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Jewlicious and Kiruv

I’m going to put this out there because it needs to be said.

Over the past couple of years, enough people have hinted or said outright to people from Jewlicious that funding for programming hasn’t been forthcoming because Jewlicious is perceived to be a stealth kiruv movement.

I have been writing for Jewlicious since virtually its founding, have attended all of the Jewlicious Festivals except for one and am close friends with ck, founder of Jewlicious, for over a decade now. I also know Yonah and Rachel Bookstein personally and consider them friends.

I am a secular Jew who, while respecting our traditions, drives on shabbat, eats food that isn’t kosher and who recoils in disgust at kiruv organizations and their activities. I have seen families torn apart by kiruv organizations and have zero respect for them or their mission. Simply put, I would never be involved in any activity that involves kiruv or with people who have anything to do with kiruv.

I can report with complete confidence that I have never seen anything on this site or at any Jewlicious Festival that resembles kiruv. Nothing. Nada.

On the contrary, Jewlicious and Jewlicious Festivals embody a philosophy of openness and togetherness to all Jews from all streams. We debate the topic, sure, as we have for example the question of half-Jews and Christians who call themselves Jews for Jesus or Messianic Jews, but Jewlicious has enabled such discussions and did not shut out any voices.

What Jewlicious has done and is doing is admirable precisely because it looks beyond labels and streams and seeks to bring together people on the simple basis of their connection to the Jewish people. To remind those who see a black-hatted, bearded Jew and automatically assume that he will seek to indoctrinate a non-observant Jew, you need to give others the same benefit of the doubt you expect for yourselves and understand that it’s possible for an Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jew to interact without one trying to sway the other’s belief system. Bigotry is unbecoming regardless of who is practicing it and it should be noted that Jewlicious is special precisely because it is one of the few places where Jews of all streams come together and share experiences without consideration for whose religious philosophy or stream is the right one.

To conclude, I’d like to quote David Abitbol, who founded Jewlicious with the goal, as he told me when he recruited me to join, of creating a site for young Jews that is positive about Israel and about Jewish life in general. Period. He’s speaking as to the challenges Jewlicious faces in growing its programming – its highly effective, non-kiruv programming that brings young Jews of all denominations together and allows them to leave their joint experience feeling as part of a larger family of Jews and completely comfortable in their own Jewish religious philosophies.

Why are we not flush with cash? Well, after 7 years and countless successful programs (including this blog) many still see us as a sophisticated Orthodox Kiruv movement. Just as an aside, I’d like to add a hearty “fuck you!” to those ignoramuses that still think that because we include Orthodox Jews, we’re all about Kiruv. Next time you come to a Jewlicious Festival, join the Reform Minyan for services and stick your Orthodox kiruv where the sun don’t shine.

Don’t let the “fuck you” dissuade you from supporting the next Jewlicious festival or activity. Instead, let it serve as a wake-up call. Here is a group of people that have proven to be effective in reaching the young Jewish demographic and doing so in a way that resonates with them for years. Isn’t this what we’re all looking for in the Jewish community? Open your email and send a message to ck, David Abitbol, asking him how you can help and cut it out already with the silly accusations and excuses for not supporting a worthy organization.

(This post was written of my own volition and not by anybody’s request or encouragement).

23 Comments

  1. jkaplb

    7/14/2011 at 5:14 pm

    Amen! And as a reminder, major funding for the Jewlicious Festivals here in Long Beach has primarily come from three families. They have all contributed to the success of Jewlicious for the past SEVEN years.Two families (representing 3/4 of the collective funding) are members of a local Reform congregation, and have attended the Festivals.

  2. ck

    7/15/2011 at 4:38 am

    Ha ha ha. I was dealing with a server issue and didn’t see this until Dan Brown told me about it. I’m sorry for the use of foul language but it was either that or a photo of a half naked woman wearing an I Love Hashem shirt. The point was to do something that was unequivocally non-kiruv.

