresented movement and then encounters that accusation? Oy.
Rebecca’s response? While she doesn’t comment on his whole dissertation. she does write in regards to his feelings that we (in Jewish outreach) are dishonest: “I actually agree with you, Tuvia.” At least I’m finally not surprised.
Here’s a goody from “DK”:
“Remember, the Kriuvnik does not want to defend their behavior, so they prefer to defend that which they do not believe they do. Focus on that which we can prove they do. “
DK- please be specific! It’s difficult to know what you’re super angry about and in case you have a valid point, I’d love the chance to defend what you can prove I do.
Another favorite from “Tuvia”:
“Stop them. Keep writing. They are terrible people … Terrible manipulators. Horrible horrible middos (character traits) at the root of this. Keep up the pressure.”
One person named “Jewish Rebel” commented on “Tuvia”‘s post:
“Tuvia: That was awesome.”
Well said, Jewish Rebel. Listen, Tuvia, my middos are a far cry from perfect but “horrible”??? Geez. I humbly agree to disagree.
I definitely wouldn’t want to cross some of Rebecca’s fans’ avatars in a dark virtual alley late at night.
Now let’s turn the magnifying glass on the accusers for a moment. And not in a bad way. But let’s be honest. I really tried to put myself in each person’s shoes as I read the comments and Rebecca’s article. There is only one rational explanation for this level of anger and bitterness. These people have been burned. In case it was a Jewish person who hurt them under the guise of orthodoxy or kiruv I want to apologize- truly and sincerely- for any pain that was caused. In case you were dealt a blow that wasn’t caused by a person but impacted your life tremendously, I can certainly empathize and understand that. I’m no stranger to challenge. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Torah is good and Judaism is great but more to the point it is ours. It doesn’t belong more to me than you. It is for us to enjoy and share. There are 70 legitimate faces of Torah and I aim to connect and learn from the other 69 no matter who they are, what they think, or how they act.