Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Call for Submissions – The Other Ba’al Tshuvah Stories

A Call for Submissions – The Other Ba’al Tshuvah Stories

Although this post will appear on Jewschool as well, I just wanted to give a personal note of thanks for this opportunity to UOJ. As some of you may know, I was a writer here before joining Jewschool, and it was here on UOJ that I first began speaking about my own earlier experience as a Jewish fundamentalist, and my problems with famous and powerful kiruv institutions, such as Ohr Somayach. This was a hard thing for me to do, in part because of my own lack of pride in many aspects of that experience. As I expected, I was attacked as crazy, a loser, and weak minded for listening to rabbis in the first place. This from Ultra-Orthodox Jews! But UOJ himself and the core writers of the early days of this blog were very supportive, and most surprising, quite understanding. And I discovered it wasn’t the end of the world to talk about what I thought was wrong in Ultra-Orthodox kiruv, or even what went wrong for me. In the end, I felt a lot stronger. This was made possible by UOJ. I had never spoken about such things publicly. I was finally facing my past as a Jewish fundamentalist.

All too often, the Orthodox community is uninterested in alleviating a frequently destructive situation for so many ba’alei tshuvahs. It is a cold numbers game, and control over as much of their lives as possible is considered ideal, even paramount. The secular Jewish community is all too frequently ignorant about what the problems are, and when they resist what is happening to their children and their friends, end up discussing “hashkafa” issues, which is right where the kiruv masters want the discussion.

What UOJ has proven with his stunning success is that the Orthodox community cannot be trusted to police itself properly, but enforcement must be imposed from outside. And although much of his readership are committed Ultra-Orthodox Jews, there are others, many who may be appropriate for this new project, or know others. ]-- DK

It was only a matter of time before current or former ba’alei tshuvahs banded together to oppose their radical policies and excesses. That time is now.

If the Ultra-Orthodox compilations and movies about Ba’alei Tshuvah are to be believed, most stories follow a similar arc. Secular Jew discovers Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Rejects secular world in its entirety. Marries like-minded newly religious spouse. Lives very fulfilling and meaningful life, and achieves higher and higher spiritual levels.

What is not discussed is the socio-economic devastation to middle-class recruits, the lies, the discouragement of secular education, the dissatisfaction in performing low level jobs for those who listen, the discouragement of vocational ambition, the lack of intensive hard skills offered such as the Hebrew and Aramaic language, the preference given to those from wealthy families, the encouragement of stringency, the encouragement of neurotic and obsessive behavior, marriages arranged not on love but on a value system assimilated usually for only a couple of years, the push for isolation from friends and all but immediate family, and the eventual massive dropout rate of ba’a’lei tshuva.

They must have had a hard time finding anyone with such problems.

That’s why Failed Messiah (Shmarya Rosenberg) and David Kelsey are joining forces. We want to help! And since there are obviously very few such cases judging by all the success stories, we are teaming up together to find these very, very few and isolated cases of dissatisfaction, in the off-chance there are any.

And since the ultra-Orthodox world is so confident of the superior lifestyle they are advocating for secular Jews, we know they won’t mind us compiling a book that raises the difficult issues they must have forgotten to ask in their never ending releases about how much happier everyone is who joins the ranks of Jewish fundamentalism, and presents them to the secular Jewish community. In fact, we know the Ultra-Orthodox kiruv institutions will be thrilled to have Jews who experienced first-hand the joys of Ultra-Orthodox ba’al tshuvah living express how they think things should be different, and what went wrong. And what they think about the institutions and faculty they attended.

If you or anyone you know is a ba’al tshuvah or former ba’al tshuvah, we want to hear his/her story. The unedited version. The version not fit for the holy Artscroll. Essays needed as well! Specific topics preferred.

Please contact us. For more information, please go to http://www.kiruvstories.com/.

Or email us at- submissions@kiruvstories.com.

We need your help!