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Would I be good in Kiruv?

17 Oct

Sometimes I wonder if I’d be successful doing kiruv. Or rabbanus. Off the bat, you’re gonna laugh, I know, and the pros and cons here don’t paint a great picture either, but I wonder if the actual baalei teshuva/geirim/spiritually-minded in the audience would care to weigh in here.

Cons: 1. I can’t look at Jewish propaganda. A Jewish grandfather and kid laughing with white yarmulkes on and some Israel/family ad makes me cringe. An interenet meme hijacked by some mitzvah motivator makes me want to find a slightly overweight man in a suit with a black hat and trimmed beard and punch them hard, repeatedly. (You want to see someone profaning holy things? Foul Bachelor Frog promoting shacharis with only the barest pretense of humor evident.)

I can’t stand the davening. I barely ever do it except maybe once a week in shul, and then I leave out all the stuff that makes my skin crawl. Which is basically every other sentence.

I can’t imagine having to represent Judaism every second of the day. Wait, I kind of do that with my yarmulke on all the time. But that’s off sometimes, like at the beach. Plus, I don’t have to do public events and get my face plastered all over.

Pros:

1. I like people listening to me.

2. I hate my job now.

3. I actually know the Jewish religion/philosophy/practice really well.

4. Hot women will suddenly be approaching ME for conversation.

5. I’m a pretty good speaker. I’m funny, and I can spin a pretty good vort out of most parshios out there. With life lessons thrown in at opportune moments.

5. Everything I say will suddenly have the weight of 3500 years of serious tradition behind it. Proxy respect, you say? My ego can’t tell the difference!

Now on to questionable areas: Would prospective religion seekers like my ideas? I can see it going both ways. Very broadly, here’s my outlook summed up in a hypothetical kiruv conversation.

Rabbi Dicker, Will I find ultimate truth in frum Judaism?

It really depends. I don’t know you well enough. It’s definitely possible you’ll be very happy for a while. Of course, then you might become even more depressed after investing your life in it and hating it. I’m not touching this one.

Is the Torah true?

Oh god. I don’t know. OK, probably not. Wait, wait! I’m just speaking rationally. You know, statistically speaking, with all the other competing traditions out there. And all the unbelievable myths, and antiquated beliefs you’ll undoubtedly find while learning through it. But really, Joanne, why does it matter?

Why does it ma-?

Yes. Let’s look at the facts on the ground here. Clearly people have a need for religion. Look at you, growing up in a secularized, rational, environment, looking now for that old time religion to follow. It’s hard going into the world by ourselves. Maybe biologically, we need this emotional support to be happy in life. Go to the most remote, ancient, primitive, villages on Earth, and they’ll all have sacred rituals that connect them with some higher forces. Just accept it and be happy. And if you’re being smart about the whole thing, while you’re at it, why not choose the one with the rituals that don’t creep you out, and that you’re already kind of familiar with, and that brings back those positive childhood memories of going to grandpa’s house?”

Hmm? Anyone think my spiel has merit? Think it’ll win me enough congregants to make Anshei Agnostics a success?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. Because at it’s essence, isn’t kiruv really just about showing a nice, smiling family around a shabbos table to people who are too emotionally screwed up to ever have it? I can do that. Shit, who am I kidding? I can’t pull that off. Maybe I’ll become a male stripper.

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Thank God We Don’t Live In The Alte Heim.

2 Jun

I was researching the history of medieval England in a nearby college library- ok fine, I was watching Robin Hood (the one with Russel Crowe). But it’s pretty gritty and looks realistic enough for me to assume it’s based on actual research, so it got me thinking about how horrible life was for most people in basically every single other era ever.

First off, the peasants live in shit, many times literally, they work their asses off and live in rat infested houses eating hard bread and gruel when they’re lucky enough to get food. They’re filthy, smelly, toothless, and are under the rule of barons who can do whatever the hell they want to them. Knights can kill them for sport, just ride around lopping off heads like its human polo, and they have no recourse.

I just reread a chassidish story that I heard as a kid but didn’t really understand in context. The Polish nobles, called Poretzes, ruled their land with absolute power. The central government wasn’t very strong and the king relied on the Barons to keep order, run the land, pay taxes and provide men for wars. One day a family couldn’t pay their rent. So the poretz decided to lock him and his wife and kids up in his dungeon to die unless the tax was paid by the community. This is already an advanced society, there are fair rules that the poretz lays out and follows. You pay, you stay alive. In other places, the noble decides he doesn’t like Jews and wants to kill all of them. So he does. Then, in some places, the noble will let the Jews stay only if they pay a crazy amount of tax. If someone thinks its unfair and asks why only the Jews have to pay a 90% tax, he says, “Because I hate you dirty Jews, of course.” That’s it. That’s his political message to his constituents. He decides to kill a bunch of kids to get his tax paid? That’s a sound fiscal policy.

