Wednesday, October 04, 2006

No Fire Puns Here

Over Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I heard a number of stories that were like this. Through a single meaningful interaction with a well-meaning traditionally observant Jewish person, a Jew who is not traditionally observant chooses to learn more and become a paragon of traditional Jewish values. I hate these stories. I find them pedantic, and patronizing, not only because they remove agency from the individual and give it to a "higher power" but also because they just aren't so interesting. You know how the story is going to end. Usually with the person becoming frum, getting married, and having lots of nice, FFB* babies.

Aish HaTorah is responsible for the creation and propagation of a great number of these stories. Aish is a very controversial organization in the Jewish world. They, like Chabad, are dedicated to kiruv** and have a "slick marketing campaign" that includes videos, subsidized trips, and youth events. Many accuse it of being "deceitful" and "cultlike." Whether or not that is the case, an article by Cliff Singer at The Jewish Socialist has a very intelligent take on its shortfalls. Reproduced here by Jewschool.

David Kelsey of the Kvetcher points to the same article as an intro to his book Kiruv Stories. Nor is this the only site of its kind. Off The Derech is a term that means off the road, but has the connotation of someone who has become less traditionally observant than they once were. It is also a site for former Baalei Tshuva*** to talk about their experiences, and also the title of a book about the same phenomenon.

If you take a quick look around the internet, you will find the requisite "Aish changed my life" stories, but also a fair amount of reactions like this from Gil Landau, and this from NFOSS.

And of course, as it is necessary to raise the tenor of the discussion, I leave you with this: User Test: The Off the Derech Test.

*FFB: Frum From Birth, born and raised traditionally observant
**Kiruv: outreach, often misused grammatically which ticks me off
***Baalei Tshuva: lit. those who have returned, people who were not raised traditionally observant, but chose the lifestyle later in life, often are very, very observant


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

We had a very meaningful mixed davening for Yom Kippur -- mixed, as in secular and religious. The secular Jews were not apologetic for their lifestyle, but greatly appreciated the openess of the religious community to accept them for a mixed tefilla. We didn't sugar coat anything; it was just very nice for all to daven together...

AnnieGetYour said...

My problem was not secular Jews in a religious context, but that the stories assume that if a secular Jew is just exposed to the kinder, gentler side of observance, that they will magically "wake up."

The best thing about my shul growing up was that my parents (who drive to shul) were just as welcomed as the families where the women wore sheitels and the men learned daf yomi every day. No one there every would have told an Aish-like story of religious epiphany.

BZ said...

And hey, driving to shul and learning daf yomi don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Also, while we're airing grammatical gripes with "kiruv", we should point out that it should be keiruv (the reish can't take a dageish, so the vowel is lengthened).

Gil said...

Hey - It’s always fun to find your name randomly put some place. Thanks for the link.

What shuls are you guys attending where people mix together without one side being on the "outside" I'd like to participate in that?

AnnieGetYour said...

I can tell you what shul(s) I attend, but it depends on your group of friends whether or not you feel on the "outside."

You could be FFB and go to Ohav Zedek and feel left out if you didn't go to Columbia/Barnard/Stern/YU.

My favorites though are KOE (Kehillat Or Eliezer), Ramath Orah, and Darkhei Noam on the UWS.