    I hope we made ourselves clear, but this whole thing still causes me great dismay. So I pray in an Orthodox minyan. So what? SO the couple that had the vision and the gumption to put the Festivals together these past 7 years happen to be an Orthodox Rabbi and a Rebbetzin. We’re solely motivated by the desire to accomplish what every Jewish organization out there is trying to do – namely, to allow people, particularly unaffiliated Jewish youth, to contemplate the role that Judaism plays in their identities on the basis of positive Jewish experiences. These experiences include a traditional shabbat meal, maybe a little Torah study, but they also include Reform services, Yoga, music and rocking out and partying with fellow tribe members.

    What really sucks is that we have to constantly check ourselves to make sure we’re not “too Jewish” lest prospective funders think we’re just trying to steal Jewish souls and sacrifice them at the alter of Haredi Judaism. Fucking hell, eh?

    So nu, TM. I need a chavruta partner. Maybe you and I can study some toyreh, do a little mitzvos and study the Daf Yomi over Skype every day? And maybe if you like it, there’s an awesome Yeshiva I can hook you up with for some long term Torah study. You’ll have to quit your job but your wife works right? It’s a small sacrifice for the sake of Toyreh and mitzvos and Hashem…. you in bucko?

    😉

    • themiddle

      7/15/2011 at 6:20 am

      Who’s hashem? Is that the guy who sells the pita with za’atar up the street from you?

  3. froylein

    7/15/2011 at 5:07 am

    Wait… You mean to say we’re not playing “good contributor / bad contributor” to get people to act in certain ways?

  4. SR

    7/15/2011 at 7:00 am

    with all due respect, the author should heed their own words and “look beyond labels and streams”…many ‘kiruv’ organizations also “seek(s) to bring together people on the simple basis of their connection to the Jewish people.” while the tactics of some kiruv organizations may be questionable, i assure you that there are more groups whose efforts would not necessitate “recoiling in disgust”, but who deserve well-earned respect as well as funding.

    • themiddle

      7/15/2011 at 1:58 pm

      With all due respect, kiruv organizations deserve zero funding. If anything, we should be funding anti-kiruv organizations whose sole task it is to undermine the efforts of kiruv organizations.

  5. DK

    7/15/2011 at 10:54 am

    “while the tactics of some kiruv organizations may be questionable”

    No, SR. The tactics of many kiruv organizations are fucking problematic. No question. Own it!

    And I wholeheartedly concur that Jewlicious is NOT a kiruv org. They are energetic, often misguided, and even boorish Zionists who talk about Israel a LOT. But they are certainly NOT kiruvniks.

    Now, if anyone wants to talk kiruvniks, I have some ideas. Ok, so NCSY is taking public school kids from the JSU.org going to Aish for shabbos. Look: http://www.ncsysummer.com/ This has to be exposed! They have no right to take perfectly functional Jewish teens to a fahfrumpteh factory like Aish.com so they can wash their brains out with 48-ways conditioner. Tell Brad Sugar of jsu.org to stop deceptively recruiting our youth for Aish and Ohr Somayach via NCSY!

    • froylein

      7/15/2011 at 1:15 pm

      Awwwwww, I’ve only just noticed how much I miss you.

  6. Brad

    7/15/2011 at 1:01 pm

    I absolutely refuse to be maligned in the public sphere like this. If someone that has had ACTUAL interaction with our students, organization or board would like to talk with me, please feel free to do so.

    Or, talk with our funders (huge supporters of kiruv, let me tell you /end sarcasm) – which DK has done many times, trying to dupe some of the most well educated and respected philanthropists (with a rigorous evaluation of the programs they fund) about what we are accomplishing.

    Or, you can talk with national BBYO and Matt Grossman, who will vouch for our work and continued expansion of it (see one of BBYO’s recent MBA grad’s capstone project for what JSU has done for BBYO.

    I have no interest in flamewars, so please don’t attempt to drag me into one…but do continue the awesome work you’re doing at jewlicious!

  7. DK

    7/15/2011 at 2:37 pm

    “trying to dupe some of the most well educated and respected philanthropists (with a rigorous evaluation of the programs they fund) about what we are accomplishing.”