Then, there are constant wars. This was very hard for me to figure out when I was watching Robin Hood. Apparently, the French and English not only like living in shit, but want other people’s shit. To what end? I have no clue. But they staged massive wars, with thousands of peasants and soldiers killing each other for absolutely no reason other than the chance to get back to their miserable shit lives if they survived. And the peasants, of course, were sent in first! With like sharp sticks or tools or tree-cutting axes if they had them.

These were actual people. With brains and everything. Being used as a flesh wall. If these people could have been educated, they could’ve built up a modern society, with doctors that actually healed you instead of raping you to cure your pneumonia. Or they could’ve built a nuclear bomb and destroyed their enemies. At least they’re doing something that reflects their potential as human beings. It was totally different. They didn’t even look at people like that, like they could improve their situation. This was life. It makes me wonder how future generations will look at us. We think we’re advanced, but who knows what we’re doing to screw people up and squander all the potential we have. We are a few hundred years out of the dark ages. In Eastern Europe and Russia, they’re 150 years out of it. I bet people 500 years down the road will look at our society and think we’re just as barbaric as Medieval people were. We can’t help it. We’re trying, but we’re probably just barely scratching the surface. Unless society just breaks down over lack of oil and over population and whatever else. Then they’ll look back on us and marvel and think we were the apex of civilization.

Rabbi Fink Is Right

24 May

What if some woman would write into us from Yemen about how upset she is at the media’s portrayal of the state of Muslim women, and how wonderful this Muslim lifestyle is, and how she can leave whenever she wants, and how beautiful the Koran’s view of women is and how all her friends are so happy etc, and she just fails to mention that she and her friends are Americans with enough education, means and outside ties to leave whenever they want, and the country really has no way of stopping them because they’re American citizens?

I wonder if the baalei tshuva talking about the XOJane Chaya article can see how much of an outrage that would cause among Arabic women who left Muslim countries to live in America and who are trying to raise awareness of the abuse they and their sisters and mothers are going through. And how they would respond to things like “I’m sorry you went through that, but that’s not how REAL Islam is supposed to be like.” Fuck you, that’s EXACTLY how real Islam is in most Arab countries, whether you live it or not. How dare you cover up someone else’s pain because it interferes with the image of your beautiful kumbaya lifestyle.

Before the Cold War, socialists in England during Lenin and Stalin’s reign, when millions of people were being slaughtered in Russia,  did whatever they could to stop the reports of the mass starvations and killings happening in Russia from being published. Not because they were under any threat from Stalin. This was the 1930’s, England was the most powerful country on Earth. They did it entirely to save a Utopian idea. They willingly sacrificed millions of Russian people to save an idea that had never worked outside of the drawing board. If you think for a moment that that’s what God wants, I really don’t know what to say.

Do research. Look at the facts on the ground and report them accurately. Don’t ignore other people or fake that you know how other people live to promote your own vision.

Douchebag.

Rabbi Fink’s excellent article: http://finkorswim.com/2012/05/22/dear-chaya/

 

Today, Blockbuster Video Teaches Us Why Life Sucks, and What We Can’t Do To Fix It

23 Apr

Totally unrelated. This picture just creeped me out and I had to let you all get creeped out with me.

There’s a classic Onion video on frumsatire today about Blockbuster video. In case you haven’t seen it, go do it, and then come back, because I’m about to kill a great joke:

Basically, the video, made a few years back when Blockbuster still had stores, pretends an actual Blockbuster store is a historical museum. An actor playing a ‘customer’ tells the listening tour group about how she had to drive 6 miles each way to pick up and return a video. Other people are interviewed expressing amazement at the trouble early video watchers had to go through in order to watch a movie. It’s hilarious and perfectly done, but it still makes me feel sad.

I remember when watching a movie was exciting. You had to go drive to the store and look around till you found one, and actually pay for it. And once you were there, you could pick up a giant box of candy or popcorn or something. Watching a movie was an experience. There was a whole adventure part to it that’s gone now.

