Playing Defense in a War that Need Not Exist

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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:

  1.  Jewish outreach professionals want those around them to observe Judaism in the same way.
  2. 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:

30 seconds to THINK

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:

  1. I don’t care about the color of your yarmulke.
  2. I don’t mind if you like classical music or jazz or Jewish.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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42 responses »

  1. “Well said, Jewish Rebel. He also said something else but it must have been pretty awful because Rebecca actually deleted it.” <<To clarify, I didn’t delete the post. Jewish Rebel posted the same post twice, the first time addressing it to “Anonymous.” He then reposted it to “Tuvia,” after (I assume) realizing that Tuvia had actually signed his name within the body of the text.

    I will respond in depth at a later point, but I felt that one point needed clarification.

    • You mean you’re off the D for now 😉 I’m sure you know the benefits of leading a life that embraces Shabbos, Torah learning, etc…why hate on those trying to share that beauty? I realize something happened (or a series of things happened) along the way to turn you off but perhaps in a quiet moment of reflection, you can acknowledge how Judaism can enhance one’s life.

      • I must say that I’m not particularly passionate in my opposition to Kiruv. I grew up Orthodox and left five years ago. I won’t be naive and dismiss a miserable childhood as a factor, but I feel my rejection of Orthodoxy, and indeed theism as a whole, to be entirely intellectual, so I do comment from a dispassionate position. You say “Judaism can enhance one’s life,” and taken at face value this might be true. But we are talking about a specific strand of Judaism, one that emphasizes a superiority compared to other forms of Judaism (even if you’re a tad nicer about it). Can you really not a conceive a reason why less religious parents would be outraged that someone is trying to convince their child (or a friend or neighbor, for that matter) to accept a way of life that will inevitably distance them? And for what?

      • I really enjoyed reading your comment in that it sounds- as you asserted- dispassionate. I want to answer your question but I don’t fully understand it. I don’t think parents inevitably are distanced from their frummer children. I have met countless baalei teshuva that have improved their relationship with their parents over the years as a direct result of choosing a religious lifestyle. I’ve heard from so many that b/c there’s a huge focus on honoring one’s parents and working on one’s character traits- relationship have gotten better, not worse.

      • How is there not a distancing? The grandchildren won’t be able to come over for dinner if it doesn’t live up to strict dietary standards, being one obvious example. Come over for the weekends? Not if the TV is on, on Shabbos. Let’s not even begin with potential Tznius issues. A BT will naturally view the transition as having gone smoothly, but it very likely wasn’t.

      • Plenty BTs that I know join their parents for dinner. The parents either up their own levels of kashrut to accommodate their kids or just bring in packaged food and paper plates. The parents that I’ve spoken to many times look at it a a labor of love and are happy to do it. I have spoken to parents that first found it threatening but then decided to be supportive when they saw how happy and thriving their kids were. These grandparents turn their TVs off and either join their children for Shabbos or invite their kids over during the week. What tznius issues? I’ve had plenty college coeds in my home and their modesty is a non-issue.

      • Perhaps that’s true in some of the cases you’ve encountered, but I would view it as insulting, and I suspect many on Rebbeca’s blog would agree. I’d go as far as saying my going off the derech was easier on my parents than for those whose children became significantly more religious.

      • Perhaps you’re right. Let’s say you are. Even if parents are inconvenienced, their desire for their children’s happiness and success is greater than their desire to not be inconvenienced. Isn’t that so?

        If parents are being insulted, I think the onus is on the children to reassure their parents that they are not rejecting their parents’ values but rather used their values as the compass to be true to themselves. Does that make sense ?

      • There are many ways to be happy that don’t involve reorienting ones entire lifestyle and family relationships. Of course, it’s ultimately a choice for the person to make. I’m just trying to explain why some would be vociferously opposed to Kriuv: It creates distance that they view (correctly, in my view, incorrectly in yours) as unnecessary.

      • Understood. This is my first clear discussion about this with someone. Not surprisingly, we conclude to agree to disagree. This is how it will end (I’m guessing) with Rebecca as well. I like the idea of open dialogue but I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth it.

      • Nothing really spectacular, to be honest. I just took notice of the world around me and realized the consensus (scientific, archeological, and textual) pointed away from theism. And it made sense to me, and still does. I only mentioned my childhood because, perhaps, if I was really happy I would never have cared if it was all true or not.

