On the Kiruv Business

 Posted by on November 26, 2012
Nov 262012

A guy with a Kiruv clown

For those who don’t know, kiruv clowns are those proselytizers who do outreach for the orthodox (often chabad) community. They have a whole schema of devices with which they lure outsiders into their perfect, warm, perfect, spiritual world. The family that was featured on Oprah’s show that did not for-the-love-of-god have a clue what Mickey Mouse is, make for a good example of the frum kiruv clown.

There are the kiruv clowns for outsiders, and then there are the kiruv clowns for insiders – for those who were born and bred with the sweetness and know it all too well. When it comes to defection from the inside, the clown is more like the Batman’s Joker. They have a different face, a different trick, the same beard. I made the rounds to many of them, each coming highly recommended as “open-minded”, each promising to “know” and be a real “professional”. Each time I knocked on a new door I hoped that the rabbi on the other side will take me seriously, that he will understand my concerns, that he will take off that condescending clown smirk and protect me from the bullying of other rabbis and community leaders. Each time I hoped that I will hear that my desire to get an education and raise my children differently does not mean I’m a crazy woman who must lose custody over her child. “I only want to drive” I heard myself tell them, “nothing against halacha” and in my mind they’d understand and promise to help me. They didn’t. Each time I found myself sitting disappointed across from the rabbi thinking “this cannot be real, this cannot be happening to me.” The slippery slope, they’d say, or “your family is this way, you can’t be different”. One rabbi, with a beard as long as a conference table, assured me that he’s finally the right guy because he sees my troubles. “I will talk to your husband”, he said. “I’ll clarify everything to him. You need love… and… he’s just a yeshiva bochur, he didn’t realize!” Then my life will be fixed, my needs gone, he said. Love. Think! What a goyisha idea!

Another rabbi set out to debate atheism even when I couldn’t be less interested in the whole subject. I had come to ask support for basic human rights, what I got was a philosophical debate in epicureanism. When a rav told me with certainty I had multiple personality disorder (MPD is not even a confirmed mental illness, nevermind to make a diagnosis in one sitting!) I couldn’t say anything but stare back wide-eyed. Why thank you, what religious wisdom! Exactly how many of these multiple personalities did you find, and can one give love to the other — because that’s what I actually need? Could I have a moment to talk with my other personalities about how concerning your own is?

In the end they all said that no matter what was going on, it came down confusion. I was confused. And by the time I left their holy rooms with a headache and multiple personalities that was pretty true.

On Zionism

 Posted by on November 22, 2012
Nov 222012

Arabs killing Zionists with cholent

Yes, there is a legend among the Satmar Hasidim that every cholent bean kills a Zionist. So it goes: each spoonful stew of beans and barley chomped down with kugel and kishke is instant death to a heap-full of men and women in Israel. Well, think what you may, chollent nearly killed me a few times.

Why Chollent? Cholent is a kind of response to the apostate Jews — in this case the Zionists who rebel against the Satmar belief of exile. I believe the legend is an invocation of the Karaits, those Jews largely considered misled from the Orthodox way, who believed that Jewish law prohibited leaving food to cook on Shabbes. Because orthodox Jews differed on this view, to show the Karaites they are wrong and that we are not Kraites, the orthodox intentionally ate a cooked stew on shabbes. This message seems so important that chollent stew has become one of the most popular Jewish foods. Or maybe it’s just that good. In any event, in this spirit, the anti-zionists find in the chollent bean a message against the misled Zionist Jews who organize and support the settlement in Israel. They invoke the Karaite Jew who misinterprets the Jewish law — the Jew who is perhaps religious but still in the same dangerous category of the Sadducees or Karaits because the Zionist too is often religious, perhaps even Hasidic, but deeply erring in misunderstanding God’s decree against taking back Israel before its time.

This, as far as I was able to investigate, is the relationship that explains the wild belief connecting each overcooked Navy Bean and the death of a Zionist. I wasn’t able to verify that this is the very source behind the chollent-bean myth, and I’d be interested to hear from you anything else you know. Maybe it’s a secret recipe I should try on people I’ll keep secret. I do know that when we were young we all loved to indulge in this legend. I have sweet childhood memories of the times we scooped up extra helpings of chollent with sour pickles and in the same shot we killed a few people in Israel. I can taste my mother’s soupy chollent and the feeling of velour shabbes robe on my skin when I recall those innocent moments of mass homicide.

I don’t know that this legend could be classified as really malicious. Satmar Hasidim in America only have a very vague idea of what Zionism is and what Israel is like, and the animosity toward Zionism is often only a very abstract concept. A Satmarer would probably not even recognize his Zionist monster when meeting him in a synagogue or an airplane, even when standing in the face of his human ears and mustache. Zionism is preached and protested, but who Zionists are is often unclear even to the protesters. I know this may be shocking, and this is probably in large part to blame my dyslexia, but I often had a hard time differentiating between zionists and nazis. To me it was all a heap of Jew-destroyers, a curse word you followed by “erased-be-their-names”, yemach shemo. The zionists killed six million Jews, I’d write on my history test.

Zionists are evil because the Satmar rebbe said so. I’m not sure how well acquainted most Satmarers are with the Satmar Rebbe’s philosophy of Zionism altogether. Among women especially, I don’t believe the shlosha shavuos/three oaths, his main philosophy against Zionism, are well known. According to Jewsagainstzionism.com, Jews oppose zionism because :

the Talmud explains That we have been foresworn, by three strong oaths, not to ascend to the Holy Land as a group using force, not to rebel against the governments of countries in which we live, and not by our sins, to prolong the coming of moshiach; as is written in Tractate Kesubos 111a

Yes, this Gemara based on a verse in Song of Songs and it is the very foundation of the Satmar Rabbi’s fierce war against Zionism. But in actuality, Satmarers understand anti-Zionism as the need to wait for the Messiah because the return of Zion should only follow his arrival. The message that is actually taught is simple: we are exiled and we will be relieved from exile only when the Messiah comes. Hastening the end of the exile could cause serious harm to Jews and to the process of redemption, as seen with some early Hasidic rabbis who attempted to force an early redemption through spiritual intercessions. So it is believed by most Satmerers that the Messiah will one day return Jerusalem to its former splendor, and the Zionists only impede this process by rebelling against God’s decree of exile. Only a very old man, white bearded, riding a donkey can gather the Jews and finally return them “home”. Until then, there’s chollent to keep us warm.

I find it interesting that on the other hand Zionism has gotten very out of fashion among Jews at the other end of the spectrum: formerly religious. It seems many who leave orthodoxy also espouse an anti-zionist stance of sorts, mostly because of the overwhelming religious power in the Israeli government and because of atrocities committed against Arabs (not with chollent, rest assured). Zionism, which was the battle cry for many Maskillim and secularists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is not heard at all in the ideology of this generation of Jews who advocate progress and modernization.

PS: I realized that this post came out much heavier than intended — and chuckled at the pun. Nothing I try to cook up comes out as intended. Sigh.