And I know I’m sounding a bit stupid pining for the good old days here, not appreciating how technology has made our lives easier and so on. But I think this is a real point. What’s the whole point of watching a movie? To escape the monotony of our lives for a while and live a more exciting one for a little bit, right? And ostensibly, getting the movies faster would save time and money and let us enjoy these pleasurable moments more often too, right? Yet, it doesn’t seem to work out like that. Because actually getting the movie was usually more exciting than watching it. And looking back, I think it’s obvious why. You had to go out on a special mission to find something for you and your friends to enjoy. That was real. Even though the movie itself was fake. Even though the movie didn’t stay in your head till the next week or even day, the trip to get it did. Because it was a break from the ordinary. Because sometimes you met weird people along the way, or encountered small obstacles in your journey that you overcame, or find slightly cool, different types of candy than usual. All the time you spent was fulfilling. You were doing something that mattered. You were getting the best movie so you could have the best time with your friends.

I think that’s the way it is with all of life. And why all the conveniences we have available today aren’t making us (or me, at least) any happier. All the basic things that we used to have to do to survive are done for us. Yes, you can bake a cake, or build a birdhouse, or even shoot a deer for food. But it’s all pointless. Your real value in this world is being a cog in the machine to make something for someone else and get paid for your time wasted. Anyone else can do what you do. Millions of people are right outside the door waiting to take over as soon as you drop out. Unless you find a niche that nobody else is taking care of, you, as an individual, are worthless. You have no intrinsic value. You aren’t needed at all. 

And I think that’s uncomfortable, at a very basic level, for anyone to feel. It makes you uneasy, insecure, even scared. If you aren’t contributing anything to the pack, you can be easily replaced and be out on the street as soon as someone else decides so. You are powerless over your own future, over your own survival.

I think you can do a shit job and be happy if you’re supporting a family. Then people need you, you’re always welcome. But the insecurity of your job can probably kill you even more then. You’re investing your whole worth into this small group of people. If you can’t provide, you have no more value to them. This will always be true on some level. The only people who are free of this are naturally secure people. You’ve met a few in your time, I’m sure. These are people, who, for whatever reason, are confident in themselves. They don’t have to worry as long as they’re still around. It’s not a logical feeling. It’s emotional. Based on a good childhood and probably some good genes too. These people are really living life. Doing what they want to do on this planet.

Religion gets you out of all this. Gives you security, purpose, value, no matter what. But it’s the easy way out. And deep down, most people don’t rely on it. Oh, they tell themselves over and over and try to “work on their emunah”, to “bolster their faith”, but that’s because they don’t have any in the first place. When the chips are down, they’ve never seen God, never relied on it. Many people say they have, yet even though they have plenty of money, still slave away trying to make as much money as they can, to stock away in the bank. They are collecting a “nest egg”, a “parachute”, etc. That’s what people really believe in. That’s the security that lets them sleep at night. 

I know I have no way to prove this, but I’d bet the people who really believe, who really rely on faith, are a tiny percentage. A few guys in lakewood who are dirt poor and DONT survive on federal funds or parents or relatives. Some random other people sprinkled around whose life isn’t spent making money. They may or may not be living a fantasy, but those people are really living too. Meandering rant over.

Pesach is Coming

9 Apr

This pissed me off over pesach:

There’s a guy at shul who’s constantly giving mussar to everyone else. Like he thinks he’s everyone’s personal mashgiach. The guy barely knows other people in shul and he’ll go over, ‘So, you don’t believe in hats?’ Always with a smile of course, so you get caught off guard and don’t have your ‘go fuck yourself’ handy.

Now this guy’s obviously an idiot, probably a failed mashgiach or rebbi or something, but people do this all the time. Just dialed down. Or maybe it’s just frum people. People are constantly talking about everyone else, or just thinking, judging. And if it’s a religious thing, they can shut out the guilt by feeling all frum about themselves. Now they have full permission to, no, a Responsibility, to stop someone else from doing an aveirah.

And no matter how righteous they think they are, they’re usually full of shit. Like me right now. I want to think I’m doing the world a favor by pointing out this behavior, but I’m actually just pissed off at the guy in shul and didn’t get the chance to tell him off. Here’s a mashal I thought about during davening later:

Everyone has to clean and prepare for pesach. If you don’t turn your entire house upside down, you won’t have anywhere to go, or any thing to eat come yomtov. And you get kares.