    No, Brad. That is nonsense. And the fact that BBYO may get something out of the JSU does not change the fact that NCSY has disproportionate control AND has recruiting ties to ultra-Orthodox and haredi institutions.

    For instance, the majority of board members of the JSU are Orthodox Union (parent org of NCSY) members. Look: http://www.jsu.org/our-board-of-directors/

    Any comment, Brad?

    I am not “duping” anyone. And I challenge Brad to a public debate on the problems I see with NCSY’s disproportionate control of the JSU instead of calling me names and slandering me on a personal and professional level.

  8. DK

    7/15/2011 at 2:39 pm

    Ask Brad of the JSU what Israel trips were available to JSU students this year that weren’t NCSY trips. Ask him to answer the question without ad hominem against me.

  9. themiddle

    7/15/2011 at 2:59 pm

    Sheesh, this was a post about Jewlicious and now it’s about kiruv. Fair enough.

    In fairness to Brad, Kelsey, you did single him and his organization out even though this post was purposely generic in discussing kiruv. Of course he’s going to defend his position and his organization and of course there’s going to be an inevitable fight as a consequence.

  10. DK

    7/15/2011 at 3:24 pm

    Brad is admittedly in a tough spot. But NCSY is the haredi institutions’ recruiting hand into our public school system, and that hand must be slapped away like an unwanted stranger’s grope on your girlfriend’s tit.

  11. themiddle

    7/15/2011 at 3:33 pm

    Shhhh, my wife isn’t supposed to know about her.

  12. josh

    7/16/2011 at 8:19 pm

    I understand the point of this post, but it’s just typical self Jewish-denial, and frankly ‘suicidally’ idiotic (bottom). I know about the Jewish-denial because I was once there as well and swam in it. You just don’t want to get too close to Chabad or the religious guys at Hillel because you think it might not look good to your friends (Jewish and non-Jewish), but frankly, I later realized that the goyim put us all in the same category anyway so there is no point anyway. Now I really regret not taking participating in Jewish life on campus.

    I like the way some people think they have a monopoly on the definition of kiruv. Middle, why are you trying to exaggerate the vague meaning of ‘outreach’? For me, outreach has always included organizations like Aish, Or Samayach, Chabad, Hillel, Birthright and certainly Heeb and Jewlicious as well. Outreach is not only about getting boys to wear kipas and girls into skirts, but rather about getting boys into Jewish girl’s skirts and girls to find boys who wear kipas even rarely and not those goyim who do not. The main objective of outreach is to fight assimilation. Tshuva? Gimme a break. No one can force you to do tshuva except yourself.

    I don’t care what wikipedia says either, to me kiruv/outreach has always been anything done by a Jewish organization to attract Jewish participation. Summer camp, a pizza party at synagogue, a purim party with kosher drinks, whatever. Reform or Orthodox, they all do it. Maybe middle is too embarrassed to admit what he’s been apart of the past few years.

    And instead of swearing, why don’t you search for what made Jewlicious great in the mid 2000s, with almost every post getting tons of comments and why now you guys find a need to post articles about sex and reuse that ‘I love Hashem’ crotch piece endlessly. Are posts like this that have a definite risk insulting many people going to attract people of the tribe?

    • themiddle

      7/17/2011 at 1:02 am

      Birthright is not the same as what Or Somayach does. Chabad is not the same as Aish. Hillel is not the same either. Get real.

      Kiruv is to outreach what Chinese water torture is to a walk in the park.

    • ck

      7/17/2011 at 12:18 pm

      Aw c’mon! I love that crotch piece! But all kidding aside, you make some valid points. And while we all come from very different perspectives, we’re all to one extent or another trying to bring Jews closer to Judaism writ large. We work as hard as we do because we have something to promote and whenwe say we’re not a kiruv organization it means we’re not kiruv the way Aish or Ohr Sameach is Kiruv. We don’t need people to be Jewlicious groupies – we just want them to find something of value for them in the Jewish world. As for what made Jewlicious great, well… there’s only so much a bunch of unpaid people can do. Writer retention is a problem when no one gets paid. Life intervenes, rent’s gotta get paid etc. etc. But there’s a lot of passion in the Jewlicious family. We’ve spawned Russian Jewlicious ( http://jewlicious.ru ) and coming soon Jewlicious University.

