Identity, Israel, Politics, Religion

Shut up, Steinhardt! (part II)

Part I, eloquently put, is here, by dcc. I feel that my thoughts on Steinhardt’s latest shitstorm are significantly different from what dcc had to say so I decided to make it a separate post.
Here’s the part of what Michael Steinhardt (benevolent dictator of the Birthright world) had to say that jumped out at me as wrongheaded. It’s not a surprise coming from him, but it’s still worth pointing out that he thinks:

While the religion of Judaism is so deeply disappointing – its practice, its verbiage, its inability to reflect realistically upon our lives; I could forgive almost anything vis-à-vis Israel. Israel was and still is my Jewish miracle!

Give me a break, Michael! You’re trying to save the Jewish people with one hand while slapping every even remotely religious Jew across the face with the other hand.
Prayer, tzedakah, holidays and inspiring words of Torah reach (check out my cool statistics here) bazillions of Jews every day. Religion isn’t gonna be the way in for every Jew, but Michael, what makes you think it’s okay for you to announce as an absolute truth, “The religion of Judaism is so deeply disappointing”?
On the contrary, Israel is what’s deeply disappointing for many of us. For me, worries about Israel are the one thing driving me away. (And I spent four months there, not just your little 10-day drinking tour of Tel Aviv).
Bludgeoning young Jews over the head with your my-way-or-the-highway, Israel-is-the-only-way-to-excite-a-young-Jew ideology, you’ll do them the same disservice you accuse the rest of the Jewish world of doing them here:

Anti-Semitism has always been far more mythical than real in America; it’s as if organizations have to create the bogeyman of anti-Semitism in order to raise money.

He also complains about over-emphasizing the Holocaust. Holocaust+Anti-Semitism=a single-minded approach to building Jewish identity similar to Steinhardt’s own obsession with the false idea that trips to Israel are the only way to build a committed Jew.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Every Jewish family in the world can grow their very own committed Jew at home without any outside help. They can do it by simply lighting two candles once a week. BTW, Michael, that practice is one of those things that Jews who practice their “deeply disappointing” religion do.

14 thoughts on “Shut up, Steinhardt! (part II)

  1. Spot on, David.
    Judaism-as-ethnic-identity only simply can not survive in an integrated Diaspora. Medinat Israel is so central to Steinhardt precisely because that is the only place where one could maintain a “peoplehood-only” identity for more than 2 generations.
    It’s spectacularly dissappointing that such a prominent and influential individual dismisses the religious and spiritual aspects of Judaism with such contempt.
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–describing Judaism is like describing the nature of photons: you have to accept that it behaves both like a particle and a wave.

  2. Steinhardt’s choice of words is unfortunate and his target in the educators off the mark. He’s right that something stinks in diaspora, but its the lack of SYSTEMIC support and planning for Jewish education. We dont have a day school system like the catholics and can’t even manage a coherent policy.
    His comments about Shoah business are on target however. But in revealing he’s less interested in Judaism than Israelism as the ‘civic religion of American Jewry’ he misses that for many of the ‘young people we’re always losing,’ its is that very ‘two by four over the head’ Israelism that’s as much a turnoff as the Shoah.

  3. Please to explain how offering a free trip to Israel = “Bludgeoning young Jews” with anything. We get it: you’re not big on birthright. But no one’s forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to do here. Birthright is available for those who want to avail themselves of the opportunity. It works to engage some Jews; it doesn’t work on others.
    Are you simply asshurt that Steinhardt isn’t pouring his money into promoting religious practice? You said it yourself: we don’t need him for that. Keep the mitzvot in the home and all will be well (at least according to your formulation).

  4. ML: How I or anyone else defines the success of birthright is not the point. David A.M. Wilensky claims that creating committed Jews is as simple as keeping mitzvot in the home. If this is true, then I can’t see how college kids going to Israel is going to erode our Jewish community (unless you can show me data that suggests that birthright leads to a decrease in shabbat candle lighting).
    I suspect the real reasons for David A.M. Wilensky’s opposition to Steinhardt and birthright are political: he’s critical of Israel and of attempts to show Israel in a positive light to unaffiliated Jews.
    But again, if simple religious observance is the key to Jewish continuity, then just do it. Ignore birthright. Do you and Steinhardt will do him.
    (Or are you really just afraid that young Jews will see in Israel [via birthright or otherwise] an alternative path to Jewish engagement, i.e. a path that is not your own? And if so, why does this prospect bother you so much?)

  5. You don’t have to be Jewish to love Israel, so all things being equal, why be Jewish? Why raise your children Jewishly, but more importantly (if connection to Israel is the sole and defining characteristic of your Jewishness) how?

  6. David thank you for your post it really hits home for a lot of us I think.
    Rootless: I think the point is that for hundreds of Jewish young adults birthright is the only access point to Israel. The program sends scouts to college campuses across the country and recruits young men and women who come from a variety of backgrounds but many of them with little or no connection to the Jewish community and sends them on an “amazing” trip which leaves them with a pretty one-sided view of Israel. I mean who is going to turn down a free trip, especially if you don’t fully realize the scope or view of that which will be presented to you.
    How many of us know people who were never interested in their Jewish identity who went on birthright and came home die hard Zionists. Aside from my opinion on Zionism this simply lacks the opportunity for young adults to really engage in what Israel is and what it could mean for people and how it affects Judaism and the world.
    To Steinhardt, the only thing pushing me away from Judaism, aside from the lack of young people actually committed to Jewish community outside of a few major cities, is Israel and the brainwashing that you all do.