      • I wonder: Have you only read up on opinions that support your own online? Why close doors to your life at the tender age of 18?? You said you had a miserable childhood, perhaps you can set up a home where your children will come away feeling loved, supported, and happy- whether it’s a very religious one or not.

      • Technically, ages 3-14 I heard the other side’s take.

        I don’t intend on closing doors. Almost all of my friends are Orthodox Jews (though all my siblings are off the derech). It just doesn’t make sense to me live to a restricted life–and in that pursuit, wasting the only life that I can expect–for something I don’t believe in anymore. You seem like you’re a nice person, and I’m glad you’re happy. But I assure you I am missing nothing.

      • Understood and it sounds like you (and your siblings) have had it very rough. Let’s forget Judaism for a moment altogether, are you happy now? Living unrestricted or living restricted- neither one determines happiness.

      • I should make this clear. I consider my childhood to be a minor factor in me going off. If I had a great childhood, I might have remained Frum, but disingenuously so.

        I’m somewhat happy, somewhat not, just like everyone else.

      • I hope your adulthood – with or without Judaism- is completely happy and even when during your dissatisfied or sad moments, you’re happy. I also hope you adopt back the parts of Judaism that could make you happy like, for example, (if you think there’s a God) developing a relationship with Hashem that could take any form. Forgive me for rambling…I get tired early!

  2. Thank you for that condescending and dismissive blog post. You demonstrated what it is about Jewish outreach that secular people find offensive. The superior righteousness that you exude is something that secular slobs really can’t stand. I have no problem with you being this way in your life. I can ignore you. When you recruit my children into your mindset, get ready for the wrath of me, Rebecca, and anyone who can think clearly and rationally.

    • I’m sorry if I offended you – it wasn’t my intention and if I had any tone of superiority I apologize for that too. I do have to ask: Would it be so bad if your children worked hard to develop themselves as kind, refined people? Would you be upset if they honored you more, spent Saturday enjoying life existentially without being zoned into their iphones? Would you be terribly disappointed if they had marriages that were statistically more successful and prioritized them in a way that Torah guidelines help define?

      • “Would it be so bad if your children worked hard to develop themselves as kind, refined people?” <<This assumes that Agathe Coblentz’s children are not already “kind, refined people.” Orthodoxy is not a finishing school. Many people are kind and refined without being mekareved.
        “Would you be upset if they honored you more, spent Saturday enjoying life existentially without being zoned into their iphones?” <<I’m curious as to your word choice regarding the term “existentially.”
        “Would you be terribly disappointed if they had marriages that were statistically more successful and prioritized them in a way that Torah guidelines help define?” <<This fails to take into account the large number of women who are agunot, as well as those who would like a divorce but are too afraid to attempt to leave troubled marriages.

        1. Absolutely there are plenty nice and refined non-frum people however the frum ones who do it right are supposed to have a work ethic on their character. In other words, wherever we’re holding, we’re striving to get better. What could be bad?
        2. Existentially – just being happy with our existence and nothing else. Looking at our lives- with all the imperfections- and feeling happy, grateful, peaceful.
        3. Even with the tragic agunot – this in no way evens the bottom line number of marriages intact on the frum side. Plenty secular people don’t want to leave troubled marriages and we can’t account for those numbers either.
      • My kiruv’d kid was already a kind, refined person. Now he is a jerk. Now he doesn’t speak to me. Now he has that ridiculous zoned out “I am at one with God” look on his face. Now he’s in an arranged marriage to another brainwashed BT that he will probably never be able to escape. By successful, I assume you mean without divorce? I don’t wish my son to be in a loveless marriage arranged by a cult, I would rather see him divorced. And I don’t want the Torah defining his life, or mine.

      • Why doesn’t he speak to you? I know hundreds of BTs with totally warm relationships with their parents. I don’t know the details of your son’s story but this story is anecdotal and, given the dozens of kiruv centers I’ve been involved with as well as the BTs I’ve met, not representing this population at all. Can you elaborate about why/how he doesn’t speak to you?

        As for the marriage bit, I did not mean without divorce only. True the divorce rate is MUCH lower but my friends in religious marriages have (usually- I do have a couple friends who don’t fall into this category) happy, healthy marriages they work very hard to grow. A marriage filled with love is a choice and not something we just fall upon- it ain’t easy.