Let’s say it’s a week before pesach and you haven’t done a thing. You also notice your neighbor hasn’t done a thing. At this point, you have 2 logical choices. You could either A) work on your own house, or B) you could work on your friend’s house. A real tzaddik might help out his friend before himself. Most normal people would obviously do their own houses. But who the fuck would ignore his own house and go make comments about the other guy’s mess?? It’s insane.

Unless you don’t really believe that pesach’s coming. Then you’d look at your own house, maybe try to clean it up a little, see how hard it is and give up. Then, you don’t want to look like a kofer so you don’t let anybody see into your house, pretend you’re cleaning, and divert their attention to other people’s messes. And if you’re really screwed up, you feel guilty, so you point out other people’s flaws to divert your OWN attention from your OWN mess. And maybe you do something because you still feel guilty deep down. Like pointing the mess out to your friend. (Or writing about it on a blog.)

I’m not a lost soul.

3 Apr

One thing baalei teshuva and kiruv-minded people ask me when I mention I’m not so enthusiastic about Hashem (so basically, online) is why I don’t approach it another way. Sometimes, the chassidic minded will quote me the story of what a certain Rebbe told an apikores one time: “The God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.” Why don’t I find God on my own?

These people don’t realize the difference between me and them. I’m not lost or whatever else. I have always had a relationship with God and I’m purposely avoiding him. No matter what I learn, or read, or believe intellectually, no matter how spiritual or scientific or agnostic or atheistic I think in my rational mind, in my core being, I KNOW God. And I know he’s a jerk.

I’ve pretended otherwise, and tried look at him some other nice way, but that’s never REAL God. That will always be superficial, a fiction I’ll always know I created in my own imagination. Real God is the one I’ve been with my entire life, the one I’ve shared every moment with since as far back as I can remember

Real God doesn’t care how I feel or if I love other people or take care of the environment or some other bullshit. Real God gave an old man a book of commandments a long time ago, and he expects me to follow them or he’ll kill me. Sof davar hakol nishma es haelokim yirah vi’es mitzvosav shmor ki ze kol ha’adam. That’s what Real God says to me.

Why I’m Pro-Plastic Surgery (sometimes)

30 Mar

I don’t how many of you are still with me here after some of my recent posts, and I’m probably going to lose a few more of you now, but here goes:

This plastic surgery thing is still going around the Jblogs, so obviously this has kicked up something deep. First off, I want to say I’m against pushing cosmetic plastic surgery to anyone, and of course not to 20-something year old sheltered seminary girls. That’s totally wrong. However, plastic, gastric, and whatever other surgery is an option that women (and men) have the right to make. There’s nothing morally wrong with it.

Modern, first-world, society is a super-connected, tightly packed mass of humanity. Everyone is competing with everyone from everywhere in the world. Certain facial and body shapes and features have been decided to be most desirable because of social, historical, and to a very minor extent, biological factors. Everybody is now competing for these few individuals who have been deemed better people for these tangential reasons. The internet, tv, movies, are presenting these people to us as superior since before we can even talk. Associations of certain facial types with being heroes or better people are rampant, especially in children’s TV (looking at the Disney Channel, it looks like nothing has changed even with all the backlash).

So, what’s a person with a body that was geared to be evolutionarily fitted out for survival and mating in their own region of the world supposed to do now that all their gear and upgrades are suddenly rendered useless? They developed DNA to be able to store nutrition for a rainy day much better than everyone else. They are able have children 10x easier than other people. They can stay out in the sun longer than other people. These used to be important. Suddenly, these features are rendered useless by technology, geography, history. Not only that, they are detriments to finding a mate. What are people supposed to do? Remutate? Go die alone? No, they are designed for survival and reproduction. They use any tool they have to meet these biological imperatives. If people associate long noses or small chins or round shoulders with certain moral characteristics because of superstitions started in 11th century Germany and are therefore pushing you away, you cut that thing in half. Or move out of NY.

You didn’t choose that nose, or even to be born. You were forced into this world and given a job (ok, a fun job) that you must do or live in agony.  I don’t see how anyone can make a case for this not being natural or honest. Well, I can. Because most people are simplistic fuckin idiots.

P.S. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying someone is responsible or is at fault for not having elective surgery. I’m only saying if nature and a mentally unhealthy society f’d you, you have every right to stack the deck now.

P.P.S. Something that I think has arguable basis for being made illegal is Photoshopping models. But then you’d have to ask why camera tricks and makeup and surgically altered people are allowed in movies, which is a case you can’t win in our legal system. Just look at the what the entertainment industry is doing to the courts and congress over copyright laws.