Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On Institutions, Part II

I was going to write about Oriental Jews, but the only ones I know of are Orieyenta, Kaguya of Jewpanese Nomad, and of course, Su Fei. However, something else came up.

I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I am in my 20s. I am Modern Orthodox. So I participate in "the scene." As much as I hate to admit it, I kind of love the scene. I like standing around in front of shul on Friday night and catching up with people whom I don't see all week (busy jobs, lives, etc), I like being able to look around and see hundred(s) of young Jews, all participating in the traditions of our ancestors. Whatever, I am lame, but I like it.

You know what I don't like? The sermons given at these shuls. An integral part of the scene is shul-hopping. There is one shul that almost everyone attends Friday night (OZ) and another couple that are big for shabbat morning (The Jewish Center's Young Leadership Minyan, and also Young Israel). I like different things about each of these services, and don't feel the need for an exclusive relationship. Unfortunately, the synagogues don't feel the same way, and each charge dues. As a result, I have paid none of them. One of my friends suggested a sort of "community chest" where each person pays a set fee, checks off the shuls which they attend, and the funds are divided evenly among those congregations. However, it seems unlikely that it will ever happen.

Anyway, Saturday morning I heard a sermon to the effect that "you should pay our dues, and probably come only here, not to other shuls. We need the money because we are rebuilding. PS~ if you are single you should hate your life." That was awesome, but not as awesome as the one I heard on Friday night. Not only did it have a "mussar* moment" which I absolutely HATE, but also a plug that offended me to the core of my being.

You see, Purim is coming up, and as a part of that holiday we give misloach manot, gift baskets of food to friends and family. It was suggested that we (the UWS singles) use this as an occasion for kiruv (outreach). If we have secular Jews living in our buildings we should give them the mishloach manot, along with a little card that the shul has (thoughtfully!) provided with some of the most "beautiful observances of the holiday." Really? You can't just give a gift? It has to be a pushy, judgemental, and patronizing gift? What this says to me is "you poor unenlightened Jews, I will win you over to Orthodoxy with some hamentaschen and peanuts. Clearly you don't know better or you would be Orthodox already. Now I can save you from your benighted state. Also, lets celebrate a massacre of non-Jews by Jews."

Ok, maybe I'm overreacting, but the suggestion that we specifically give mishloach manot to our secular Jewish neighbors just struck me the wrong way. After this weekend there are two shuls that I no longer wish to attend. Shul Shopper here I come.

*Mussar is, for lack of a better word, ethics. A mussar moment is sort of like a fortune cookie saying, somewhat pedantic and simplistic, but meant to give you some guidance about how to live your life. This week's? "It's not who you know, but whom you know." Gotta love it.

*Mishloach manot are gift baskets given out on the day of Purim. The observance is to give baskets to several people, and each basket must contain three different types of food (as delineated by the blessings that each require). Also, one must give charity twice, and hear the megillah read twice. Often the gift baskets contain fruit-filled, three-cornered cookies called "hamantaschen" or "Haman's ear." Basically you should just read up on the holiday, because it is kind of confusing.


Avi BenJakob said...

First of all, there is nothing stopping you from making donations to shuls without joining. All the shuls on the upper west side encourage donations to their dinner/Yom Kippur appeal for non-members as well as members. So take the amount you want to pay for membership and split it up among all the shuls that you frequent.

Although, I don’t even think shul hopping is a positive. Shul hopping discourages loyalty to institutions, and provides no incentives for people to commit to improving institutions. If everyone picked their shul and were committed to its success then every shul would have a new pool of volunteers to improve the shul for everyone. That’s the point of Shul Shopper, to find the right shul for you and to improve it, not to hop around to different shuls every week.

Amishav said...

If they can be convinced to join a shul with a cookie, just think what kind of cult you could get them to join if you offered them a free dinner! Look! The church of Zeemu the Galactic Overlord is having a bar-b-que! They'll join in droves.

I'm not sure that's the best strategy for getting people to join.

Sarah said...

Hamentaschen actually means "Haman's pockets." Which confused me for a while (triangular pockets?), but then it was pointed out that, duh, they're pockets of poppyseeds (or what have you).

I'm not sure why everyone thinks taschen means ears. Is there something written about Haman's ears?

michael said...

You know, it wouldn't kill you to TRY to give mishloach manot baskets to secular Jews. I mean, let's say me, for example. I love hamantaschen and peanuts! Oh, um, and Hashem. See? It's working already.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, but some of these comments make me tremble with fear.

-The Rooster

rokhl said...

well, as a mostly secular, yiddishist jew, i am definitely offended by your use of mishloach manot, instead of the much tastier shalokhmonis. yumm, i can practically taste the poppyseeds (and patronizing card)...

Liberal Jew said...

Perhaps you can get other folks who are active Jews but not Frum to dawn jean skirts, north face jackets and new balance shoes. I am for one would put on my new sneakers for some yummy cookies.

Annie said...

Avi- I have different needs/desires for different services. I don't think that any single institution can (or should, at this point) cater to all of them. Although you make a good point about contributing to them on my own.

Amishav- cookies and bbq work, but as the simpsons' taught us, you don't make friends with salad.

Sarah- I didn't mean that hamantaschen translates to haman's ear, but that the cookies are either called hamantaschen, or hamansozen. I got my wires crossed a bit.

Michael- I give mishloach manot to secular Jews, but the only cards read: "Happy Purim" and information on whether the contents contain dairy, wheat, or nuts.

TR- what?

Rokhl- sorry, I don't speak any Yiddish, so I am stuck with the lashon kodesh for all of my religious needs.

LJ- I think that I get the joke you're trying to make. Two things: "don" not "dawn", and even in my frummest days I never wore jean skirts with new balance sneakers.

Kaguya said...

I totally empathizing with your annoyance of being encouraged to use every opportunity to do kiruv.

I'm fine with and frankly quite happy with my secular family and friends. Besides, if I don't give them the right to be secular/liberal/in between/or whatever else, why I should I ask to be tolerated in my 'weirdly' traditional/liberal ways? It's a two way street. The suggestion that I should always be doing kiruv is quite offensive to me as well. I hate it when those suggestsions are made. I give them mishloach manot if I want and that makes me happy.

Sholom said...

I really, really hate synagogues that sermonize about money and membership.
If you find out about such a sermon in advance, let me know and I'll come heckle the rabbi.