        I respect that you don’t want the Torah to define his life but perhaps had you two shared a closer, warmer relationship- and you with your daughter-in-law- you’d feel differently?

  3. So you did not correct the mistake in your post where you said my comment was censored. This is wrong.

    As you could have seen, this comment was removed by the AUTHOR. And, indeed, because I only realized later that Tuvia signed his name within the body of the text, as Rebecca explained.

    Tuvia said: “Stop them. Keep writing. They are terrible people … Terrible manipulators. Horrible horrible middos (character traits) at the root of this. Keep up the pressure.”

    I commented:

    “Tuvia: That was awesome.”

    I was saying shkoiach to him for the 406 out of 437 words he wrote before the part you quoted. Are you even realizing yourself how desperate and evasive you sound?

    At least it comes to serve a purpose, which is to show how kiruv workers LOVE selective quoting. Like how beautiful the Torah speaks about loving your neighbor but then not mentioning that this neighbor can only be someone Jewish who is observant (‘reiecho bemitzves’)…

    • I have deleted the sentence in my post that deals with your deleted comment. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’m not trying to evade a thing. If you have a question for me that is devoid of emotion/anger, please ask it and I’ll happily answer. I’d love a (respectful) dialogue. Good Shabbos!

  4. “I know hundreds of BTs with totally warm relationships with their parents.”

    That’s a straw man and unhelpful rebuttal. There is a known risk in a portion of all families of all faiths when of family tensions when one member enters a fundamentalist enclave and the others don’t.

    Do you deny of knowing about this problem? It’s a yes or no questions – please don’t point to all the oh-so-wonderful people you know who don’t have that problem. Are you unaware of this phenomemon in the black hat Baal Teshuvah world?

    • That’s a yes, David. I am aware that a very small percentage of families have difficulty adjusting to a member’s new lifestyle. In nearly all the cases I have been privy to witness (and that is MANY), all ends well within an otherwise stable family.

      • I am not going to say you are wrong with the what you feel is a “small percentage” based on your experience, but I would say that may be due somewhat due to biases. Also it may be the case that few families are “broken” over kiruv, but it is common in my experience that family relationships are often somewhat strained.

        I for example had a good relationship with my parents both before and after becoming frum. If you were to ask me about this issue 4 or 5 years ago I would probably be saying exactly what you are, and using myself as a good example of a positive family experience after becoming BT. But if I were completely honest becoming a BT didn’t really improve my relationship with my family.

        Relating with them was hard and often a lot of my interactions with my parents and siblings were often filtered in my mind against what I could say/do to make them appreciate Yiddishkeit more in hopes of them becoming BTs as well (or at least more observant). My parents were always very supportive, but it would be dishonest to say that Kashrus and Shabbos did not cause issues. Especially being Chabad and not being able to accept certain presents, etc. Certainly some issues were due to nothing religious whatsoever, but IMO becoming frum did not have a positive impact on my relationship with my family and I would probably have been better off without being introduced to it at a young and impressionable stage in my life without the balancing view of the alternative viewpoints available being equally presented.

        I also know of several other BTs and to be honest most of which I have no idea how the Kiruv system effected their relationships. Some I think were mostly unaffected, some there were certainly significant tension, and others I know of were quite negatively effected. I can’t think of any personal experience I have had with mekareved kids whose relationship with their secular parents greatly improved. But again perhaps my opinion as well is clouded by selection bias as well, but I am trying hard to be objective here.

        Again I also only have a limited selection of situations where I knew both the kids & the parents and seen them interact/heard about their issues first hand.

      • Agreed – our experiences are just anecdotal evidence and can easily perpetuate cognitive dissonance. There are no hard stats on any of this so we’re all just drawing on our own experiences- colored by our own perspectives. Difficult to make a case that way for both sides. There are more factors than impact on familial relationships to consider though when weighing the pros and cons of Jewish outreach.

  5. Really, I think it’s beyond insensitive for you to blame this mother. We know next to nothing about her situation. We are not therapists. You’re a blogger and I’m an inner city teacher with years and years of interacting with families . . . and I wouldn’t dream of suggesting something to someone who is a virtual stranger.

    • Diana- thank you for your comment. I never blamed mom in this situation. What I suggested was that the fact their relationship was failing wasn’t Judaism but rather the relationship itself. (Also, I only just became a blogger last month. All I’ve done is work with people in Jewish outreach and I do have some experience dealing with all types of Jews)

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