      But still, you’re totally right. I have been duly and rightfully chastised. What kind of posts would you like to see more of Josh?

      • themiddle

        7/17/2011 at 2:18 pm

        Josh is not totally right. Sorry. There is no connection between trying to recruit a person into something that will change every aspect of his life versus trying to inform people in a broad sense about Israel and Jewish life. Come on guys, I have (former) friends who left everything behind because of Aish. Everything. And boy, was there a system in place to absorb them and make sure they remained in their new fold, or what? What does that have to do with what we do or Jewish summer camp?

        • josh

          7/24/2011 at 4:53 pm

          whatcha saying? that Jewlicious is just for no obligation shallow stuzim? We’ve had many a deep discussion that was not limited to a ‘broad sense about Israel and Jewish life’.

          Aish is not a cult. People come, people go.

          Froylein, Jewlicious is the public face of the writers of the blog and what they are pushing. Most media are infiltrated with an agenda. To your credit, there are many voices here, each with his own agenda. Jewlicious is not a cult either 🙂 yet. Maybe…it might be a good way to attract yuppies and then take their money. You can call it Jewliciology. Start with concerts and camps, organizing trips to places, and then sell them tshirts and other shmatas too for a nice markup.

          But back to serious, it’s tough being a blogger these days. Twitter and facebook allow people an easy way to express themselves, endlessly, which had been one of the early ‘killer-apps’ of blogs on the net. Many blogs, I think not voluntarily, allow you to get the new posts sent in email so you no longer have to physically visit the site which would expose you to updated comments and encourage replies.

          • froylein

            7/24/2011 at 8:51 pm

            Ever heard of RSS-feeds? Twitter is the true sleep pill of blogs IMNSHO.

            Anyhow, it’s more than a stretch to try to brand Jewlicious as kiruv in light of that
            a) there is no party line. We are not supposed to work towards a certain goal;
            b) there are no differing voices on here just for the show. There can be internal criticism (internal so as not to shame someone publicly) of certain views expressed, but there is no censorship – sometimes not to our advantage even. As far as I’ve seen, even contributor accounts of people CK had serious disagreements with over private matters years back are still valid;
            c) we don’t go after people that disagree with us. There are no nightly threatening calls (Hello, cowards! ‘Member me?), no hints of what might happen if [fill in your dissenting view or action of choice here]. We don’t try to break up families / relationships;
            d) we don’t promote gender inequality and / or a lifestyle based in gender inequality as a rule;
            e) we don’t encourage people to drop out of their careers / formal education. We don’t need mouldable material. We need people we can argue with. Coming to think of it, the average level of formal education among Jewlicious contributors is comparatively high;
            f) we don’t have to check back with CK before we reply to somebody. Our comments reflect our very own views respectively the views of our online personae (I use the plural in case anybody but Muffti has adopted one);
            g) there is no pyramid scheme of recruitment. We neither get rewarded for suggesting a new contributor to CK nor are we pushed to recruit anybody;
            h) we do not channel funds towards CK, mediately or immediately, to be permitted to blog on here. Running a site requires expenses that can barely be covered through ads, and CK doesn’t live in a castle with Italian marble and golden water taps;
            i) we do not enforce any dress codes at events;
            j) we don’t monitor contributors’ and / or readers’ private life (relationships, sex life, hobbies, reading). There is no system of informers.

            This list of what you can encounter with certain organisations if you only open your eyes can be continued.

    • froylein

      7/17/2011 at 1:08 pm

      We don’t use sneaky techniques to trick people in to something we are not prima facie. Refer to DK for explanations on that.

      Jewlicious is just Jewlicious, not the publicly appealing face of an organisation.

      I agree with Middle on the idea that kiruv is not synonymous with outreach. How could it be as long as (most? just for the benefit of the doubt) kiruv organisations don’t aim to reach out but to pull in, to make people conform to their limited and often-times not actually (comprehensively) educated and even less integrative idea of what constitutes a Jewish person or at the least hold up to and evaluate people by that standard.
      I know there are people that believe that the ends justify the means, but that goes against my convictions.