  7. So let’s blame Steinhardt for Judaism’s failure to present a more compelling alternative for engagement? I cram to understand.
    At the end of the day you guys would prefer that these kids never go to Israel than to go on birthright. I think that’s insane. (Thought experiment: would your opposition be as strong if Breaking the Silence started offering free ten-day tours? Would you encourage otherwise disconnected Jews to go on such a tour? “I mean who is going to turn down a free trip, especially if you don’t fully realize the scope or view of that which will be presented to you” right?) But hey, we can agree to disagree on that point.
    What I don’t understand is where you think this money would be better spent. David stated that Jewish continuity can be maintained simply by keeping mitzvot in the home.
    So, what…should Steinhardt pour his money into some sort of program that encourages mitzvot? Sounds like a real winner; the college kids are gonna love that idea for sure.
    This post and many of the comments have every hallmark of the typical Jewschool discussion: Smug disapproval of anything overtly pro-Israel, mean-spirited critique of establishment philanthropists, no real alternative proposal.

  8. Have you witnessed the benefits of BRI for yourself? Of the non-observant/uninvolved kids that went on my trip, ONE became mildly observant, another got a frickin’ Magen David tattoo, and the rest? I haven’t seen them ONCE at the local Hillel, let alone any Jewish event on campus that didn’t involve free food!!
    Remember, much of the BRI student body is composed of Jews ALREADY heavily involved with the community.
    RC, that’s it, isn’t it? It’s not that BRI has just been ineffectual, it’s that we Jewschoolers are a bunch of anti-establishment Israel-bashers.
    Chabad-Lubavitch may be mitzvot-oriented, but their core target above all is the Jewish home. THAT’S how they’ve been successful: putting Judaism where it can be experienced every day. BRI puts you on a 10-day trip, and then what? BRI:NeXT?

  9. Smug disapproval of anything overtly pro-Israel, mean-spirited critique of establishment philanthropists, no real alternative proposal.
    Please. Quote one instance where this applies to me. Methinks you project too much.
    I’m simply posing questions and you’re getting upset.

  10. No one’s upset my dude. Frustrated maybe. I mean, this whole discussion is just so thin. No one has yet mounted a credible argument against Steinhardt’s philanthropic efforts on behalf of birthright.
    The original poster said religious observance in the home is enough. I’ll ask again: If this is true, how is sending kids on a free trip to Israel going to negatively impact this? Either it helps or it doesn’t. It’s Steinhardt’s money. In the meantime people will continue to teach their children to keep the mitzvot. Or they won’t.
    B.BarNavi said it himself; at the *worst* birthright is not having the desired effect, i.e. engaging Jews in a meaningful way. So what’s the alternative? Anyone?
    You guys have issues with Israel (clearly expressed in some of the posts here; not in my imagination). And you apparently resent that Israel’s being used as a tool to engage disconnected Jews.
    Steinhardt apparently disagrees. And yet no one in here has presented any meaningful critique of Steinhardt’s philanthropic efforts beyond stating this fundamental difference of opinion. No evidence that he’s doing any harm, no alternative proposals for using his money in any more effective way.
    Forgive me for expecting a post so provocatively entitled (“Shut up, Steinhardt!”) to have a little more, I dunno, substance?

  11. Wow! Two separate posts because Michael Steinhardt gave his latest “Ani Maamin”! Isn’t Jewschool the place where there was much kvetching recently by young mavericks who now want to start families only to find–SHOCK!–that when you do that you sometimes have to kiss The Man’s butt. I seem to remember high volume ranting and dreying against the injustice of having to compromise your ideals for the Man just a week or two ago in this very locale.
    This week, TWO posts about Steinhardt’s latest take on things.
    Steinhardt in this time and place is the Man, my friends. He can speak his at worst spurious and wrongheaded and at best just highly specific to him opinions anywhere he wants. He pays for that priviledge and idiotic or not, the Jewish community will follow.
    Pay him heed or not, pay attention or not, that’s the way the Jewish world goes round.
    And our silly dreying and kvetching, indeed all the beauty and creativity and dreaming that is Jewschool ultimately hasn’t changed those rules of engagement in the Jewish community one iota. One way or another you will end up playing the game his way.

  12. rootless cosmo: It’s not about whether birthright is good or bad. I’m talking about whether Steinhardt is right that the ONLY way to make young Jews excited about being Jewish is to take them to Israel. Is it bad to give Jews free trips to Israel? No. Is it wrong to believe that this is the only way to save them from assimilation? Yes.
    sof maarav: Jewschool’s writers don’t always coordinate their efforts. We share many views, but others we don’t share with each other. So just be careful not to assume we’re a monolithic group. And as far as your argument, are you just arguing that I should just keep quite because I can’t change anything? If so, let me make it clear to you that you should just keep quiet because you’re not gonna get anyone here to stop writing about what concerns us.

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