Thursday, April 26, 2018

Chasing Jews Away from Judaism

The view from behind the Mechitza (OJADAR)
If one wants to know what NOT to do when interacting with secular Jews, one need not look further than a post on Facebook (originally in Hebrew but translated rather awkwardly there). It was about the experience a secular Jewish woman had in the Orthodox Shul where her youngest cousin was celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. The short version is that she felt very uncomfortable and unwelcome. From the post (in translation): 
At the entrance to the synagogue stood several men in prayer shawls: "Men straight, women right and up."
No peace, no good morning.
Mom and I began to move forward and then the guy raised the voice: "Women right!"
I explained to him that I was not deaf and continued on my way (I went to the right...), while I was silencing the cell phone. "And without a cell phone!" He continued to shout after me in a scolding tone…
We went to the women's aid and met the other women in the family. My shoes rattled the stairs so the second we went in, they were greeted with sour pickles. "Shhhhhh ..." We sat down…
Needless to say I did not see anything because not only is the help located on the floor above the prayer hall, it is also separated by a high wooden lattice. You have to stand and see, and there are many women so I'm not sure you'll be able to make your way to the front row…
When we tried to get close to the grate they made faces, but who cares. We threw taffy on the men and were excited when the youngest child in the family read his story perfectly. Even then they scolded us for the candies (not before the scooper had collected a handful into his pocket).
At some point I rummaged through my bag and checked the cell phone (which is well hidden in the bag) [looking for what she believed was an important text - HM]
The lady next to me saw and barked that cell phones were forbidden, and that I should be ashamed. Then she added: "Just go away, you have no interest here, it's not yours."
One might defend the reaction somewhat by saying that she came in with a chip on her shoulder. Or because some of the things she did were clearly offensive to Orthodox Jews. Such as  checking  her ‘well hidden’ cellphone. True, it is disturbing to see that in a Shul on Shabbos during Davening. But that does not excuse the reaction these Jews had to this woman.

If she was there only to stir up controversy and ‘show the world’ how intolerant Orthodox Jews were to secular Jews, the reaction might be a bit more understandable. But even then, that kind of reaction is inappropriate. It would feed right into an anti Orthodox agenda which would be reported to the world.  In this instance - you fight fire with kindness. Not fire.

But it is highly unlikely that this woman came in with an agenda in any case. She said that she ‘came from a good place’ and simply wanted to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah with her family. That she was secular – which was made obvious by the cellphone part of her story - should have generated an opposite reaction. You do not win any friends by telling an obviously secular Jew to ‘Go away’ and that she doesn’t belong. The truth is that she does belong. She is every bit as Jewish as the Orthodox congregants there.

The fact that she contrasted this experience with what she recalls being a marvelous experience she had in a non Orthodox Shul makes it even more likely that she will – not only never see Orthodox Jews in a positive light again, but that she will run away as far them as she can form them. And then tell the world why in a Facebook post – thus turning off any other secular Jew reading it. 

That is indeed what she did.

I realize that a having a positive experience in that Shul would  very likely not by itself have encouraged her to seek a more observant life. But we will never know that for sure. What we do know is that it is more unlikely now than ever because of this experience.

The right thing to do was to treat her with the dignity any human being should get. Especially a fellow member of God’s chosen people. She is not evil. There was no malicious intent in her attendance in that Shul. She just wanted to participate in her cousin’s Simcha. That should be the assumption made by all of us about secular Jews that enter a Shul. And not to treat them like they were our enemies.

Can anyone imagine what she might have written had she had a positive experience? Had she been greeted with a friendly face and told nicely where women are seated  - and was there anything she needed… not ‘shushed’ about the noise her shoes made climbing the stairs... not scolded her about the candies she threw... and had the woman next to her looked the other way when she checked her cellphone... Had she not been told to  get out and the she doesn’t belong.... 

Had she instead been treated in a welcoming fashion her experience would have likely rendered a glowing review on Facebook instead of the travesty she described. She was very likely in the category of a Tinok SheNishba - a woman ‘captured as a child’ having been raised with no real knowledge about what it means to be an Orthodox Jew and live life in accordance to Halacha. 

Instead of trying to make her feel comfortable and welcome she was made to feel the opposite of that.

I don’t get the righteous indignation of Orthodox Jews that react this way to secular Jews. Do they not realize that they chase people away from an observant lifestyle with such behavior? What do they gain by having had this reaction? Who do they serve by throwing an obstacle to observance in front of a fellow Jew? 

Does it make them feel better? Did it make them holier in the eyes of God? Do they think God doesn’t care about a Tinok SheNishba? That He is willing to write them off just because they were not born into religious families? ...or somehow became observant via others? Have they not an obligation to show their own people the beauty of Judaism and to make sure that they have a willing listener instead of chasing them away because their behavior did not fit with the religious decorum of the Shul?!

I am appalled at the way this woman was treated. Even if she had an agenda, that behavior only fed into it… corroborating an anti Orthodox view. It is not hard to imagine that treating even such a woman with kindness and trying our best to make her feel comfortable – the difficult time she would have spinning that experience negatively.   

Where do they get the idea that secular Jews are to be mistreated that way? Have they been indoctrinated to see all secular Jews as the enemy? If so, they too need Kiruv. Because this behavior is about as un-Jewish as it can get.