      If we were such an organisation, I wouldn’t be blogging on here.
      I think it is no secret that I disagree with CK on certain issues and have voiced my disagreement more than once on and off this site and have received criticism for views I expressed / facts I reported about on and off this site as well. There’s no outreach in being exclusive and dumbing people down, is there?

      I’ve had considerably less time to blog lately because of family and work commitments, but when I blogged more regularly, the more educational and factual posts were not generally well-received. Writing such posts takes a lot of (unpaid) time as I draw from a large body of reference works as opposed to just talking out of my derriere or introducing some professionally written article by somebody else or, hey, sharing recipes of what I’ve baked already anyhow. Anybody want a recipe for a strawberry-vanilla ice cream charlotte?

  13. josh

    7/25/2011 at 6:53 pm

    froylein,
    my definition of kiruv/outreach has a linear relation with the rate of assimilation of Jews in the diaspora. Kiruv used to be relegated to the organizations you guys might want to appear to distance yourselves from, but on the other hand, like I already said, you are still part of it. If you find the need to make a distinction between religious outreach and non-religious outreach, go ahead, I think it’s time to openly admit that we all want to prevent assimilation and the self-destruction of diaspora Jewry and all means are kosher here. Outreach is not a bad word.

    • froylein

      7/26/2011 at 2:04 am

      Josh, “assimilation” is a scare-crow that has never existed other than in the minds of those that are too afraid of stepping out into the world. “Assimilation” is what you find on StarTrek. Even the Spanish conversos that had been religious before managed to retain their specific variety of Judaism and from what I’ve read, even less religious ones made it a point to incorporate Judaism into their lives.

      What is often referred to as “assimilation” was the period of Jewish Enlightment, in which Jews were granted extended civil rights and Jewish researchers, artists, writers etc. gained more wide-spread recognition. Nobody was assimilated into something; rather, many an outstanding Jew of notoriety used the new chances to finally (!!!) live up to their potential. The newly developing Orthodoxy was the (also more often than not religiously) illiterate reactionary counter-movement that started to emphasis custom over knowledge and frugal discourse (as is reported by contemporaries of Baal Shem-Tov and Dov Ber). In a nutshell, it was the movement afraid of this world which later claimed to be the norma normans of Judaism that managed that a lot of Jewish knowledge only survived in the scholarly writings and libraries of their secular brethren. And yes, I do find a need to make a distinction between actually teaching and broadening people’s horizon and sheltering them off, not uncommonly employing means that have got nothing to do with a self-confident, well-educated movement including means I listed above.

      If you want to destroy the Jewish diaspora that across Europe has managed to re-establish a cultural life apart from the kitschy notion of faux-shtetl sentimentality, go ahead, send kiruvniks after them, but that won’t preserve anything that is of distinctive quality and authenticity. Go ahead, have people dumbed down to the degree that they cannot criticially reflect anymore on what they’ve been taught. It should be telling enough how even true Chasidim with a background of several generations of Chasidism feel about kiruvniks and their level of religious literacy.

      The end doesn’t always justify the means. Maybe it does to sociopaths, but not to people that adhere to a set of basic values not only on paper. Again, kiruv is not exactly reaching out but sucking in. A self-confident organisation could reach out and embrace what’s there, but turning people into clones with only a limited set of moulds is closer to what the Borg did on StarTrek than what a large variety of different Jewish lifestyles stands for.

      I don’t have the faintest idea why you all of a sudden feel the need to brand us as kiruv. Do you derive any personal pleasure from Jewlicious not receiving any grants possibly because of alleged ties to kiruv organisations? Do you consider Jewlicious a potential vehicle of the dumbing down-forces? Do we look like a cubic spaceship to you?

      Muster the guts and step out into the Jewish diaspora. You might be surprised what people manage to do without throwing around Yiddishisms with English accents taken from the most recent variety of Yiddish, namely American Yiddish.
      There is no “oy” in West Yiddish, the oldest variety of Yiddish.

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